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What You Should Know If Arrested While Protesting In Nigeria occupynigeria

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On January 9th, 2012, there will be massive protests against the removal of fuel subsidy across Nigeria, barring any intervention. As one who has handled a large amount of criminal defense cases within the past ten (10) years of practicing law, I know that when there is a massive gathering like the ones anticipated protesting actions by the establishment, it increases the likelihood of altercations and arrests. Accordingly, this is a cheat sheet on what to do if you are arrested in Nigeria while protesting against the removal of fuel subsidy this upcoming Monday. Share this article with as many people as possible and tell them to share with others that will also be protesting.

What You Should Know if Arrested While Protesting in Nigeria

         1. Chapter IV, Sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives you the  constitutional right to a freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This is a guaranteed right and means you may assemble and protest peacefully against the removal of fuel subsidy, as you intend to.
         2. You DO NOT, under the constitution, have a right to fight, steal, hit others or engage in any criminal activity or conduct just because you are protesting. Such actions means you can and will most likely be arrested, charged if you are lucky, and prosecuted. If you are unlucky, as many incarcerated defendants in Nigeria’s jails and prisons are, then you could be arrested and detained indefinitely i.e. locked up and the keys thrown away with absolutely no due process accorded to you, despite the due process mandate provided in Nigeria’s constitution.
         3. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), an organization that regulates lawyers and the practice of law in Nigeria, is available, per the decree/order of the NBA President Joseph ’Bodunrin Daudu, to provide  free legal services to secure your release and dismissal of charges filed against you; should you be arrested while legitimately protesting against the removal of fuel subsidy.
         4. You should have the contacts of the appropriate NBA staff handy. For all contacts visit the NBA here. Lagosians, I have listed at the end of this article, NBA representatives and their contacts to have handy culled from the website.
         5. Finally, understand your legal rights and how Nigeria’s Criminal Procedure works when you are arrested. The gist of it is as follows:

What Court has the Power to Hear Your Criminal Case if you are Arrested While Protesting?

The State Federal High Court where you are arrested. This means, for example,  if you are arrested in Lagos, then expect Lagos courts to have jurisdiction (power) to hear your case. Please review the structure of Nigeria’s Legal system here.

What Law Governs?
Nigeria’s Federal Criminal Procedure Act and the respective state criminal procedure laws.

What is Criminal Procedure?
It is the rules of the criminal justice system that help your criminal defense lawyer, prosecutors, judges and the police navigate the criminal courts. This is independent from Nigeria’s Federal Penal Code. The Penal Code sets forth the actual criminal violations you allegedly committed. For example, breach of the peace, unlawful assembly, battery, assault etc.

What Can You Be Charged with While Protesting?
If you do not commit any criminal act, hopefully nothing. If you do, then you can be hit with felony and/or misdemeanor charges. For example, Felony criminal assault, misdemeanor battery etc.

What is a Felony? What is a Misdemeanor?
When a defendant is arrested, with or without a warrant, they have a right to know what they are charged with i.e. the basis for the arrest. Nigeria’s prosecutors can charge criminal defendants with felony and/or misdemeanors offenses. In Nigeria, a felony carries 3years or more prison term while a misdemeanor carries 6months (at a minimum) to 3years jail/prison term.

What Happens When a Person is Arrested in Nigeria?

    * Nigeria’s Constitution requires when a police effectuates an arrest without a warrant AND the crime is a non-capital offense, they must release the defendant on bail; IF they cannot bring the defendant before a court within 24hours from the time they arrested and detained such defendant.

How About Bail? How Does that Work?
The police have the broad discretion per the Criminal Procedure Act to determine whether they will grant a criminal defendant bail. The judges/judiciary tend to be passive letting the police basically do whatever they want to do. This creates opportunities of abuse that has been ongoing for decades within the legal justice system, specifically detentions without trials.

How Bad Does it Get with Detentions Without Trials in Nigeria?
According to data collected by human rights organizations within  and outside Nigeria, most of the people who are in Nigeria’s jail/prison system are persons detained without trial who ended up being detained for 16-40years. The outcry from the international community over these atrocities has been huge but it has not really made much of a difference.

I salute and commend all Nigerians fighting for what they believe and will continue to provide as much resources and information as I can that will be helpful to you. Please be safe and understand the issues. You might be asked to articulate your understanding of the issues by a TV reporter or print news media. It would be very helpful if you have a clear grasp of the issues and are protesting because of what you believe because the world is watching.

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