By Femi Falana On the 22nd day of September 2003 the police disrupted the rally convened by the defunct All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP) to protest the rigging of the 2003 general election. The police authorities justified the disruption by claiming that the organizers of the rally did not obtain a police permit. Completely aggrieved by the action of the police General Mohammadu Buhari and other leaders of the ANPP instructed our law firm to sue the Inspector-General of Police to justify the legal validity of asking for police permit before protesting against the government.
In a suit filed at the Federal High Court against the Inspector-General of Police the plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the provisions of the Public Order Act relating to police permit. Falana In a well considered judgment the learned trial judge, Chinyere J. held that police permit was inconsistent with sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution and Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004
. The appeal filed against the judgment at the Court of Appeal by the Police was dismissed. In affirming the decision of the lower court Olufunmilayo Adekeye J.C.A (as she then was) observed said that “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 trend 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.” In line with the epochal judgment of the Court of Appeal and the struggle for the expansion of the democratic space the National Assembly was compelled to amend the Electoral Act to facilitate the enjoyment of the fundamental right to freedoms of assembly and expression. 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.
” Since the role of the Nigeria Police Force has been limited to the provision of “adequate security” for demonstrators the violent attack on the peaceful rally of the “our mumu don do” group by the police in Abuja last week is completely illegal and unconstitutional. By providing “adequate security” for the pro-Buhari demonstrators while harassing the anti –Buhari protesters the police engaged in the violation section 42 of the Constitution which has prohibited discrimination on grounds of political opinion.
As the action of the police cannot be justified in law the Inspector-General of Police ought to apologise to the members of “our mumu don do” group. No doubt, the violent disruption of the anti-Buhari rally ought to have embarrassed President Buhari who had advised President Yaradua, in a similar situation, to step aside as he could no longer discharge the duties and functions of his office. As democracy admits of freedom of expression the right of Nigerians to hold protests, marches, rallies and demonstrations for or against the government should no longer be enjoyed at the whims and caprices of the ruling class.
Therefore, the incessant disruption of public meetings and rallies by the police and other security agencies is illegal and unconstitutional. To that extent, the authorities of of the Nigeria Police Force should apologise to organizers of the “Buhari must resign” campaign. As the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution can only be abridged or restricted by a procedure permitted by law, a police officer who has information that any rally or demonstration may lead to a breakdown of law and order is advised to apply for a an injunctive relief in a competent court of law
. Finally, it is pertinent to remind the Presidency and the Nigeria Police Force that President Buhari had, in the recent past, taken part in peaceful rallies and demonstrations in Abuja to protest alleged manipulation of election results and perceived injustice in the country. It is on record that as he exercised his fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly with other Nigerians on such occasions he was never subjected to any form of assault or intimidation by the Police. Since the right to equality of citizens is constitutionally guaranteed the group calling on President Buhari to either resume duty or resign from office should not be harassed as they are exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Apart from the 2003 Kano rally General Buhari had cause to organize and lead other public rallies.