Nigerian protesters in court over march ban

2014-06-03 22:00
(Picture: Shutterstock)

(Picture: Shutterstock)

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Abuja - Supporters of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants filed a complaint on Tuesday against a ban on protests in Nigeria's capital, calling the ruling illegal and unconstitutional.

The Bring Back Our Girls campaign said it was seeking to overturn the ban, which the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) police announced on Monday was imposed over security concerns about the possible "infiltration" of militants.

The national police advised against any action in and around Abuja "until the existing threats are appropriately neutralised", but said there was no intention to ban peaceful protests in Abuja.

Boko Haram fighters kidnapped 276 girls from their school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok on 14 April. A total of 219 are still missing and an international effort to locate them is ongoing with the Nigerian military.

Bring Back Our Girls co-ordinator Marian Uwais told reporters after the hearing: "We are asking for a declaration that the decision to ban protests and rallies related to the Chibok girls is illegal, unconstitutional, null and void as it violates the fundamental rights entrenched in our constitution."

The challenge against FCT police commissioner Joseph Mbu also seeks an injunction against him and his officers from preventing future marches, as well as demanding 200 million naira in damages.

A planned march in Abuja on Tuesday was cancelled and instead group members accompanied their lawyers to court then headed to the National Human Rights Commission to lodge a further complaint.

March organisers Oby Ezekwesili and Hadiza Bala Usman had earlier said their protests over the last 34 days had been peaceful and they could not understand the ban, as police had previously said they were within the law.

Political undercurrent

The Bring Back Our Girls movement emerged out of a social media campaign of the same name, which fuelled global outrage at the abductions and sparked similar protests around the world.

Boko Haram, which has been waging a violent insurgency in Nigeria's north since 2009, has indicated it may be prepared to release the girls in exchange for militant fighters currently in prison.

The military's handling of the spiralling violence has been called into question, while the government's initial response to the abduction has been described as slow and lacklustre.

There have also been suggestions that the protests are becoming increasingly politicised, with members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of President Goodluck Jonathan saying opposition groups were exploiting them for political gain.

Last week, violence marred a Bring Back Our Girls demonstration in Abuja, when young men armed with bottles, stones and plastic chairs attacked female protesters.

Reports at the time said the attackers were carrying placards in support of Jonathan, although there was no immediate proof that they were connected to the head of state.

Ezekwesili on Monday raised further concerns that the FCT police commissioner was previously accused of acting for the presidency during his time in southern Rivers State.

'Laughing stock'

Nigeria's Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) backed calls for the protest ban to be overturned, describing it as a "substantial blow to the rights to peaceful protest, freedom of expression and assembly".

Banning marches was disproportionate and a violation of international human rights treaties to which Nigeria has signed up, it added, saying the ruling made the country "a laughing stock" on the world stage.

"Any leaders genuinely concerned with the well-being of democracy in Nigeria and its people should send a clear message that these authoritarian practices are unacceptable," said SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni.

"The Nigerian authorities should honour that and allow the #bringbackourgirls protest organisers to peacefully express concerns related to the missing Chibok schoolgirls."

Nigeria's top police officer, Inspector General of Police MD (Mohammed) Abubakar, said in a statement that the FCT ruling was only an "advisory notice enjoining citizens to apply caution" in attending rallies.

That followed "the backdrop of current security challenges in the country, coupled with a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijack of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some criminal elements", he added.

Boko Haram, which wants to create a hardline Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, has stepped up its campaign in recent months and has been blamed for a wave of attacks and bombings.

Read more on:    nigeria  |  west africa

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