Protesters, please stop blocking the highways

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EVERYDAY there are scores of protests all over the country. Most of them are targeted at governments for failure to fulfill expectations or promises. Citizens stage them to draw public attention and sympathy to their plight. On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, distraught pensioners of the defunct Nigeria Airways, after a rally at the Skypower field at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, blocked  adjoining highways in a protest to get the Federal Ministry of Finance to release the N45 billion approved by the Federal Executive Council to offset part of their N78 billion pension. Their activity precipitated traffic jams that took hours to clear.

On the same day in Yenagoa and Kolokuma-Opokuma, Bayelsa State, protesters calling for the sack of the Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), retired Brigadier-General Paul Boroh, also blocked roads and grounded commercial activities, thus creating nightmares for travellers.

Protesters have made an unsavoury habit of blocking public highways as a means of drawing public attention and support in all parts of the country. In so doing, they subject fellow citizens struggling to meet their daily needs to untold and unnecessary hardship. As many of these road blockages last for hours, they end up disrupting the plans of those travelling long distances for scheduled appointments.

Road blockages are illegal, unnecessary and totally undesirable. When protesters block public thoroughfares, their activities become unlawful because in the pursuit of their legitimate rights to public assembly and association they disrupt other citizens’ right to free movement and freedom from harassment. It also amounts to the transfer of aggression to innocent people who have no hand in the subject matter that precipitated the protests. Once this happens, the law enforcement agents have a duty to crack down on the protesters, bring them to justice and reopen the highways.

We acknowledge the need for protesters to make their grievances public because public opinion helps in forcing slumbering government officials to sit up and do their work. It can still be done without blocking the highways. Placard-carriers can line up on both sides of the roads and make even a bigger impact because their presence will not bring anyone discomfort or pain.

We must be reminded that in pressing for our rights we must not at the same time trample on the rights of other people. Protesters should do their homework before hitting the roads. They should consult their lawyers and seek the technical advice of civil society groups on the most effective ways of conducting their protests without harming other members of the public.

Above all, the Police must be notified to provide security and ensure orderliness for the good of the protesters and other innocent bystanders. Enough of these disruptions.

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