SERAP SUES THE NIGERIA POLICE AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) which focuses on economic and social rights in Nigeria and anti-corruption created in 2004, has instituted a lawsuit against both the Inspector General of Police and the President of Nigeria Muhammad Buhari on what it termed “intimidation, harassment and attacks on peaceful protesters campaigning against police brutality and corruption in the country.”
In the suit filed in the Federal High Court Lagos, suit number FHC/L/CS/1451/2020 was lodged as a result of the widespread #ENDSARS protest all over the country. SERAP made Officer Hakeem Odumosu, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police and Barrister Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice respondents in the suit.
It is seeking ‘an order to protect and secure the Fundamental rights of protesters across the country participating in the #EndSars and #SarsMustEnd protest or any other protest, to wit: their rights to life, dignity, personal liberty, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” Also it seeks an order of injunction restricting the Federal Government and the police whether by themselves, their officers or agents, from stopping the protest and from harassing, arresting, detaining or violating in any other way the fundamental rights of Nigerians participating in peaceful protest across the country’ as the right to protest constitutes the very foundation of a system of participatory governance based on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and pluralism. It states that failure to respect and ensure the right to peaceful protest is typically a marker of repression.
SERAP argues vehemently that people must be given the freedom to come together to express their opinions on issues they care deeply about and the role of government is to facilitate that democratic participation, and not to restrict or criminalize it.
It also seeks ‘an order directing the Federal Government and Nigeria police to identify all perpetrators of brutality and human rights violations against peaceful protesters across the country, and bring them to justice without further delay.” It wants the court to issue “an order compelling and directing the Federal Government and Nigeria police to disclose the total number of protesters in the #EndSARS/#SARSMustEnd protests arrested across the country, their places of detention and details of allegations against them.’
It also wants the court to make an order for the immediate and unconditional release of all those still being detained across the country solely for peacefully exercising their rights. It tells the court to direct the Federal Government and Nigeria Police to immediately identify all victims of police brutality during the protests and adequately compensate each of the victims [and their families] by paying each the sum of N200,000,000:00.
It prays the court to declare that the action of the Federal Government and Nigeria Police Force to intimidate, harass, threaten, arrest, beat, shoot, kill and detain unarmed peaceful protesters in the #EndSARS/#SARSMustEnd protests since 7th October, 2020 to date is wrongful, unlawful and constitutes gross violation of the protesters’ human rights.
It argues that the response by the Federal Government and Nigeria Police to protests across the country since 7th October, 2020 to date is wrongful, unlawful and constitutes gross violation of the protesters’ rights to life, dignity, personal liberty, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly guaranteed under Sections 33, 34, 35, 36, 39, 40 and 41 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
SERAP has used legal means to foster a democratic culture, transparency and accountability in the country over the years. Recently, the Non-Government Organisation filed a suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/65/2020 filed in January 2020, where it asked the Federal High Court, Abuja to order President Buhari, Vice-President Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies to ‘make public details of their assets, specifically property and income, contained in their asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) since assuming office.’
The group in 2011 obtained a permission from the court to institute a matter for the release of documents relating to the stolen funds and its expenditure since 1999. This Order of Mandamus which was granted against Jonah Otunla, the then Accountant-General of the Federation and Mohamed Adoke, the then Attorney-General of the Federation gives SERAP the powers to institute an action against the Federal Government of Nigeria.
SERAP also petitioned Nigeria in the International Criminal Court in the Hague in 2008 asking the court to use its powers to investigate and determine whether the systematic and grand corruption in Nigeria amounts to a crime against humanity and to prosecute all allegations of corruption.
It also sued the Federal Government in 2009 over the failure to tackle corruption in the power sector which has resulted in the theft of billions of naira meant for such projects.
SERAP use of the legal means to keep the tenets of constitutional democracy is laudable. Their activities have helped to keep the leaders on their toes, while it continues to test the integrity of the Nigerian legal system in determining whether they have reneged on their statutory obligations to defend the poor, the oppressed and create the balance of crime and punishment in society. The recent suit against the Nigeria Police and the Federal Government further legitimises the protest as a fundamental right of protesters and discards notions that the protesters are arsonists who are planning to undermine the sanctity of the Nigerian State.