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Did Bovi’s #EndSARS outfit violate the National Flag Act?

Did Bovi’s #EndSARS outfit violate the National Flag Act?
February 27
07:24 2021

Bovi Ugboma, popularly called Bovi, a Nigerian comedian, stunned fans last Sunday after he appeared at The Headies 2021 with a blood-stained #EndSARS-themed outfit.

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While a lot of people have publicly applauded the comedian whose outfit portrayed a blood-stained Nigerian flag symbolising the shootings that happened during the #EndSARS protest at Lekki tollgate in October 2020, many have also condemned his action saying it contravenes the Flags and Coat of Arms Act.

Reacting to Bovi’s outfit, a Twitter user Souljah @jeffphilips1 said: “The Flags and Coat of Arms Act Cap F30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 S.7 is against this but we’re in a lawless society.”

What does the act say?

According to section 8 of the Flags and Coat of Arms Act, “any person who flies or exhibits the national flag in a defaced or bad condition shall be guilty of an offence against this Act”.

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Section 8 of the Act also gives power to the police “to seize and remove any flag in respect of which any offence against this Act has occurred, and may cause any flag so seized and removed to be disposed of in such manner as the minister may direct”.

As for the penalty, section 10 states that “any person guilty of an offence against this Act shall be liable to a fine of one hundred naira and in the case of a continuing offence to a fine of ten naira for every day or part of a day during which the offence is continued after the day on which such person is first convicted”.

It is not certain if any Nigerian has been prosecuted for contravening the Act.

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But can Bovi be said to have acted against the law?

Legal experts say the comedian is not guilty.

Inibehe Effiong, a constitutional lawyer, said the law “does not prohibit or penalise the use of the flag for an artistic, intellectual or expressive purpose.”

“Bovi did not even carry the Nigerian flag. What he wore was a cloth. People don’t wear flags,” Effiong said.

“The representation on the cloth that he wore, has nothing to do with that law. The law they are talking about cannot undermine constitutional rights as a symbol of expression.

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“If I decide to use the national flag as a symbol of protest, I cannot be prosecuted for that. That is a law that has no place under the current constitutional regime. That law is unconstitutional and invalid because section 39 of the constitution guarantees freedom of expression.

“What that law purports to prohibit is abusing Nigerian flag or using it for certain purposes. The law does not say you cannot draw the Nigerian flag on your cloth or in your book or you cannot make a representation of the Nigerian flag in your house.

He said the Act refers to a “physical flag that can be felt and touched”.

“If you look at the colours on Bovi’s cloth, it was not just green white green. There was red on the cloth. If he argues that what he wore isn’t the Nigerian flag, can a contrary argument be made? I can say that it is a cloth of multiple colours.

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“If we are to look at it from the technical definition of a Nigerian flag, what makes that a representation of the flag? It was a cloth and if that cloth has a design with colours associated with the Nigerian flag, I don’t think that offends any law.

Another lawyer, Afam Osigwe, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said Bovi’s flag-themed attire does not offend the law.

According to him, “the Act does not criminalise using the flag or coat of arm as part of your dressing.”

“If the flag is used as an artistic representation to pass a message, it is different from flying a flag,” Osigwe said.

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“The word used in the Act is ‘flying a flag.”

“So the question is if there is an artistic impression of a flag with some other connotation inside it worn by an individual, does that amount to flying the national flag? I believe it does not.”

“Flying the flag suggest putting it on a pole and hoisting it in a place, vessel or a vehicle. But if you have a flag design on a cloth with some other design as a show of protest, it doesn’t amount to flying the flag as it is within the purview of Flags and Coat of Arms Act.”

For clarity, TheCable went further to speak with another legal professional, Adeola Adedipe, a seasoned lawyer.

“That Act prohibits one to fly or exhibit a defaced national flag so any violation of that is a criminal offence,” Adedipe said.

“But for a literal construction, the gentleman was not flying a national flag. So, that is eliminated.”

“Another question is, was he exhibiting it? That is the word that calls for construction. Is wearing a T-shirt that has the print of a national flag a form of an exhibition? I don’t think so.

“In the word exhibit, although not interpreted in the Act, it could mean an occasion, cultural display, a primary event i.e armed forces remembrance day or independence day, something of national importance that promotes the national heritage and culture. These things might require permission (licence) one way or the other.

“But where a person wears a T-shirt that has the national flag, it doesn’t fall within the parameters of an exhibition. “He/she does not need a license to wear it.

“So if he doesn’t need a license to wear the T-shirt, you cannot hold him for an allegation that the flag printed on it was defaced because the purpose was not for exhibition. It is just like any random cloth because it is not moving from him to a third party.”

Adedipe added that if the Act is interpreted strictly, most Nigerians will be affected negatively.

“When you want to construe a penal provision as we have here, it must be liberal to the person against who it would be used. If you construe in strict terms, at the end of the day, you find that everybody is affected by it knowingly or unknowingly,” he said.

With the opinion canvassed by legal experts, it is safe to say Bovi may not be culpable of violating the Flags and Coat of Arms Act.

1 Comment

  1. Whoknows
    Whoknows February 27, 12:42

    Bovi doesn’t violate any law.
    He was just wearing a cloth

    Reply to this comment

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