Right to freedom of assembly also imposes responsibility on citizens, says Ogala
Mr. Babatunde Ogala is the chairman Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary.
A graduate of law form the University of Jos and a former General Counsel and Legal Adviser to The Guardian Press Limited, Ogala granted this interview to The Guardian Senior Judicial Correspondent Ibe Uwaleke in which he bared his mind over the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal quashing the Public order Act which entitled the Nigeria Police to grant permit to citizens before they can hold peaceful rallies or processions.
To him the verdict is a welcome development which is commendable and therefore he enjoins the police to respect the order as it is the law as of date.
But he warns that though citizens now have fight to associate and hold protests it is not an absolute freedom because such freedom imposes duties and responsibilities on those who exercise it.
It is therefore his view that while exercising such freedom one must not infringe on the right of others.
He also hints that Lagos State will soon enact a law prohibiting all social and religious activities on highways, roads and sidewalks that inhibit movement of people.
How will you describe the judgment of the Court of Appeal quashing the Public Order Act (POA)?
Very, very, laudable, it is a laudable. It is a very good judgment. It is one that has enshrined the principle of fundamental rights to freedom of association and expression. Over time this has been abused. My only prayer and hope is that this government that advocates the rule of law should impress it on the relevant agency especially the police to indeed respect the order of court.
Before now ,a Federal High Court had declared the Act illegal. This is a product of appeal of a Federal High Order which declared the said Public Order Act illegal.But notwithstanding the order of a Federal High Court, the Police insisted that people should seek permit before they can hold rallies and they have continuously barred people from rallies until this judgment of the Court of Appeal settled the doubts arising from the said Act.
The police despite the order of the Federal High Court was still attempting to enforce the Act that was declared illegal by the high court.
Lets hope that with the stand of the new government, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) will ensure that the order is obeyed this time around.
Do you foresee the situation where either the police or the AFG will go on appeal over the judgment of the court of Appeal?.
I do not think this present Attorney General, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) will appeal against the judgment, judging from his pronouncement and posture. Even if the police or the AGF want to go on appeal,, they both must first obey the order of the appellate court.
Now that the second highest court in the land has granted Nigerians and indeed civil society groups freedom to associate and hold rallies. Is there any limited to freedom of association and expression?.
Your freedom or right stops where your duties begin. Of course there is a limitation to freedom. The fact that you are entitled to freedom of association, does not mean you now have to indulge in illegal act, So there is a limit to our action particularly as there are rules and legislations guiding our behaviors.
You cannot say because you now have freedom of association, you go to the highway to assemble because you feel there is no limit. Please bear in mind that there is limitation to freedom. Also bear in mind that as you have a right so you have a duty and obligation.
Hiow do you advise that rallies and processions should be carried out?
Rallies and protests or processions should follow laid down procedure. I always said that there is a limit to everything. You cannot wake up one morning gather a thousand people and take over Ikorodu (Lagos) Road just because you have been granted freedom.
You have the right to protest as long as you do not infringe on the right and passage of other people bearing in mind also that they have to exercise their own freedom to exist as individuals.
It is also wrong while exercising your right to protest or associate to stop traffic flow or stop people from getting to their offices or houses.
The court has granted freedom
Oh! Yes. Now people can have rallies or processions. But this must be done within the ambit and confines of the law. We must not in exercising our rights infringe on other people's right.
Do you have any bill at the Lagos State House of Assembly or an already passed law which guarantees free movement and association in Lagos without any molestation?
There are laws for general application. What the constitution guaranteed is applicable across the Federation .What the criminal law and the various legislation have for freedom of citizens is enough to guarantee protection of citizens wherever they are in Nigeria.
Also at the State House of Assembly, we have a committee on human rights, which is used to assist to protect the right of the citizens in the state.
Only yesterday (Thursday) we commemorated the Human Rights Day with a Human Rights lecture.
So Lagos State Assembly takes seriously the issue of human rights. We comment when appropriate including imposing sanctions within our limited powers on issues that bother on infringement of human rights.
That is the reason the committee on Human Rights of the Lagos State House of Assembly and the unit on Human Rights of the State Ministry of Justice are there.
Don't forget that there is the Office of the Public Defender and the Citizens Mediation Centre, all created for the rights of citizens. This tells you that the state government values the issue of human rights.
When we talk about freedom of movement and association should it include inhibitions introduced by certain governments to curtail such rights by forcing people to observe certain hours on particular days for Environmental Clean-up exercise... Is this not a form of infringement?
Like I said, the issues of rights is subject to laws. You cannot say because or you have the human right for freedom of movement, you just wake up of one morning and walk into my sitting room and claimed you are expressing your freedom of movement. No there are limitations. The freedom is guided by laws so if laws are made to keep our cities clean, these are substantive laws of the country. The laws did not say you cannot move around, but only stipulated the periods of no movement. I don't see this as an infringement. If the law guarantees you movement at any time of the day.
It is subject to the laws not infringing to the laws of the land you cannot say because you have freedom of movement, you now think that my sitting-room is part of where you can move through without any permission. Then you are infringing on my right.
If a rally or procession blocks or disturbs an access road or the flow of traffic is it an infringement on the rights of others entitled to use the access roads.
Of course it is an infringement of the freedom of movement of other people. Why should you block the road?
Whatever you want to advocate you have no right to disturb my right of movement.
Certainly this is not the way to implement the judgement of the Court of Appeal.
What of those who block streets, roads, and sideways for social parties or religious worshipers?
This is indeed an aberration. These are not what you see in any civilized environment.
I can confirm to you that there is a bill before theLagos State House of Assembly which intends to prohibit religious activities and all such gatherings on the highways and sideways.
The various religious bodies are doing it now.
I don't see why because I want to worship in a church or mosque then every other person must not move for the fact that the roads are completely blocked. Look at what is happening at Lagos-Ibadan Express Road when the various churches are holding their conventions.
It is wrong my religion is a personal thing to me
So Lagos State is trying to enact a law that will stop all social or religious activities on Lagos roads and sidewalks .
To do so is a criminal offence both for the organisers and invited guest.
So how do you advise the Nigerian Police on this issue of the quashing of the Public Order Act (POA) ?
Certainly the police should try and respect the order of the Court of Appeal This is not an advice, it is an obligation. They must respect it. That is the law of the land. I believe we are in a civilized environment and so whatever the police thinks is immaterial because the court's order is the law of the land as of date, and therefore must be enforced by respecting it.