What is the legal framework that protects this right?
The right to freedom of assembly is a right recognized by national laws, regional laws, and even international laws. These laws serve to protect and regulate the exercise of this right.
Freedom of assembly is regulated in the following national laws:
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended): the right to freedom of assembly is protected by the constitution under Section 40 as follows:
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”
Public Order Act 1979: The Public Order Act is primarily concerned with the regulation of assemblies and protests in Nigeria.
By the decision of the Court of Appeal in several cases, some sections of the Act have been nullified or abolished. Although these decisions of the court have not led to any legislative changes, they however stand as the current law.
For example: One of such Court of Appeal decision is its 2007 judgment in All Nigeria Peoples Party v. Inspector-General of Police, where Justice Adekeye held that:
“The Public Order Act should be promulgated to complement sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution in context and not to stifle or cripple it. A rally or placard carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign state. It is a trend recognized and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilized countries – it will not only be primitive but also retrogressive if Nigeria continues to require a pass to hold a rally. We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience… “
Based on this decision, notification is no longer a requirement to organize an assembly (protest or rally) unless the organizers require police protection during the assembly.
The Trade Union Act Cap T14 LFN 2004: Section 43 of the Act makes it lawful for any member or person acting on behalf of a trade union to engage in strike actions or protests.
The Child’s Right Act 2003: The right of children to assemble is also very well protected by our Nigerian legislation. Particularly Section 6 of the Act provides for the right of children to assemble as follows:
“Every child has a right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly in conformity with the law and in accordance with the necessary guidance and directions of his parents or guardians.”
Although there are several international laws and treaties on the right to freedom of assembly, this guide will deal primarily with those laws that have been ratified (i.e., approved as laws in Nigeria) and are therefore applicable as primary laws.
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR): Article 11 provides as follows:
“Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.”
The ACHPR has been adopted as national law in Nigeria by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Laws of Federation 2004.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Article 20(1) provides:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Article 21 provides that:
“The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”