On the rights of citizens to stage protests and rallies in Nigeria, Femi Falana SAN says…

Femi Fal;ana 3The decision announced by the Federal Government on January 1, 2012 to increase the pump price of petrol from N65 to N140 was greeted with protests across the country last week.

The police reacted by disrupting the protests on the ground that the organizers did not obtain police permit. In the process, a protester was killed in Ilorin, Kwara state while many others were seriously injured in several parts of the country. Not a few protesters were arrested and detained without trial.

In view of the settled state of the law on the subject matter it is pertinent to draw the attention of the police and other security agencies to the celebrated case of All Nigeria Peoples Party v Inspector-General of Police (2008) 12 WRN 65 decided by the Court of Appeal on December 12, 2007. In that case the court upheld my submission that Nigerians have the fundamental right to stage rallies and protests without police permit.

In the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal Adekeye JCA (as she then was) held inter alia:
“The incident captured in the Guardian newspaper edition of October 1, 2005 where the Federal Government had in a broadcast made by the immediate past President of Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo publicly conceded the right of Nigerians to hold public meetings or protests peacefully against government or against the inrease in the price of petroleum products. The honourable President realised that democracy admits of dissent, protest, marches, rallies and demonstations…

A rally or playcard 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 recognised and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilised 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 his brief contribution to the judgment Muhammad JCA had this to say:
“In present day Nigeria, clearly police permit has outlived its usefulness. Certainly, in a democracy, it is the right of citizens to conduct peaceful processions, rallies or demonstrations without seeking and obtaining permission from anybody. It is a right guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution and any law that attempt to curtail such rights is null and void and of no consequence.”

Having regard to the authoritative pronouncement of the Court of Appeal on the fundamental right of Nigerians to freedom of assembly and expression through peaceful rallies and protests the Federal Government should restrain the police and other security agencies to desist from further harrassing or intimidating protesters.

At the same time, those who wish to demonstrate against official policies considered inimical to their interests should be made to realise that there is a corollary duty on them to conduct themselves peacefully. Otherwise, they may run foul of certain provisions of the criminal or penal code and be liable to prosecution.

Femi Falana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s