Protests and public order in Abuja

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BringBackOurGirls-Abuja-Lawsuit-Bella-NaijaThe FCT Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu, on June 2, announced a ban on further protests against the April 14 abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram insurgents. Less than 24 hours after, the Inspector-General of Police, M. D. Abubakar, reversed the ban.

Mbu’s announcement of the ban had been greeted by protests and condemnation from Nigerians in different parts of the country, who regarded the order as insensitive. Certainly, it was a breach of Nigerians’ right to peaceful assembly as enshrined in Sections 39 and 40 of the nation’s Constitution.

Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights all guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Therefore, any ban on public protests is an infringement of the spirit and letters of these laws and charters.

However, much as our law books allow for non-violent demonstrations, the delicate security situation in the country calls for caution in the exercise of this right. This is more so as the police authorities are also empowered to stop protests that they consider capable of breaching public peace.

The idea of a blanket ban on protests is repressive and unacceptable. The people, at all times and anywhere in the country, have a right to air their grievances and demand that the government pays attention to matters that are very important to them.

The Chibok abduction saga is a very critical affair. It is necessary and understandable that protests over it have been lingering, almost two months after the dastardly incident. This is because it is important that the people keep the issue in the public domain to ensure that the government continues to do everything that is necessary to secure the release of the girls. But, public protests need to be measured and adequate security provided for them to ensure that the protest venues do not become another theatre of violence.
It is in this regard that we welcome the intervention of the IG in this matter. Although the police are empowered to stop public protests if there is likely to be an outbreak of violence, protests ought to be considered on their individual merits, based on prevailing situations at any given point in time. A comprehensive ban would be rather high-handed. At this critical period of insecurity, however, all hands must be on deck to ensure that terrorists are not allowed to kill Nigerians or embarrass the country further with the detonation of bombs in Abuja.

We, therefore, advise that all subsequent protests on the Chibok girls should be properly managed in a way that does not leave room for them to be hijacked by persons with ulterior motives.
The right to peaceful protests must be safely balanced with the responsibility to maintain public peace. Every effort must be made to ensure that protests do not lead to outbreak of violence. The onerous security challenges facing the country at this time call for utmost caution and a sacrificial juxtaposition of the right to public protests with the need to maintain peace and orderliness in the country.

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In : Abuja

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