Peaceful protest is a constitutionally recognized tool which citizens can use to demand or pressurise the government to listen to their yearnings and act accordingly. However, given that the constitution is like the proverbial double edged sword, as much as it gives citizens their rights so that they live freely as every human being should, so does it define limitations so that in exercising one’s rights, they may not infringe the rights of others.
Hence, the condition that for a protest to be legal, it must be peaceful. It must not involve attack on the lives and properties of others who are either in or out of the protest. Likewise, properties, be they public or private, must be safe from the protesters. Once organisers of a protest are sure of this, they are fine to walk to the streets to press for their demands.
Therefore, when the #EndSARS protest started a few weeks ago, the hope was that it would be peaceful. Some Nigerians went to the streets to ask for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Unit of the Nigeria Police Force for what they generally described as violation of rules of engagement and abuse of human rights by its officers and men.
The government responded to their demands and reasoned with them by immediately announcing the dissolution of the SARS Unit of the Nigeria Police Force. And when the protesters remained in the streets yet, the government reassured them of its resolution to not only dissolve SARS and replace it with SWAT but will also go as far as reforming the Police Force.
President Muhammadu Buhari and IGP Mohammed Adamu spoke at several instances on the matter all in an effort to reassure the protesters of government’s determination to work its talk and persuade them to return to their homes so as not to give room for hoodlums to seize the stage and cause inflictions to the nation.
At that moment, it was clear that the #EndSARS protesters had won the struggle. But for them to win the victory, they were supposed to vacate the streets. But they failed to do so to lose the victory. They continued until all opportunists ranging from thieves, armed robbers, looters, political thugs, regional and religious bigots and what not joined them in the streets and caused lawlessness.
In the end, many innocent civilians were killed, correctional facilities attacked and prisoners let loose, police stations burnt and policemen and officers killed, private and public businesses looted, and private and public properties of huge financial proportions destroyed by the protesters. All this happened at a time the world, not just Nigeria, is finding ways to recuperate from the majorly economic injuries caused by the novel Covid-19.
President Buhari in his address to the nation last Thursday night, deeply expressed his pains on the inflictions the nation suffered as a result of the protest. He, however, noted that peaceful protest is legitimate and so anyone with genuine reasons can walk to the streets to press home their demands.