21st February, 2012
The demonstrations held around the country in protest against the Federal Government’s deregulation policy has been hailed by public commentators as success of democracy. This ascription owes to the fact that Nigerians of all shades and backgrounds poured into the streets to express their anger against the increase in the price of petrol which was raised from N65 to N140 and later reduced to N97 after the nationwide protests. The reaction after the removal of subsidy was spontaneous, swift and explosive.
However, it is appropriate to state here that the actions of a few demonstrators at a number of the rallies were a snag on the whole show and deserve condemnation rather than commendation. For, if we hope to build a peaceful nation, one with a strong economy and political stability where social justice is the order of the day, then the citizens should be orientated on civil, democratic and liberal habits. Bertrand Russell in his book Authority and the Individuals (1949) warned that “without civil morality communities perish. Without personality their survival has no value”.
The first among the anti-democratic tendencies on display as the protest raged was the glaring display by the antagonists of deregulation for intolerance of dissenting opinion against their stance. Demonstrators at Alagbado, a Lagos suburb got so disenchanted with those who expressed contrary opinion as to besiege Africa Independent Television [AIT] station, Alagbado threatening to attack the place for granting audience to protagonists of deregulation. Only the timely arrival by a detachment of policemen saved the situation The Outside Broadcast Van [OBV] of the station that was out to cover the protest was attacked and vandalised by a mob professing to protest petrol price increase.
In a number of places personnel on emergency services were prevented from moving about their businesses even when their operation had to do with the demonstration. Worst hit in this category were journalists who were restricted from covering the protest by rampaging crowds. Several media practitioners were extorted, intimidated and physically assaulted in their determination to cover the events.
Secondly and equally appalling was the actions that portrayed the demonstrators as people in conflict with Nigeria whereas it was a struggle borne out of patriotic zeal as the people rose to protest what they believed was a policy detrimental to the wellbeing of the nation. The coat of arms, a symbol of Nigeria’s strength and authority was carried upside-down by a group of demonstrators in Abuja in a display supposedly aimed at ridiculing the president. Let it be noted that the presidency is not synonymous with Nigeria as such cannot be equated with her. As it turned out it was a struggle in which each side claimed to be fighting for the good of the nation as such each side of the divide needed to uphold patriotic virtues.
Thirdly were the mean utterances that were freely used against the person of the president by angry youths even in the presence of elders who ought to have realised that such vulgarism betrayed a moral depravity on the part of the accuser. Young people should be taught to detach personal issues from official matters, to learn to criticise with restraint and decorum and not insult the person of the accused let alone when the figure is the president of the nation. The president occupies the position of a father figure to the nation as such due respect should be accorded the office when relating to him. In the words of Enitan Dolapo-Badru, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Government on Youth and Social Development, “The youth must believe in the importance of key democratic values and virtues such as tolerance of divergent views points, support for the rule of law, principle of justice, equity and fair play and also to learn how to analyse and absorb them.”
•Agenro wrote from Lagos.