Lawyer and human rights advocate, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has asked the Inspector-General of Police to apologize to protesters manhandled by the Police in Abuja last week and declared that President Muhammadu Buhari should be embarrassed by the action of the Police, which violently broke up a protest demanding his return from a lengthy medical vacation or resignation from office.
The protest was organized by the #OurMumuDonDo Movement, which is fronted by Mr. Charles Oputa, more popularly known by his stage name, Charly Boy.
Mr. Falana made the declaration in a statement issued on Saturday. The lawyer said the President should be doubly embarrassed because the Police provided protection for those demonstrating in his support, while they harassed those demanding he returns or resigns. He noted that the Police have a duty to protect every citizen, irrespective of political inclination.
The lawyer recalled that members of Mr. Buhari's first political party, the defunct All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP), were harassed by the Police on 22 September 2003 while holding a rally to protest the rigging of the 2003 general elections. Mr. Falana also recalled that the Police authorities justified the disruption with a claim that the rally organizers did not obtain a police permit.
Dissatisfied with what transpired, Mr. Falana said Mr. Buhari and other ANPP leaders instructed his law firm to sue the Inspector-General of Police to justify the legal validity of requesting police permit to protest against the government.
This resulted in a suit filed at the Federal High Court to challenge the constitutionality of the provisions of the Public Order Act relating to Police permit.
"In a well considered judgment, the learned trial judge, Chinyere J, held that Police permit was inconsistent with Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution and Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The appeal filed against the judgment at the Court of Appeal by the Police was dismissed. In affirming the decision of the lower court, Olufunmilayo Adekeye J.C.A (as she then was) observed said: 'A rally or placard carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign state,'" stated Mr. Falana.
Sequel to the Court of Appeal judgment and the clamor for a freer democratic space, added Mr. Falana, the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act to facilitate the enjoyment of the fundamental right to freedoms of assembly and expression.
"Thus, Section 94 (4) of the Electoral Amendment Act, 2015 stipulates that 'Notwithstanding any provision in the Police Act, the Public Order and any regulation made thereunder or any other law to the contrary, the role of the Nigeria Police Force in political rallies, processions and meetings shall be limited to the provision of adequate security as provided in subsection 1 of this section,” the lawyer stated.
Since the role of the Police is restricted to providing adequate security for protesters, Mr. Falana said the violent attack by the Police on the peaceful rally by the #OurMumuDonDo Movement is illegal and unconstitutional.
"By providing adequate security for the pro-Buhari demonstrators, while harassing the anti–Buhari protesters, the Police engaged in the violation Section 42 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of political opinion," said the human rights advocate. He contended that on account of the illegal conduct by the Police, the Inspector-General of Police should apologize to the members of# OurMumuDonDo Movement. In addition, Mr. Falana argued that the conduct of the Police should be a source of embarrassment to President Buhari, who famously advised the late President Yar'Adua to resign when the latter was ill for a long time.
Mr. Falana maintained that every Nigerian has the right to hold rallies for or against the government, adding that the right should not be enjoyed at the discretion of those in power. He called for an immediate end to the disruption of public meetings and rallies by the Police and other security agencies.
"To that extent, the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force should apologize to Mr. Charles Oputa and other members of #OurMumuDonDo. As the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution can only be abridged or restricted by a procedure permitted by law, a police officer, who has information that any rally or demonstration may lead to a breakdown of law and order, is advised to apply for a an injunctive relief in a competent court of law," Mr. Falana stated.