Pelumi Olajengbesi, Esq. writes
There is an ongoing ‘conscienceless’ atrocity by officers of the Nigeria Police Force against law-abiding citizens of the country who trooped out to protest against the incessant security challenges in the country which has rendered many homeless and exposed communities to incessant existential attacks by herdsmen, bandits and other unknown gunmen.
The protest is said to have been led by one-time presidential aspirant, Omoyele Sowore, and aimed at expressing dissatisfaction against the state of affairs in the country and the manner in which same is being handled by the Nigerian government.
It is however saddening and indeed condemnable that such a constitutionally guaranteed movement has been greeted with a violent and brutal response by the government who, acting through its Police Officers, opened fire on unarmed, peaceful protesters leading to several serious injuries on citizens, including a fatal wound on the person of Comrade Omoyele Sowore.
The right to protest cannot be over emphasized in a democratic society. Section 39 and 40 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria remain glaring. Section 40 provides that;
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other person, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests”.
In addition to this, Nigeria is a signatory to many international treaties which have direct provisions that guarantee the right to peaceful demonstrations. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (ICCPR) under article 21 makes provisions for peaceful assembly. It provides thus;
“…the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or moral or the protection of the rights and freedom of others.”
To buttress the point, article 11 of the 1981 African Charter on Human and People’s Right further states that;
“…every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law, in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedom of others.”
It is crystal clear from the foregoing that the Comrade Sowore-led peaceful protesters committed no infractions nor broke any local laws but simply exercised their constitutional right to movement, assembly and association. Therefore, the government’s violent response to the legitimate grievances of the Nigerian people through the brutally attacked protesters betray its ignorance of the people’s plight and affirms emerging consensus on the lack of legitimacy of a government that cannot guarantee the safety of its own people.
Without mincing words, I want to reiterate that the Buhari led administration will be held responsible and dragged before the international community should anything happen to Comrade Sowore and indeed all participants in today’s peaceful protest at the Unity Fountain, Abuja. The Nigerian government must do better and be more mindful of its troubling antecedents as hard of hearing and failing to distil historical hindsight from the experiences of the past.
It is high time the Nigerian government place premium on human life and respect the rule of law which is the hallmark of any civil society across the globe. Indeed, it must be seen to pursue the course of justice in this unfolding matter by arresting and prosecuting the officers whose overzealousness has caused grievous bodily and psychological harm to today’s protesters.
Any extrajudicial harm to an individual or a group is an affront to all, and well-meaning members of the public and civil society groups must waste no time in cooperating towards making a deterrent scapegoat of the police officers who acted ultra vires today.
Having severally commented on the mindlessness and abhorrent actions of the Nigeria Police Force, I am appalled by its apparent inability to reform itself through proper and professional conduct, repeatedly choosing to be truant with state power and reckless in its policing. Indeed, we must have a conversation on the continuous tenability of the Force as presently constituted with a view to arriving at a policy action that will tame its excesses.
Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq. is a Legal Practitioner and Principal at Law Corridor, Nigeria.