The storming by pro-Donald Trump mobs on January 6, this year, of Capitol Hill in Washington DC, seat of the two-chamber United States Congress, has opened the eyes of Nigerians and the world to the boundaries of democratic expression, according to its most powerful practitioners.
On that day, the US Congress was sitting in a joint session to ratify Electoral College votes earlier cast in various states. It was a symbolic constitutionally-mandated process, only meant to ratify the winner of the election, Joseph Biden. However, hundreds of pro-Trump partisans, alleging without a shred of evidence that the election was rigged, stormed the Capitol and briefly disrupted the process. They broke through police barricades, smashed doors and windows, forced the joint session to adjourn while senators, congressmen and women, including Vice President Mike Pence who was presiding, scampered for safety. Five people died in the melee, including a policeman.
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Much more interesting to us in Nigeria was the reaction by the main US media, security agencies, politicians and world leaders, as well as the silence of international human rights and civil liberties groups, to what happened during the episode and afterwards. CNN and other major American media described the event as an insurrection, designed to overthrow constitutional order in the country. They never so described similar or even worse events in Hong Kong, China, Iran, Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Nigeria.
Last year’s EndSARS protest in Nigeria was far and away more deadly than the Capitol Hill “insurrection.” Nigeria also has democratically elected authorities in place, however imperfectly. Scores of policemen were killed during EndSARS riots, some in the goriest manner, when only one was killed in the US. Only the Capitol was stormed in the US while here, courts, offices, palaces, homes, stores and shopping plazas were attacked and looted. Yet, CNN and others never described our situation as insurrectionary.
Instead, CNN in particular went out of its way to justify the protests with so-called in-depth reporting. It claimed, with dubious evidence, that soldiers shot protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. They also questioned why “armed soldiers” were deployed there. As we saw on live television last week, policemen, marshals and soldiers were also sent to chase away the Capitol Hill rioters. Right now, 18,000 US troops are guarding the Capitol, more than the number of US troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, ahead of this week’s inauguration of new President Biden.
Preciously few EndSARS rioters were ever brought to trial but as we now see, the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] and other agencies have arrested and are about to prosecute hundreds of people who took part in the riots. They were all picked out from video recordings, followed to their homes and arrested. Social media accounts of rioters and their supporters, including Congressmen, were also scouted and people are being arrested for encouraging or supporting the riots. The US Justice Department also said it is carrying out an unprecedented level of investigation in order to apprehend all the rioters. Compare that to their treatment of Nigeria, where a woman who greatly instigated the riots by posting fake accounts of the Lekki Toll Gate casualties on social media fled to Canada and was feted by the Canadian Parliament.
In the wake of the Capitol episode, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram all blocked President Donald Trump’s accounts because he was accused of instigating the riots. Such a treatment was never extended to instigators of riots here, including Nnamdi Kanu. Instead, our local human rights groups cried to high heavens that government had blocked the bank accounts of people suspected of financing some the riots. In the US meanwhile, many corporations have cut business ties to The Trump Organization because of his involvement in instigating the riots.
On the whole, the response by US government agencies, security forces, legislators, military, news media, business organisations, lawyers, human rights groups and America’s European allies apply one standard to themselves when faced with uprisings and a different, much more stringent standard for others. It is okay for rioters to storm the Hong Kong Parliament but it is insurrection to storm the US Congress. We must learn the right lessons from these double standards.