In a major civil society-state relations rupture in Nigeria, fifteen civil society organisations have signed a single statement expressing alarm over what it calls “a disturbing veil of growing anxiety and tension” cast on the relationship between government and independent journalists as well as public commentators by recent developments in Nigeria. In the uncommon statement signed by notable civil society organisations spread across the country, the non-state sector categorically asserted how no fewer than five serving governors have thrown journalists and public commentators into detention in the past few months over their comments and reports regarding public policies initiated by agencies of governments headed by the governors in question.
Isolating the case of Ahmad Salkida whom the civil society described as an independent journalist who has consistently and objectively reported on the human crisis situation in the Northeast, the signatories called on the government to promptly investigate accusation of working with Boko Haram contained in a petition by an organisation it described as shadowy and neo-NGO against Salkida. Naming the organisation as the Incorporated Trustees of Overt Legacy and Human Development Initiative, the signatories expressed fear “in the eerie connection from the cry of the witch and the death of the baby”. They also demanded guarantee of the safety of journalists and public commentators all over Nigeria in general and that of Ahmad Salkida in particular.
The statement recalled Salkida having to raise an alarm few weeks ago that his life was under renewed threat following a report he published on the released 82 Chibok girls. It connected this to how the Nigerian Army declared Salkida a wanted man on August 14th, 2016 only to release him without any charges or indictment by the military authorities when he willingly submitted himself for interrogation. But the civil society actors said even as the military authorities found nothing professionally unbecoming to use against him, it did not publicly admit this, not to talk of an apology.
What is more, the threat to his life, attempts to block him from professionally seeking a livelihood, attempts to profile him and intimidate him have continued, the statement added, pointing at a recent attempt involving using a group it believes was sponsored to place charges it described as spurious against him. It was argued that they could not fail to notice and draw a parallel between Salkida’s present cross and the bullying and the obviously sponsored attempts at intimidation of Amnesty International, Nigeria recently.
The statement accused the government of becoming so incensed as to suggest that Amnesty International was undermining the Nigerian government’s sovereignty and that the agency was working with the violent terror group, Boko Haram following Amnesty’s professional work of calling out government on its deplorable human rights records. It added that this was immediately followed by the unleashing of hounds on the international agency, hounds alleged to have barricaded the office of the agency without causing Police outrage.
The 15 civil society organistions are Centre for Information Technology and Development, Kano; CISLAC, Abuja; Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL), Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress (BOCODEP); Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja; North East Youth Initiative for Development (NEYIF), Damaturu in Yobe State; Say No Campaign Nigeria, Abuja and Zero Corruption Coalition, Abuja.
Others are Centre for Environmental Education, Jalingo in Taraba State; Coalition for Improvement of Public Expenditure Management (BACIPEM), Bauchi; Centre for Women and Adolescent Empowerment, Yola; Alliance for Credible Election (ACE), Abuja; Protest to Power Movement, Abuja; International Press Centre, Lagos and the Civil Liberties Organisation, (CLO).