Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has asked the Nigeria Police Force to apologise to the June 12 protesters it arrested on Saturday for violating their fundamental human right to freedom of expression.
Falana, a human rights lawyer, made the demand in a statement issued to journalists on Sunday.
Various groups scheduled demonstrations on Saturday (June 12) – designated as Democracy Day in Nigeria – to protest against the state of the nation and the governance of President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, reports, videos and pictures emerged of police officers manhandling protesters In Lagos and Cross River states, and Abuja for coming out to protest.
Reacting, Falana said peaceful protests are fundamental rights of Nigerians as provided for in the 1999 constitution.
According to the senior lawyer, the police violated the constitution as it “banned rallies and protests throughout the country on June 12, 2021”.
The statement read: “For having the audacity to insist on their fundamental right to protest against unpopular policies of Governments, teams of armed police personnel fired teargas to disperse the peaceful rallies. As if the unprovoked attack was not enough the Police brutalised and arrested scores of protesters in Lagos, Abuja and Calabar.
“Since the protesters who were arrested during the peaceful rallies did not commit any offence, they have since regained their liberty. But the Police Authorities ought to apologise for violating the fundamental right of the protesters to freedom of expression.
“More so that the Police had deliberately contravened Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 which provides that ‘Where a person or organization notifies the police of his or its intention to hold a public meeting, rally or procession on a public highway or such meetings in a place where the public has access to, the police officer responsible for the area where the meeting rally or procession will take place shall mobilize personnel to provide security cover for the meeting, rally or the procession.”
Falana commended the protesters for “conducting themselves in a peaceful manner” and condemned “the official lie that the protesters were teargassed to prevent hoodlums and miscreants from hijacking the peaceful rallies”.
The statement read: “Why were the scanty pro-government protesters who were reported to have fought openly in Abuja over their booty not arrested for breach of the peace in the Federal Capital Territory?” he asked.
“The lessons of the unfortunate event of yesterday should be learnt by all sides of the debate on human freedom. The nation should henceforth be spared the periodic assaults on the civic space.”