Mr Femi Falana.

Human and civil rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), has accused the Muhammdadu Buhairi-led government of using the repressive colonial laws on Nigerians who dare to raise their voices against policies they deem anti-people.

He disclosed this in a paper he presented at the annual public lecture of the Public Interest Litigation Section of the Nigerian Bar Association held at Aba, Abia State from November 7-9, 2019.

According to the legal luminary, apart from authorising the police and other security forces to brutalize peaceful protesters, the Buhari administration has charged conveners and participants in public protests with treasonable felony, terrorism and allied offences in the magistrate courts and federal high court; adding that since the anti democratic cases were ongoing we may not be able to comment on them.    

“The physical attacks unleashed on protesters by security forces and the criminalisation of public protests constitute a crude infringement of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly including the right to participate in public meetings, protests marches and peaceful rallies guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. While drawing the attention of the federal government to the law which requires the police to provide protection during protests we shall call for the immediate amendment of section 33 (2c)  of the Constitution which permits the use of such force as is reasonably necessary ‘for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny’”, he said.        

Continuing, he noted that under the British colonial regime in Nigeria, public meetings and rallies were completely prohibited. The purpose of the ban, he said, was to prevent the Nigerian people from rising up against the exploitation of the resources of the country by the alien government. Thus, pursuant to the Public Order Ordinance and several provisions of the Criminal Code any form of public meeting or public gathering without official permission constituted a serious criminal offence. It was under such obnoxious statutes that the Enugu miners’ protest and other workers strikes and the revolt of Aba Market women’s revolt, the Egba women against double taxation were violently attacked by the colonial police leading to the cold murder of many unarmed protesters.

“Even though Nigeria became independent in 1960 the anti people’s laws and policies of the alien regime were refurbished and retained by the indigenous ruling class. Hence, successive regimes have engaged in the massive violations of human rights including the right to protest against policies considered inimical to the interests of the Nigerian people.

On the right of citizens to protest, Falana had this to say: “The fundamental right of citizens to freedom of expression and freedom of association are guaranteed by Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and articles 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Act (CAP A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. In INEC v Balarabe Musa (2003) 10 WRN 1 the Supreme Court upheld the fundamental right of the Nigerian people to freedom of association guaranteed by section 40 of the Constitution. According to Tobi JSC (of blessed memory) ‘While the section vests in the individual the right to associate, and assembly with other political party, the proviso restricts the right, and the restriction is to the effect that the provision will not derogate from the powers of INEC with respect to political parties to which the Commission does not accord recognition. In other words, section 40 applies only to political parties which INEC accords recognition. In this respect, section 22 of the Constitution comes into play as that section provides for conditions to be fulfilled or satisfied before an association can function as a political party which INEC accords recognition,’” he said.

He further argued that it was pertinent that the right of Nigerian workers to embark on industrial action, picket or lock out was protected by the Trade Union Act; adding that in exercising the right, trade unions were required to follow the procedure set out by the Trade Dispute Act.

“In recent times, we had situations whereby the police suspended public meetings without the knowledge or consent of governors while rallies attended by governors have been disrupted by the Police and other security forces. In All Nigeria Peoples Party v Inspector-General of Police the claimant held a rally in Kano on September 22, 2003 to protest the alleged rigging of the 2003 general election. The rally which was attended by party leaders including General Mohammadu Buhari and other leaders of the plaintiff was violently disrupted by the police. To put an end to such crude violation of the freedom of citizens to convene rallies without official harassment the ANPP and 10 other political parties instructed our law firm to challenge the disruption of the Kano rally.

“It is interesting to note that a number of Nigerians including lawyers have condemned Mr Sowore for calling for revolution in the country. The fact that General Buhari called for the revolutionary transformation of Nigeria under the PDP is of no moment. In fact, in a recent BBC interview, the Attorney-General, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN challenged Mr. Sowore for organising protests after he had been defeated by President Buhari in the last presidential election. Mr. Malami SAN might have forgotten that General Buhari held rallies in 2003 and 2007 after his defeat in presidential elections. But Mr. Malami SAN could not have forgotten the fact that the December 1983 coup de tat which terminated the second republic was led by General Buahri who was never charged with treason upon the restoration of democratic rule. "

He quoted the observation of the Court of Appeal based on the judicial endorsement of the right of the Nigerian people to protest without police permit and the peaceful rallies convened by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress against incessant hike in the prices of petroleum products in 2005 were not disrupted by the police.

He said the Court of Appeal had as a result, acknowledged that the Nigerian society was ripe and ready to be liberated from our oppressive past.

“If this (the present situation) is the situation, how long shall we continue with the present attitude of allowing our society to be haunted by the memories of oppression being meted out to us by our colonial masters through the enforcement of issuance of permit to enforce our rights under the Constitution,” he wondered.

Please get the details of Falana’s presentation here...

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