The protection of the right to freedom of assembly is very fundamental in a democratic society. The government as well as the citizens have distinctive roles to play in its protection. It is the primary responsibility of the state to put in place adequate mechanisms to ensure that the right to freedom of assembly is practically enjoyed and not hampered by undue restriction.
This responsibility of the government comes with a counter obligation on the part of the citizen to ensure that his or her right is exercised appropriately and in accordance with the law.
The issuance of police permits for rallies, or any other assembly is not a requirement for the exercise of this right so the police cannot rely on the Act to demand people to apply for permits before organizing an assembly.
This was confirmed in the case of Inspector General of Police v. All Nigeria People’s Party (2008) 12 WRN 65, by the Nigeria Court of Appeal.
However, bear in mind that the Public Order Act 1979 in Section 1 of the Act empowers a State Governor to prescribe the route by which and the times at which any procession may pass. In this case, if the general public will be notified about this requirement prior to the rally.
In addition, while the use of uniforms for assembly is permitted by Section 7 of the Act, the Commissioner of Police in the relevant state may prohibit its use if it is offensive or is likely to cause a breach of the peace, so keep this in mind.
Prior notification of the police before conducting an assembly is not necessary under international human rights law and Nigerian law. This has been judicially accepted as the law in Nigeria on various occasions.
Notification is essential when the organizers of an assembly require police protection during the assembly.
Inform the security agents that the law does not require the issuance of a permit before a rally can be organised.
TIP: Print Inspector General of Police v. All Nigeria People’s Party (2008) permitting the organizing of rallies on placards during the rally. If it is very likely the rally will be obstructed, see the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure steps at the end of this guide to get a court injunction before holding a rally.
If a protest or rally is banned, take care not to clash with the police. See “How do I take legal action to protect against breaches of freedom of assembly?” for more information.
How can Security Agencies violate my right to peaceful protest?
If you are interested in information about arrests at protest, see our guide on Arrest by clicking here.
When harmed by security forces, these are the measures to take:
If no positive response is received, then proceed to file a case in court to seek the enforcement of your right.
As an alternative to filing a suit, you could ask a lawyer to write a petition to the authorities in charge of the offender (the AIG or Human Rights Department of the Nigerian police Force, in the case of an offending police officer).