The Place of Force in A Peaceful Civil Protest. (Lagos)
A person's right to air grievances without fear of retribution or censorship is fundamental to democracy in Nigeria.
Free expression of one's beliefs is protected by the Constitution, which generally protects free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.
Protesting -- the time-honored practice of publicly speaking out against perceived injustices and urging action -- is a form of assembly and thus protected by the Constitution. But while there is a right to peaceful protest in Nigeria, "peaceful" being the operative word, there are limits.
This article will help you better understand your constitutional right to peacefully protest.
The Right to Peaceful Protest: What the Constitution Says
Just one sentence comprises the Protected content of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, granting people the right to various forms of free expression. Under Section 40 of the Protected content of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), every person is entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons.
A case decided by the Nigerian Court of Appeal arising from the Public Order Act, both protected the right to protest and allowed certain limited restrictions. One of the Court's holdings is that any licensing requirement for free expression in publicly owned places is unconstitutional if it's not narrowly defined and objectively applied.
Specifically, that decision overturned an ordinance prohibiting parades and assemblies (including protests) on city streets without a permit. The Court found that permit requests were denied specifically to suppress speech, not to control traffic as the law was intended.
At regional level, Nigeria is a state party to the Protected content Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
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 freedoms of others.
Nigeria is a state party to the Protected content Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
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 interests of national security or public safety, public order , the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly.
According to the Protected content Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the Protected content Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Views of Civil Society
On 21 October Protected content , Amnesty International said that at least 12 people had been killed the previous day at Alausa and Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos and hundreds of others were severely injured when police and soldiers opened fire with live ammunition at unarmed protesters. Amnesty said that CCTV cameras had been dismantled to prevent the collection of evidence.
According to Freedom House's Protected content on Nigeria:
The right to peaceful assembly is constitutionally guaranteed. However, federal and state governments frequently ban public events perceived as threats to national security, including those that could incite political, ethnic, or religious tension. Rights groups have criticized federal and state governments for prohibiting or dispersing protests that are critical of authorities or associated with controversial groups like the IMN [Islamic Movement of Nigeria] and the separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).