The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, yesterday endorsed peaceful assemblies and protests anywhere in Nigeria.
The IGP, however, noted that against the backdrop of current security challenges in the country, “coupled with a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijack of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some criminal elements having links with insurgents, the police only issued advisory notice, enjoining citizens to apply caution in the said rallies, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory and its environs.” Commissioner of Police in the Federal
Capital Territory FCT Command, Mbu Joseph Mbu, had described the “Bring Back Our Girls” protests in Abuja as posing a serious security threat to those living around and citizens who drive through the scenes of such protests and ordered a stoppage. “We are all aware of what happened yesterday 01/06/2014 in Mubi Adamawa State.
“As the FCT Police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness. Information reaching us is that very soon dangerous elements will join the groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government.
“Accordingly protests on the Chibok Girls are hereby banned with immediate effect”, Mbu said.
However, the IGP, who was represented by the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, at a chat with journalists in Abuja yesterday, reminded citizens of the earlier position of the force on peaceful rallies, which the Police High Command regards as the constitutional and democratic rights of Nigerians.
He said that peaceful protests were “in line with democratic norms and customs”, adding that the present police force, “has demonstrated a very strong sense of democratic policing.”
“The ultimate authority of the police flows from the Inspector General of Police”, he said and therefore warned protesters to apply caution against the backdrop of current security challenges in the country, coupled with a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijack of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some criminal elements having links with insurgents.
The IGP stressed the need for the organisers of such rallies to ensure that they seek proper advice and guidance from the Police before engaging in such exercise so as to avoid any unpleasant circumstances.
“The IGP calls on the general public to see the present position of the Force as a necessary sacrifice for the peace our nation needs, as security is a collective responsibility,” he said. He consequently advised Nigerians to reconsider their position on the issues of rallies and protests in FCT until the existing threats are appropriately neutralised and removed from our midst by relevant security agencies.
He however reassured citizens of the commitment of the Force to the protection of lives and property and advancing the course of democracy in Nigeria.
In a related development, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has described the alleged ban on the #bringbackourgirls protest as a “substantial blow to the rights to peaceful protest, freedom of expression and assembly.
The group in a statement signed by its executive director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, argued that right to peaceful protest and assembly are guaranteed by the constitution and international treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.
The group urged President Goodluck Jonathan “to urgently instruct Mr. Mbu to rescind the ban imposed on the #bringbackourgirls protest and to allow the organisers to exercise their constitutional and internationally recognised human rights to freedom of expression, and assembly.”
The statement reads “Any leader genuinely concerned with the well-being of democracy in Nigeria and its people should send a clear message that these authoritarian practices are unacceptable. The Nigerian authorities should honour that, and allow the #bringbackourgirls protest organisers to peacefully express concerns related to the missing Chibok schoolgirls.
“International law allows only narrow restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly and protest, which should be narrowly defined, and any restrictions need to be proportionate, only permissible to the extent they are strictly necessary.”
The group maintained that the excuse of a threat to security put forward by Mbu is totally untenable and not supported by law.
“Terms such as “national security” and “public safety” refer to situations involving an immediate and violent threat to the nation or to its territorial integrity or political independence. A total and indefinite prohibition on peaceful assembly, especially in the capital city, is a violation of the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments,” the group also said.
“It is entirely unacceptable that the police will have to decide for Nigerians what ‘legitimate protest’ is. This ban won’t make us a safer society and it will only serve to undermine basic human rights, and make the country a laughing stock among civilized nations,” it added.
Citing the 2004 case of Ziliberberg vs. Moldova, the group stated that ‘’the European Court of Human Rights found that “an individual does not cease to enjoy the right to peaceful assembly as a result of sporadic violence or other punishable acts committed by others in the course of the demonstration, if the individual in question remains peaceful in his or her own intentions or behaviour,”.
According to the group, “Nigeria is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which declares in its Article 21: The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognised. Nigeria is also a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which states in Article 11: Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others.”
The group also pointed out that, “the UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the ICCPR, has ruled that states should always be guided by the principle that the restrictions they impose on the right to protest and assembly must not impair the essence of the right, and that the relation between right and restriction, between norm and exception, must not be reversed.”
“The focus of freedom of assembly is clearly on its democratic function in the process of forming, expressing and implementing political opinions. The democratic function of freedom of assembly means that states are under a stronger duty to ensure the right with positive measures than with civil rights, which are exclusively exercised for private interests,” the group also said.