The police have in the past few days come under heavy criticism for trying to stop the Bring Back Our girls protest who are demanding government do more to free the Chibok girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram. Apart from members of the protesters, others like Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and human rights lawyer Femi Falana also condemned the police ban.
In a statement signed by the Force Public Relations officer, Don Awunah, the Police said it recognised the impacts of peaceful protests in a democracy and would not jeopardise the rights of Nigerians.
“Inspector-General of Police, IGP Ibrahim Idris wishes to state categorically that at no time did Nigeria Police Force place a ban on peaceful public protest/procession anywhere in Nigeria most particularly Federal Capital Territory,” Mr. Awunah said.
“Peaceful Public protest/procession is an integral part of democratic norms in as much as it conforms with the rule of law and public order.
“The Nigeria Police Force recognises the constitutional rights of every law abiding citizen to express his or her view through public protest/procession and other legitimate means,” he added.
Members of the Force had attempted to prevent the #BringBackOurGirls group on Tuesday from continuing their rally to the Presidential Villa to canvass an urgent return of the over 200 girls abducted in April 2014.
The #BBOG began its clamour in 2014, shortly after the over 200 girls were abducted from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State.
The agitation for the student’s return became stronger in August this year, when the Boko Haram released a video showing some of the girls.
The group vowed to match every 72 hours till government ensures the return of the girls.
In its reaction to the widely reported police ban, the #BBOG group vowed to continue with its rally, stressing that the police had no constitutional powers to make such an order.
“Of course the rally continues. The work of the police is to protect lives and properties. They are not the National Assembly, or the courts of law to make such an order,” a spokesperson for the group, Aisha Yesufu, told newsmen.
Another member of the group, Buky Sonibare, said the #BBOG group would rely on a previous judgement by an Abuja High Court, which overruled a similar order in 2014.
The court had in October that year decided on an application brought before it by the #BBOG group that the rights of citizens to freedom of movement and association allows them to conduct such peaceful rallies, without undue interference.
In its statement on Saturday night, the police said it would not attempt to disrupt peaceful rallies, so long as they are conducted within the provisions of the law.
It however said the protests would not be allowed on highways. The road leading from the Unity fountain where the BBOG commence their protest to the Three Arms Zone, where it intends marching to, is a mini-highway, an indication the police may still try to stop such march without stopping the gatherings.
“The Police will not condone any protest/procession on the public highways and roads inhibiting or disallowing public freedom and right of way,” the spokesperson said; asking that the police be notified of planned protests.
“The Inspector General of Police is committed to the principles of democratic policing and adherence to international best practices in public order management.
“To this end, State Commissioners of Police and Police Commanders are directed to emplace strategies to protect and facilitate lawful public protest/processions as well as protect other members of the public who are not engaged in any form of public protest/procession,” he added.