Members of the #BringBackOurGirls coalition have asked a court to order the Federal Capital Territory Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu, to pay them N200m as damages for violating their rights.
Their request is contained in a suit they filed at a Federal High Court in the FCT on Tuesday challenging the ban on rallies in the FCT by Mbu.
Shortly after their lawyer, Femi Falana headed for the court, Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, over-ruled the CP.
He said since the Nigeria Police Force had not issued any order banning peaceful assemblies/protests anywhere in Nigeria, the ban announced by the controversial FCT police commissioner could not stand.
Mbu had said on Monday said that the trend the protests for the release of the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram was taking made the ban necessary.
He claimed that shortly after the #BringBackOurGirls’ Group protested on April 28, another group ‘‘ReleaseOurGirls’’ emerged, a development he said constituted a security threat to the FCT.
“Protests on the Chibok girls are hereby banned with immediate effect. As the FCT police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness (protests). Information reaching us is that too soon, dangerous elements will join groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government,” the CP had said.
His announcement immediately drew criticisms from human rights lawyers and activists with the Oby Ezekwesili-led BBOG vowing to contest the ban in court.
But Abubakar, who spoke through the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, on Tuesday, said the NPF only issued advisory notice enjoining Nigerians to apply caution during rallies, particularly in the FCT and its environs.
This he said, was against the backdrop of the 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 IG said the Police high command regarded peaceful rallies as the constitutional and democratic rights of Nigerians.
He stressed the need for the organisers of rallies to ensure that they sought proper advice and guidance from the Police before engaging in such so as to avoid any unpleasant circumstances.
Abubakar 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.
“The Police only issued advisory notice, enjoining citizens to apply caution while holding rallies, particularly in the FCT and its environs.”
The IG called on the general public to see the present position of the force as a necessary sacrifice for the peace of the nation.
He said, “Citizens are strongly advised to reconsider their positions on the issues of rallies and protests in FCT until the existing threats are appropriately neutralised and removed from our midst by relevant security agencies.”
Abubakar reassured Nigerians of the commitment of the police to the protection of lives and property and advancing the course of democracy in the country.
When contacted for her reaction, the BBOG Coordinator and former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, said the group had instituted a suit against the FCT police in court.
She added that she would not speak further until the issue was decided by the judiciary.
In the suit, the BBOG asked an FCT Federal High Court to award N200m to its members as damages for the violation of their rights by the CP.
Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a rights activist, had in the suit he filed on behalf of the BBOG members, contended that Mbu’s directive constituted a violation of his clients’ “fundamental rights to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association as guaranteed by sections 38, 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution.”
He added that such directive violated the said rights of his clients guaranteed under Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2004.
The plaintiffs urged the court to, among other prayers, declare that Mbu’s decision to ban protests and rallies in the FCT with effect from Monday (June 1) was illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.
One of their four prayers read thus, “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 expression, assembly and association as guaranteed by sections 38, 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution and Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2004.”
Apart from Ezekwesili, who is the 10th plaintiff, others are Hadiza Bala Usman, Mr. Samuel Yaga, Mrs Rebecca Yaga, Mrs Sarah Ishaya, Mallam Dunama Mpur, Lawan Abana, Dr. Pogu Bitrus and Dauda Iliya.
The Kibaku Area Development Association, Maryam Uwais, Bashir Yusuf, Jibrin Ibrahim, Jibrin Ibrahim, Saudatu Mahdi, Bukky Shonibare, Rotimi Olawale and Florence Ozor are also plaintiffs.
The first plaintiff, Usman, deposed to a 25-paragraph affidavit in support of the suit, in which she said that the BBOG movement never engaged in any form of violent protests.
She averred that a group of the Women for Peace and Justice, to which she belonged, had been engaged in daily advocacy and campaign for 31 days “on the plight of the abducted schoolgirls. ”.
She added that the group had on May 28, 2014, written a letter to the IG and Mbu, notifying them of its activities which were being conducted “with utmost civility.”
The protesters, after filing the suit staged a short procession to the National Human Rights Commission which is located along the same Trigris Crescent. They sang solidarity songs and brandished their protest banners.
Before the IG’s directive , a former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav and the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, described Mbu’s action as a clear case of the violation of the rights of Nigerians to hold peaceful protests.
Tsav said, “The ban by the Police over Chibok girls protests in Abuja is a rape of justice to mankind and a denial of the rights of the people to hold peaceful demonstration.
“This is clearly a deliberate attempt by the Federal Government to cover its inefficiency and awful failure to provide security for the people.”
On his part, Odumakin said, “Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed in a democracy and the police authorities must respect that.
“While there is need to maintain public order, there is no evidence that the protests have degenerated to likely breach of public peace, except the police have information that we don’t have.”
Falana and other human rights lawyers like Bamidele Aturu, Festus Keyamo and Femi Aborisade called on the IG to sanction Mbu for embarrassing the police.
Falana, who insisted that his clients would not withdraw their suit despite Abubakar’s intervention, recalled that Mbu “had in the same way embarrassed the police in Rivers State.”
He said, “We did not sue the IG ; we only sued the FCT Commissioner of Police. Even with the IG ’s clarification, we will not withdraw the suit because the CP has already violated their (protesters’) rights and we have no instruction to withdraw the case.
“The IG came out to say that Nigerians were entitled to police protection when they are demonstrating peacefully. But having come to that conclusion, it is hoped that Mbu will be sanctioned.
“This was the way the way he repeatedly embarrassed the police when he was CP in Rivers State. He deliberately promoted tension there until the IG intervened by asking the police to give protection to those who wanted to demonstrate.
“With this clarification given by the police will continue to give protection to the women.”
Keyamo said the police authorities should deploy Mbu to “a small computer department, where he would be playing computer games all day.”
“Let the IG deploy him to the computer department instead of allowing him to be embarrassing the police, himself and his family all the time. This is exactly what he did in Rivers State, allowing himself to be used by politicians,” Keyamo said.
Aturu suggested that Mbu should “be evaluated by the Police Service Commission to determine whether he knows what the police should be doing in a democracy.”
He added that the citizens should condemn the PSC for allowing people like Mbu to remain in the police.
He said, “I have since been vindicated that Mbu’s unguarded statement, which he passed off as a directive, must have really embarrassed the police.
“I think the people should even by criticising the PSC for allowing people like Mbu to remain in the police.”
On his part, Aborisade said, “It is not enough for the IG to overrule Mbu. Mbu ought to be sanctioned through suspension and/or expulsion from the police f for the assault, which his purported ban or protests had caused Nigerians.”