By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Emmanuel Elebeke & Abdulwahab Abdulah
ABUJA — Barely 24 hours after the FCT Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu announced a ban on protests connected with efforts to secure the release of the more than 200 abducted girls of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State, Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, yesterday, clarified the statement of the Abuja Police Commissioner. The IGP insisted that the Police did not ban peaceful rallies.

The IGP’s intervention came on a day the #BringBackOurGirls group, that is behind the protest, filed a N200m suit at the Abuja High Court, challenging the powers of the Nigerian Police Force to ban any form of protest within the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

Announcing the ban on protests, Monday, Mbu had said: “The trend is now posing a serious security threat to those living around, and as the FCT police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness. Information reaching us is that too soon, dangerous elements will join the groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government. Accordingly, protests on the Chibok Girls are hereby banned with immediate effect”.

The announcement attracted immediate condemnations from across the country.

The Inspector-General of Police, however, issued a clarification yesterday, saying that following a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijack of otherwise peaceful protests by some criminal elements having links with insurgents, the Police only issued ‘an advisory notice’ enjoining citizens to apply caution in the said rallies, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory and its environs.

Police did not ban peaceful rallies — IGP

Addressing the media through the Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Frank Mba, the IG said:

“The Police High Command wishes to inform the general public that the Force has not issued any order banning peaceful assemblies/protests anywhere in Nigeria.

“Against the backdrop of current security challenges in the country, coupled with a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijack of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some criminal elements having links with insurgents, the Police only issued advisory notice, enjoining citizens to apply caution in the said rallies, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory and its environs.

“The IGP calls on the general public to see the present position of the Force as a necessary sacrifice for the peace our nation needs, as security is a collective responsibility. Consequently, citizens are strongly advised to reconsider their positions on the issues of rallies and protests in FCT until the existing threats are appropriately neutralized and removed from our midst by relevant security agencies,” he added.

Elaborating more on the threats, CSP Mba said: “The threat is currently being investigated. Once we are able to clearly and comprehensively neutralize them, we will say the coast is clear.

“You all will agree that under the leadership of the present Police High Command, we have demonstrated a very strong sense of democratic policing. Police have been escorting demonstrators, but this time around, there is over-riding need to advise against these protests”, Mba said.

Ezekwesili, Aturu react

When her reaction was sought, yesterday, on the clarification made by the Inspector General of Police, former Minister of Education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili said: “We have already gone to court; therefore I have nothing else to add.”

In his reaction, Lagos lawyer, Mr Bamidele Aturu said: “The reaction of the Inspector General of Police to the directive of the FCT police boss, Mr. Joseph Mbu, to the extent that protesters should stay away from Abuja shows that Mbu always acts on his own without instruction. He has demonstrated that he is bigger than the authority. Now having violated the law and our rights to freely protest against injustice, what will the authority do to him to prevent future occurrence?”

#BringBackOurGirls group drag Police to court

Meanwhile, erstwhile Minister of Education, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili; wife of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Mrs. Maryam Uwais and 15 others, yesterday, went to court to challenge the powers of the Nigerian Police Force to ban any form of protest within the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, aimed at securing the release of the abducted schoolgirls.

In an application for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights to peaceful assembly and association which they filed before an Abuja High Court at Maitama, the plaintiffs, through their lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, they insisted that the FCT Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, does not have the constitutional powers to stop the #BringBackOurGirls protests.

They maintained that such action by the police would amount to a gross violation of their statutory rights and privileges as guaranteed by Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and Articles 8, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

Others behind the suit, yesterday, were Mrs. Hadiza Bala Usman, Samuel Yaga, Mrs. Rebecca Samuel Yaga, Mrs. Sarah Ishaya, Mallam Dunama Mfur, Lawan Abana, Dr. Fogu Bitrus, Dauda Iliya, Kibaku Area Development Association (KADA), Bashir Ibrahim Yusuf, Jibrin Ibrahim, Saudatu Mahdi, Bukky Shonibare, Rotimi Olawale and Florence Ozor.

The Commissioner of Police, FCT, Mr. Mbu was listed as the sole respondent in the suit.

What they want

Specifically, the plaintiffs are praying the court for:

“An order for the enforcement of the fundamental human rights of the applicants to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association guaranteed by Section 38, 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and Articles 8, 10, 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, LFN, 2004 in terms of the reliefs sought in the statement accompanying the affidavit in support of this application.

“A declaration that the decision of the respondent to ban protests and rallies in the Federal Capital Territory with effect from Monday, June 2, 2014, is illegal, unconstitutional, null and void as it violates the fundamental rights of the applicant to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association guaranteed by Section 38, 39 and 40 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and Articles 8, 10, 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, LFN, 2004.

“A declaration that the respondent is not competent to ban protests and rallies in the Federal Capital Territory in any manner whatsoever and however without an order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondent, his agents and privies from further preventing the applicants or aggrieved Nigerians from taking part in protests and rallies in exercise of their freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association as guaranteed by Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and Articles 8, 10, 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, LFN, 2004.

“An order directing the respondent to pay to the applicant the sum of N200m only as damages for the said act of violation of applicants’ fundamental rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association as guaranteed by Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and Articles 8, 10, 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, LFN, 2004.

In a 25-paragraph affidavit deposed to by the 1st plaintiff, Hadiza Bala Usman, the protesters told the court that they had in the past 31 days, engaged in daily advocacy and campaign on the plight of over 200 school girls abducted from Chibok Secondary School in Borno State, under the aegis of ‘Women for Peace and Justice #BringBackOurGirls.

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