Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, on Thursday, described as illegal the plan by the police to stop the first anniversary of the #EndSARS protest.
He said President Muhammadu Buhari, as then presidential candidate, took part along with some All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders in a peaceful protest against insecurity in 2014.
“To that extent, the Buhari administration ought to restrain the police from banning peaceful rallies against police brutality on October 20, 2020 in any manner whatsoever and however,” Mr Falana, interim chair of the Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB), said in a statement on Thursday.
He issued the statement in the light of the warnings by police authorities against the #EndSARS anniversary protests billed to hold on October 20.
The #EndSARS is a tag derived from protesters’ demand for the proscription of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit notorious for the cruelty of its men towards many perceived and real criminal suspects.
The protest broke out in different part of the country in October 2020 as the protesters, in addition to demanding the disbandment of SARS, called for broad police reforms.
Desperate to stop the protest in Lagos, the epicentre of the demonstration, soldiers on October 20, 2020, shot at peaceful protesters at Lekki Tollgate injuring and killing a yet-to-be-ascertained number of them.
Organisers have been mobilising online for a protest to coincide with the Lekki Tollgate shooting.
But police authorities in Lagos, Abuja and other states have been issuing warnings against the anniversary protest, asking the organisers to halt the plan.
‘Police threats illegal’
Mr Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said such threats from the police constituted an infringement on the rights of Nigerians.
“In view of the threat of the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force to ban Nigerian citizens from exercising their fundamental rights to assemble and hold peaceful rallies to mark the first-year anniversary of the #EndSARS protests, it has become pertinent to draw attention to the current state of the law on public meetings, rallies and processions in the country.
“The threats against peaceful rallies oozing out of the police Headquarters and State Commands are illegal as they constitute a gross infringement of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly guaranteed by sections 38 and 40 of the Nigerian Constitution as well as articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act,” Mr Falana said.
Mr Falana, who cited the case of the All Nigeria People’s Party v Inspector-General of Police (2006) where a judge of the Federal High Court, Anwuri Chikere “declared that police permit as a precondition for holding rallies in Nigeria was illegal and unconstitutional.”
The lawyer recalled that the judge granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Inspector-General of Police and other police officers from preventing Nigerian citizens from convening and participating in rallies.
“The appeal of the police against the judgment was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in December 2007,” Mr Falana said.
He added that the court described police permit as “a relic of colonialism”, which he said “is anomalous in a democratic society.”
Police should provide security for protesters not to stop them
Following the “epochal judgment” of the Court of Appeal, Mr Falana said the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act 2010 in March 2015 to impose a duty on the police to provide security for participants in public meetings and rallies.
READ ALSO: Reps reject motion to investigate alleged harassment of protesters in Abuja
He said police authorities having been notified of the public rallies scheduled to hold on October 20, 2020 to mark the first year anniversary of the #endsars protests “the Nigeria Police Force is required to make arrangements for the provision of adequate security for the participants at the venues of the rallies.”
He called on the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba Alkali, “to direct the Commissioners of Police in all the states of the Federation to ensure that adequate security is provided for all citizens who may wish to protest against the policies of the Government which are considered inimical to their interests.”
He said given the Court of Appeal proscribing police permit as a precondition for orgainsing a protest, police authorities “the ban on public protests announced by the Police authorities cannot obliterate the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Nigerians to assemble peacefully and express themselves.”
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