By Kennedy Emetulu
What we have seen with 2Face is the dilemma of the ordinary, concerned Nigerian and his powerlessness in the face of official opposition. 2Face is a comfortable Nigerian by any standard. He could have quietly continued doing what he does, which is entertain without initiating or aligning himself with any protest seen as a protest against the government or against the tough socio-economic conditions in the land. 2Face has always been active in civil society, but only as a philanthropist, not as a political or social activist. In fact, the closest 2Face came to being political was during the last elections when there were fears of political violence over the vote. 2Face put his resources and time into campaigning for a peaceful election. He has never been partisan or active as a political advocate of any cause. 2Face is not a Fela or a Charles Oputa, so, to many, the fact that he associated with this protest in the first place was a surprise.
The only thing that must have pushed 2Face to put his name to the protest is because he’s a conscientious Nigerian who, despite his status, sees what is happening in the streets to ordinary Nigerians and feels for them. He felt he has to do something to bring the dire situation to the attention of those in authority. He felt he has to do so in a way that captures popular imagination through popular support. He joined or proposed a peaceful protest in the two most important cities in the country – Abuja, and Lagos. He came out publicly to express his reasons for leading the protest or being part of it. He called on the politicians to keep their partisanship out of it, explaining that it isn’t an anti-government protest, but a pro-Nigeria protest. He did this, even while rumors were flying around that pressures were being put on him from official quarters to call off the protest and even after the police had issued a statement calling on him to call it off. What we saw with all that is one face of 2Face.
Now, we have seen the second face of 2Face. He has called off the protest. He posted a video message on his Instagram account where he said the following:
“Dear Nigerians, after due consultations, it has become clear that the ‘One Voice Nigeria’ protest scheduled to hold in Lagos and Abuja on Monday, the 6th of February is under serious threat of hijack by interests not aligned with our ideals. The point I’m intent on making is not worth the life of any Nigerian. It is in fact motivated by the need to demand a better deal for the ordinary Nigerian. I, therefore, announce the cancellation of the planned protest. We will share further information in due course. I appreciate the massive support, and I am convinced our voices have been heard. May God bless you all and may God bless Nigeria”.
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Obviously, this second face of 2Face is a mask he has been forced to wear. Of course, anyone can mock him and say he has no heart or that if he was planning to be part of such a protest, he should have known that this type of pressure would come and prepared himself for it. Indeed, people would be right to be angry that he raised people’s hopes and dashed them. That’s all fine. But the real thing we have to take away from this is that 2Face, despite his status, is as powerless as any citizen in the face of government pressure, because, let’s not deceive ourselves, that is what it is – government pressure.
But I don’t think the government should celebrate the fact that they successfully put pressure on him to stop because whatever any faction of the government that is behind this hopes to gain by this they’ve already lost and lost big. Yes, it’s obvious that the government is factionalized over this matter. The evidence is in public space. Below is a news report from The Guardian on Friday, the 3rd of February, 2017:
In this report, we see a clip of Mr. Laolu Akande, the Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the Vice President (now Acting President) on Channels Television saying:
“Government is not in the business of countering any protest, particularly the Buhari presidency. We are very much aware of the rights of the people, and we want to protect the rights of the people, that’s the business of government. Our people have a right to have a lawful assembly and a lawful protest, and we are absolutely not against anybody who wants to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and express whatever grievances they have, you know, in a lawful way”.
Mr. Akande did not stop there. He went to his Twitter page that morning and wrote:
“This administration will not prevent Nigerians from expressing themselves in peaceful protests; it’s a fundamental right of the people”.
As at the time of writing this piece, that post by Mr. Akande on Twitter is still there on his page:
The Guardian report stated that “Akande’s clarification came after the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Fatai Owoseni, said his command would not allow the protest planned by popular artist, Innocent Idibia, also known as Tuface, to hold in any part of the state”.
So, clearly, the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, through his spokesperson, Laolu Akande has clearly stated the constitutional position and the willingness of government not to breach the rights of the people to freely and peaceably assemble and express themselves in the form of this protest. It was intended to be a signal to the police to allow the protest and do their duty of protecting lawful citizens involved in the protest. The fact that the Abuja Police Command did not issue the type of statement the Lagos Command issued against the protest meant they fully understood the government position as expressed by the Acting President’s spokesperson. So, what possibly happened to 2Face to make him come on camera and speak fearfully about “serious threat of hijack by interests not aligned with our ideals”? Why should that be a reason to call off the protest when the government has said it has no problem with it?
The answer is obvious. There are fifth columnists within the government intent on undermining it. I mean if the Acting President can send out his spokesperson to speak on behalf of the government, who else could have gone behind to obviously threaten 2Face with serious repercussions if he goes ahead with the protest prompting him to publicly call it off? I’m not going to hazard a guess, but it’s obvious that this government has two faces. Any government with two faces is a government at war with itself.
In fact, it is my belief that the government by so doing, has made a huge rod for its own back. The excuse that the police gave for asking 2Face to cancel it and which he more or less repeated in his short cancellation speech is scandalous. Of course, discerning persons know it is not true that some other groups are planning to disrupt the protest. If indeed, there was any group intent on marching against the principles the 2Face protest stands for, that is in support of the government, the police and the reports say that one is planned for Sunday, 5th of February, 2017. So, how could that have possibly clashed with that of the following day?
Now if there are intelligence reports indicating that there are people actually planning to disrupt the peaceful gatherings and peaceful protests of Monday, 6th of February, 2017, it is the duty of the police to ensure that such persons planning such, people they must have information about through the intelligence they supposedly gathered, are arrested and prosecuted either before they commit the act or on the scenes of the peaceful protests if they show up. The primary duty of the police is to protect peaceful citizens, not discourage them from going about their lawful protests because some hooligans are supposedly about to hijack the protest. What the police has just told Nigerians with this act is that the Federal Government is not interested in protecting peaceful Nigerians wherever they are. They have just made clear to us, deliberately or inadvertently, that they work for hooligans who disrupt the public peace.
When all is said and done the buck stops at the government’s desk. They have shown their disdain for freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. They would have been served better if they had invested in actually letting the protest go on and showing that they indeed support it. They should have invested in making sure the security services protect every peaceful protester, and they should have ensured that anybody with any disruptive intention is arrested and prosecuted.
More crucially, they should have seen the protest as a welcome opportunity to hear from the people at their own prompting and take notes. Sure, there will be emotional speeches criticizing the government for this or that and calling on them to do this or that. That’s normal in a democracy. However, the government would have served its own ends better if it has liaised with the organizers of the protest with a view to getting them to outline the reason(s) for the protest or what they’d like the government to respond to or achieve.
Then government would have followed up by telling them that they would be sending representatives to the protest venues to address protesters by way of response to the issues raised by the protesters, even as they will leave room for further talks following the protest. The government spokespersons would then use the opportunity to inform protesters about what government is doing already to address the issues and what they intend to do in the future to address same. Alternatively, even if they are not sending any representatives to address the protesters, they could have still encouraged the protest and indicate that they are prepared to receive whatever formal letter the protesters wish to submit to the government. That is how a responsive government reacts in situations like this. A government that is scared to hear the voice of the people is delegitimising itself because a protest stifled by official shenanigans today will blow up in their faces tomorrow and not in a good way! We don’t want that in Nigeria because our challenges are huge and all hands should be on the deck to help the government and Nigeria.
In my humble opinion, this government has just shot itself in the foot by engineering to ensure this protest is canceled. It does not matter if this is the work of fifth columnists or people opposed to the progressive views of the Acting President within the government. This government is one and Nigerians will hold them responsible as one.