Thursday, December 13, 2007

Appeal Court Nullifies Public Order Act

From Funso Muraina and Chuks Okocha in Abuja, 12.12.2007

The Court of Appeal in Abuja yesterday put to rest the controversy surrounding public procession over whether or not there is a need for police permit.

The court said it was no longer necessary to obtain permit before embarking on any assembly.

In its judgment, the appellate court presided over by Justice Danladi Mohammad held that such police approval infringed on the fundamental human rights provided for in the 1999 Constitution.

“The provision of the Act is unnecessary. We are in democracy and Nigeria has joined the league of civilised societies,'' Justice Olufunmilayo Adekeye who read the lead judgment said.

Justice Adekeye said it was wrong to continue to rely on the colonial method of suppressing people from exercising and enjoying their rights under the guise of Public Order Act.

The lead counsel to the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Mr. Femi Falana, had filed a suit on September 21, 2003, condemning the police for disrupting the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) rally at Kano with tear-gas.

The panel gave the judgment in an appeal by the Federal Government against the decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

Justice Anwuri Chikere of the High Hourt had in 2005 nullified the Act on the ground that it was obsolete and a neo-colonialist rule.

Dissatisfied with the decision of the lower court, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Nigerian Police Force had filed an appeal.

The plaintiffs had contended that the Federal Government was using the Act to victimise and terrorise opposition.

CNPP had also alleged that the Act was used by the PDP to suppress the opposition.

Justice Chikere also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Inspector General of Police (IGP) from preventing aggrieved citizens of Nigeria including the plaintiffs from organising or convening peaceful assemblies, meetings and rallies against unpopular government policies.

According to the presiding judge, the court held that the provisions of the Public Order Act (Cap 382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (1990) were in conflict with the provision of Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.

The CNPP had on April 2, 2004 written to the Federal Capital Territory Police Commissioner, Mr. Emmanuel Adebayo, for a permit in line with the provisions of the Public Order Act, (Cap 382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 which required the issuance of police permit to any group wishing to embark on rally.

They wrote the letter sequel to a proposed mass rally by the parties in protest against the 2003 general elections.

Section 1 of the Act made it mandatory for a police permit to be procured before embarking on a rally.

After the controversial Kano rally, the CNPP filed a suit at a Federal High Court in Abuja challenging the constitutionality of the Act.

The parties through their lawyer, Falana, had filed the suit on February 9, 2004 at the Federal High Court, Abuja asking the court to restrain the Federal Government from preventing their members and any aggrieved citizens from holding rallies in any part of Nigeria.

They asked the court to declare that the requirement of police permit for the holding of rallies was illegal and unconstitutional.

The parties posted the following questions for the court to answer.

Whether police permit or any authority was required for holding rally or procession in any part of the Federal Republic.

Secondly, the parties wanted to know whether the provisions of the Public Order Act which prohibits the holding of rallies or processions without a police permit are not illegal and unconstitutional by virtue of Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria of Nigeria, 1990.

The parties urged the court to declare that the provisions of the Act which required police permit or any other authority for the holding of rallies or processions in any part of Nigeria was illegal and unconstitutional as they contravene section 40 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act.)

They sought a declaration that the Inspector General of Police was not competent under the Public Order Act or under any law whatsoever to issue or grant permit for the holding of rallies in any part of Nigeria.

In the affidavit attached to the writ, which was sworn to by Maxi Okwu, the General Secretary of the CNPP, the parties stated that the IGP prevented them from staging a peaceful rally on May 29, 2003.

He averred that the solidarity rally organised by the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in Kano, Kano State on September 22, 2003, was disrupted by the police on the ground that no police permit was obtained.

“That in the course of disrupting the rally the police tear gassed the crowd and the ANPP leaders including Dr. Chuba Okadigbo who died barely 24 hours later,” Okwu said.Government in defending the suit filed no counter affidavit as they came to court asking that the entire suit be dismissed.

The high court judge refused and heard the matter. She not only answered the two fundamental questions in favour of the political parties, she also granted all the prayers sought.

The plaintiff political parties in the case include ANPP, National Conscience Party (NCP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), National Democratic Party (NDP), Democratic Alternative (DA), APGA, PAC, Peoples Salvation Party PSP), United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP), MDJ and Community Party of Nigeria (CPN).

Reacting to the judgment, the CNPP commended the judiciary for consigning the Public Order Act to the dustbin of history.

The Director of Publicity of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Maxi Okwu and the Assistant National Legal Adviser, All Nigeria Peoples Party, Mr. Enobong Ete, said the ruling was a victory for democracy. Okwu said the judgment was a landmark in the history of the country as the police had killed many Nigerians during the military era and under the present democratic dispensation, while attempting to disrupt peaceful assembly.

“I commend Justice Chikere for her courage and this landmark judgment which is a victory for democracy.

“In fact, the ruling is a milestone in our politics because Nigerians will no longer be under the ubiquitous control of the police, which had for so long trampled on their right to peaceful assembly under Section 40 of the constitution.

“The law is a colonial heritage, which should not be part of our statute books because the colonial masters used it to checkmate anti-colonial struggles of early nationalists,” he said.

Ete, who is also the Editor-in Chief of Nigeria Labour Law, said, “The judgment marks a new dawn for democracy in Nigeria. This has put paid to abuses of the rights of Nigerians by the police who demand that permit be obtained from them before any rally is carried out.”

He regretted that the court pronouncement could not come before the 2003 Kano rally, where the police disrupted it with teargas, which allegedly led to the death of Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, who was ANPP’s presidential running mate.

The CNPP said the judgment had reaffirmed the spirit and letters of Sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution and Sections 9 and 11 of African Charter on Peoples Rights, which upheld inalienable right of freedom of expression and association.

According to the group, “In this instance, our commendation goes to the Appeal Court, Abuja, for upholding and reaffirming the earlier judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, presided over by Hon. Justice Anwuli Chikere on 25th June 2004; declaring police permit illegal and expunging all provisions relating to obtaining police permit for peaceful assembly.

“By this historic judgment, one of the obnoxious relics of colonialism, the Public Order Act has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Our democracy is the greatest beneficiary of this judgment, for freedom of expression and assembly are core ingredients of democracy.

“CNPP is vindicated for the fact that with the judgment, Nigeria has joined other democratic nations to exercise the fundamental and inalienable rights of liberty and freedom. In other words, Nigerians can peacefully protest unpopular government policies without police permit.

“Most importantly, the judgment has demonstrated that tyranny can only reign if patriots keep quiet in the face of tyranny. Hence, freedom and liberty corollary by this judgment was earned by the commitment and devotion of CNPP leadership.”

Source: Thisday Online