The Benin Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA has demanded an apology from the Edo State government for what it called a “brazen attack” on some protesters led by Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, human rights activist, and former Attorney General and commissioner for Justice in the state. The NBA also demanded that erring officials of the Public Works Volunteers, (PUWOV) who carried out the assault and disruption of the peaceful protest be fished out and brought to book.
Recall that scores of placard-carrying protesters denouncing the spate of insecurity and growing poverty in the country had hit the streets of Benin on Monday to register their dissatisfaction with the state of the nation. They were allegedly attacked by officials of PUWOV. Narrating their ordeal when he addressed newsmen at the Nigeria Union of Journalists, (NUJ) press centre, Obayuwana, a doctor of law, said “We gathered at New Benin Market; we were to move to this place. There is an agency of the state government called PUWOV; they are volunteers on matters of public works. They attacked us, destroyed our banners, took away our laptop with which we were playing music and smashed it. They say we are against the government of Obaseki. How can that be?”
Reacting to the ugly scenario on Tuesday, the chairman and secretary of the NBA, Pius I. Oiwoh, and O.A. Lawani, respectively, described the incident as “the height of lawlessness”. It condemned unequivocally and in strong terms what it called an “unwarranted and unjustifiable attack” on the peaceful protesters.
According to the lawyers, “We find the assault and vandalisation of the properties of the peaceful protesters most reprehensible and extremely distasteful. We call on the State Government to fish out the perpetrators of this ungodly act for proper discipline and sanction. The right to gather and protest peacefully is an inalienable right of every citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as guaranteed and protected under sections 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“Citizens have a right to voice out their displeasures, disappointments and frustrations. The Court of Appeal upheld the right to protest in the case of IGP V. ANPP (2008) 12 WRN 65 stating that “certainly in a democracy, it is the right of citizens to conduct peaceful processions, rallies or demonstrations without seeking and obtaining permission from anybody. It is a right guaranteed by the 1999 constitution, and any law that attempts to curtail such right, is null and void and of no effect”. The right to protest is also protected in International Law.
“We were therefore surprised to learn of the attempt by certain officials of PUWOV to curtail the rights of citizens to protest the wanton insecurity in Nigeria. What is even more condemnable is the attack on the person of Dr. Osagie Obayuwana who is a distinguished legal practitioner, foremost human rights activist, a former Attorney General of Edo State, and a member of the Benin Bar”.
Going down memory lane, the NBA reminded the government of the role played by Obayuwana in bringing about democracy in Nigeria, noting that “the democracy which we enjoy today is a result of the efforts of persons like Dr. Obayuwana who took on the Abacha junta in the quest to ensure that the rights of Nigerians are protected, and was incarcerated by the Abacha-led junta because of his unerring stance in the face of intimidation.
“It is a testament to Dr. Obayuwana’s steadfastness that over 20 years after, he is still at the forefront of the civil society movement. As a noble Association, we find the brazen attack on the protesters led by Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Edo State, to be the height of lawlessness and we demand that an apology be sent to the protesters, and the erring PUWOV officials who led the assault and disruption, be brought to book”.