By Davidson Iriekpen
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has said the duty of the police is to ensure public safety and not to harass opponents of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Falana, in a statement yesterday, said the police ought to demonstrate impartiality and neutrality in handling political matters.
He cited instances where the police have arrested, detained and charged several individuals to court, including journalists, for criticising the government.
He referred to the case of Lawal Abdullahi, a septuagenarian, who was arrested and charged to court for insulting the president and Katsina State Governor, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari,.
He said the man was convicted by a magistrate court and ordered to pay a fine of N70,000.
“To prevent him from being sent to jail we had to pay the fine,” he said.
“A fortnight ago, the police arrested Nastura Ashir Sharif, leader of the coalition of northern groups, (CNG), for organising a peaceful protest against insecurity in Katsina State.
“The protest was alleged to have embarrassed the President. Consequently, Sharf was brought to Abuja where he was interrogated by the police even though he did not commit any criminal offence known to law.
“However, the police had to release the youth leader from illegal custody when it was reported that President Buhari had scolded the nation’s service chiefs for the worsening state of insecurity in the country”.
The senior advocate said the disruption of peaceful protests by the police “constitutes a flagrant infringement of the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens”.
He cited the case of the Inspector-General of Police vs the All Nigeria Peoples Party 2008 12 WRN 65 in which the court of appeal held that “the right to demonstrate and the right to protest on matters of public concern are rights which are in the public interest and that which individuals must possess, and which they should exercise without impediment as long as no wrongful act is done”.
Falana condemned the situation in Ondo State where all aides of Deputy Governor of the state, Mr. Agboola Ajayi, were sacked following his defection to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“While we do not endorse political prostitution on the part of members of the political class those who decamp from other political parties to the ruling party are not subjected to any form of harassment or intimidation by the police,” he said.
“Therefore, the discriminatory treatment meted out to politicians in the opposition camp by the police cannot be justified under the current political dispensation”.
According to Falana, the Supreme Court has ruled that “the primary duty; indeed the most fundamental duty of the Nigeria police force is the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order within the country”.
Falana asked the inspector-general of police to “restrain the police from getting involved in political disputations among the various factions of the members of the political class” and to ”respect the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to demonstrate against official policies that are considered inimical to the interests of the nation.”