By Adedapo Adesanya
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has declared its intent to uphold Nigerians’ right to protest as a fundamental right as recognised by the Nigerian Constitution and upheld by Nigerian courts at all levels.
This follows a nationwide #EndSARS protest from Nigerian youths calling for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit and the need for police reforms across the country.
This was disclosed by the President of the association, Mr Olumide Akpata, in a press statement sighted by Business Post, in which he outlined short and medium-term goals to ensure the much-demanded reformation.
He said, “As you all may know, the protests are precipitated by years of brutality and professional misconduct by operatives of this particular police unit who have for too long derailed from the core mandates of their establishment, and have become threats to the same citizens that they were meant to protect in line with the general mandate of the Police under the Nigerian Constitution.”
He added, “The protests have again brought to fore perennial issues affecting the Nigerian Police, our security agencies, their interface with the citizenry and the fundamental issues affecting our security system that can no longer be put off.
“In the wake of the protests that have resurrected the consciousness of the Nigerian society and indeed the international community to these very important and systemic issues, the NBA is convinced that disbandment of SARS (or any other unit by whatever name called), re-posting or transferring officers of any disbanded unit and other knee-jerk reactions will only scratch the surface and not offer long-lasting solutions to the endemic issues bedevilling the Nigerian Police as currently constituted.
“Consequently, and in keeping with its mandate of acting as a watchdog of the society, the NBA has mapped out certain short, mid and long-term measures that must be put in place to address the current issues and prevent a reoccurrence in the future.”
The NBA then stipulated some immediate, mid and long-term propositions regarding the current wave of demands being made, noting that “we condemn in very strong terms any ban on the rights of citizens to peacefully assemble and protest in any part of the country.”
In the immediate term propositions, the association called on governments at all levels to protect the rights of all citizens participating in the peaceful protests across the country and direct the security agencies to cease assaulting, attacking, abusing or otherwise harassing or using force against citizens who seek to have their voices heard through the peaceful protests.
It noted that “Under no circumstances should the use of live arms and ammunition against peaceful and lawful protesters be tolerated and those found culpable must be apprehended and made examples of.”
The NBA also demanded an unconditional release of all peaceful protesters across different states and also appeals to all protesters to remain non-violent and law-abiding in expressing their grievances or embarking on the protest.
It noted that it will continue to play its part in protecting the rights of citizens across the country.
In addition, it called for immediate disciplinary action (including dismissal and public prosecution) against erring officers and those who have breached the rules of engagement in dealing with the citizenry.
In the midterm propositions, it noted that it will continue to monitor compliance with rules of engagement by security agencies and escalate cases of abuse to the highest authorities within the relevant security agencies.
It equally demanded an expedited audit of the various SARS detention centres across the country. The most notorious of these centres are the SARS facilities in Awkuzu (Anambra State), the infamous “human abattoir” in Abuja and other parts of the country.
It reiterated its demand to work with the appropriate bodies including the Police Service Commission and the National Assembly to propose initiatives that can help both the citizens and the police.
In the longer term, The NBA demanded a total reform of the police force into a modern, responsible, and responsive law enforcement establishment that addresses funding and better working conditions for officers.
It added, “The NBA will set up an NBA Police Reform Team that will work with the Police and other institutions and organizations in developing or refining a Comprehensive Blueprint for Police Reform in Nigeria and continuously advocating for the implementation of the Blueprint.”
Mr Akpata said the NBA through the Human Rights Institute will work with the Police, providing continuous education, enlightenment, and sensitization to members of the Nigerian Police and other agencies on respect for civil law, human rights, rules of engagement, compliance with rulings, and/or judgment of courts, among others in the discharge of their duties.
Second Niger Bridge to be Ready 2022—FG Assures
By Adedapo Adesanya
The federal government has reaffirmed its determination to complete the construction of the Second Niger Bridge next year.
The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, gave this assurance at a forum of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Sunday, June 20, to mark the sixth year anniversary of the present administration.
According to Mr Fashola, the bridge, which will serve as a major link between South-East and South-West Nigeria, will be delivered between the second and third quarter of 2022.
Records show that construction of the bridge commenced on September 1, 2018, with construction cost put at N336 billion when the contract deal was signed.
The minister, however, made no mention if the construction cost of the facility had changed since the commencement of work.
He said that the project would facilitate the influx of investments to the South East when completed, noting that the construction work had gone beyond the water level, explaining that most bridge works were done underwater.
“So, what you see currently is the final work. The sub-structure which entailed building cement structures underwater often costs a lot of money.
“We should finish the bridge next year between the second quarter and third quarter,” he affirmed, saying that construction time was lost because of COVID-19.
The bridge is 1.6 kilometres long and furnished with other ancillary infrastructure, including a 10.3 kilometres highway and an inter-change expected to be completed next year.
The bridge spans from Asaba in Delta State to Ozubulu, Ogbaru, and other communities in Anambra State.
The existing Niger Bridge linking Onitsha and Asaba was completed in December 1965. It was built by the French construction giant, Dumez.
Twitter: SERAP Sues FG Over Directive to Broadcasters
By Adedapo Adesanya
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the federal government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, from using unlawful directive to prevent television and radio stations in the country from using their Twitter.
The National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) had directed broadcast platforms to delete their Twitter accounts after the operations of the micro-blogging website were suspended for deleting a tweet of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In the suit filed by SERAP, it said the directive to broadcasters was as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/496/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP is seeking: “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed and any other persons from censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”
SERAP also wants “an order setting aside the directive by NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter, as it is unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
SERAP is arguing that “The government of President Buhari, the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have consistently made policies and given directives to crack down on media freedom, and the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, and to impose crippling fines and other sanctions on broadcast stations without any legal basis whatsoever.”
According to SERAP, “The court has an important role to play in the protection and preservation of the rule of law to ensure that persons and institutions operate within the defined ambit of constitutional and statutory limitations.”
SERAP is also arguing that “Where agencies of government are allowed to operate at large and at their whims and caprices in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result will be anarchy, licentiousness, authoritarianism and brigandage leading to the loss of the much cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.”
According to SERAP: “By using the National Broadcasting Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to stop broadcast stations from using Twitter without recourse to the court, the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have contravened the right to access to justice and fair hearing guaranteed under sections 6 & [b] and 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, and articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi, and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The directive by the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed to broadcasters to delete their Twitter accounts is unlawful, as it amounts to a fundamental breach of the principle of legality, the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, and incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations.
“SERAP and concerned Nigerians are entitled to the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom subject only to lawful restrictions. SERAP and concerned Nigerians frequently rely on the Twitter handles of many broadcast stations as sources of information for our activities in the promotion of transparency and accountability in the country.
“Nigeria is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which impose legal obligations on the government of President Buhari to ensure that the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom are respected, promoted, protected, fulfilled, and not unlawfully restricted.
“The NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have not shown any law breached by journalists, broadcast stations and media houses in Nigeria, and the government of President Buhari cannot use any disagreement with Twitter as a ploy to violate Nigerians’ rights and undermine their individual businesses and professional duties.
“The drafters of the Nigerian Constitution well knew the danger inherent in special executive and legislative acts which take away the life, liberty, or property of particular named persons. They intended to safeguard the people of this country from punishment without trial by duly constituted courts. These principles are so fundamental and must be respected.
“The directive to broadcast stations has seriously undermined the ability of Nigerians and other people in the country to freely express themselves in a democracy and undermined the ability of journalists, media houses, broadcast stations, and other people to freely carry out their professional duties.
“The Twitter accounts by broadcast stations and media houses are their own properties acquired upon privity of terms and conditions formulated by the Twitter Inc. and accepted by the stations and media houses.”
SERAP is also asking the Federal High Court for the following reliefs:
1. A declaration that the directive by NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed to broadcast stations in Nigeria to deactivate their Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering is unlawful, and amounts to a breach of the principles of legality and no punishment without law, and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under sections 39 and 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended], Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2. A declaration that the acts of the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed in relying on the National Broadcasting Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to unilaterally direct broadcast stations to delete their Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter without recourse to the court amount to an infringement on sections 6 & [b], 36 and 44 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
3. A declaration that the provision of section 2[r] of the National Broadcasting Act and sections 5.6.3, 5.11.3 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code being inconsistent and incompatible with sections 36, 39, and 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility.
4. A declaration that NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed lack the power and authority to unlawfully impose penalties such as fines and other sanctions on any journalists and broadcast stations for using Twitter, and refusing/failing to deactivate their Twitter handles.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
EFCC Goes After Car Dealers, Real Estate Agents, Others
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Abdularasheed Bawa, has hinted that a searchlight will be beamed on car dealers, jewellery sellers, real estate agents and others.
The anti-money laundering agency, while addressing newsmen in Abuja on Thursday, disclosed that evidence has shown that these set of people use proceeds of corruption for their business transactions.
He said the EFCC was working on a number of proactive strategies including a special control unit against money laundering, established particularly to address non-designated financial institutions including car dealers, real estate, jewellery dealers, among others.
Mr Bawa said that he was confident that when the unit is fully established, corruption will significantly decline in the country.
He added that the agency was equally working towards the development of a biometric ownership database to address money laundering.
According to him, most proceeds of crime are laundered through real estate and have become a huge challenge, giving examples of property acquired especially in Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt where billions of naira were laundered through this means.
He, however, declined to disclose actual perpetrators or the properties involved but revealed that since his assumption, a number of recoveries have been made including N6 billion, $161 million, £13,000, €1,730, among others.
He further said internet fraudsters numbering 1,502 have also been apprehended between January and June 2021, noting that efforts were underway to file about 800 of them.
Mr Bawa was at the Presidential Villa yesterday to clarify the specific Minister involved in the laundering of about $37 million into real estate to which he referred in his earlier statement.
He said the matter was an old case involving a former Minister of Petroleum, Ms Allison Diezani Madueke.
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