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Protesting at gunpoint

December 12, 2021

The serial crackdowns on anti-government protesters in the past six years is a symptom of a disease that seems too familiar, yet Nigerians bask in the denial or perhaps they are just wary of the consequences of stating the exact diagnosis. The zealous state security institutions must’ve been adhering to a doctrine that pushes the country to a place that’s unmistakably Orwellian. Their rush to criminalize or penalize every voice that’s had enough of the country’s disintegration betrays such ambition. 

Outraged by the horrifying images of the 23 passengers burnt alive inside their bus on December 6 by bandits who intercepted the vehicle at Gidan Bawa village in Sabon Birni Local Government Area of Sokoto State, various persons and groups on social media announced and called for protests offline to assert their grievances. On Friday, December 11, in just a few hours of such clamouring, Zainab Naseer Ahmad, a Kano-based social advocate, was summoned by the State Security Service (SSS) in Kano. She had joined others in deploying her Facebook page to mobilize Kano residents to hit the street to protest the escalating insecurity in the North, and that changed after she met with the secret police.  

“I want to let people know that from today I’m dissociating myself from the protest,” she wrote on her Facebook. She advised the would-be protesters to stay at home. Her reason was that she had been informed by the SSS that there were “plans to hijack and cause chaos for some political interest.” She described her encounter with the SSS as “friendly discussion, “ and that’s that. What, however, the impressionable advocate referred to as friendship is a familiar script in disrupting attempts to hold this government to account; it’s intimidation presented with a dubious grin, and Ms. Ahmad would’ve learned that it’s not friendship if she had defied their “friendly” instruction to back out of the protest.  

It’s rather disheartening that Ms. Ahmad couldn’t ask her new friends how they had intelligence on plans to hijack a spontaneous protest that quickly but had not been able to gather similar information to intervene in the banditry and kidnapping that have wrecked the region. The surveillance capabilities flaunted by the SSS to dispel a noble quest for answers could’ve forestalled the spate of abductions and killings across the North, and even prevented the horror at Gidan Bawa and other places. Even the politically advantaged persons for whom the SSS kicks to preserve the regime have been defenceless and losing money and lives to the thriving criminal economy.  

Barely 24 hours after the Gidan Bawa horror, President Buhari’s home state, which had been at the mercy of so-called bandits, was struck by the murder of the state’s Commissioner for Science and Technology, Dr. Rabe Nasir, at his residence in Katsina metropolis. Neither the prescient SSS nor the deceased’s political protection was a shield against the tragedy, and it’s ironic that Dr. Nasir too was a former employee of the SSS and the EFCC. Nothing underlines the despondency of Nigeria’s internal security crisis than the ease with which such a professionally and politically privileged former employee of the mighty SSS was tracked and murdered. 

So, the framing of the proposed protests against insecurity in the North as one prone to hijacking by persons with “political interests” couldn’t have come from an organization with an omniscient grasp of the happenings in the country. The SSS, or DSS as unofficially known, isn’t out to protect the interest of Ms. Ahmad or any protester at all. Their priority is the security of this regime they cite the most ridiculous intelligence to protect, even though their part in derailing past protests isn’t secret. Of course, Ms. Ahmad and others know this, but they won’t want their fear so openly understood.  

The DSS has been holding dissenting Nigerians at gunpoint, but the rate at which loved ones are being buried without the reassuring words and empathy of the President drives the nation to the brink of an implosion. Unfortunately, none of the nation’s overwhelmed security institutions may be prepared to stop this eventual mass resistance to the government’s perpetual indifference to the people’s plights and disdainful silence in the face of national tragedies whenever the North uses up its hypocritical excuses for their son in the seat of power. Nigerians deserve to hear from the man elected to protect them. 

If the President were not from the North and Muslim, a flurry of conspiracy theories would’ve since been trending in the region, all attributing the havocs to some invidious agenda to decimate the Muslim population and territory. The North wasn’t this kind to President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. The latter was fiercely maligned and accused of sponsoring the Boko Haram to depopulate and destabilize the North, and some of the clerics who’ve now become philosophers of moderation and Buhari’s image-launderers were unforgiving in portraying Jonathan as the devil in their Al-Qunuts and mobilizing their herds against him. 

The ruins of the North today couldn’t have happened in the South without the government feeling the wrath of the people and torn apart for its failures on platforms from BBC to News24. For instance, over 1000 citizens were massacred in Zaria and the North was silent, with Buhari’s sycophantic cheerleaders even endorsing the extrajudicial killings. About 11 were killed at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, and the deaths were even denied by pro-government propagandists, yet the world erupted in its wake. 

Yet, as Buhari’s grief-stricken political stronghold rages, and with a handful of them mobilizing to protest, a cause already compromised, the Commander-in-Chief wasn’t compelled to appear on TV and address the nation or even visit the affected communities to assure them that there’s indeed someone in charge of the country. He chose an invitation to Lagos to honour the public presentation of his political ally Bisi Akande’s memoir. It didn’t matter to him that in nearby Burkina Faso, the Prime Minister had resigned following protests over poor handling of his country’s security. Buhari’s confidence in the DSS and other repressive security institutions to preserve his regime has to be the explanation for his trademark indifference.  

What, also, the DSS operatives and their colleagues at other organizations don’t seem to acknowledge is that the poor governance they seem to sustain on the pretext of neutralizing national security threats won’t spare them when the table ever turns against them. Bad governance, as I’ve always said, is like a stray bullet; it doesn’t discriminate. The tragic murder of Dr Rabe Nasir, who had enjoyed protection as an SSS and EFCC employee before becoming a top political office-holder in Katsina state, mirrors this Nigerian story more frighteningly.

The post Protesting at gunpoint appeared first on Daily Trust.

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