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Heroes of 20-10-2020

Many may have forgotten, but many have not, and many are still caught up in the shock. It is a year now that the ENDSARS protest started like an ember and many thought that just like every other protest in Nigeria, the sparks would fly, and the fire would be extinguished without incident. Little did the world know, this was not just any other protest.

The ‘ENDSARS’ protest was as a result of the inhumane treatment and killings of suspects by a notorious sect of the police, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The mother of all protests that happened last year (as protesters termed it) was ignited by a viral footage of a SARS police officer shooting a man in Ugheli, Delta State.

The protest soon spread like wildfire, holding simultaneously across different states with different people unveiling stories that are better told than experienced. In a time when disunity was at its peak, people came out with one voice to protest and demand for more than just a cosmetic ban, but institution wide reforms.

The protest has been condemned by many because the end failed to justify the means. It is important to note that in a democratic state every citizen has the right to protest. A protest is any action or inaction stating displeasure or disapproval about something. Of course, a close scrutiny of the condemnation of the protest before and after is primarily premised on nothing but moral and religious grounds.

The right to protest has received statutory backing in the Nigeria Legal Framework and a plethora of international conventions as being a core principle that must be upheld in a democratic state. The clamp down on protesters points that we are yet to be liberated from our oppressive past.

Read Also: Has anything changed since #EndSARS protests hit Nigeria?

Sadly, the issuance of police permits before protests can be held is in itself an agent of oppression and a clampdown on the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Section 1 of the Public Order Act of 1979 provides that police permits must be obtained before protests can be held. However, in the celebrated case of All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) v Inspector General of Police (IGP) (2007), the Court of Appeal per JCA Adekeye ruled that such provision contravened the fundamental human right of expression as entrenched in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Adekeye JCA further held that The Public Order Act relating to the issuance of police permits cannot be used as a camouflage to stifle the citizen’s fundamental rights in the course of maintaining law and order. The right to demonstrate and the right to protest on matters of public concern are rights which are in the public interest and must be protected.

Therefore, it is only appropriate that when people come out to express their displeasure, Law enforcement agencies are rather responsible for protecting protesters and preventing the breakdown of Law and Order.

However, the opposite was the case: protesters were clamped down and brutally harassed. Most shocking were the unknown gunmen in Lagos Toll-Gate, Osogbo, Oyo and several other states engaging in gunfights with protesters as though they had a gun on them, when they had only their voices and placards on them demanding for a better Nigeria.

Let history note the Heroes of 20-10-2020 and adjudge them rightly, they are the ones who within the confines of their legal and fundamental human right expressed their displeasure but encountered more police brutality. The Heroes of 20-10-2020 are those who in the course of the battle of the powerless conscience and the conscienceless power, their lives were forcefully taken so that Nigeria may live.

There are yet several questions that begs to be answered: Who gave the order? What are their names?

In a sovereign state, protests are constitutionally guaranteed forms of expression on issues that affect both the governed and government. Requiring a pass for protest, clamp down and the continuous inhumane treatment of protesters only paints us in a primitive and retrogressive manner.

While we wait for an answer, we will not forget the names of our heroes and will ensure their labour for a better Nigeria does not go in vain.

Rest in power 20-10-2020 victims, Jimoh Isiak, Alimi Olamilekan Hammed, Mutiu Adesina Fresh and many other unsung heroes.

Ayomikun writes from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun-State and can be reached via alabiayokunmi@yahoo.com

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