Tear-gas chokes, causes the nose to run and hurts the eyes. It is usually a last resort used by law enforcement to disperse crowds that are manifestly violent. After tear-gas comes guns.
As they have done everyday for four years, members of the #BringBackOurGirls group gathered at the Unity Fountain in Abuja to continue their demand. It was Monday 23rd April, exactly four years since its chief convener, Dr Oby Ezekwesili used those words at a speech delivered in Port-Harcourt. But just as on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the abduction, their gathering would not be without truncation, this time being even more hostile. The Nigeria Police had seized their chairs on that eve day; this time, they seized their breath.
The Police attack on these activists who are obviously of no trouble to anyone but the conscience of the present Government is unconscionable. The BBOG members have failed to fall to the bait that would have categorised them as violent or potentially dangerous for law and order. But for their banner, those who drive past the Unity Fountain (around the Transcorp Hilton) in Abuja barely know anything happens there. Why then are they being attacked while exercising the constitutional rights to free assembly and peaceful demonstration?
It would not be the first time they are harrassed; they have become, thanks to the Police under successive administrations, veterans of state muscling of freedom. However, the rise in the threat level should now evoke a full surgical review of this ever recurring peranial abscess in Nigerian seats of power.
Why does the Police, in a democracy, feel the need to fight any group who appear to challenge the President? Why has hostility become the standard response to rational, uncomfortable, different non-violent argument? What does this say about the other institutions of government? And how does this reflect on the attitudes of the ordinary Nigerian – the older student bullying juniors because he can, and the University lecturer who dares students to ask questions about their missing scripts?
Tear-gas chokes. The intention of the Police is to stifle the BBOG into silence, something members of the group laugh off and dismiss out of hand as a non-starter, having already invested four years of their precious lives in their one demand.
Tear-gas also kills; it will certainly be regrettable and abhorrent for any one to die from taking in cubic meters of the dangerous substance. That will be one big nail in the coffin for burying public confidence in the Nigerian government. How does anyone understand that a government attacks and maims those on whose advocacy it rode to power? For the record, it is the same government that laid into “a lot of” 60% of its youth population as lazy people, same group that were responsible for its election in 2015.
Public institutions like the Nigeria Police need to be surgically extricated from the gutters of partisan unprofessionalism that has rendered them as political cutlery and enemies of the progress of the country. Anything less is failure, regression, and a sober reminder that ‘Nigeria’ remains without form or focus.
By Alexander O. Onukwue | Follow @inquizimedia on Facebook and Twitter