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Mixed reactions trail #RevolutionNow protest, arrests

protest

By Innocent Anaba, Henry Ojelu and Onozure Dania

The #RevolutionNow protest, which started in some parts of the country on Monday, came despite warning by the police, that the act was treasonable ab initio. The Monday’s protest in Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Cross River states  was characterised by mass arrest of the protesters by the police, who were combat ready.

In this edition of Law and Human Rights, we sought the views of lawyers on the way security agents descended on the protesters and the position of the police that such a protest was treasonable.

Protest
#RevolutionNow Protester being attacked by Security agents in Osogbo, Osun State capital on Monday

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Those who spoke include,Chief Solomon Akuma SAN, Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN; Labour activist and lawyer, Femi Aborisade; lawyer and Executive Director, Campaign for the Advancement of Justice,  CAJ, Israel Mbaebie; Gideon Okebu; Kabir Akingbolu, member, Ekiti State Judicial Commission; Dele Igbinedion; Emmanuel Ochai; Chijioke Nlebedim; Ogu Ogedi; Olanrewaju  Ajanaku; Chief Morah Ekwunoh and David Fadile.

Excerpt:

Chief Akuma, SAN

What Police did on Monday by descending on harmless Nigerians was an infringement of the fundamental rights of Nigeria to freedom of movement. The protest was not treasonable as alleged by the Police. The Police tagged the protest treasonable in order to find sufficient reason to truncate the protest.

Prof  Ojukwu, SAN

The Nigeria Police got it wrong to stop civil protests whether dubbed revolutionary protests or not. The Nigerian Constitution and our laws guarantees our freedoms including the right to assemble to protest and express ourselves.

The reality is that anti democratic forces still control our Nigeria Police and the Police itself are an offshoot of Nigerians steeped in sycophantic amnesia and always trying to please their appointor.  They must understand that they serve the people.

I have sympathy for the Police that has failed woefully to tackle the massive security challenges facing the country now but their energy should be focused on these security challenges and not dissipate energy on chasing and harassing law abiding citizens whose only call is for peaceful protests. Our democracy and governance and in fact the existence of the Nation will be challenged if the Police is not pulled back from this their journey on a road to nowhere.

Femi Aborisade

I condemn the police attack on the protesters with all the veins in me. I am sad that the exercise of democratic and fundamental right to protest peacefully is being criminalized and protesters are being brutalized in ways that did not happen even under military dictatorship. I am sad because those of us who made modest contributions and sacrifices to terminate military dictatorship did not make such sacrifices only to have the worst form of government, worse than the most vicious military regime. We are not slaves in Nigeria. Those in control of this government must be ready to pay for crimes against humanity at the appropriate time.

Section 37 and 41 of the criminal code that provide for the offences of treason and treasonable felony, respectively, do not categorise peaceful protest as offences. Sections 39, 40 and 41 provide for the right of freedom of expression, right of association and free movement as fundamental rights. This regime must be compelled to resign through peaceful constitutional right. Apart from the right to life, the next most important right is the right to peaceful protest. Criminalizing freedom of peaceful protest is akin to deprivation of life. We reject it.

Israel Mbaebie

The way and manner the Nigerian Police Force descended on the unarmed “RevolutionNow” Protesters on Monday is bereft of any logical reasoning or explanation. Or, how else could one attempt to explain the despicable conduct. For one, the actions of the Police must have sent a very wrong signal to the international community that what we have in place today in Nigeria under the watch of General Muhammad Buhari is nothing short of a glorified military junta. For starters, Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides thus; “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”On the other hand, section 40 of the same Constitution goes further to provide as follows; “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”

It therefore, goes without saying that the combined effect of the two   above mentioned constitutional provisions entitle every Nigerian not only to speak out but also speak up both in favour or against the government. They are also entitled to hold and organise protests as it were. So, it beats all imagination and or common sense on what basis the Police acted as unashamedly as it did on August 5, 2019.

The action of the police is unlawful, illegal, ultra vires and of course, condemnable. It paints the picture of Nigeria as a banana republic. It evokes the thoughts of the classic satiric novel Animal Farm where some “animals were equal but some are more equal than others.” Or how else can one also possibly explain the fact that while some of the anti-government Protesters were allegedly being manhandled by the police at National Stadium, Lagos and other places, the same Police were offering shelter and protection to pro-government protesters at Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.

How does one describe this? Is the Nigerian Police APC or PDP Police? Are they no longer Nigerian Police? Should they be known to be this manifestly biased? What differentiates them from the colonial police or the police under Buhari’s very good friend Sani Abacha? Nigeria is fast descending into a pariah state status.

Incidentally, we have been recently observing protests in other saner climes like Hong Kong and France. At no point have the police in those countries demonstrated any biases whatsoever. It is really worrying times for our hard fought and hard earned democracy under the watch of General Buhari. Things are truly falling apart. Not too late to beat a retreat though.

On the assertion of the police that the protest called by members of the “RevolutionNow” group is treasonable; nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, it is a laughable and pedestrian argument of the basest order. It is lacking in logic and knowledge and understanding of our extant laws.

In the Court of Appeal Case in THE INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE V ALL NIGERIA PEOPLE’S PARTY & ORS reportedin (2007) 18 NWLR  (Pt.1066) 457 C.A;(2007) LPELR-8932(CA)while delivering judgment relating to the propriety or otherwise of a police permit prior to a demonstration has this to say as per ADEKEYE, JCA; “Since the Federal Government has publicly conceded the right of Nigerians to hold public meetings or protest peacefully against the government, the defendant/appellant cannot be permitted to request this court to sanction the violation of the freedom of assembly of Nigerians.”

In this case, the Court of Appeal did not only empower Nigerians to hold protests, but goes further to state in very unequivocal terms that no Nigerian need any Police Permit before such protests are held. This is of course in consonance with the constitutional provisions of Sections 39 & 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

What makes the above pronouncement more intriguing and interesting was that it emanated from a protest march in which Buhari as the then Presidential candidate of the defunct ANPP was involved. Today, the same Buhari is attempting to scuttle the same process that paved the way for his emergence as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

If therefore, protest marches are duly recognised by both the Constitution and our law courts, from where do the police import or how do they tend to justify their claim that the action of the protesters amounted to treasonable felony? It is laughable to say the least.

Gideon Okebu

While every Nigerian has a right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression under sections 40 and 39 of the constitution, respectively, which includes the right to peaceable protests, those rights are limited by Section 45(a) of the constitution and do not cover associations or expressions which are capable of or intended to breach public order and safety.

In particular, actions or conduct which incite or entreat an insurrection or call for mutiny are illegal and treasonable and are grounds for which a citizen’s life may be lawfully taken (Section 33(2) (c) of the constitution).

The call for a revolution now is also not coterminous with Section 1(2) of the constitution which provides that no person or group shall take control of Nigeria or any part thereof except in accordance with the constitution- (elections).The actions of the protesting youths and Sowore are ill advised and have no constitutional backing, as the intendment of the protest is to spark a revolution.

Kabir Akingbolu

The arrest of Sowore has different dimensions. One, if the arrest is based on the call for revolution in governance, revolution against corruption, incompetence and so on, I don’t think the government is right. This is because everyone has the right under the law to protest against a bad leader and against incompetence of the president and the soaring corruption in the country under this government. The call for revolution is not peculiar to Nigeria. We have heard of Cuba Revolution, China Revolution, British and American Revolutions and so on. So it is within the competence of an individual to protest against the government for any perceived wrong.  The right for individual to criticise the government has been recognised by our Superior Court long ago when Justice Olatawura declared that every person has a right to criticise the government on any bad policy and any leader who does not want to be criticised should get a scab of wool and block his ears so as not to listen to criticism because as long as the leaders continue to take decisions that affect the people, the people must criticise them.

The decision of Supreme Court outlawed law of sedition in Nigeria. In this case, however, the question to ask is, are the elements of treason present? I think so, because looking at the law, especially sections 40 and 41 of the Criminal Code, one will see that except one applies emotions and sentiments, Sowore was not right. His choice of word is too strong and too direct that no reasonable and sensible government will fold its arms and watch the country burn in flames. Worse still, he threatened that all the security agencies likeDSS will cease to exist.

This is a serious threat to the unity of Nigeria especially at this time that Nigeria is faced with internal strife, so if the government folds its arms in such a situation, it’s at their own peril. Although, when President Buhari himself lost election in 2011, he said Nigerians should learn from the Egyptian revolution.  In Egypt then, people were on the streets for 18 days and they succeeded. Now that he is not allowing the revolution he once preached, your guesses are as good as mine.

Emmanuel Ochai

The 1999 Constitution as amended of Nigeria guarantees the freedom of association and freedom of expression.

The #RevolutionNow members were demonstrating against bad governance, which is their right under the law. There is absolutely nothing treasonable about their actions.

The Nigerian Police and other security agencies in their characteristic manner, descended on peaceful and unarmed civilians who were exercising their constitutional rights.

The security agencies have not shown where and how the protesters committed treason.

The members of the #RevolutionNow group are also entitled to their right to dignity of human person guaranteed under Section 34 of the Constitution.

But the actions of the police and other security agencies in manhandling them shows that the security agencies have no respect for human rights at all.

Chijioke Nlebedim

Showore, the convener of the protest should have been more circumspect on the choice of the name.

Revolution in its ordinary meaning suggest violent abrupt change. Even though his intention are good and resonates  with Nigeria’s who are suffering under PMB.

He was not tactful. I do not think any government any where  will folds its hands and allow a protest under that name.

Recall that Sowore  contested the elections with the incumbent which is a being litigated on. One can speculate that the opposition party maybe behind this protest.

The protest is a welcome one but done under a wrong harsh tag.

Dele Igbinedion

I think the so called #RevolutionNow group is totally misguided, their position is utterly irrelevant and their modus operandi is abysmally irritating to me and all well meaning Nigerians. In this context, I condemn their whole idea of a revolution now or at any time.

Having said that, I would have expected that the security agents should have ignored the rantings of Mr. Sowore. He should have been allowed to let off steam and then disappear into his House. For me, I seriously doubt whether Sowore can do more than to pontificate, speak a lot of English and then rest, to wait for another day. Hence, arresting his cohorts only makes them to get relevance.

In the circumstances, I urge the Police to soft pedal on the characterisation of the protest as treasonable, and to see it as the expression of constitutionally guaranteed free speech, though the speech signifies nothing actually. However, the law remains that mere words, unaccompanied by no overt acts, cannot amount to treason. To desire a better society, though they adopted  pedestrian tactics, is nonetheless, not condemnable.

Ogu Ogedi

Protest is one of the ways to press home a demand in democratic settings.

And in so doing, the citizens can conduct peaceful procession which is termed protest. So in so far the such protest remains peaceful, the law permits that.

So if people are moving about carrying placards and it is peaceful, the police should respect the rights of such citizens and accord them necessary protection during such protest and safeguard  lives and properties during such protests.

Olanrewaju  Ajanaku

My take is that Sowore brought the ugly situation upon himself and by extension, on his followers/ RevolutionNowProtest{ers}.

I know or understand revolution to be an unplanned, spontaneous or instantaneous uproar  against a government at any level. I bet that the reason why the government descended on the #RevolutionProtest{ers} is simple, their leader, Sowore said he  would shut down the government and there was an intention between him and his followers where common minds met. Sowore had said earlier that by Monday {05/08/19}, there won’t be any Department of State Security called “DSS’

Lagos State is a volatile state. If the so-called protesters were allowed a field day, the ‘protests’ might get out of hand and spread to other locations which may be difficult to contain.

All in all, catastrophe was held in check.

You don’t carry your liberty too far. Certain issues can arise that would curtail that liberty temporarily as it has happened. By the way, are you aware that some of the ‘protesters’ were arraigned before an Ebute-Metta Magistrate Court this morning? We shall see how it fans out.

David Fadile

Nigerian Police is a creation of the constitution. The roles of the police force are contained in the constitution and The Police Act. The right to peaceful assembly is a recognised right under the constitution. There is no evidence to suggest that the protesting Nigerians protesting against bad governance were armed with weapons to have raised a presumption that the protesters are out to unleash terrors on the hapless Nigerians.                                                                                      Nigeria police should live up to their constitutional mandate and stop dancing gallery.                                            The energy dissipated on the protesters should have been geared towards curbing the menace of Fulani herdsmen, banditry, kidnappers etc rather than this show of shame.

Morah Ekwunoh

It’s utterly laughable and ridiculous to classify mere sloganism of ‘#RevolutionNow’, and public assembly by innocent, harmless and armless Nigerians flowing there from,without more, as acts  of treason.

This is because mere adoption of the sloganeering  harshtag “Revolution Now,” as a protest theme and road-show associated with same, as done in such innocent, harmless and armless manners by the protesters, do not even provide any iota, semblance or modicum of the twin cardinal elements and ingredients of any crime, whatsoever, namely,  mens rea and actus reus, which must  crystallise and synthesise together  to constitute any crime,  whatsoever, talk less of treason, as known to law.

Obviously, it was in recognition of the police admission, acknowledgement and, acquisance to this crystal clear and unmistakable legal position that the arrested and charged six were merely arraigned for “unlawful assembly and conducts likely to cause a breach of the peace,” which are mere misdemeanour  offences, in the stead of the much-touted treason. Still, the present police charge, being built on the foundation of quick-sands, as stated above,  will, certainly fall and collapse like a pack of light cards, to the police shame and opprobrium.

Certainly, the threats of thunder and brimstone of  treasonable classification is nothing but high -falluting sounds and furry, signifying nothing, other than demonstration of  the government’s notorious aversion to plurality of views,  and its continued  deployment of sledgehammer on the flies of dissent and opposition, no matter how patriotic and well-intentioned they may be.

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