Thursday, October 14, 2021 2:34 pm
By Femi Falana
In view of the threat of the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force to ban Nigerian citizens from exercising their fundamental rights to assemble and hold peaceful rallies to mark the first anniversary of the #endsars protests, it has become pertinent to draw attention to the current state of the law on public meetings, rallies and processions in the country. The threats against peaceful rallies oozing out of the Police Headquarters and State Commands are illegal as they constitute a gross infringement of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly guaranteed by sections 38 and 40 of the Nigerian Constitution as well as articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act.
In the case of the All Nigeria People’s Party v, Inspector-General of Police (2006) the Honourable Justice Anwuri Chiyere declared that a police permit as a precondition for holding rallies in Nigeria was illegal and unconstitutional. Consequently, her ladyship granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Inspector-General of Police and other police officers from preventing Nigerian citizens from convening and participating in rallies. The appeal of the Police against the judgment was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in December 2007. In the unanimous decision of the Court, their Lordships described police permit as “a relic of colonialism” which is anomalous in a democratic society.
Based on the epochal judgment of the Court of Appeal the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act 2010 in March 2015 to impose a duty on the police to provide security for participants in public meetings and rallies. For the avoidance of doubt, section 94 (4) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides:
“Notwithstanding any provision in the Police Act, the Public Order Act and any regulation made thereunder or any other law to the contrary, the role of the Nigeria Police Force in political rallies, processions and meetings shall be limited to the provision of adequate security as provided in subsection (1) of this section.”
Furthermore, Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 provides as follows:
“Where a person or organization notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access to, the police officer responsible for the area where the meeting rally or procession will take place shall mobilize personnel to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.”
In view of the fact that the Police Authorities have been notified of the public rallies scheduled to hold on October 20, 2020 to mark the first year anniversary of the #endsars protests the Nigeria Police Force is required to make arrangements for the provision of adequate security for the participants at the venues of the rallies. I am compelled to call on the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Usman Baba Alkali to direct the Commissioners of Police in all the states of the Federation to ensure that adequate security is provided for all citizens who may wish to protest against the policies of the Government which are considered inimical to their interests.
Since police permit has been outlawed and banned in Nigeria by the Federal High Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeal the Nigeria Police Force cannot be permitted to ban rallies without a repeal of the law on public meetings, rallies and processions in the country. In other words, the ban on public protests announced by the Police Authorities cannot obliterate the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Nigerians to assemble peacefully and express themselves.
After all, it is public knowledge that General Muhammadu Buhari (as he then was) and other leaders of the ruling All Progressive Congress who took part in public rallies against fuel hike in January 2012 and protests against insecurity in November 2014. To that extent, the Buhari administration ought to restrain the Police from banning peaceful rallies against police brutality on October 20, 2020 in any manner whatsoever and however.
Finally, the Police and other security agencies should be reminded of the indisputable fact that neither the former British colonial police force nor the defunct neocolonial military junta succeeded in banning public protests in Nigeria.
*Mr Femi Falana, human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria writes from Lagos