The civil society as a collective actor in Nigerian politics is ruling out of constitutional order the prosecution of participants in rallies, demonstration and protest marches. It has signed a statement declaring the constitutional provision which says that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons…” as sacrosanct and the ultimate rule book on the matter.
Daring the police to prosecute the organisers of peaceful rallies in Nigeria as the authorities of the Nigeria Police Force have threatened, the civil society organisations are pointing at existing provisions of law and judicial authorities recognising the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to non-violently convene and participate.
Expressing discomfort with the civic space in the country, the 51 organisations which signed the statement are asking the government to respect and allow the flourishing of civil space for meaningful contribution to democratic governance in the country. Beyond that, it is asking for immediate release of all activists who are in detention for exercising their fundamental rights; the total compliance with the rule of law as provided for in the legal system; restraint in arbitrary use of power against citizens on non-violent protests to express their views and for greater accountability and responsiveness to the citizenry they were elected to serve.
The statement listed media harassment and intimidation of journalists; harassment of human rights and anti-corruption civil society organisations as the highlights of what it sees as shrinking of civic space.
“We, the undersigned civil society organisations have observed with great concern and indeed, alarm, massive violation of the rights of citizens, including the right to protest, concerted attacks of media organisations, press freedom and civil society organisations”, said the statement which went on to argue how such was against the hope for a renewed vigour in addressing the myriad of problems bedeviling the country. listing such myriad to include intensification of insecurity, the deepening of corruption, growing poverty and unemployment as well as flagrant and frequent disrespect of the rule of law, the norm entrepreneurs speaks of expanding the civic space and facilitating citizen’s engagement in an expanding democratic space as the expected reciprocal response from the president to people’s trust in the re-validating his mandate last February.
The statement specifically cited what it calls a growing phenomenon of unlawful arrest and detention of journalists, severely stressing “our great tradition of a free press and freedom of expression”. Also specifically frowned at is state attitude of continuous attacks on human rights and anti-corruption civil society organisations and activists in the country, particularly the reported approach of some security agencies and unscrupulous agents using hoodlums and miscreants threatening Amnesty International-Nigeria to vacate the country. “Trying to force a legal organisation that has all Nigeria citizens to vacate and leave the country without an attempt by security agencies to protect their rights is unacceptable”, the activists said.
Among the civil society platforms are the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD); Centre for Democratic Research and Training (CRDDERT); Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC); Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre); Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL); Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC); Partners for West Africa – Nigeria; Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD); Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP); Falana Falana Chambers; CLEEN Foundation; International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI); Zero-Corruption Coalition (ZCC); Accountability Maternal New-born and Child Health in Nigeria (AMHiN); Partners on Electoral Reform; State of the Union (SOTU); African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL); National Procurement Watch Platform; Say NO Campaign—Nigeria; Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civil Education (CHRICED); Social Action and International Press Centre.
Others are WANGONET; Community Action for Popular Participation, (CAPP); Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress (BOCODEP); Global Rights; Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC); Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law; Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE); Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA); Tax Justice Nigeria; Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria; Women In Nigeria, (WIN); African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD); Centre for Social Justice; HURIDAC; Protest to Power; Network on Police Reform in Nigeria(NOPRIN Foundation); Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre(RULAAC); Women Advocate Research And Documentation Centre, (WORDOC) and Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative(WRAPA).
Lastly, there are the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; Sesor Empowerment Foundation; Dorothy Njemanze Foundation; Echoes of Women in Africa Initiatives (ECOWA); Hadis Foundation; Education As a Vaccine Against Women; Baobab for Women’s Human Rights; Nigerian Feminist Forum; Alliances for Africa; Space for Change