A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Interim Chair, Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Mr Femi Falana, has argued that the planned protest by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is legal. That is despite the position of the Federal Government that it is not.
Falana said: “As a sequel to the failure of the Federal Government to resolve the industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over 5 months ago, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has announced plans to embark on nationwide protest marches and rallies in support of ASUU on July 26 and 27. 2022.
“However, the Federal Government has declared the proposed protest illegal. The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, stated this while briefing journalists on the decisions of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at its meeting in Abuja last Wednesday.”
He added that the proposed protest cannot be said to be illegal since it is an expression of the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly of Nigerian workers guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and articles 39 and 40 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Ratification and Enforcement Act Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. Indeed the fundamental right of the people of Nigeria to protest for and against the Government was upheld by the Court of Appeal in the celebrated case of the Inspector-General of Police v All Nigeria Peoples Party (2008) 12 WRN 65.
Falana argued further: “In the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal, Adekeye JCA (as then was) held that “Public Order Act should be promulgated to compliment sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution in context and not to stifle or cripple it. A rally or placard-carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign state. It is a trend recognised and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilised countries. It will not only be primitive but also retrogressive if Nigeria continues to require a pass to hold a rally. We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience.”
In line with the injunction of the Court of Appeal, the National Assembly ensured that the right of Nigerian citizens to assemble and express themselves freely and peacefully has been complemented by the Police Establishment Act 2020. The Act has imposed a duty on the Nigeria Police Force to provide adequate security during meetings, rallies and processions convened by Nigerian citizens. Specifically, section 83(4) of the Act stipulates as follows: “Where a person or organization 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 mobilize personnel to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.”
“Having confirmed that the Nigeria Labour Congress has notified the Authorities of the Nigeria Police Force of the planned protest marches and rallies in strict compliance with the aforementioned provision of the Police Establishment Act, 2020, we call on the Federal Government to respect the democratic wishes of Nigerian workers to identify with the striking university lecturers. Since the protest by the NLC is just and legitimate the ASCAB has mobilised lawyers in the Federal Capital Territory and the 36 States of the Federation to provide legal services for the protesters.”