Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), on Sunday, said the Presidency lacked the power to stop people from protesting against service chiefs for alleged poor handling of the war against terrorism in the country.
The senior lawyer, therefore, cautioned the police authorities from harassing any protester.
He was responding to a statement by a presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, who had alleged that about 2,000 persons had been hired to stage a protest against the service chiefs to embarrass the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
Shehu had said, “The Presidency wishes to caution a section of the political class against misleading the public and inciting protests against the heads of military institutions.
“This has become necessary in view of received reports that about 2,000 men and women have been hired to demonstrate against Nigeria’s service chiefs on Monday.”
Reacting to the statement, Falana recalled how Buhari, and other leaders of the APC, including the immediate-past National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and the incumbent Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, protested against insecurity on November 14, 2014.
He added that a group of protesters, last week, staged a procession in Abuja in support of the prosecution of the counter-insurgency operations by the service chiefs and demanded the expulsion of Amnesty International from Nigeria without any hindrance.
He said Nigerians had the right to protest for and against the Federal Government without requiring permission from the Presidency.
Falana stated, “The authorities of the Nigeria Police Force are urged not to harrass aggrieved Nigerians for protesting against perceived injustice in the country.
“After all, a group of citizens was allowed to demonstrate in Abuja last week in support of the prosecution of the counter insurgency operations by the service chiefs.
“On that occasion, the group called on the Federal Government to expel Amnesty International from Nigeria for criticising the service chiefs.
“Without any evidence whatsoever, the Presidency has alleged that those who are calling for the replacement of the service chiefs are working for the Boko Haram sect!
“However, since Nigerians have the fundamental right to demonstrate for or against the Federal Government without official fiat, the Presidency has no power to stop any peaceful protest in the country.”
Falana recalled that the court had affirmed Nigerians’ right to assemble and protest peacefully in the case of All Nigerian People’s Party V. Inspector-General of Police (2008).
He added, “It was in exercise of the right of freedom of expression that the APC leaders, including General Muhammadu Buhari, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Dr Sylvester Onu and Mr Rotimi Amaechi had participated in the protest held at Abuja on November 14, 2014 against insecurity under the erstwhile Jonathan administration.”