A statement by the prominent civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) on the many atrocities of the security Forces against civilian peaceful protesters from 2015 till date and the denting of Nigeria’s International image Cum the imperative of most of the commanders of the security Forces who gave the illegal orders for protesters to be shot dead to be dragged before either the International Criminal Court (ICC) or International Court of Justice (ICJ)
Protest is a form of political participation. Election, which is the most common form, is very ritualistic and periodized, and citizens often have no choice than to follow its rituals and periodization before they can achieve any political or social changes.
With protest however, an opportunity is made available for citizens of a country to demonstrate their need for political change, or ventilate their angers on certain political issues that they do not agree with. Quite often they do this through means ranging from rallies, strikes, street marches, sit-ins and so on.
Demonstration is the most used means of protest all over the world today. All forms of protesting, or means, if we like, can, in a sense, be forms of demonstration since they need to be exhibited to press demands and make claims.
In a democracy, it is the right of citizens to conduct peaceful processions, rallies or demonstrations without seeking and obtaining permission from anybody. It is a right guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution and any law that attempts to curtail such rights are null and void and of no consequence.
Contrary to this, Nigeria has since 2015 seen significant atrocities by the security forces against civilian peaceful protesters. The documented reports by global wide and local NGOs on these incidents and killings have dented Nigeria’s international image. Rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association have continued to be violated with impunity and possess grave implications on the essence of democracy and rule of law.
Since the disruption of public meetings and rallies is an infringement of the fundamental right of Nigerians to freedom of association, assembly and expression it is pertinent to draw the attention of the authorities to the state of the law on public meetings.
According to the respective enabling Acts, the Nigeria Police Force is the primary law enforcement agency along with other federal organizations. The Department of State Services is responsible for internal security and nominally reports to the president through the National Security Adviser.
The Nigerian Armed Forces, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The current central government has not really maintained effective control over the security services.
It cannot been gainsaid nor overemphasized that the clampdown on peaceful protests, arbitrary arrests and detention of activists, and media repression signify a renewed intolerance of free speech and dissent by the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari since 2015.
Since August 2015, there has been a series of protests, marches and gatherings by members and supporters of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) who have been seeking the creation of a Biafran state. Tensions increased further following the arrest of IPOB leader; Nnamdi Kanu on 14 October 2015, who was eventually, released two years later on 28 April 2017 from prison on bail.
According to the investigation published by Amnesty International on November 24, 2016, in 2015 and 2016, the Nigerian security forces, led by the military, embarked on a chilling campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence resulting in the deaths of at least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protesters in the south east of the country.
The Amnesty International had blamed the Nigerian government’s decision to send in the military to respond to pro-Biafra events for the excessive bloodshed. “This reckless and trigger-happy approach to crowd control has caused at least 150 deaths and we fear the actual total might be far higher”, said Makmid Kamara; Amnesty International Nigeria’s Interim Director
By far, the largest number of pro-Biafra activists were killed on Biafra Remembrance Day on 30 May 2016 when an estimated 1,000 IPOB members and supporters gathered for a rally in Onitsha, Anambra State. The night before the rally, the security forces raided homes and a church where IPOB members were sleeping.
Reportedly, on Remembrance Day itself, the security forces shot people in several locations. Amnesty International has not been able to verify the exact number of extrajudicial executions, but estimates that at least 60 people were killed and 70 injured in these two days. The real number is likely to be higher.
On 5 August, 2019 several protesters including journalists were arrested and detained across Nigeria by security officials for participating in the #RevolutionNow protest. This year, while marking the one year anniversary of the protest on August 5th, a similar incident occurred between the protesters and the Nigerian Police.
On 9 July, 2019, at least two Islamic Movement of Nigeria protesters were killed and more than 60 arrested, when their peaceful protest calling for the release of their leader; Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife; Zeenah Ibrahim turned violent after security officials fired live ammunition at the protestors at the National Assembly Complex.
On 22 July 2019, 11 protestors, a Deputy Commissioner of Police and a reporter for Channels Television were killed when police opened fire on IMN protesters during their procession in Abuja. Scores were injured and many arrested when officials from the Nigeria Police violently disrupted the protest, which was largely peaceful.
On 12 November, officials of State Security Service beat up one journalist and fired teargas and live ammunition to disperse activists during a protest to demand for the release of prisoners of conscience; Olawale Bakare and Omoyele Sowore. The Executive Director of Enough is Enough Nigeria; Yemi Adamolekun was also attacked during the protest.
In 2019 alone, security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 200 and killed at least 10 members and supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) at different times.
Last month, precisely on the 23rd of August, 2020, at least two Officers and up to 21 civilians were reportedly killed in a clash between Nigerian Security Forces and members of IPOB in the city of Enugu on August.
OUR POSITION AND DEMANDS:
The provision in section 40 of the Constitution is clear, direct and unambiguous. It is formulated and designed to confer on every person the right to assemble freely and associate with other persons.
With the combined effect of sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution as well as Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the right to assemble freely cannot be violated without violating the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and association.
Violation can only be done by the procedure permitted by law, under section 45 of the Constitution, in which case there must be a state of emergency properly declared before these rights can be violated.
The Public Order Act so far as it affects the right of citizens to assemble freely and associate with others, the sum of which is the right to hold rallies or processions or demonstration is an aberration to a democratic society. The Court of Appeal had already annulled this so called public order Act with regards to any kind of request for police permit for protests.
Therefore, it is clear that the Nigerian government has serially failed to uphold its constitutional mandate of protection of human rights in the country. The right to life of Nigerian citizens has been violated with alarming frequency and without any justification or accountability. State parties are also obligated to act and prevent loss of life, investigate and punish wrongful actions resulting in deaths.
Thus, the inescapability of most of the commanders of the security forces who gave the illegal orders for protesters to be shot dead to be dragged before either International Criminal Court (ICC) or International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the near future is imperative. This is because there is no status of limitations in crimes against humanity if the central or bi-national governments are actively involved in these crimes.
For instance, the Burmese government is now before the ICJ for the killings of Moslem minorities and the Lebanese Islamic Militia also dragged to ICJ over the assassination of ex-Prime Minister; Mr Hariri.
These analogies alongside the sentencing of Charles Taylor, the prosecution of war criminals from Rwanda by the World’s bodies like ICC should teach Current Government in Nigeria a lesson that these various killings of civilians by security forces are being meticulously researched and documented for use at such international judicial fora like ICC and ICJ even as those in government now who are guilty of these crimes against humanity will not escape it.
In our previous similar statement dated 27th August, 2020, we had warned the federal and state governments to desist forthwith from using security forces illegally to crudely quell peaceful protesters because DEMONSTRATIONS are allowed and indeed peaceful protest is the soul of democracy.
Hence, we are by this statement further demanding that these violations must be halted or the violators charged to court for crimes against humanity locally or inevitably they will be dragged to the International Criminal court in The Hague, NETHERLANDS and the ICJ for prosecution in due time since this administration tolerates impunity.
Relatedly, we encourage Nigerians faced with the inevitability of more hardship due to fuel and electricity price hike to mobilize themselves and protest these evil policies unless we, the citizens want an end to freedoms and democracy.
Demonstrations against oppressive policies of government is the surest assurance to the sustenance of democracy because accepting hard pills of evil public policies that violates public good, hook line and sinker without a whimper is to hit death nail on democracy. Nigerians must arise and defend democracy now or forever remain silent.
Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko:
Miss. Zainab Yusuf:
Director; National Media Affairs.
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).
September 6th 2020.