On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of the Federal High Court in June 2005 that the Public Order Act, which in Section 1 of the Act makes it mandatory for a Police permit to be applied for and obtained by any person or group before embarking on a public rally or procession is unconstitutional. Under the Public Order Act, no group or person can organize a public rally or procession without first applying for and obtaining a Police approval. The Court of Appeal in its decision struck down the requirement under the Act for Police permit holding it as an infraction of the fundamental human rights of persons and groups in the country. The Court of Appeal held that the provisions of the Public Order Act are unnecessary as Nigeria is “in a democracy” and “has joined the league of civilised society.”
The Court of Appeal decision is another landmark decision in the country’s judicial history. Globally, public rallies and processions are part and parcel of democracy. I have always maintained that public rallies and processions are extension of the citizens’ freedom of expression and association and should not be restricted or disrupted. That the duty of the law enforcement agents is to monitor public rallies and processions and bring to the law any person who comes in conflict with the law. Disrupting peaceful assemblies by the law enforcement agents is anachronistic, dictatorial and abuse of the human rights of persons in Nigeria. There have been several cases of abuses by the Police and the State Security Services. The government in power has always used the Public Order Act with the active aid and connivance of the law enforcement agents to halt peaceful protests against obnoxious and unpopular laws, policies and programs of government. Good morning, Nigeria!
I hereby urge the Attorney General of the Federation to advise the Federal Government not to appeal against the decision to the Supreme Court. Instead, the Federal Government should start a re-training of the Police and other law enforcement agents on managing public rallies and processions, and also give them a code of conduct that meets the international standard on managing public rallies and processions.