Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka yesterday berated the Police for attempting to stifle the planned nationwide protest slated for today against policies of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration which are causing hardship to the people.
He advised the police not to abridge the right of Nigerians to embark on the planned nationwide protest, describing the attempt by the police “as a huge disappointment, a disservice to the cause of democracy”.
Hip-pop artiste Innocent Idibia, also known as 2Baba, who was at the vanguard of the protest, called it off citing “security challenges”.
In a statement yesterday and titled, “Again at risk-The rights of lawful assemblage”, Prof. Soyinka said he has sent a message to the inspector general of police (IGP), through the Lagos State Police commissioner, urging him to respect and safeguard the constitutional rights of the people to freedom of expression, adding, “I hope that, even at this eleventh hour, legality and the democratic imperative will prevail”.
Soyinka noted that from the beginning, the organisers had cited quite an extensive list of areas of concern and demands for urgent attention from the Buhari administration.
“I do not know of any citizens of civilized community who do not subscribe to the fundamental right of the freedom of expression in any form, as long as it is peaceful, and non-injurious to humanity”, he said.
The Nobel laureate said he found “the Police attempt to reverse the hands of the democratic clock more appalling at a time when open demonstrations are taking place all over the world against the policies of a recently elected president of the United States, whose democratic formula this nation allegedly serves as Nigeria’s adopted model. Across numerous states of that federated nation, ongoing at this very moment, is the public expression of rejection of a president’s policy that has also pitted the Executive against the judiciary. We have heard of no preventive action by the police, nor arrests of demonstrators”.
He recalled that “efforts, both under military and civilian orders, have been made in the past to stifle the rights to freedom of expression by Nigerian governments including those of Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Sanni Abacha, Goodluck Jonathan….and now again, Buhari? These efforts have been, and will always be resisted. It is a moral issue, as old as settled humanity. It has been settled in other parts of the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception, not as long as her citizens refuse to accept the designation of second, even third-rate citizens”.
Soyinka described the latest attempt by the police to stifle the planned protest “as a deep embarrassment, and a national shame” at a time when one of the largest gatherings of humanity is taking place in one of the former totalitarian states of Eastern Europe – Romania.
“Its size has been assessed as the largest in former Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall. It was triggered by the state attempt to water down the criminal code against Corruption, and has has brought out hundreds of thousands of people into the streets and stadia, day after day, until the much awaited announcement of the withdrawal of the obnoxious decree. This should resonate within the current Nigerian governance that has made the anti-corruption crusade its mantra”, he recalled.
He contended: “The battle for the right of lawful assembly of citizens in any cause, conducted peacefully, has been fought and won several times over. It is time that this contest is gracefully conceded. It must be consolidated by its routineness as a choice of action at the front of any people’s democratic participation.
“This battle has been won legally, constitutionally, and even morally. It enjoys near global acceptance as one of the means of actualising the protocols of a people’s Fundamental Human Rights,” he added.