The continuing victimization of #EndSARS protesters

IN yet another move that demonstrated its unwillingness to embrace the democratic ethos and respect the rights of the populace to legitimate protest, the Federal Government on Wednesday continued its clampdown on #EndSARS protesters by denying a caterer who provided free food to protesters a passport. The caterer, Mosopefoluwa Odeseye, whose account had been frozen by the Central Bank of Nigeria in October, was reportedly denied a passport by the Nigeria Immigration Service on Wednesday. In a tweet which has since gone viral, Odeseye said: “First, it was Central Bank locking up all my bank accounts, now it is Nigerian Immigration not issuing my passport at Alausa! To what end, Nigeria? To what end? I applied for a re-issue at Alausa, was captured some days ago, and asked to come pick today, then I’m told that I have been blacklisted?”

To be sure, the continuing harassment of #EndSARS protesters by the Federal Government smacks of dictatorship. The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in the country’s constitution and cannot have been taken away by the election of President Muhammadu Buhari or indeed any other leader. In carrying out their protests, the #EndSARS protesters showed restraint and decorum and demonstrated fidelity to the country in their list of demands. They deployed music and dance to press home their demands. Surely, terrorists or agents of destabilization, as the Federal Government has since dubbed the protesters after pretending to be on the same page with them during the protests, could not have been calling for improved pay package for police personnel so that they could discharge their duties more efficiently and more conscientiously. Pray, if hoodlums hijacked the protests, how is that the fault of the #EndSARS protesters?

In previous editorials, we observed that by taking precipitate actions against the alleged #EndSARS sponsors, the government had unwittingly exacerbated the trust deficit between it and the youth, which was the reason for the protesters’ initial intransigence after the official mouthing of the acceptance of their demands. Instead of working hard to gain their trust and reassure them of official willingness to meet their demands, we lamented, the government had adopted a repressive approach characteristic of a dictatorship, using the instruments of victimization and witch-hunt. Sadly, while apparently holding the #EndSARS protesters vicariously liable for the offences committed by hoodlums, a step that tramples willfully on the country’s constitution, the government has been freezing their accounts through ex-parte applications, seizing their passports and infringing on their right to travel out of the country.

By its actions, the Buhari administration has confirmed its alleged disdain for dissenting opinion. It has demonstrated failure to learn useful lessons from the protests, including the need to address people’s grievances promptly and to stop assailing the populace with hollow promises. To say the least, we do not expect the Federal Government to exhibit the vengeful tendencies that it has put on display since the cessation of the protests. Pray, just how is a caterer who dedicated her hard-earned savings to the expression of legitimate grievances a security threat to the Nigerian state? Is it now a crime to desire, and actively work for, a better society? Was it not on the same premise and promise of the need for a better society that the Buhari administration came on board in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019?

At the risk of sounding repetitive, we find it abhorrent that the Buhari government is justifying the cynicism of the youth when it initially said it had accepted their demands. We say it loud and clear, and once again, that the way to prevent another #EndSARS protest is to rigorously and religiously implement the demands of the protesters and take further steps to revamp every aspect of the country’s security architecture. Deploying repressive tactics to suppress legitimate dissent in a democracy is ultimately a futile exercise. The Buhari government should channel its energy towards making the country better. It should stop making scapegoats of the #EndSARS protesters. It should cease and desist forthwith.

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