SERAP: UN intervenes to end harassment of #BringBackOurGirls members

The Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association has intervened to “end the harassment of #BringBackOurGirls protesters and has asked for additional information on the matter,” Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said on Tuesday.

This followed SERAP’s urgent appeal to Mr Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, on September 9, 2016, drawing his “attention to continuing harassment and intimidation of the #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group by the Nigerian authorities, and the impermissible restrictions on the rights of members to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

SERAP executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, who disclosed the development said: “SERAP has been in communication with Marion Mondain, Consultant Equality, Non-Discrimination and Participation Unit, UN Special Procedures Branch (SPB), who confirmed the Special Rapporteur’s interest in the matter and asked for additional information.”

According to Mumuni, “SERAP has worked closely with the BBOG leaders to provide the Office of the Special Rapporteur with the information requested. We are very grateful for the interest shown by the Special Rapporteur in taking action in this matter, as we believe the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and protest is so fundamental that it cannot and should never be denied under any pretext whatsoever.”

“The consideration of the matter by the Special Rapporteur is indeed timely, as the BBOG marks later this week, the 900th day of the Chibok girls in Boko Haram’s captivity.”

“We hope that this government will allow the members of the BBOG and other Nigerians who may wish to do so, to peacefully exercise their constitutional and internationally recognised right to freedom of assembly,” Mumuni said.

The additional information that SERAP, in consultation with the BBOG, sent to the Officer of the Special Rapporteur reads in part: “Following the release of the ‘Plea-for-Rescue’ video on August 14, 2016 wherein the Chibok girls, abducted from their school, Government Secondary School, Chibok, on April 14, 2014 and have been in captivity since then cried out for help; the BBOG movement expected a strong response and decisive action from the Federal Government.”

“The Police was combat armed and their provocative actions against the protesters could have easily degenerated to a major breakdown of law and order. The Inspector General of Police was inciting the public against BBOG humanity-based advocacy for abducted school children by impugning the motives of BBOG members. His actions are targeted at maligning and tarnishing the reputation of BBOG Movement in order to weaken BBOG advocacy.”

“BBOG decided to embark on a 14-day series of strategic engagements to protest against the inexplicable apathy of such monumental tragedy and blight on humanity. BBOG activities during the period included four marches to the State House every three working days. As is characteristic of BBOG movement, they wrote to the President and the Inspector General of Police ahead of time. Both letters were received and duly acknowledged by their respective offices.”

“BBOG successfully carried out most of their public activities without disturbance or hindrance. However, on Tuesday, September 6, BBOG saw in the media that the Police Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command had issued a public announcement specifically warning BBOG movement against engaging on their march which was to the State House that day.”

“The Police said that the BBOG movement had failed to secure ‘police approval’ and so were not to march because according to them, ‘These indiscriminate actions, which are carried out in disorderly and sometimes riotous manner, create unwarranted tension and apprehension among law abiding citizens and in the process obstruct legitimate business activities.”

“At BBOG usual meeting grounds in Abuja, Unity Fountain later that morning, they met a detachment of up to 100 anti-riot police men and women, many of them bearing arms. BBOG members were approached by one Mr Abiodun Alamutu (Assistant Commissioner of Police) that he had orders from ‘above’ to stop the march and to limit all BBOG activities within the boundaries of the Unity Fountain. He threatened the necessary use of force to ensure the order if BBOG protesters became uncooperative.”

“BBOG responded that they were acting within their Citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right to freedoms of thought, conscience, association, peaceful assembly, movement, etc, fell on deaf ears. All efforts to make the police contingent see that their oppressive action was illegal and a violation of the 1999 Constitution did not dissuade them from barricading BBOG protesters from moving out of the Unity Fountain.”

“At this point, BBOG made a decision to proceed on their march by walking through human barriers in a civil manner on to the Shehu Shagari Way. As BBOG protesters marched on, the over 100 police officers walked alongside BBOG movement until when ten minutes into this, they once again formed a human barricade and disrupted BBOG procession. This time, ACP Abiodun Alamutu was adamant that BBOG would not be permitted to continue the march and should therefore; hold their meetings at the spot of police barricade.”

“He challenged BBOG to produce evidence of notice to the Police Command that BBOG would be marching on the streets of Abuja on that day. BBOG were very delighted to produce the evidence. BBOG displayed to the ACP and the media, acknowledgement copies of their letters both to Mr President and the IGP, giving adequate notice of BBOG march. From the acknowledgement copies, it was evident that BBOG movement had given ample notice, not the minimum required 48 hours notice. BBOG had in fact given a 4 days (96 hours) notice to the authorities. After BBOG showed that their procession was absolutely lawful, ACP Alamutu responded that the police would allow BBOG to proceed with their march.”

“Immediately BBOG prepared to march on, an officer who identified himself as Mr M.D. Garba (Deputy Commissioner of Police) appeared, intercepted BBOG protesters and declared that BBOG protesters were still not permitted to proceed with the march. He stated that he was acting on the instructions of the FCT Commissioner of Police, Mr Muhammad Mustafa and was impervious to reason. He refused to be persuaded even by his colleagues who attested to the fact that they could not defend any actions against BBOG peaceful procession.”

“Again, BBOG refused to be blocked. We broke through their barricade and proceeded with our march. To imagine that some of the parents and relatives of the ChibokGirls were subjected to so much physical and emotional stress by the police’s provocative and unwarranted infringement of citizens’ right to peaceful procession!”

“On arrival at the entrance to the State House where BBOG had usually in the past three other matches been stopped by the Police, BBOG decided to stop as usual and conduct their activities as planned. Strangely, at the spot BBOG would normally set up their activities, BBOG saw that another contigent of Police officers were providing protection for a group of protesters wearing polo shirts and caps themed ‘With Buhari We Stand’.”

“That group carried placards with messages against BBOG movement and key members. Some of the messages on the placards of that group that had police support and protection included those which referred to Chibok girls’ tragedy as a ‘scam’. These counter protesters chanted insults at BBOG movement but the movement simply ignored them. BBOG activity for that day was to post pictures of #ChibokGirls on the walls of Villa road. BBOG thus, quietly carried out their objective and proceeded to march back to the Unity Fountain without any further incidence.”