Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Thursday said that Nigerians do not require police permits to organize rallies or protests.
Falana was speaking on the backdrop of recent events in Rivers State where the police dispersed rallies organized by the Save Rivers Movement (SRM) because they did not have police permit.
But the lawyer said in Lagos that both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal had held that making police permit a prerequisite for holding rallies was illegal and a violation of the provisions of the constitution.
He said, “It is submitted, without any fear of contradiction, that the power to issue license or permit for holding public meetings, assemblies and processions was never vested in the Inspector-General of Police and Police Commissioners but in the state governors.
“Police permit, which is a relic of colonialism, has been annulled on the ground of its inconsistency with the provisions of the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on freedom of assembly, association and expression”.
Falana noted that the decision of the lower court in 2006 and its subsequent affirmation by the Court of Appeal in 2008 had paved the way for protests or rallies to take place without a permit from the police.
The case was instituted by the now defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party and others against the Inspector General of Police after the party’s rally, protesting against the rigging of the 2003 elections, was disrupted by the police because it did not obtain a police permit before embarking on the rally.
Falana, who represented ANPP in the court case, said the provisions of the Public Order Act (Cap P42) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which made governor’s permission mandatory for a rally to take place was nullified in the judgment of the court.
He said, “Following the aforesaid judgment of the Federal High Court, the Olusegun Obasanjo Administration ensured that the protests organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress in 2005 against incessant hike in the prices of petroleum products were not disallowed by the police.
“In the same vein, the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, ensured that the rallies convened by the Save Nigeria Group in Lagos and Abuja in 2010 to protest the ‘coup’ of the cabal that seized power, when the late President Umaru Yar’adua was in a state of coma in a foreign hospital, were not attacked by the Police.
“Since democracy admits freedom of expression, the holding of dissent, protests, marches, rallies and demonstrations, the right of Nigerians to freedom of expression should not be enjoyed on the basis of the whims and caprices of the ruling class”.