By Inibehe Effiong,
There are reports that the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, has banned all forms of “illegal protests” in the state in response to the recent protest in front of the Akwa Ibom State Government House by poor and abandoned local government pensioners in the state on 11th July, 2016 which coincided with the governor’s 50th birthday.
The governor reportedly issued the draconian decree on Wednesday 13th July, 2016 while interacting with Government House Correspondents in Uyo. The purported ban on street protests cannot and will not stand, same being unconstitutional, autocratic, illegal, null and void.
For clarity, Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) guarantees every Nigerian citizen, either alone or in community with others, the fundamental rights to freedom of expression; association and peaceful assembly, respectively. Save for the limited restrictions and derogation in Section 45 of the Constitution, these rights are not subject to the views, control or orders of any state governor, authority or person.
The expression “Chief Security Officer of the State” usually ascribed to governors in the country is only a political coinage and has no specific constitutional powers or provisions supporting it.
Though a governor is empowered to issue such “LAWFUL directions” to the Commissioner of Police in his state under Section 215 (4) of the Constitution for the maintenance of public safety and order, such orders must be lawful as specified by the Constitution, and must not have the effect of interfering with the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to hold peaceful rallies, protests or demonstrations.
The declaration and categorisation of any protest as “illegal” is nothing but the personal opinion of governor Udom Emmanuel and has no legal consequence whatsoever.
Furthermore, the Court of Appeal in the celebrated case of All Nigeria Peoples Party v. Inspector General of Police (2008) 12 WRN 65 decided that Nigerians do not require police permit before they can hold peaceful rallies and protests. The court unreservedly declared such requirement unconstitutional, null and void.
In the light of the foregoing, residents of Akwa Ibom State should ignore and disregard any purported ban on street protests by the governor. They should feel free to protest peacefully in the streets whenever they are legitimately aggrieved since the Constitution allows it.
In line with the Constitution, democratic principles and rule of law, the Akwa Ibom State Police Command should ignore any invitation by the state government to trample on the rights of the residents of the state.
Instead of dissipating his time and public resources on unconstitutional adventures, Mr Udom Emmanuel should become more responsive to the pitiable conditions of his people and perform the duties of the office that he found himself occupying by circumstances which are familiar to him and the people of Akwa Ibom State. Mr. Emmanuel cannot cover his crass leadership failures and ineptitude by resorting to unconstitutionality and tyranny.
Governor Udom Emmanuel should desist from making unconstitutional, inflammatory and inciting utterances. Dictatorship will never be tolerated and dictators will never triumph.
Inibehe Effiong is a Legal Practitioner and Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD) and can be reached at: [email protected]