Democracy epitomize freedom of speech, opinion, perception, and association. It is a hard earned gain for Nigeria. Having witnessed repressive military regimes, Nigeria’s democracy was snatched from the jaws of military dictators by the persistent agitations of pro-democratic activists.

These compatriots endured brutal intimidations,harassments and incarcerations by the men in Khaki. Their tenacity paid off and the military junta receded to the barracks, thus Nigeria’s democracy once again regained it’s footings. Who could forget the likes of Beko Ransome Kuti, Shehu Sani, Wale Osun, Cornelius Adebayo, to mention but a few activists.

While opposition, criticisms, rallies and peaceful protests are components of democracies around the world, Nigerian rulers are proving intolerant in the face of criticisms and peaceful protests, despite pledging to uphold democratic tenets.

The recent arrest of Nastura Ashir Shariff, the BOT chairman of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), and some 20 students for embarking on a peaceful protest against the never-ending killings of Nigerians in Katsina is worrisome. How can staging a peaceful protest be a crime in Buhari’s Nigeria?

Nastura’s led action is no different from the protest embarked upon by General Buhari and other APC stalwarts against worsening insecurity under former President Jonathan’s administration on November 20, 2014. Recognizing their inalienable right to vent their grievances in a democratic setting, Jonathan never arrested a single person for masterminding that protest.

Isn’t it strange for a government that is the major beneficiary of protests online and offline to be cracking down on dissenting voices?

Nigerians’ right to protest against societal ills without police permit was won by the indefatigable human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, in the case of All Nigeria Peoples Party v Inspector-General of Police (2008) 12 WRN 65 decided by the Court of Appeal on December 12, 2007.

Delivering the leading judgement of the Court of Appeal. Adekeye JCA held inter alia: “A rally or playcard carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign State. It is a trend recognised and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilised countries-- it will not only be primitive but also retrogressive if Nigeria continues to require a pass to hold a rally. We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience."

Buhari’s APC government shouldn’t be oblivious of this landmark judgement, moreover it rode to power by protests, and constant criticism of the government that preceded it. Sadly, recent clampdown of social media critics and activists voicing out their discontentment against the status quo under Buhari’s government is shocking .

Nastura Ashir Shariff has done no wrong by leading a peaceful protest to demand decisive actions from our government to end bloodshed in Katsina and other parts of the North, and as such should be freed unconditionally. The protest he led is iconic, because it will help the North regain it’s lost voice in demanding accountability from its leaders. His arrest came at a time ‘repentant terrorists’ are pampered, this only ridiculed Buhari’s government

Before we drift to a Gestapo state, our leaders at all levels should rein in their megalomanic dispositions, Police and other security agents must not be used to repress citizens against their constitutionally prescribed roles.

Democratically elected leaders must ensure that by their conduct, democracy is preserved and not endangered. Tolerance of voices of dissent is the fertile ground upon which democracy germinates. Truncating citizens’ rights is a deviation from democracy, and it makes the whole concept repressive, and devoid of vitality.

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