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How can this right be exercised?

The right to freely assemble can be exercised by organizing or participating in any of the following:

  • Seminars such as business seminars or educational seminars.
  • Religious gatherings like the SHILOH convention organized yearly by Living Faith Church (Winners Chapel) and other similar gatherings.
  • Assembly on private property such as House parties and Family parties.
  • Enlightenment programs such as the Lassa Fever Enlightenment program organized by various health institutions.
  • Publicity Events like The Lagos International Trade fairs.
  • Campaigns (political or religious) such as the APC presidential campaign of 2019.
  • Peaceful demonstrations or rallies like the Occupy Nigeria protests that held in major cities in Nigeria between 2nd to 14th of January 2012 (1 week and 5 days). Another example is the #ENDSARS Protests that held from 8th October to 20th October 2020 involving the youths in Lagos, Abuja, Edo, Delta, Port Harcourt, and other states in Nigeria.
  • Peaceful protests (by Associations, Trade unions or groups): For example, the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) protests that started in April 2014 and continued till 2017 in Nigeria.
  • Celebrations (Birthdays, Anniversaries, Funerals, weddings, etc.)
  • Processions or parade such as the Catholic procession every Easter.
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Who can exercise this right?

The right to freedom of assembly can be enjoyed by every person; individuals, groups, associations (whether registered or unregistered), religious bodies, legal entities, and trade unions. It also extends to children, refugees, stateless persons, temporary visitors, migrants, and foreign nationals.

Section 40 CFRN: “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 interest.”

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What are the limitations to this right?

The right to Freedom of assembly is not absolute. Various laws that seek to protect this right also lay down certain circumstances in which this right can be limited and not enjoyed in total. These limitations include:

  • Public order
  • Public morals
  • Public safety
  • Public health
  • Protection of the rights and freedom of others
  • National security
  • Derogation in times of war or another public emergency

An example of limitation for the protection of public health is the COVID 19 pandemic, because of the pandemic, government laid down policies to reduce the transmission of the virus. These policies included the ban of gatherings above ten people as well as a ban on religious gatherings. These measures clearly restrict the individual’s right to freely assemble but is in line with the provisions of the law.

Similarly, an example of limitation in the interest of national security is the restriction of public gatherings in certain locations of the North-East in Nigeria in an effort to curb the insurgency and acts of terrorism. As a means to protect citizens, government made policies that tend to limit the right to freely assemble.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 45 (1) provides that;

“Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health; or

(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons.”

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How can my right be breached?

The right to freedom of assembly can be breached by individuals as well as government agencies in any of the following ways:

  1. Proposing laws that seek to restrict the right to assemble not on any of the grounds for limitations permitted by law.
  2. Violently disrupting a peaceful protest, demonstration, or rally.
  3. Imposition of fines or penalties for conducting a peaceful assembly.
  4. Causing physical harm to peaceful protesters.
  5. Preventing the conduct of a peaceful assembly.
  6. Arresting or detaining a peaceful protester.
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