Section 36 of the Constitution which guarantees the fundamental right of the Nigerian people to freedom of expression including the right to protest against policies of the Government considered inimical to their interests. In utter violation of the constitutionally protected right the Nigeria Police Force banned rallies and protests throughout the country on June 12, 2021.
But the illegal order of the Police Authorities was rightly defied by thousands of citizens who took advantage of June 12 celebrations to participate in peaceful rallies held in many cities yesterday. For having the audacity to insist on their fundamental right to protest against unpopular policies of Governments teams of armed police personnel fired teargas to disperse the peaceful rallies. As if the unprovoked attack was not enough the Police brutalised and arrested scores of protesters in Lagos, Abuja and Calabar.
Since the protesters who were arrested during the peaceful rallies did not commit any offence they have since regained their liberty. But the Police Authorities ought to apologise for violating the fundamental right of the protesters to freedom of expression. More so that the Police had deliberately contravened Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 which provides that “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.”
While commending the protesters for conducting the themselves in a matured and peaceful manner we condemn the official lie that the protesters were teargassed to prevent hoodlums and miscreants from hijacking the peaceful rallies. Since the Police admitted that protesters committed no offence whatsoever why were some of them arrested? Why were the so called hoodlums and miscreants who wanted to cause mayhem and unleash violence on the protesters not arrested? Or were they treated like sacred cows because they had been hired to disrupt the peaceful rallies of the protesters? Why were the scanty pro-government protesters who were reported to have fought openly in Abuja over their booty not arrested for breach of the peace in the Federal Capital Territory?
The lessons of the unfortunate
event of yesterday should be learnt by all sides of the debate on human freedom. The nation should henceforth be spared the periodic
assaults on the civic space. The
police should learn to respect the constitutional rights of protesters. It’s uncivilised for the police to be chasing and attacking unarmed protesters on the streets as if these citizens are criminals. As it is also required by law, future protesters should always inform the police ahead of their action so that the police could protect them as well ensure public peace.
Femi Falana, SAN, Interim Chair, Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB).