In view of the clear and unambiguous provision of section 94 (4) of the Electoral Amendment Act 2015, we urge the inspector general of Police and other Police authorities in the country to maintain neutrality and ensure that the role of police personnel is limited to the provision of adequate securiy during peaceful rallies, processions and marches.
In exercise of their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the Nigerian Constitution, the members of the Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB) and other concerned citizens have resolved to participate in the public protests scheduled to take place throughout Nigeria with effect from September 28. The peaceful protests will be conducted within the ambit of the COVID-19 Regulations.
However, we are compelled to call on the inspector-general of Police, commissioners of Police in all the States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory to provide adequate security for the protesters. This call is anchored on the case of All Nigeria People Party & Ors (2006) CHR 181 wherein the Federal High Court struck down the provisions of the Public Order Act, which required a permit for public meetings and rallies. Consequently, the Court proceeded to grant an order of perpetual injunction “restraining the Defendant (the Inspector-General of Police) whether by himself, his agents, privies and servants from further preventing the Plaintiffs and other aggrieved citizens of Nigeria from organizing or convening peaceful assemblies, meetings and rallies against unpopular government measures and policies.”
Completely dissatisfied with the epochal judgment of the Federal High Court, the Police authorities appealed to the Court of Appeal. In dismissing the appeal in the case of Inspector General of Police v All Nigeria People Party & Ors (2008) 12 WRN 65, the Court of Appeal upheld the fundamental right of Nigerian citizens to assemble freely and protest without any inhibition whatsoever. In the leading judgment of the Court, Adekeye JCA (as she then was) held that “Public Order Act should be promulgated to compliment sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution in context and not to stifle or cripple it. A rally or placard carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign state. It is a tread recognized and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilized countries – it will not only be primitive but also retrogressive if Nigeria continues to require a pass to hold a rally. We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience.”
The National Assembly responded positively to the call made by the Court of Appeal for the amendment of the Public Order Act. The amendment of the Electoral Act in March 2015 addressed the lacuna. Thus, section 94 (4) of the Electoral Amendment Act, 2015, stipulates that “Notwithstanding any provision in the Police Act, the Public Order 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.”
In view of the clear and unambiguous provision of section 94 (4) of the Electoral Amendment Act 2015, we urge the inspector general of Police and other Police authorities in the country to maintain neutrality and ensure that the role of police personnel is limited to the provision of adequate securiy during peaceful rallies, processions and marches. In particular, police personnel should be instructed not to attack citizens who may wish to protest against economic programmes considered inimical to their interests.
Femi Falana (SAN) is chairman, Alliance on Surviving COVID 19 and Beyond (ASCAB).