Two Tuesdays ago, Charles Oputa (aka Charly Boy) and his #OurMumuDonDo group protested President Muhammadu Buhari’s prolonged absence from office.
Typical of the Nigeria Police’s short-sightedness of citizens’ democratic and civic rights, they took the protest as a personal affront to “Dear Leader” and tear-gassed the protesters. The police added a sequel to their own farce when, mere days later, a collective of Buhari’s supporters rallying in his favour was peacefully escorted to Aso Rock! What more proof does one need that some animals are more equal than the other?
The ethos of Buhari as a repressive, autocratic, and abusive leader subsists in the present government and its intolerance tendencies are still being zealously enacted by his fascist cadre who somehow believe it is 1984. To be clear, successive Nigerian governments have been repressive for eons but there is no way to dissect the mentality of the police that attacked Charly Boy without recourse to the military regime of Buhari that instituted the persecution of unfavourable voices. On Tuesday, the same Charly Boy and the #OurMumuDonDo group were attacked in Wuse market, Abuja, by a crowd. Charly Boy seems to be in a vortex of “one week, one trouble.”
The thought of Charly Boy being attacked because he is saying what these deplorable agents of government do not want to hear is frightening. The issue is not whether they are Buhari supporters or not; at the height of his ignominious rule, Buhari’s friend, Gen. Sani Abacha, had one million misguided people march in his support. The issue is the level of their zeal for Buhari, the extent they are willing to go to protect him against other citizens’ rights, and the democratic institutions that are perverted when dissent is silenced.
If the police deploy tear gas and miscreants attempt to lynch Charly Boy because he dares to ask the questions the rest of us should be asking, then we should be afraid. It is sad enough when Nigeria’s Orwellian administration imposes a disdainful script of civic behaviour on us; it is another thing entirely to have the people themselves run the errands of autocratic leaders.
Last week, I mentioned that Buhari is a religion, but I should have added that his cult worshippers also seem “Boko Haramic” in their conduct. They treat opposition to Buhari’s autocratic monarchy as an apostasy that deserves no less than capital punishment. One can tell (especially from the claptrap the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, wraps in cute Bible verses and peddles these days), that these people think all of us should sleep and face a similar direction when it comes to Buhari’s government. It is a shame that they are getting validation from public institutions like the police.
By attacking the #OurMumuDonDo group last week, the police opened the door for the Wuse assault. The police’s abuse of power emboldened the nefarious actions of the miscreants of Wuse market. The Igbo have a proverb: “when the mother cow eats grass, her children watch her mouth.” When the police become selective of who is deserving of protection under the law, and their choices are made by certain kinds of biases that are evident to the public, they foster a culture that suppresses the democratic imperative of protest and, consequently, institutionalise abuse.
The police should school themselves by reading the story of Ruby Bridges, the six-year-old black girl in racist United States who had to be escorted to school by federal marshals in 1960 when a white mob contended that schools would not be desegregated. Then, it might have seemed like overkill: sending the Federal Police to escort a black kid to her classroom amidst a mob of white racists who vowed their children would not be educated with a black child regardless of the law. Today, we look back and see the point.
The police should ask themselves: If they cannot stand up for the rights of dissenting citizens, what, then, is the justification of their existence? If they do not think it is worth mobilising the resources of the entire rank and file of the police to protect a group of protesters from the mob, then what do they stand for? Why don’t we all just declare fealty to an area father who will protect us if we do his bidding? The police that cannot guarantee the rights of one person who is standing against the majority should not pretend they exist for the bulk of the society either; you either have principles, or you do not.
Why is the Nigeria Police ever unmindful of its critical role in maintaining the stability of the society? Why does it deploy the machinery of power to escalate situations, ride roughshod over citizens’ rights, and, generally act like Fela’s zombies? Why do the police hardly ever take informed stances on the right of citizens to lawfully assemble, rather than be the ones to champion the repressive causes? And, now that the miscreants of Wuse market are aping their acts, do they now see how they perpetuate the culture of disorder they are supposed to alleviate?
Indeed, what has Charly Boy and the #OurMumuDonDo group asked that qualifies them for the guillotine? Why is it a sin that a President who has been out of his office and country for 101 consecutive days is asked to resign, so the nation is no longer held down by the tentativeness of his anticipated return? Do Buhari’s followers have the sole prerogative to the initiative permissible in the nation’s public sphere? Charly Boy is right: Buhari has no business staying away interminably. The fact that the country supposedly runs independently of him is the best argument against his Presidency: if Nigeria can function without his presence, it means he can be cut loose!
I should add that the rest of us should be worried about a situation whereby Buharism becomes a civilian version of Abacha’s government or a tolerable strain of Boko Haram. Nigeria should grow past the era where citizens are kept in line at the whims, dictates, and barks of mad dogs. I have always believed that it is not people who deviate from dominant cultural scripts that should be feared; it is those who want us to slavishly conform to a ruinous pattern of conditioning and who mobilise all sorts of power to keep us within such soap-bubble that should both be feared and resisted.
Whether we like Charly Boy’s activism or not, and, whether we think Buhari should return or stay in London forever, it is crucial that we push for individual human rights to be respected. Those who have argued that Charly Boy should have known his limits and not gone to a market that was supposedly dominated by Buhari’s followers should recall that a similar argument was advanced last year. A man named his dog “Buhari” and the Lagos-Ogun area of Buhari cult followers lost their tiny minds. Those who keep arguing that these men should have known better than trigger Buhari’s followers must begin to ask: where does it end? Will we always have to diminish ourselves, and cut the coat of our political agency according to the size of our opponents’ tolerance cloth?
We must make up our minds if we want a democracy or if we are better off cowering before Buhari’s crazy supporters. What is at stake is bigger than Charly Boy; it is about the soul of our nation. The police have used water cannons on and tear-gassed #OurMumuDonDo and Charly Boy.
The miscreants of Wuse market have chased, beaten up and damaged properties of dissenters. These are troubling developments, and cowardly silence from the rest of us means the misinformed will triumph. If they do, it will come back to haunt everybody else.
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