An Abuja High Court yesterday fixed July 14 for judgment in a suit challenging the ban on BringBackOurGirls rallies in Abuja by the Abuja Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu.
Before the matter was argued and adjourned for judgment, counsel to the 17 applicants who instituted the suit on behalf of their group, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), dropped the prayer seeking N200million as compensation against Mbu.
Justice S. E Aladetoyinbo adjourned for judgment after hearing parties’ arguments.
The applicants, who claimed to be members of the Women for Peace and Justice #BringBackOurGirls, include Hadiza Bala Usman, Mr. Samuel Yaga, Mrs. Rebecca Yaga, Mrs. Sarah Ishaya, Mallam Dunama Mpur, Lawan Abana, Dr. Pogu Bitrus and Dauda Iliya.
Others are Kibaku Area Development Association, Maryam Uwais, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Bashir Yusuf, Jibrin Ibrahim, Saudatu Mahdi, Bukky Shonibare, Rotimi Olawale and Florence Ozor.
The applicants and their group engaged in daily protests, calling on the federal government to intensify efforts towards rescuing the over 200 schoolgirls abducted from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, by the Islamic terrorists Boko Haram, on April 14.
Mbu had banned rallies and protests relating to the abducted girls in Abuja with immediate effect.
But the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, later overruled him, reiterating that all Nigerians had the right to peaceful protest.
But at the hearing of the suit which was filed on June 3, Falana insisted that the purported directive banning rallies in Abuja, even having been reversed by the IG, amounted to a violation of his client’s rights.
He argued that the deposition of the police in their counter-affidavit, to the effect that his client’s suit had been overtaken by the reversal of the purported ban, was an admission that indeed, the applicant’s rights were violated.
He said: “Paragraph 6 of their counter-affidavit says that the IG has made clarification and overruled the ban; that is an admission that the rights of the applicants were violated.
“They also said in the affidavit that the suit has been overtaken by event because of the IG’s clarification; that is also a concession.
“A Commissioner of Police cannot just say he has banned protest. That is no longer our law.
“It is the duty of the government to protect those who are protesting. That point has to be made by this court.”
He therefore urged the court to declare the purported directive by Mbu as illegal, unconstitutional, null and void, as such had violated his client’s “fundamental rights to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association.”
These rights, according to Falana, were guaranteed by sections 38, 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution and Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2004.
The lawyer urged the court to make an order of perpetual injunction “restraining the respondent, his agents and privies from further preventing the applicants or aggrieved Nigerians from taking part in protests and rallies in exercise of their freedom of expression, assembly and association.”
Counsel for the police, Mr. Samuel Lar, had opposed the suit, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit on the grounds that only the Federal High Court could entertain the suit.
“The Court of Appeal has addressed the issues of parties and subject matter, in recent decisions that once a party is a federal government like the Commissioner of Police, and the plaintiff is seeking a declarative relief, injunction and damages, the proper court to sue is the Federal High Court,” Lar said.
Lar also contended that the applicants lacked locus standi to institute the suit because their umbrella body under which they sued was not recognised in law.
He added since none of the applicants had a child among the abducted girls, they lacked the legal capacity to sue on behalf of the parents of the affected children.
Lar said: “They (the applicants) are just saying they are acting on behalf of the parents and guardians of the abducted girls, none of them claimed to have among the abducted girls. So they lacked locus standi to institute this suit.”
But Falana countered Lar’s contentions, arguing that all fundamental rights enforcement suits, even if the President of Nigeria was involved, could be appropriately filed at the Abuja High Court, which he said had the same status like a state High Court in line with Section 299 of the constitution.
He faulted the argument that his clients had sued under an unregistered umbrella body, saying the applicants had only sued as Nigerians.
He also maintained that they lacked the legal capacity to sue, as it had been settled in 1987 by the Supreme Court decision in Gani Fawehinmi v. Col. Halilu Akilu, that every Nigerian had the right to defend the rights of his or fellow Nigerian.