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Stifling Youth Voices: An Indictment on Democratic Rights

Nigerians protesting #EndSars

The current state of the Nigerian government poses a significant threat to the democratic rights of its citizens. Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest and assembly, these fundamental human rights have been proven to be increasingly suppressed.  

On the 12th of June 2024, a day marked for the commemoration of Nigeria’s 25th democracy anniversary, this oppression was evident. Sanyaolu Juwon, Mohammed Doka Dantani, and Idris Ismail Omata, members of  Activista Nigeria, an initiative of ActionAid Nigeria that consists of young activists whose vision is to leave their imprints of change in the nation, who take on the responsibility as owners of Nigeria's future and are working hard to build a more progressive Nigeria, were arrested and detained by the Nigerian Police Force for exercising their constitutional rights to protest the increasing rate of hunger in Nigeria. 

This suppression highlights a growing trend of using law enforcement to silence dissent and stifle the voices of the youth. 

The right to freedom of expression is protected under Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, which states, "Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference."  

Similarly, Section 40 guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association, allowing citizens to collectively gather and express their views. These rights were flagrantly violated during the democratic anniversary demonstrations. The police, who are sworn to protect lives and properties have become instruments of oppression. Instead of safeguarding the rights of the protesters, they actively worked to suppress them, undermining the very principles of democracy they are supposed to uphold. 

The actions of the government and its security forces are not only a violation of constitutional rights but also an indictment of Nigeria's commitment to democratic values. Due to the consistent oppression by the Nigerian police and other forces, Nigerian youths took to the streets on the 20th of October 2020 to protest police injustice in the #EndSars protest. While this was a peaceful demonstration of their frustration, the government still went ahead to arrest the protesters leading to the death and arrest of many of the young people who went out to protest.  

The right to peaceful protest and assembly is a cornerstone of any democracy, enabling citizens to voice their grievances, demand accountability, and participate in governance. The Nigerian government must respect and protect the constitutional rights of its citizens. This includes ensuring that law enforcement agencies uphold their duty to defend, rather than oppress those who exercise their right to peaceful protest. Upholding these democratic principles is crucial for fostering a society where all citizens, especially the youth, can freely express their views without fear of retaliation. 

The stifling of youth voices is a direct attack on the democratic rights of all Nigerians. By honouring and upholding the constitutional rights enshrined in Sections 39 and 40, Nigeria can move towards a more inclusive and democratic society where every citizen's voice is heard and respected. 

The future of Nigeria's democracy depends on the government's willingness to listen to its citizens and protect their fundamental human rights. The youth of Nigeria will not be silenced, and their voices will continue to demand justice, equality, and democracy. It is time for the government to heed the call of its citizens and embrace a more inclusive and democratic society where every voice is heard and respected.