Freedom of peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right that can be enjoyed and exercised by individuals and groups. Assemblies may serve many purposes, including the expression of diverse, unpopular or minority opinions.
According to the Guidelines of the ACHPR:
“assembly should be deemed peaceful if its organizers have expressed peaceful intentions, and if the conduct of the assembly participants is generally peaceful.
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly helps to ensure that people can express themselves publicly without the fear of oppression, intimidation and/or harm. The mere fact that this right is protected by our laws promotes the expression of ideas or grievances in the form of a peaceful protest.
By virtue of this right, individuals and groups can peacefully march or assemble to make their displeasure known to the government, as is currently happening in the ENDSARS protests across Nigeria.
The protection of the freedom to peacefully assemble is crucial to creating a tolerant and pluralistic society in which groups with different beliefs, practices or policies can co-exist peacefully.
Prior notification of the police before conducting an assembly is not necessary under international human rights law and this has been judicially accepted as the law in Nigeria on various occasions.
Prior notification should only be obtained where its purpose is to enable the state to put in place necessary arrangements to ensure freedom of assembly and to protect public order, public safety and the rights and freedoms of others.
In simpler terms, notification is essential when the organizers of an assembly require police protection during the assembly.
Freedom of assembly is a right and not a privilege, hence the issuance of police permits for rallies or any other assembly is not a requirement for the exercise of this right.
In Inspector General of Police v. All Nigeria People’s Party (2008) 12 WRN 65, the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the Federal High Court which had annulled the issuance of police Permit for rallies and other public meetings on the grounds that it was a breach of the fundamental rights of citizens to freedom of expression and association guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution.
“In line with the rule of law the current Inspector-General of Police, Mr. M.D. Abubakar has directed all police officers to comply with the verdicts of both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal by recognizing the fundamental right of Nigerians to assemble freely and protest without harassment. Hence, in the Nigeria Police Code of Conduct launched at Abuja on January 10, 2013 it is stated that police officers shall “maintain a neutral position with regard to the merits of any labour dispute, political protest, or other public demonstration while acting in an official capacity; not make endorsement of political candidates, while on duty, or in official uniform.” Excerpt from Article: Police Permit Not Required for Rallies in Nigeria, By Femi Falana on Premium Times, January 23, 2014. click here to access.