When the news that about 5 students of Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE) were shot dead by the police during a peaceful protest, most Nigerians were not surprised. The students were protesting about the epileptic power supply in the Oye Ekiti community. The report said the First Lady of Ekiti State was passing by from a function she attended and the students saw it as an opportunity to invite her into the issue of protest. One thing led to another and without warning, her security aides went trigger happy.
But that’s about the sixth killing of protesters by the police in the year. A situation that has been seen as a norm. Dissenting voices believe that the Ekiti State Government and the Nigerian Police inability to make any statement about the ugly incident is an evidence that protests in Nigeria have become a high risk adventure.
On Tuesday, members of the Shiite group claimed that 3 of their members were fatally shot by the police as they embarked on another peaceful protest in Kaduna State. That was a sequel to what happened back in July in Abuja, where over 13 people were killed during a protest by the Shiites over the prolonged detention of their leader El-zakzaky.
It’s about 21 deaths in two months for the crime of protesting. And there is concern that the number will add on in another given time.
Over a year ago, Amnesty International reported that over 150 members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) were massacred in cold blood by Nigerian security forces. A trend that has set a bloody footprints in Nigerian sands. But there are always excuses justifying the free flow of protesters blood.
In 2015, when about 400 Shiite members were killed in Kaduna by the Nigerian Army, the justification was that they blocked the way for the Chief of Army Staff. President Buhari, in addressing the issue said that the Shiites deserved what they got for provoking the Army, by tapping the chest of an army general, the Chief of Army Staff for that matter.
In Oye-Ekiti, the news that was aired after the killings was that the First Lady only ordered her security details to disperse the protesting students, she didn’t order the killing. And however they did that was none of her business. After all, she was on her way home before the students tried to involve her in their protest.
In many cases of such killings, the victims have always been blamed, and whoever happened to be part of the protest will face the full wrath of the police. Even the remains of the victims will be seized by the police.
El-zakzaky and his wife were arrested and locked up after the killing of his 400 loyalists, who included his own children. And he has been incarcerated ever since then.
The survivors of the Federal University students of Oye-Ekiti’s mayhem were not spared either: the police went after them, locking up as much as their cell can contain. They have provoked the police to their own harm and will face further consequences.
While the Ekiti State Government is yet to utter a word on the matter, the school authorities have proscribed the student union and asked the students to go home. The act of proscription seems to have become a cliché stemming from Federal Government’s approach to IPOB’s protests. The government has proscribed them as a terrorist organization and banned them from holding peaceful protests. Shiites were also proscribed by the Government, and it appears that schools are learning to do the same.
In Nigeria, it’s illegal to hold protests without police permission. A situation human rights activists are concerned it would eventually deteriorate to totalitarianism. Segun Awosanya, the convener of #EndSars didn’t hide his disappointment over the Ekiti saga. He said:
“You know your country is ruined when the wife of a sitting governor’s convoy murdered 4 human beings (students/future of Nigeria) and all she could do was to pay press to play victim without uttering a single condemnation towards the use of force against unarmed peaceful protesters.
“The victims of the murderous convoy have parents who are currently grieving and the unelected and presumed mother, who claimed to be on an empowerment program is justifying the murders by the slimy attempt to save her face by playing victim.”
Amnesty International and Human Right Watch (HRW), had echoed the “victimhood” sentiment in their reports on Government’s use of brute force to clamp down on peaceful protesters. “There is always a reason to justify the killings.”
The report also noted that the only protests allowed by the police are government sponsored protests. The alibi to deny permission has always been that it will disrupts public peace. And if you dare to protest, it’s at your own risk.
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), three days ago, reminded the governments that it is against the constitution to kill or lock people up for using their freedom of expression. They cited among others, the case of Sowore, the convener of #RevolutionNow who was locked up for organizing a protest, as an example of government’s determination to muzzle dissenting voices.
Civil right groups also noted that government’s oppressive approach to peaceful protests is the reason Nigerians find it difficult to hit the streets whenever there is such a need. The cost of life in Nigeria depends on who is asking, and protests seem to be an easy way to die.