By Davidson Iriekpen
A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai, to draw his attention to incessant harassment and intimidation of the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group by the Nigerian authorities, and the impermissible restrictions on the rights of members to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The BBOG group has been at the forefront of the campaign against the government’s inability to rescue the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted since 2014 by the extremist group, Boko Haram.
SERAP in the appeal dated September 9, 2016, and signed by the organisation’s senior staff counsel, Timothy Adewale, said no Nigerian law makes it a crime to demonstrate in any part of the country.
He argued that harassing the BBOG group and stopping its members from proceeding peacefully to the Presidential Villa is overkill.
The urgent appeal read in part: “It’s the primary duty of the President Muhammadu Buhari government to protect all demonstrators, including the BBOG group and enable lawful demonstrations to proceed peacefully. Carrying out this obligation is about deeds, not words.
“SERAP considers restrictions placed on the right of the BBOG group to peaceful assembly by law enforcement agencies as unnecessary, disproportionate, unjustified in law, and in bad faith.
“SERAP is seriously concerned about the continuing indiscriminate and disproportionate restriction on the right of members of the BBOG group to protest. All Nigerians, including members of the BBOG group, have the rights to freedom of expression and to protest. There is absolutely no reason to view these members as anything other than committed peaceful demonstrators.
“The ability of the BBOG group to organise, mobilise and speak out on matters of the missing Chibok girls cannot be prohibited under any grounds whatsoever. SERAP considers the freedom of assembly and to take part in the conduct of public affairs as a means for public expression and the cornerstone of democracy and the rule of law. Every Nigerian has the right, without prior permission, to assemble peacefully and protest, even if the authorities disagree with the views of the protesters.
“There is in fact a positive obligation on the Nigerian government to take reasonable steps to protect members of the BBOG group from disruption by others. SERAP believes that peaceful protest is also a means to gather support from civil society on issues that affect those demonstrating, and is part of the exercise of an active and participatory democracy.
“The right to freedom of peaceful assembly protects Nigerians’ ability to come together for the common good, and serves as the vehicle for the exercise of many other human rights. When the right to peaceful assembly is suppressed, there is a higher risk for demonstrations to escalate and turn violent.”
SERAP therefore requested Kiai to put pressure on the Nigerian government to end the continous harassment and restrictions on the right of members of the BBOG group to protest and take measures to encourage, promote and facilitate the enjoyment of the right to peaceful assembly by this group and other group of Nigerians in any part of the country.
The organisation also wants the UN body to remind the government that the task of the police is to protect rights and facilitate, rather than frustrate demonstrations, as well as to promote criminal and disciplinary sanctions against those who interfere with public assemblies