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Why the February 6 anti-government protest became imperative

By News Express on 11/02/2017

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Last week, lots of dramatic scenarios played out regarding what then was the proposal by the iconic musician, Mr Innocent Tuface Idibia, to lead out disaffected Nigerians in a nationwide protest against the exorbitant and excruciating cost of living.

Before intellectual buffoons confuse economic adversities with the absurdities of their ability to mortgage their consciences for a pot of porridge from the powers-that-be, to then advance their infantile arguments that the current government is hamstrung to do much given the widespread corruption that were in place before they assumed office, I will like to say that generally Nigeria has entered economic recession and the costs of living for an average citizen has quadrupled. The cost of the basic necessities of life have skyrocketed; even as social services such as public healthcare, public education and public infrastructures have all collapsed. Even President Muhammadu Buhari goes to London to see his doctors over simple ailments like ear-related hearing complications.

As I punch my keyboard, President Muhammadu Buhari is marooning somewhere in the Western World, attending to his failing health even when in his first national budget his administration amassed huge amounts of public fund for the equipping and administration of the Presidential Villa Health Clinic. The presidential clinic got much more money than what was appropriated as capital budget of the health sector of the federation put together.

Unemployment and insecurity have become major existential crises under the watch of the current administration. The administration has so far gone after only members of the immediate past People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government alleged to have stolen Nigeria blind; but has given blind eyes to massive corruption going on even within the Presidency. Senator Shehu Sani captured it aptly when he accused President Muhammadu Buhari of “using disinfectant to treat corruption in the National Assembly and among PDP members, but uses deodorant to treat the corruption going on within the Presidency.” These were the issues that gave rise to the contemplation by then of the February 6th public demonstrations.

But soon after Tuface Idibia went to the press with his initiative, which was a collective decision of some group of very concerned Nigerians, the Nigeria Police Force immediately went into over-drive, attempting to muzzle the organisers.

The Lagos State outgoing Police Commissioner, Mr Owoseni, fired the first salvo when he arrogated to himself the power to regulate the conduct of public rallies, by vowing to stop Musician Tuface from staging the protest in Lagos State.

The Police boss in Lagos who ought to be on his way back to school in Kuru, Plateau State, (National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies) claimed that the Police must issue a permit before public peaceful rallies can go on. The Lagos Police Commissioner then added some ingredients to his claim of authority over who should protest or not, when he sensationally told Nigerians that he has it on ‘good’ authority that hoodlums planned to hijack the public protest being staged by the Lagos-based musician and others. The policeman completely took Nigerians for fools by believing that they are ignorant of their inherent and constitutional rights.

The Lagos Police Commissioner decided to play out the ‘parable of individual amnesia’ by forgetting the extant Court of Appeal decision, which nullified the Public Order Act - which was a colonial era relict of a decree - that took away the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and movement of the citizenry, which are not only recognised by the Nigerian Constitution, but by a plethora of international humanitarian laws including, but not limited to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Force Headquarters of the Police then upped the ante by repeating those same lazy choruses that the Lagos police commissioner hasn’t ceased to sing.

I will return to the decided cases of the courts of competent jurisdiction, which lawfully decided that the people of Nigeria do not need any police permit to assemble peacefully and voice out their dissatisfaction with the policies of government. But first, let me state emphatically why the February 6, 2017 public protests became imperative. This reminds me of the “categorical imperative” formulated by the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, which simply states: “Act only on that maxim whereby thou can at the same time will that it should become a Universal Law….”

Drawing inference from the above Kantian theory of Categorical Imperative and relating it to the February 6, 2017 public rallies – which were nearly aborted by the operatives of the Nigerian Police Force through illegal threats to deploy the Force of violence to thwart the exercise by the people of their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms to peaceful assembly – it is logical to adduce that the right to peaceful assembly is indeed a Universal Law. There are a plethora of provisions in the International Bill of Human Rights that deem the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly as a universal law.

These laws are: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Specifically, Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right makes it more explicit that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are, indeed, the categorical imperatives of the Nigerian Constitution and the International Bill of Human Rights.

Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.”

So, when the Federal Government brought unprecedented pressure to bear on Tuface Idibia, to harass him into staying away from the protest which he had massively canvassed and advertised, using the social and online media, it occurred to rational Nigerians that the consequences of accepting to be cowed into failing to exercising their human rights to public protest would be far-reaching, lots of these thinking Nigerians came out and voiced their opinions unafraid of Police threats.

In Article 20 we are told: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and no one may be compelled to belong to an association.”

The attempts to harass and intimidate the organisers of the February 6th rallies are primitive, reprehensible, unconstitutional and illegal. The state-sponsored media fracas instituted by the Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media, which attempted to dissuade Nigerians from assembling peacefully and demanding good governance, is totally evil and condemnable.

As some of us came together at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, to demand good governance on the morning of February 6, 2017, the message we have succeeded in passing to the powers that be is that, we the people of Nigeria are the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria.

Section 14 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution states thus: “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.”

It is, indeed, logical to recall the binding decision of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal regarding the exercise of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, for the obvious reason that Section 6 of the Constitution has rightly conferred the judicial power of the federation on the courts of competent jurisdiction, thereby making it impossible for the Inspector-General of Police to sit in his air-conditioned office in Loius Edet House, Central Business District of Abuja, and seek to deny Nigerians their constitutional rights.

How come the Police choose to forget so soon that in 2007, the Court of Appeal affirmed the inalienable right of Nigerians and associations to hold rallies without police permit. The court upheld the judgment of a Federal High Court which had, in June 2005, declared the Public Order Act, (Cap 382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, which required Nigerians to obtain police permit before holding public rallies. The Act makes it mandatory for individuals or groups to apply for and obtain police permit or approval to hold rallies and peaceful assemblies.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the inalienable right of Nigerians and associations to hold rallies without police permit. The court upheld the judgment of a Federal High Court which had, in June 2005, declared the Public Order Act, (Cap 382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, which required Nigerians to obtain police permit before holding public rallies null and void.

The Act makes it mandatory for individuals or groups to apply for and obtain police permit or approval to hold rallies and peaceful assemblies.

In its judgment, the appellate court, presided over by Justice Danladi Mohammad, held that such police approval infringed on the fundamental human rights of individuals and groups provided for in the 1999 Constitution.

The provisions of the Act are unnecessary. We are in a democracy and Nigeria has joined the league of civilised society,” Justice Olufunmilayo Adekeye, who read the lead judgment said.

The other member of the panel who gave a concurring judgment was Justice O.F. Omoleye.

The panel gave the judgment in an appeal by the Federal Government against the decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The high court had, on June 26, 2005, voided the Act while giving judgment in a suit initiated by 12 political parties under the aegis of the Conference of All Nigerian Political Parties. Justice Anwuli Chikere also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Inspector-General of Police from preventing aggrieved citizens of Nigeria, including the plaintiffs, from organising or convening peaceful assemblies, meetings and rallies against unpopular government policies.

According to her, the court held that the provisions of the Public Order Act (Cap382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (1990) were in conflict with the provision of Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.

The CNPP had, on April 2, 2004, written to the Federal Capital Territory Police Commissioner, Mr. Emmanuel Adebayo, for a permit, in line with the provisions of the Public Order Act, (Cap 382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 which requires the issuance of police permit to any group wishing to embark on a rally. They wrote the letter following a proposed mass rally by the parties in protest against the 2003 general elections.

Section 1 of the Act makes it mandatory for a police permit to be procured before embarking on a rally,

After the controversial Kano rally, which was linked (but not proved) to the death of the former Senate president, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, the CNPP filed a suit at a Federal High Court in Abuja challenging the constitutionality of the Act.

The parties, through their lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, filed the suit on February 9, 2004 at the Federal High Court, Abuja, asking the court to restrain the FG from preventing their members and any aggrieved citizens from holding rallies in any part of Nigeria. They asked the court to declare that the requirement of police permit for the holding of rallies was illegal and unconstitutional. The parties posed the following questions for the court to answer:

First, whether police permit or any authority was required for holding rally or procession in any part of the Federal Republic.

Secondly, whether the provisions of the Public Order Act, which prohibit the holding of rallies or processions without a police permit, are not illegal and unconstitutional by virtue of Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria of Nigeria, 1990.

The parties then urged the court to declare that the provisions of the Act which require police permit or any other authority for the holding of rallies or processions in any part of Nigeria, were illegal and unconstitutional. The court said they contravene section 40 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act.)

They sought a declaration that the Inspector-General of Police was not competent under the Public Order Act or under any law whatsoever, to issue or grant permit for the holding of rallies in any part of Nigeria.

The writ of summons was taken out on behalf of the parties by Femi Falana.

In the affidavit attached to the writ, which was sworn to by Maxi Okwu, general secretary of the CNPP, the parties stated that the IGP prevented them from staging a peaceful rally on May 29, 2003. He averred that the solidarity rally organised by the All Nigeria Peoples Party in Kano, Kano State, on September 22, 2003, was disrupted by the Police on the grounds that no police permit was obtained.

That, in the course of disrupting the rally, the police tear-gassed the crowd and the ANPP leaders, including, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, who died barely 24 hours later,” Okwu said.

Government, in defending the suit, filed no counter-affidavit, as its representatives came to court asking that the entire suit be dismissed. The high court judge had refused and heard the matter.

She not only answered the two fundamental questions in favour of the political parties, she also granted all the prayers they sought.

The plaintiff political parties in the case included ANPP, National Conscience Party, Peoples Redemption Party, National Democratic Party, Democratic Alternative, APGA, PAC, Peoples Salvation Party, United Nigeria Peoples Party, MDJ and Community Party of Nigeria.

It is little wonder that the Acting President Yemi Osinbanjo – who refused to receive the protesters but, indeed, hired some hungry Nigerians to stage a counter rally – could issue a statement, using his social media account, to inform those of us who protested that our cries have been heard. It is yet to be seen how this same government that nearly denied Nigerians their constitutional rights to protest can adjust some of its evil policies and introduce economic policies with human face to ameliorate the costs of living.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source News Express

Posted 11/02/2017 2:30:53 PM

 

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