Nigeria is a democratic state running a republican and a federal system of government as coined from the name “FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA”. To start with, the word democracy in the literal meaning is commonly defined as; “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
Following this definition, it would not be wrong to completely say that the people own the government and as such must have power over the same government they have created for themselves. In the same vein, the citizens have the power to determine the laws under which they would be governed.
Undoubtedly, every democratic government must derive validity from the same people it’s bound to govern and in the real practice of democracy, the government must reflect the wish of the people, especially where the wish is for the collective benefit of the people.
Stemming from the concept of democracy is the term “Republicanism” which in the simple definition would mean an ideology of governing a nation having regards to the civil liberty of the citizens and as such incorporating a rule of law that cannot be ignored by the government. In this regard, a republican government can be defined to be a type of government where power is held by the people or their elected representatives.
Although, the two types of government “Democratic” and “Republican” government are different in scope but they share common characteristics. The most common similarity is that in both type of government, citizens are empowered to participate in a representational political system. This connotes that the citizens are either directly or indirectly the ones who make decision as to how they would or should be governed.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a democratic state where citizens are meant to enjoy democratic rights such as the right to vote in elections and the exercise of all forms of inalienable fundamental rights protected by the constitution such as the; right to life, right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing, right to private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression and the press, right to peaceful assembly and association, right to freedom of movement, right to freedom from discrimination, right to acquire and own immovable property, right to seek redress in cases of a breach of fundamental rights and some other social, economic and cultural rights.
It is important to note that Nigeria is owned by the citizens of Nigeria and not the government or some political cabals as the case is today. This position is firmly rooted in the background of the creation of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as altered of which the preamble states;
“We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Having firmly and solemnly resolved: TO LIVE in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God, dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding
AND TO PROVIDE for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people DO HEREBY make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution:”
And the salient provision of section (14) of the same constitution which states
“14.1. The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.
It is hereby, accordingly, declared that:
a. sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
b. the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and
c. the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
Having regards to the extant provision and section of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as cited, it would be seen that Nigeria is a democratic society and the constitution is the true reflection of the people who have by themselves created a rule of law which the government itself is bound.
To cap it all, the salient provision of Section 14 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as provided is to the effect that Nigeria is a democratic state and that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom the government through the constitution derives all its power and validity. It’s quite evident that the citizens of Nigeria own the government and they have enacted the constitution to protect their fundamental rights and also to set out the scope and limitation of the activities of the government and governmental agencies.
The true practice of democracy is the ability of the people to exercise their democratic rights above the wish of the government. The true practice of democracy would include the respect of the fundamental rights of the people and strong regards as well as strict adherence to the rule of law.
Thus, Fundamental rights exercisable by the citizens must be recognized and protected by the government and its agencies as long as it is constitutional and permitted by the laws of the land. In same vein, laws inconsistent with the constitutional provisions should be jettisoned and disregarded as being incompatible in line with the provision of section (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.
The End SARS nation-wide protest which went viral on October 10 year 2020 was the citizen’s response to the notorious and nefarious acts of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) a police unit widely condemned for various illegal acts including illegal detention, extrajudicial killings, extortion, framing, blackmail, home invasions, rape, illegal organ trade, invasion of privacy and other unconstitutional acts which was then at its peak.
The End SARS movement dates back to 2017 when the citizens of Nigeria, mostly the Nigerian youth who are often victims of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit’s infamous act aired their unpleasant experiences in the hands of some of the officers of the SARS unit through the use of the hash tag #ENDSARS on twitter, the most celebrated social media platform commonly used for trashing serious political maladies and ineptitude all over the world.
The government years after the movement was started failed to give adequate redress to the social decadence perpetrated by the notorious SARS Unit but rather made reforms which didn’t ameliorate the harsh activities of the unit. The unit which was created to tackle cases of armed robbery, motor vehicle thefts, kidnapping, fire arms and other related offences having totally neglected the duty it was created for, continued its operation despite various appeals by affected citizens.
The SARS unit’s activities became incommodious and unattended to until the overwhelming upsurge of the END SARS protest in October 2020 when most citizens both young and old stormed the streets of the country to air their distress with the continued illegal activities of the SARS unit and maintained a stiff-necked peaceful protest for a total abolition of the Unit which was mostly reformed over the years of appeal.
This protest which continued for days didn’t go down well with the Nigerian government as it was tagged as an attempt to destroy lives and property as well as a criminal act. There were several antagonisms to the continuance of the protest which was becoming one of the longest peaceful protests in the history of Nigeria. Several citizens and non-citizens of Nigeria were arrested while exercising their constitutional rights to a peaceful gathering as enshrined in the constitution. Painfully, some citizens arrested and still held captive till date are just victims of circumstances as they were not partakers of the protest but only mere citizens going about their daily activities for their daily bread.
To quench the END SARS protest, the government in a bid to disperse the END SARS protesters on the 20th of October 2020 ordered a dastardly extra-judicial killing of the peaceful protesters through the machinery of the Nigerian Army. This horrible incident led to the death of many, some whose body were carted away by the evil machineries of the government.
The validity of the extra-judicial killing of the peaceful protesters who were massacred in their number is still yet to be successfully challenged and as such can be best described as a crime against humanity as defined by Article 7 of the Statute of Rome and a pure case of Democide.
The right to peaceful protest is a democratic right protected by the extant provision of section 39 and 40 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 as altered as well as article 11 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right of which Nigeria is a signatory to and has been given judicial recognition in avalanche of judicial decisions.
However, some supporters of the government’s shenanigans have argued that the End SARS protest is a breach of the provisions of the Public Order Act as the permission of the governor of each states and the Nigerian Police Force was not first sort and obtained before the protest occurred.
It would be worthy of note that In the most celebrated Supreme court case of Ransom Kuti V. A-G Federation (1985)NWLR (PT) 211, PER ESO J.S.C in explaining the nature of fundamental right stated that fundamental rights are rights which stand above the ordinary laws of the land and is antecedent to the political society itself.
To buttress this point, some of the provisions of the Public Order Act have been declared unconstitutional by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission as being inconsistent with the constitution. Concluding on the validity and constitutionality of peaceful protest in Nigeria, the court in the case of Inspector General of Police V All Nigeria People’s Party & Ors declared the Public Order Act unconstitutional and called for the need to enact laws that would be compatible with the provision of Section 40 of the Constitution.
The exercise of fundamental rights in a democratic society such as Nigeria cannot be impeded on by the government and its agencies. A democratic state is a state in which the people own the government and as such, have power and say over government practices.
The right to peaceful protest is a constitutional and democratic right that shouldn’t be hampered by any medium. This also, includes the right to freedom of expression. The citizens who have elected their representatives to govern them should be able to freely state how they feel about each political regime as well as state their observations whether positive or negative.
It should be known that the End SARS protest is valid and constitutional as citizens under a democratic system of government can organize peaceful protest as a democratic and fundamental right.
The END SARS PROTEST would forever remain in the history books of Nigeria and the impact of the protest would never be eroded by the flood of time. The protest was the most peaceful display of democratic rights and as such, an example to the international community.
The Nigerian youths who were the pioneers of the protest maintained a dogged position on the need for change and an end to the incompetent attitude of the older generation towards hostile governmental practices. The 20th of October 2021’s protest in memory of the lost Heroes is the only way of compensating the fallen heroes that paid the supreme price of democracy with their blood on the 20th of October 2020.
To the martyrs, the real Heroes of Nigeria who sang the nations anthem till their last breath, it’s our prayer that their souls find rest. However, their labour of love would never go in vain as it has birthed a new regime in the history of Nigeria, a regime where people aren’t afraid to exercise their democratic rights.
In line with the constitutionality of the End SARS protest, this is a clarion call to the youths of Nigeria not to forget their fellow brothers and sisters still in captivity paying for engaging in the protest. The comrades arrested during the 2020 protest and the ones arrested on the 20th of October 2021 must be released unconditionally.
I call on Lawyers and human rights activists all over the country to storm the prisons and police stations in a bid to ensure the release of the heroes of Democracy. The public should not stop in exercising their political rights and democratic rights as this is the only way to achieve a better Nigeria.
Protest and freedom of expression is our democratic right and we know that NIGERIA SHALL BE GREAT AGAIN!!!!
Comrade Barrister Oluseye Victor Sodiji
(LL.B, BL, A’ICMC)
Head of legal Department
Civil Liberties Organization Ogun State Chapter.
On behalf of the Civil Liberties Organization Ogun State.
Chairman Civil Liberties Organization Ogun State