There is a wind of civic consciousness that has been sweeping across the globe. Protests once again seem to be the new cool thing.
People are getting more civic conscious and making their voice heard by hitting the streets all over the world. In the US protesters have been on the streets since the election of Donald J Trump. The Brits were on the streets prior to that for a campaign for Britain to exit or stay in the EU.
In Romania, in a massive show of peoples' power, citizens are calling for the government to repeal a law seen to be soft on official corruption. But before the Bulgarians, South Koreans and Brazilians had already hit the streets for weeks, a move that in no small measure led to the ousting of their various presidents from the corridors of power.
Everywhere you turn to, people are speaking and certainly demanding to be heard. Africa is not left out of this massive show of peoples' power. It was partly through a mix of demonstrations, civil disobediences, and internet activisms that the governments of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine ben Ali of Tunisia, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory coast and recently Yahaya Jammeh in tiny Gambia all fell from power.
As Nigerians we are not new to civil disobedience. Our history of civil demonstrations dates back to the colonial era -the Aba women's riot of 1929 readily comes mind.
Since then, Nigerians have probably marched on every regime that has ruled this country, including the previous Goodluck Jonathan era. On monday the 6th of February 2017, Nigerians from all walks of life hit the streets once more in protest against worsening economic conditions.
This protest marks the first major public demonstration against the Muhamadu Buhari led government. If we have learned anything from the regime's handling of mini demonstrations such as IPOB rallies in the South East and Shiite Muslims marches in the north west, we can expect some form of confrontation from the government.
Whether you are headed out in support or dissent, you should know what you are getting into before you go. Even if you think the event is purely peaceful, someone else, another protest group, or the police/DSS/Military may all have different ideas. So here’s what you need to know and do when hitting the streets in Nigeria.
Right To Protest
It is very well within your right to hit the street. The right to protest is enshrined in the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as a right to freedom of speech, thought and peaceful publicly gathering.
It is also enshrined in the ECOWAS, AU, and UN charters which Nigeria is a signatory to. So you won't be breaking any law if you hit the street peacefully. It is your right. But make no mistake, this isn't exactly a bastion of democracy.
This is no U.S, Britain, or western democracy, right about abuses have become more rampant since the Buhari administration. So just because its your right doesn't mean the government is going to respect it -heck most police officers dont even know what the law says about such rights.
We’ll recommend that you pack for survival. Carry a bag that leaves both of your hands free, (backpacks are ideal) you will be needing your both hands a lot.
Fill it with the following: ID card, permit to gather, or something else you may need to present to the police when asked, Water-two bottles, get lucozade, glucose bars or powder, a high-energy snack (nuts, dried fruit, sausage rolls etc). If you are going to be out in the sun all day, you don’t want to faint from hunger, exhaustion or dehydration.
You might also want to come along with Bandages, antibacterial ointment, a nylon wrap bandage, and some basic wound-care essentials. These would definitely come in handy in the event of an injury to you, a member of your group or a fellow protester.
Plan Ahead And Go In Groups.
So you want to protect? Dont go alone! A lot of thing could go wrong, and you would want someone or people you know personally there to look out for you. Try to connect with friends going for the protest before setting out.
Its also important that you make contingency plans for escape routes and meet up points where the group could always check in to account for one another at scheduled time should you get separated by a crowd or some sort of scuffle during the protest.
Follow Important Social Media Accounts
The fastest way to get and send information to a public audience is Twitter. Follow your local traffic or emergency-alert accounts. Also follow protest-organiser's account; local media sources (local papers and radio stations are often the most reliable); and other folks who seem to be breaking the most relevant information about the protest.
Use the protest's #harshtag to stay up to date with what's happening. Do not aid the spread of fake news, always try to verify the credibility of an information before reposting, retweeting or sharing.
Be Security Conscious
While you might be at the protest to make you voice heard and force change, not everyone on ground will be there for the same reason. It is advised that you come to the protest with only essential stuffs you will be needing.
Keep all irreplaceable valuables at home or somewhere safe. And for thing of value you would be needing, keep them in your backpack securely. Its important that you carry the backpack in front covering your chest and tummy.
This way you avoid being pick pocketed and also it protects you from incoming projectile should things get ugly.
Be safe and carry 3 days worth of everything: an inhaler refill, any meds you regularly take, etc. You might be needing them should you get arrested and your loved ones are unable to locate the police station you are being held fast enough.
This is Buhari's Nigeria, you could held much longer than the law permits even after you are granted bail by a competent court.
Make sure it’s fully charged, and close all running apps to preserve the battery. Get a backup battery/power bank or both. You dont want to be out in a protest without a means of contacting legal aid and loved ones should things get hairy. By law you are permitted to take pictures/videos of yourself in public and of public buildings.
You are also permitted to record the protest including behaviour of police officers- note that this could be risky so you would want to do that unobtrusively. The police has no authority to search your through your phone.
Note: If you’re arrested, your phone can be forcibly searched, its advised that you password your phone to protect your data.
A Permanent Marker And A Small Notebook.
After all that, your phone might still go off. You’ll want these on hand to take down important information, like badge number of police officer arresting a member of your group, or information shared by other protestors, Important numbers: Specifically those of an emergency contact, a lawyer or public defender’s office, and other important people you may need to get in touch with.
Wear clothes that are easy to walk and run in. Wear full sleeves and trousers if possible to protect your skin from the sun, tear gas, or whatever else might be in the air. If you are going to be in front as a lead protester, you would be needing a pair of swimming goggles to protect your eyes from pepper spray, tear gas that could be deployed by the police.
You’ll be on your feet for quite a while, so make sure to wear sneakers or walking shoes. Bring a bandana along to cover your face should you chose to be anonymous. A face cap could also come in handy against the sun.
The Police Have Certain Rights Also.
The primary job of the police will be to protect the protesters and maintain law and order. In enforcing those laws, the police is still at liberty to conduct stop and search, or stop and account operations during the protest.
Be polite but not do not cower in fear, ask for cause, keep your hands visible where they can see them, avail yourself to searched, or answer questions courteously in a stop and account scenario. If possible, get a friend to record this process unobtrusively, and ask to leave when the officer is done.
Your right to protest is not the same as a right to violent behaviours, dont get it twisted. You are certainly going to encounter law enforcement agents, and also likely encounter counter-protesters -people in support of what you are against.
Don’t go toe to toe with the police, don’t antagonize them, and don’t start an altercation with opposing protesters. They have as much right as you have to be there also.
Attacking counter-protesters, law enforcement agents or attempting to destroy public/private properties will only serve as an opportunity for the police to breakup the protest, and would probably get you thrown into jail or worse. Make your voice to be heard in a peaceful manner
Even though you may be within your rights, be aware that arguing with half-dozen police/military officers is probably a losing —and meaningless— battle. Unless your goal is to get arrested, pick your words and battles carefully.
You may be better off complying with police direction first and arguing your rights later. *People have been killed for arguing with military officers and their entire village destroyed- see Zaria massacre. You’re no good to your cause if you get killed.
In the end, your goal should be to protest peacefully, protect yourself defensively, and be ready for whatever may happen, even if things go south. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but if it is, you’ll have what you need to stay safe, uninjured, and able to stay as long as possible to have your message heard. Goodluck compatriots.
Ngoka is a behavioral analyst, he intrests includes politics, design thinking, cycling, sustainable cities, pychographics etc. he tweets at @kabasa007 and would appreciate a follow.