PROTEST RESTRICTION: ACCESS TO JUSTICE CARPETS POLICE
*Says restriction is ‘unconstitutional’
Leading human rights group, Access to Justice (A2J) has berated the Nigeria Police for restricting protests to the Unity Fountain, Abuja.
Describing the restriction as “unconstitutional,” A2J said it “amounts to an unwarranted interference with, and infringement of the fundamental rights of citizens to assemble peacefully and to express themselves as enshrined in Sections 40 and 41 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
In a statement made available to CITY LAWYER, A2J said such restriction “has been ruled unlawful and unconstitutional by a decision of the Court of Appeal in Inspector General of Police v. All Nigeria Peoples Party and 11 others (2007) where the court held that the procurement of a police permit before a protest could hold was inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and therefore an illegality.”
Below is the full text of the statement.
RESTRICTION OF CIVIL PROTESTS IN FCT ABUJA TO SPECIFIC SITE BY THE NIGERIAN POLICE IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND INFRINGES ON RIGHT TO ASSEMBLY, MOVEMENT AND EXPRESSION
On July 17th 2018, the Nigeria Police announced the restriction of protests in the Federal Capital Territory to the Unity Fountain, Central Business District, Abuja. The Police force said the restrictions were informed by the need to avert an occurrence of incidences similar to those which trailed the protests of October 30th 2018. It would be recalled that on October 30th 2018, officers of the Nigerian Army encountered and opened fire on a procession organized by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) to protest the unlawful (and protracted) incarceration of their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, by the Nigerian Government as well as the killing of several members of the sect by officers of the Nigerian Army on October 27th 2018.
The Police Force said it was aware of the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens to peaceful assembly and movement as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights but however said that that these rights could be restricted or limited on grounds specified in the constitution.
The decision of the Police Force to restrict protesters from venues other than the Unity Fountain amounts to an unwarranted interference with, and infringement of the fundamental rights of citizens to assemble peacefully and to express themselves as enshrined in Sections 40 and 41 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Police restrictions on this right by specifying conditions of its exercise has been ruled unlawful and unconstitutional by a decision of the Court of Appeal in Inspector General of Police v. All Nigeria Peoples Party and 11 others (2007) where the court held that the procurement of a police permit before a protest could hold was inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and therefore an illegality.
The reference by the Police to the need to avert the re-occurrence of the experience of the “protests of October” 2018 involving members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) is fear-mongering rattle, and a clearly unjustifiable blackmail to crackdown on politically unpopular assemblies. The shooting and killing of unarmed Shiite members by operatives of the Nigerian Army is a brutal testament of the military’s lawlessness, but it was not the exercise of the right of peaceful protest that caused it. It was simply caused by the rash, violent and repressive reaction of the military, under-pinned by the culture of impunity rooted in its psyche.
Nigeria expects its police force to act with responsibility, accountability and respect for democratic rights and not to follow in the footsteps of, or replicate the impunity characteristic of Nigeria’s military forces. In fact, had the police exercised its responsibilities diligently, it would have avoided the October 2018 calamities. Had it asserted its rights to manage the protests of October 2018, the military would not have inserted themselves into the course of those catastrophic events, since the management of civil protests is essentially the responsibility of a civilian police. Allowing the military to supplant it and take over its functions in controlling the exercise of a democratic right of civil dissent represents a massive failure on the part of the police force. Furthermore, the police force has grievously failed in the duty to bring the soldiers who horrendously killed unarmed protesters during the October 2018 protests to account, but have rather moved quickly to charge to court, again, IMN protesters over their recent protests a few days ago at the premises of the National Assembly.
By restricting the movements of protesters on the grounds it claims, the Nigerian Police fails to objectively assess and address the chain of events and factors which turn peaceful protests into violent actions; the police’ new policies stigmatize protesters rather than challenge and confront those who authorize inflammatory and brutal actions that escalate tensions during a civil protest, mismanage protest situations and kill scores of unarmed protesters.
The right to protest or assemble cannot be reduced to the right to assemble at only a specific place or time. The right is an aspect of political participation recognized by human rights treaties, and accommodates the freedom to assemble or protest in public spaces, accessible by members of the public. If law enforcement authorities are allowed the right to stipulate places where protests can be held, they would likely do so in a manner that effectively takes away the right, or denude it of meaningful content. The new policy limiting the place where protests can hold to only one place is just as unconstitutional as requiring a police permit before a protest can hold. While fundamental rights can be restricted on established grounds, only a legislation can establish the scope of the restriction, and courts must be satisfied that the purposes of such legislation are rationally related to the restriction. The Nigeria Police Force has not identified a law that authorizes it to limit the places where protests can hold. And it does not have legislative powers to make powers in that respect.
Consequently, Access to Justice calls on the Inspector General of Police to:
a. Immediately reverse the decision restricting public protests by persons or groups to the Unity Fountain, Abuja.
b. Order an immediate investigation into the October 30th 2018 killing of IMN protesters and bring to justice all persons who arbitrarily shot and killed scores of protesters and other civilians during the clashes.
c. Establish more constitutional guidelines for managing public protests that do not interfere with the free exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, movement and expression and instate safeguards to avoid the breakdown of law and order during future protests.
Joseph Otteh Daniel A. Igiekhumhe
Convener Programme Officer
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