The Role of Public Protest on Government Policies. Protest simply is a show or expression of strong disagreement with or disapproval of something.
Professors Mark Lichbach and Robert Gurr, reputable scholars in the field of Political Science, jointly defined protest as “an open political conflict which centers on policies formed by a regime.” Regime in that definition is taken to mean a particular government.
Thus protest is an expression of public opinion of objection against government policies which are perceived as unfair and against the welfare of the public at large.
Some protests are so efficacious that they unseat regimes: for instance, Hosni Mubarak who had ruled Egypt for almost 30 years was swept from power in a wave of mass protests in 2011.
Another was in 2009 when a cabal attempted to plunge Nigeria into crisis following the ailment of the late President Musa Yaradua.
Pressure groups protested in Abuja and Lagos which culminated in the eventual emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President. It thus can be seen that public protests have an undeniable efficacy especially in a democratic regime.
As a matter of fact, most of the human rights protection that we now enjoy are results of public protests – from the abolition of slave trade to the invalidation of the subjection of women, the Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King and so on.
Hence, it can be said that at the fulcrum of every protest are grudges emanating from such experience as unfair inequality, feelings of relative deprivation, feelings of discrimination, displeasure about some state of affairs etc. Studies show that people are more likely to participate in a protest when they believe it would help to redress their grievances.
Protests can take so many different forms from peaceful rally, demonstration, marching, picketing, strike, lock-down, boycott even lawsuit. And as John F. Kennedy famously said that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Thus unaddressed protests may grow and widen into civil disobedience, resistance, dissent, riots, insurgency, revolts and political revolution.
Some of these forms resonate in our heads and bring examples such as the French Revolution (1789-1799), Aba Women’s Riot of 1929, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, the Stonewall Riot of 1969, the Occupy Nigeria Protest of 2012, the numerous pro-Biafra protests, the recent Jallikatu Protest in India (2017).
Even social media such as Twitter and Facebook are now platforms for public protest as seen by the planned nationwide protest organized by the popular Nigerian musician, Tuface Idibia in February 2017 and so on.
From the foregoing, we must have noted that public protests are staged by the people and to influence government policies in the interest of the people.
We also must have noted that public protests are more efficacious in a democratic era since according to Abraham Lincoln, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” It is pertinent at this point to examine the effects, impacts that public protests have on government policies.
First of all, through public protests, any government can be deposed as stated earlier in the examples of Hosni Mubarak and Goodluck Jonathan. This proves that power indeed belongs to the people.
Secondly, government decisions which do not go down well with the people can be rejected through public protests. For instance, the Occupy Nigeria protest in January 2012 which was in response to the fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government under Goodluck Jonathan.
The protest was characterized by strike actions, demonstration, online activism and civil resistance. It was largely successful as the removal was cut down and government invested in mass transit to cushion transportation palaver.
Furthermore, public protests also have a proactive effect in that unfavourable government policies which are still in process can be nipped at the bud. For instance in 1962, pressure groups kicked against Nigeria signing the Anglo Defence Pact in the First Republic as it was seen as a continuation of British colonialism.
There is no gainsaying that every politician wants to be re-elected. Acceding to the demands of the public therefore becomes compelling that even the slightest retweet of a grievance online gets a political notice.
Also public protests serve as an effective avenue for citizens to categorically state their grievances, needs and aspirations. Thereby holding government responsible and accountable for any maladministration.
As efficacious as most public protests are, some are unsuccessful e.g. the protest against the privatization of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria in 2010.
Also, public protest even though regarded as a right of the people may become criminal when it gets violent as succinctly described by Rudy Giuliani:
“The rule is you can protest all you want. Make all the noise you want. Carry all the signs you want. The minute you throw a rock, you get arrested. The minute you break a window, you get arrested. The minute you break into a store, you get arrested.”