It has become an alarming trend that protesters have now found the nation’s major automotive expressways as the best places to take their grievances to. These protesters, mostly the youth and women, carry placards. Chanting protest songs they barricade the nearest highways, thus making it impossible for travellers caught in the blockade to move on to their destinations.
This trend started, along the East/West Road, which has its main sections between Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States. Whenever the former militants of the Niger Delta have one grievance or the other with the oil companies, government or even among themselves, they would invade the highways and subject the travelling public to harrowing experiences. This manner of protesting has spread to other parts of the country.
Sometimes, students who want to show their anger over one cause or the other, or women who wish to call attention to some perceived injustices carry placards and block the highways. Citizens travelling to other parts of the country are thus made to suffer painful experiences for issues they have little or no idea about.
We understand the strategy behind taking grievances to the highways. It is usually meant to publicise the protests and make the news carry as far and quickly as possible to force the concerned authorities or targets of the grievance to bow to public opinion and effect redress as soon as possible.
We are fully in support of citizens engaging in peaceful, orderly protests. It is all part of their constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and express themselves freely But this constitutional right also guarantees the right of travellers to move freely without any unlawful hindrance. The blockage of highways by protesters violates the rights of other legitimate users of the highways. It does not help. Instead, it merely spreads the pain to other innocent people.
Our people must be sensitised to understand and adopt the saying: “your freedom stops where another person’s starts”. For protests to be genuine, they must be peacefully and orderly conducted, no matter the level of grievance.
They must not violate the law or other people’s rights. Even if protesters decide to take to the highways, they must make sure not to block or hinder vehicular traffic. They can line up on both sides of the road, ensuring that members of the protesting groups are kept safe from possible accidents.
Better still, protests should take place in cities, and even at that, care must be taken to ensure they are not disruptive in any way. We must combine efforts to educate our people on the proper ways of living in a democracy and avoid imposing pain and impunity on other law abiding citizens.