The Right to Freedom of Association and Political Participation


The Right to Freedom of Association and Political Participation

Civil and Political rights as guaranteed in the Constitution are sacrosanct. The Nigeria Constitution of 1999 essentially embodies the right to peaceful assembly and association in section 40. This provision helps us bring order and sanity to our society.

In this article, you will be introduced to what the Right to freedom of Association and Political Participation is all about.

At the end of this post, you should be able to Discuss the Right to freedom of Association, Political Participation and The Press and Expression.

The Right to Freedom of Association and Political Participation

The freedom of association, assembly and to a large extent, freedom of the press and Expression go together to promote the political participation of citizens. 

The democratic wind sweeping throughout Africa and the resulting collapse of dictatorships is a signal that Africa is joining the rest of the world in installing accountability, good governance and human rights as an important socio-political ideal.

1. Freedom of Expression

What is freedom of Expression?

Rather than give a definition of the expression, we shall look at the description given by the second declaration of independence by the United State of America, where it is described as: “A self-evident principle that the creator has endowed man with”

And all these inalienable rights, endowed by nature, include life, liberty and obviously, the pursuit of happiness.

But man has not left these as a mere endowment of nature. Man has gone further by entrenching them in the man-made constitution. Practically every written constitution of nations in the free world have them entrenched.

Where the Constitution is not written, as in Great Britain, acceptance of human rights has been, not only through the mores of the people, but also through the courts which have, by a long line of decisions, through the ages, written human rights into their legal system.

This also is entrenched in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

The 1999 constitution provides inter alia in section 39:

1. Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions, and information without interference.

2. Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions

By these provisions both the individual and the media have freedom, guaranteed by the constitution, of speech, expression and to hold opinion, impart and disseminate them without let or hindrance or interference whatsoever. 

What the constitution has guaranteed is very wide, but it noted the right so given is not absolute. Sub-section (3) of the same section permits enabling laws curtails freedom in some respect. The subsection provides

“(3) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

The court of Appeal laid down a useful approach to the interpretation in the matter covering section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In Nwankwo V the State (1985) NCLR 228 at Pg 237. SMA Belgore JCA (as he then) dealing with relationship between section 39 of the Constitution (right of freedom of expression) and sections 50, 51 and 52 of the criminal code.

“While Chike Obi V DPP (1961) INLR p 186 and Wallace – Johnson V the King (1940) AC 231 were birds of their respective periods.

It is my view that section 50(2) and section 51, and section 52 which cover them are inconsistent with the provisions of section 36 and section 41 of the 1979 Constitution and are by implication repeated from the 1st  day of October 1979. There is no ban in the 1979 constitution against publication is false news with intent to cause fear and alarm in public there is section 59 of criminal code to cover it. If a person feels defamed there is the civil remedy of suing for liberal and slander.

There are also provisions in chapter XXXIII of the criminal code law as to defamation. See section 374 thereof. By looking at the constitution in the light of the existing law so as to accommodate and save provisions of existing law is inconsistent with the constitution, the existing law is null and void to the extent of that inconsistency”.

The result of this case, put a to prosecution for the offense of sedition in Nigeria.

The case of Tony Momoh V Senate (1981) INCLR 337 is pt on the interpretation of section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.

Here, the Applicant as the Editor of “Daily times Plc, a Nigeria Daily Newspaper had written under the title “Grapevine”. He accused some senators of parading in the office of permanent secretaries asking for contracts to be awarded to them.

The senate summoned the Applicant through a letter to appear before it with a view to giving it details of this allegation. He challenged this letter on the force of section 36 of the 1979 constitution which is a replica of section 39 of the 1999 constitution. It was held that the letter of invitation was an infringement on his right to freedom of expression.


2. Right to Freedom of Assembly and Political Participation

This Right is entrenched in section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal

Republic of Nigeria 1999 and it provides inter alia: every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he/she may form or belong to any political party, trade Union or any other association for the protection of his interests provided that:

(a) The provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the National Electoral Commission with respect to associations to which that Commission does not accord recognitions.

(b) The right to peaceful assembly consists in two or more individuals associating and assembling or belonging to any lawful organization. This power does not derogate from the power of the police to manage, control and disperse unlawful assembly with reasonable use of force, if necessary. An exception to the right of peaceful assembly is found in the case of Cheranchis V Cheranchi (1960) NRNLR 24 where the court held that in spite of the provisions of right of peaceful assembly and association, it was only reasonable in a democratic society to exclude juvenile from political activities generally.


Conclusion on the Right to Freedom of Association and Political Participation

In this article, we have attempted to examine the Law relating to peaceful assembly, political participation and the Law relating to freedom of expression and the press. The relationship between the provision of the

1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the provisions of the Criminal Code were also explained.

You have learnt that in a democratic society the Constitution is sacrosanct; the Constitution entails and contains essentially the embodiment of the most fundamental rules, principles and institution which constitute the fabric of the State. 

It is the harmonious relationship between all the organs created by the Constitution that helps to bring order, sanity and good governance into the society.

Also read: Right to life Human Rights

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