Whenever there is breach or a threat to breach the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly, any citizen can take steps to protect and enforce such right. This means ensuring respect for the laws, regulations and standards for for freedom of assembly.
It is important to note that, a person does not need to wait until a breach occurs to take enforcement steps. The law allows people who think that their rights could be breached to take steps before to enforce their rights.
Which options are there available to people in Nigeria?
There are two main option for those available to people in Nigeria who seek to enforce their right to freedom of assembly, judicial enforcement and non-judicial enforcement.
Judicial enforcement refers to the process of using the courts to ensure that the government or others respect the provisions of the law on freedom of assembly.
Non-judicial enforcement refers to other non-court-based steps to ensure respect for freedom of assembly.
There are non-judicial enforcement options available. Some of these options include:
Petitions: which can be written to the National Human Rights Commission, The African Union or United Nations, requesting for intervention.
Letters: can be written to authorities within a country or a State to bring to their knowledge the occurrence of a violation going on within their territory. For example, a letter could be written to the National or State Assembly, the governor or president, or the Attorney General of the State, informing them about a violation, especially by a public officer.
A letter can also be written to embassies or human right organizations seeking for help and protection especially when a person’s life is under threat.
Social Media Advocacy/Campaigns:It is recommended to seek support from a human rights organisation that could help you with these strategies. Social media has served as a means of advocating for good governance and respect of human rights.
Social media can indeed help in the enforcement of process by:
Complaints to the appropriate authority
In the event of breach of the right to freedom of assembly, an official report in the form of a notice of breach of right and the damage done, if any, should be made to the appropriate authority.
In the case of harm or disturbance by a police officer, report should first be made to the Commissioner of Police.
- Contact a lawyer, human right organization or NHRC for assistance.
- Notify the appropriate authority in charge of the offender, attaching the medical reports and pictures to the notice. 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).
Complaints to the National Human Rights Commission
This institution was established for the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria. If you feel your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint to the Commission.
Functions of the Human Rights Commission:
What is required to complete a human rights complaint form
To know more about the format of a formal complaint, visit https://nhrc.gov.ng/index.php/complaint-form. You can also visit the State branches of the National Human Rights Commission to lodge the complaint.
The Commission has quasi-judicial powers. This means to help with your complaint it can:
The decisions of the commission are enforced by taking that decision to the High Court and asking for it to be enforced.
This is a special procedure to protect fundamental or human rights, including the right to freedom of assembly.
At what point can I start a process to ensure enforcement of my rights?
You don’t have to wait until after an actual violation of the right to freedom of assembly. If there is a threat to violate or likelihood of violating the right is enough reason to go to court. It is advisable to begin enforcement processes as soon as possible.
Is there a time limit to seek justice at the courts on human rights violations?
No. However, it is advisable you bring a lawsuit as early as possible, to preserve the necessary evidence that may support a decision in your favour (such as death of witnesses, missing records, loss of memory to remember crucial events, etc).
Who can start a Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure claim?
Based on the provisions in the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Rules, Section 3(e), the followings persons or organizations can take legal action:
Who can I take legal action against?
It is important to identify who you can take legal action against because suing the wrong party (person) could make you lose your case. It is only the government and its agents that can be taken to court on human rights violations. Individuals and private companies cannot be taken to court under this procedure.
If your rights are violated by private individuals and companies, you report these violations to the relevant government authorities. Where the government fails to do its work, they have failed in their duty to enforce human rights protection and you can take legal action against these authorities for their failure.
TIP: when you think freedom of assembly is being breached or will be breached, try to identify which public body is responsible.
Where can I take legal action?
The Federal High Court and the High Court of a State are the courts that have the legal power to accept freedom of assembly enforcement cases. However, in a matter in which the Federal Government or any of its agencies is involved, the Federal High Court will be the right court at which to start your action.
Every State has a High Court with divisions at different parts of the State. The list and location of the Federal High Court in Nigeria can be found here.
How do I take legal action?
What happens if my legal action is not successful in court?
You can appeal to the Court of Appeal against the decision of the High Court. Bear in mind that appeals are complex and subject to specific rules. This will require you to discuss this with a lawyer to determine together if to appeal or not.
For more information, please see the Access to justice in Nigeria: The Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure and other means of defending human rights guide.
When preparing for judicial enforcement, here are some steps that you as an individual who is not a lawyer could still take to assist your lawyer in your case:
There are other courts available, which include:
ECOWAS Community Court of Justice: In 2005, a new protocol was introduced giving the ECOWAS Court of Justice powers to entertain suits relating to human rights violations.
TIP: It is worthy to note that cases need not be pursued in national courts before they can be brought to ECOWAS court. In fact, a human right violation case still pending at a national court can be presented before the ECOWAS Community Court.
However, Article 10 (d) of the 2005 protocol on the court as amended states that:
“Individuals on application for relief for violation of their human rights; the submission of application for which shall:
In summary, the ECOWAS Court is a viable option for any person who wants to complain of any violation of the right to freedom of assembly.
National Industrial Court: If the right to freedom of assembly was violated during employment relations or trade union action, consider taking legal action before the National Industrial Court. This is regulated in Section 254C of the Constitution:
“…, the National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters-
(d) relating to or connected with any dispute over the interpretation and application of the provisions of Chapter IV of this Constitution as it relates to any employment, labour, industrial relations, trade unionism, employer’s association or any other matter which the Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine.”
Do I need a Lawyer?
Yes. It is advisable to get the assistance of a lawyer. It is true that the law allows you to represent yourself in court but it is important to have a lawyer to guide you through the complex court processes.
Some organizations such as the Nigerian Bar Association and the Legal Aid Council assist people who cannot afford lawyers to get legal assistance for human rights cases.
In preparation for judicial enforcement, here are a few pieces of evidence you could gather as soon as the infringement occurs:
What steps can I take to make sure I gather helpful evidence?
Such necessary evidence can be gathered by:
Where one’s right to freedom of assembly has been violated or infringed upon, the individual has the right to seek remedy through the court. It is within the powers of the court to determine if there has been any violation and also to issue necessary orders and award appropriate compensations.
Monetary Compensation: This refers to material compensation given to a party once the court has found that the fundamental rights of an applicant have been violated by the conduct of the respondent, and if the person has suffered injury, depending on the circumstances.
Injunctions: An injunction is a court order requiring a party to do or cease from doing a specific action. This is commonly asked in cases of freedom of assembly where for example, protests are banned or restricted.
For instance, in Inspector general of Police v. All Nigeria Peoples Party & ORS (2007), the court granted a perpetual injunction to restrain the police from disrupting a rally organized by the applicant, after their earlier request for police permit to organize the rally was denied.
Declaratory reliefs: This is a declaration by the court stating out the rights of the individual/group. They serve to state the existence of certain rights when these rights have been infringed by the government or other state actors.
In seeking redress, the victim(s) may apply to the court to declare that it is their constitutional right to assemble peacefully while also requesting that an injunction be granted to stop the police from similar acts in future.
Apologies: In certain situations, the court may order an erring party (usually the government) to make a public apology to the victim in conjunction with other remedies.
Example: In Ogungbeje v. Federal Government of Nigeria & ORS (2019), the plaintiff and others were involved in a peaceful protest in Lagos popularly known for the Revolution Now Protest, when men of the DSS tear-gassed, physically assaulted, and arrested protesters in a bid to disrupt the protest. At trial, the judge declared the disruption of the peaceful protest by the Nigerian government through the police as “illegal, oppressive, undemocratic and unconstitutional”. Thus, the plaintiff was awarded damages to the tune of N1,000,000 and the court ordered the government to publicly apologize in three national dallies as part of the remedies granted.