The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the 36 state governors to publicly instruct the Nigeria police and state security outfits to respect, protect, and facilitate the rights of everyone to freedom of expression, assembly, association, and equal participation during the election campaigns, regardless of their party affiliation.
SERAP also urged Buhari to publicly instruct the Nigeria police to facilitate the right of every Nigerian to participate on an equal basis in the political process in any part of the country, and to ensure that the police are not used by state governors to target supporters of opposition parties and those holding differing political views.
According to reports, there are concerns about the lack of a level playing field. The police in Ebonyi State recently dispersed hundreds of supporters of the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, who gathered for a rally in Abakaliki. Mr. Obi has also condemned the attack and intimidation of the party’s supporters.
In the letters dated October 8, 2022 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “Facilitating the rights of supporters of political parties to hold rallies and processions on an equal basis would promote public confidence in the integrity of the democratic process.”
SERAP said, “The right to participate meaningfully and equally in the political and electoral processes including to hold rallies, processions or meetings during the campaigns is part and parcel of any system of representative government.”
The letters, read in part: “We would continue to monitor how authorities at all levels are respecting, protecting, and facilitating these fundamental rights ahead of the 2023 elections. We would take all appropriate legal actions to ensure accountability for violations of these rights.
“Respecting, protecting, and facilitating the equal enjoyment of the rights of everyone to speak, assemble, hold rallies, processions or meetings would ensure that the individual citizen can effectively participate in and contribute to the country’s democracy.
“These rights cannot be denied or abridged on account of differing political views or affiliations.
“Authorities must promptly, thoroughly, independently, impartially, and effectively investigate the reports of any violations of these rights, and bring suspected perpetrators including non-state actors, to justice. The victims must be provided access to justice and effective remedies.
“Candidates and political parties and their supporters should be allowed to hold rallies, processions or meetings on an equal basis, and free of intimidation, harassment or threat of attack.
“Section 14(2)(c) of the Nigerian constitution 1999 (as amended) provides that ‘the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.’
“Section 91(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that the Commissioner of Police of each state ‘shall provide adequate security for proper and peaceful conduct of political rallies and processions in their respective jurisdictions.’
“Section 91(4) provides that ‘No political party in Nigeria, its candidates [and supporters] shall be prevented from holding rallies, processions or meetings at any time for their constitutional political purposes.’
“Several provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both of which Nigeria guarantees the rights of everyone to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and political participation.
“Furthermore, the African Union African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which Nigeria has also ratified also calls upon states parties to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to political participation.
“Popular participation is the bedrock of democracy. Ensuring the equal right of every Nigerian to hold rallies, processions or meetings in any state of the country, and Abuja during the election campaigns is essential to the functioning of our participatory and constitutional democracy.
“The constitutional guarantee of equal protection confers a substantive right to participate not only in elections but also to hold rallies, processions or meetings on an equal basis.
“Whether elections ultimately produce accountable and legitimate government depends not only on voting rules but also on factors such as how the rights of people are respected, protected and facilitated during campaigns.
“We hope that the aspects highlighted will help guide your actions in acting to ensure full respect for the human rights of every Nigerian during the campaigns regardless of their party affiliation.”