Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nigeria: Appeal Court Voids Public Order Act

Vanguard (Lagos)


Posted to the web 12 December 2007


A THREE MAN panel of the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, dismissed an appeal by the Inspector-General of Police seeking to reverse a court's verdict voiding the Public Order Act requiring Nigerians to obtain police permit before embarking on protest rallies against unpopular government's policies.

The court said the decision by the trial high court was okay and must not be disturbed.

Presiding judge of the Court of Appeal panel which delivered judgment in the case yesterday, Justice Rabiu Danladi Muhammad, said the offensive provision of the Public Order Act requiring Nigerians to procure police permit before holding rallies was not only barbaric but also alien to the nation's democracy.

"The Inspector-General of Police has no right to make laws. The IGP should be divested of the powers of giving permit to people before they can stage rallies.

"This is a democracy. Nigeria has joined the league of civilised nations and as such, no individual or group requires a police permit or approval to hold rallies and peaceful assembly.

"This is because the provision of the Act impinges on the fundamental rights of Nigerians as provided for in the 1999 constitution," he said.

Vanguard recalls that a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, had, about two years ago, voided the controversial Public Order Act which requires Nigerians to procure police permit before protesting against inimical policies of governments through peaceful rallies.

The high court judge, Justice Anwuli Chikere, who nullified the Act while giving judgment in a suit initiated by 12 political parties in Nigeria against the Federal Government to challenge the Act held that the law was both illegal and unconstitutional.

Said the judge: "The Public Order Act, as it is, has outlived its usefulness and since it is against the provision of the constitution, I hereby declare it null and void."

Besides, the high court judge also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Inspector-General of Police, his agents, privies and servants from preventing aggrieved citizens of Nigeria including the plaintiffs from organising or convening peaceful assemblies, meetings and rallies against unpopular government policies.

Specifically, 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 said Public Order Act provides that any group of Nigerians willing to stage or hold public rallies either in commemoration of a particular event or to protest an unpopular policies of the government of the day must obtain the permission of the state governor of the state where the rally is to be held.

The governor has the statutory power to delegate the power of granting the permit to the commissioner of police in his state or any most senior police officer in the state in the event the commissioner of police is not available at the time. The position of the state governor on such permit is said to be final.

The said Public Order Act is said to be in conflict with section 40 of the 1999 Constitution which provides that "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."

Commending the judgment at the time, Mr Adesina Oke, who represented the political parties with Mr Femi Falana said: "We commend your courage in giving this epochal judgment. This is the type of verdict that could help democracy in Nigeria to grow.

"This ruling is an attestation to the fact that the judiciary is waxing stronger. It will go a long way to boost the image of the judiciary.

"This is a very courageous verdict. Now Nigerians can peacefully demonstrate against any inimical policies of the government of the day.

They can also gather together to discuss without fear or intimidation or queuing up for police permit or the fiat of the governor before holding any rally.

Although the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Mr Sunday Ehindero, had said he would comply with the court's judgment until set aside, he said he was of the view that the appellate court would upturn it. But rather than upturning it, the appeal court, yesterday, affirmed the decision of the trial court.

The background of the case is that 12 political parties through their lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, had approached the registry of the Federal High Court in Abuja on February 9, 2004 with an originating summons, asking the court to determine two fundamental cum constitutional questions including:

Whether police permit or any authority is required for holding a rally or procession in any part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria ;

Whether the provisions of the Public Order Act (Cap 382) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 which prohibit the holding of rallies or processions without a police permit are not illegal and unconstitutional having regard to section of the 1999 constitution and Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap 10), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.

The Federal Government was represented in the case by the Director of Civil Litigation, Chief Wole Aina.

The plaintiff political parties in the case included ANPP, National Conscience Party, People's Redemption Party, National Democratic Party, Democratic Alternative, APGA, PAC, People's Salvation Party, United Nigeria People's Party, MDJ and Community Party of Nigeria.

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