A prominent pro-democracy and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), and Defend Lagos Coalition do not appear to be on the same page on the planned EndSARS anniversary protest.
While Falana wants President Muhammadu Buhari, to abide by his oath of office by calling on the police not to disrupt the protest, the Coalition rather wants the organisers of the planned EndSARS anniversary protest to have a rethink.
Falana, currently the Interim Chairman of Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, said in a statement that Nigeria Police Force lacks power to ban public protests in the country. Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, said the police will not allow anyone to stage another #EndSARS protest ahead of the one-year anniversary of the protests of last year.
Apparently piqued by the Lagos police chief outburst, the rights lawyer said Buhari who himself took part in protests while he was running for office, should call on the police to respect the rights of citizens. “It is public knowledge that Buhari and other leaders of the ruling All Progressive Congress took part in public rallies against fuel hike in January 2012 and protests against insecurity in November 2014.
“To that extent, the Buhari administration ought to restrain the Police from banning peaceful rallies against police brutality on October 20, 2021 in any manner whatsoever and however’’, Falana said, noting that the law guarantees Nigerians the right to hold 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’’, he adds.
Continuing, he said in the case of All Nigeria People’s Party v Inspector-General of Police 2006, Justice Anwuli Chikere declared that police permit as a precondition for holding rallies in Nigeria was illegal and unconstitutional. The judge consequently 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. In the unanimous decision of the court, their lordships described police permit as ‘a relic of colonialism’ which is anomalous in a democratic society”, Falana said.
Based on the landmark judgment of the Court of Appeal, he went on, 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.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 94 (4) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides: Notwithstanding any provision in the Police Act, the Public Order Act 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 senior advocate said.
He added that Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 provides that where a person or organisation 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 mobilise personnel to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.
“In view of the fact that the police authorities have 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”, the activist said.
He is calling on Inspector-General of Police, Usman 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.
The Coalition is however made up of concerned civil society groups in Lagos State also said that such protest would be hijacked again by hoodlums to unleash mayhem on Nigerians and residents of the state.
Spokesman for the group, Nelson Ekujumi, said there was a need for rethink, considering the losses incurred by Nigerians in 2020 when a similar protest was hijacked by hoodlums.
“As some group of persons and interests contemplate commemorating the anniversary of the #EndSARS protests with another protest, it is our conviction that such an anniversary ought to be a moment for sober reflection on the whole essence of the 2020 protest.
“While we recognise the inalienable rights of citizens to ventilate their grievances, we must admonish that it must be exercised with recognition of the fact that other persons’ right must not be infringed upon in the process.
“In the #EndSARS protests of October 2020 that blew across the country, though an agitation against impunity and lack of accountability in public office encapsulated in the activities of the disbanded Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), at the end of the day, it left a sour taste and sorrow in our hearts.
“The needless killings, looting, destruction of public and private assets that trailed it, most particularly in Lagos state which was the hardest hit, is an experience we will not wish to have again”, he said, pointing out that in the aftermath of the destruction during the protest, psychological trauma was also inflicted on people of Lagos.
“We look backwards with pain and anguish over the unwarranted destruction of lives and property. Our major concern is lives and property of Nigerians. We are aware that the uncoordinated EndSARS protest led to anarchy. Assumed leaders of the protest lost their grip on the protesters which led to lawlessness. We will never again allow anyone or group of persons to destroy the Lagos state heritage”, the group said.
While noting that at this stage, people should be asking questions regarding the panels set up after the protests, the group adds, ‘’in obeisance to the government acceding to the five for five demands of the EndSARSs protests, state governments were directed by the National Economic Council (NEC) to set up panels of inquiry on the alleged abuses of citizens’ rights and where possible, award compensation and make recommendations
“These panels has been sitting nationwide. In Lagos state, the panel has sat for about one year and we have confidence in their ability to dispense justice in a fair and just manner just as it has already done with cases decided
“Therefore we need to decipher if the motive that propelled the genuine agitations of the 2020 EndSARS protest before it was hijacked, was not lost on Nigeria police, government and society at large and proffer the way forward.”
The coalition chiefs supporting the position include Razaq Oladosu – Democratic Initiator, Declan Ihekaire- Coordinator, Activists for Good Governance, Elijah Ajanu-Ojo- Ideal Society Move and Gbenga Soloki – Coalition of Oodua Self Determination Groups (COSEG) among others.