Nigeria’s Civil Society is Under Attack

Nigeria’s Civil Society is Under Attack

Paris – The country in focus this week is Nigeria,the country is currently facing a tense political situation, the results of the 2019 elections failed to meet its requirements as a credible election due to military interference and voter suppression. The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) is monitoring the country’s problems with security, corruption, poverty, the violation of civil liberties, including the right to peaceful assembly and repeated attacks on Civil Society Organisations and media harassment.

Context – In February this year, President Muhammadu Buhari won his second four-year term in office, an election tarnished by controversy, poor voter participation and military violence where at least 58 people were killed. Only a few hours before the polls were set to open, the country’s Electoral Commission delayed the vote by one week, a tactical move to encourage low voter turn-out as thousands of Nigerians had journeyed far from their homes to cast their vote and were unable to stay stagnate for one week. Other implications like threats from Islamist militant groups, intimidation and deliberate logistical errors to weaken democratic conventions also resulted in the low turn-out of voters. Citizens hoped for some intensity in tackling the barrage of issues that tormented the country; however the government’s message was abundantly clear to those in favor of democracy and a fair civil society.

Current Situation – Government corruption continues to be an endemic issue in the country, and Africa’s largest economy still relies heavily on the oil sector for its GDP neglecting the country and people of which half is estimated to live in poverty.

Despite promises to reform the country and address its many problems, what still prevails is the poor standard of living, limited access to opportunities, public finances and business investment have been neglected, and social cohesion between the government and its citizens remains non-existent. As this corruption continues to threaten the stability of the country, insurgent groups pose a substantial threat to Nigeria’s security. One of the largest Islamist militant groups in Africa – Boko Haram, have been responsable for various terrorist attacks on many political and religious groups as well as attacks on police, the military and civillians. The government’s political and economic instability has strengthened the group’s ability to continue threats, attacks and abductions on civilians. In the northeast of the country in 2018, attacks launched by Boko Haram saw 1,200 people dead and a further 200,000 displaced.

The Department of State Services (DSS) in Nigeria have launched nationwide campaigns that impede the rights of citizens to freedom of assembly and speech. The DSS have unlawfully issued a threat of prosecution to those who organize peaceful demonstrations which illicitly disrespects Nigeria’s 1999 constitution that states, “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons.” Civil society led investigations have uncovered that security forces have arbitrarily arrested and tortured protesters in detention.

Freedom of speech and press freedom are supposed to be constitutionally warranted, however severe penalties have been put in place for any alleged press offenses. The government has limited press freedom by publicly harassing, criticizing and arresting journalists who report human rights abuses, corruption, sectarian violence and other politically charged topics. US resident Omoyele Sowore and founder of the online newspaper Sahara Reporters was arrested on August 3 for calling nationwide protests and remains in detention to this day. The DSS have also arrested various social media users and continue to withhold their names.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have been under attack by the Nigerian government and the DSS through publicly criticizing and questioning their legitimacy as well as accusing them of collusion with foreign entities or acting on alternative motives. The government has also suppressed civil activism through direct harassment, violence and intimidation techniques.

Our View – Nigerians believed that the administration that would receive another four-year term would restore the goodwill of the people by committing to expand the country’s civic and democratic space. Many of the Nigerian people now feel disillusioned by the electoral process endangering democracy itself which cannot exist without an appropriate rule of law, this is why it is imperative that those that may have committed offences during the elections are held accountable, which should be carried out by an independent inquiry and by the international community.

Current government corruption is causing half of Nigeria’s population to live in poverty, therefore President Buhari needs to improve the country’s economic productivity and opportunities for its citizens by investing in human capital potential and create job opportunities for young people and women.

The President must also abide by the rule of law by ordering the country’s security forces to respect and protect citizens expressing their right to freedom of assembly and speech. Furthermore, he should also order the DSS to stop their vicious campaign of arbitrary arrests, torture, and attacks against the media, and cease all intimidation and humiliation techniques towards Civil Society Organizations.

As Boko Haram continues to be a major security challenge that requires action, defeating the group has proved challenging for a country that remainsoil hungry, corrupt, stuck in poverty since the 1990’s, has a history of violence, bureaucratic transgressions and elite manipulation of religious and ethnic divides, eradicating the insurgents and recruits needs to be done through help from Nigeria’s alliances and neighbours but most importantly through better governance.

In spite of all of these challenges, Civil Society Organisations must continue their efforts throughout the country to ensure the Nigerian government commit to good governance, find sustainable solutions to address the poverty issue, and help manifest the will of its citizens that creates room for both a civic space and democratic one.

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