The arrest of Katsina protest leader

IT is concerning that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is fast becoming notorious for the suppression of dissent in the country. And it is saddening that it has exhibited this deplorable trait in clear cases where citizens have indubitable reasons to express disapproval of government policies or outright failure of governance. There seems to be a gradual impairment of the fundamental rights of citizens as those who hold and express opinion contrary to that of government about governance are being harassed and hounded. Or how does one describe the arrest of Citizen Nastura Ashir Sharif, the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), for leading a peaceful protest to deplore government’s ineptitude in tackling the lingering and unmitigated destruction of life and property in Katsina and many other states in the North?

Has it now become a crime to express grievances within the ambit of the law? Is Citizen Sharif’s claim about the incessant and gruesome killing of his compatriots untrue? Has peaceful protest become a crime rather than the right of citizens?  Was the government expecting everyone to keep quiet  in the face of the grave security situation in the land?  Is the country sliding into dictatorship?  That Nigeria is in a dire security state is not new; what is worrying is the official inability to tackle the challenge head-on, and it should not be out of place to speak up.  The Boko Haram terrorists are still active, wrecking  havoc in the North-East; killer herdsmen remain pernicious in the North Central and in some parts of the South; cases of kidnapping, armed robbery and rape are on the ascendancy in different parts of the country. Armed bandits are literally holding the North-West by the jugular, especially in Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states.

The scary figures of casualties arising from the heinous activities of the bandits in these states are not mere statistics to those who have lost their loved ones and suffered the destruction of their means of livelihood. It is therefore natural for those negatively impacted by the activities of the brigands to speak up against the mindless killings and economic ruins being foisted on them, especially when government appears to be incapable of reining in their atrocities. The official fuss over a peaceful protest that did not even require any rigorous justification was in bad taste. Even in the traditionally conservative segment of the society, murmurings have started to yield ground to loud complaints because of the grim nature of insecurity in the country.

For instance, a few days ago, the Sultan of Sokoto and President General of Jama’atu Nasir Islam (JNI), Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, in ventilating his frustration over the escalating insecurity in the land, had this to say: ‘JNI is in utter shockwave over the unfortunate repeated losses of precious lives and wanton destruction of property arising from well coordinated attacks of armed bandits, Boko Haram terrorist group and rapists. These repeated calamitous scenario would have been avoided had the government risen to the occasion.” The feeling of disappointment that official efforts to tackle insecurity are inadequate is across board, it is not limited to ordinary Nigerians.

To be sure, it is appreciated that addressing insecurity associated with insurgency, banditry and other  forms of asymmetrical/guerrilla conflict have never been a piece of cake anywhere in the world.  It is equally understood that some of these security challenges predated the current administration and so no one is blaming it of orchestrating  the challenges, neither is it being accused of making no efforts at all. Nonetheless, government should not expect to be applauded for efforts that have consistently produced results that are different from what it promised Nigerians. And to resort to harassment and intimidation of citizens who dare speak up on the appalling level of insecurity in the country is undemocratic, farcical and unacceptable. Unfortunately, peaceful protests are often misconstrued as adversarial within official circles, whereas they are, in a sense, symptomatic of the protesters’ confidence in the government’s capacity to make amends because those who have given up on government would rather resort to self-help than stage protests.

Though he should not have been arrested in the first place, there are indications that Sharif was released by the police following relentless pressure on the authorities from local and international sources. But then, the spokesman for the Katsina State Police command, Superintendent of Police Gambo Isah, has also confirmed the arrest of 16 other protesters to be arraigned in court on charges of politically-instigated protest, incitement, disturbance and unlawful assembly. This is wrong as it infringes on the protesters’ freedom of assembly and expression. We urge official consciousness of the fact that the country is in a democracy and, therefore, the police should release the youths unconditionally and without further delay. The way to go, rather than dissipating energy on silencing voices of dissent, is to rejig the security apparatus, framework and strategy in order to evolve a virile and potent state security force that can ensure that non-state actors will cease to unleash violence on the citizenry with reckless abandon while government that is vested with the monopoly of violence watches helplessly.




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