Drop all charges against activists, journalists, others – SERAP to Nigerian Govt

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has asked the Nigerian Federal Government, as well as the state governments, to drop criminal charges against activists, journalists, rights defenders and others who are on trial “solely for peacefully exercising their human and democratic rights”.

SERAP equally asked the government to “immediately release anyone still being arbitrarily detained solely for peacefully exercising their human and democratic rights”.

The demand was among the recommendations in a report titled, ‘Broken Promises’: Systematic Crackdown on Civic Space, Democratic Rights And Media Freedom In Nigeria’, released by SERAP on July 3, 2024, in Abuja.

The report assessed citizens’ participation in the democratic process and the protection of dissent in Nigeria.

In other recommendations to the government, SERAP demanded an “end to the systematic crackdown on civic space, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, media freedom and the right to political participation and other democratic rights and the erosion of the rule of law” in Nigeria.

The civil society organization equally asked the government to “end the use of the unlawful Cybercrime Act to target and arbitrarily arrest and subject critics, journalists, activists and human rights defenders to unfair trials solely for peacefully exercising their human and democratic rights”.

The Nigerian government was also asked to “promptly reform the Electoral Act ahead of the next general elections so that it is entirely consistent with constitutional and international human rights standards in particular, to ensure the effective realization of Nigerians’ right to political participation and other democratic rights”.

SERAP, in the report, also asked the government to ensure the genuine independence, from political influence, of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, and other regulatory bodies with mandates over the civic space, political participation, human and democratic rights as well as media freedom.

The Nigerian government was equally asked to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right to vote, by ensuring that elections are conducted fairly, impartially and in accordance with established laws, constitutional provisions and international standards.

The CSO urged the government to allow national and international electoral observers, human rights monitors and journalists seeking to observe, monitor or report on elections to access all parts of the country.

It also told the government to “take all necessary steps to ensure that the Nigeria Police and other security agencies act in a neutral and non-partisan fashion in relation to electoral campaigns, elections and all political party activities”.

SERAP, in the same vein, advised the government to “ensure prompt, thorough, impartial, independent, effective and transparent investigations of human right violations in the country, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice in fair trials, and that victims are provided with access to justice and remedies.

The Nigerian government was also asked to obey and implement court orders that promote the right of citizens to participate in governance, including the judgement of a Federal High Court ordering the government of Ex-President Muhammadu Buhari to account for the spending of $460 million Chinese loan to fund the failed Abuja Closed-Circuit Television, CCTV, project.

The government was equally asked to ensure access to public information, and timely responses from the ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs.

Dissent voice attracts negative consequences in Nigeria – Respondents

Majority of the respondents in a survey, which formed the basis of the report, reported experiencing negative consequences for engaging in dissent – speaking against government actions and activities, either on social media, radio, or television, or in newspapers. Those who suffered negative consequences for engaging in dissent include individuals who participated in public protests.

The respondents, drawn from different sections of the society, include activists, government officials, community leaders, ordinary citizens, journalists and media personnel, legal experts and advocates, academics and researchers, NGOs, trade union representatives, artists and cultural figures, students and youth activists, healthcare and social workers, members and officials of political parties, and former dissenters.

The report found that negative consequences suffered by dissenters in Nigeria include restriction of movement, building demolition by government or agents of government, denial of access to government facilities, arrest without family and friends knowing their whereabouts, incarceration, restriction of access to social media, conviction by court and payment of penalty or fine.

It was also found that court orders in favour of some individuals who suffered negative consequences for engaging in dissent were not obeyed by the government and its agents.

However, SERAP, in the report, stressed that “it is well established that there is a constitutional right to participate in the democratic process, protest against the government or express dissent in some other ways”. It however expressed regrets that there are several cases of exclusion from the democratic process, and suppression of dissent in Nigeria.

Majority of Nigerians dissatisfied with democratic process

The report also found that the majority of Nigerians are dissatisfied with the country’s democratic process.

About 72.31 per cent of the respondents in the survey conducted by SERAP believe that citizens’ views do not count in the formulation of government policies. Also, about 73.75 per cent of respondents believe that elected officials do not care about what the people thought or felt.

In the same vein, 79.95 per cent of the survey population believe that government is not run for the benefit of the people.

About 66.72 per cent of respondents believe that their votes did not count during elections.

Also, 70.45 per cent of respondents believe that government employees cannot openly express their dissatisfaction with government policy without receiving a backlash.

UN, AU, others asked to put pressure on Nigerian Govt to end suppression of democratic rights

To ensure the implementation of the recommendations advanced in the report, SERAP urged the United Nations, UN, African Union, AU, Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and other members of the international community to put pressure on the Nigerian government.

The organization specifically urged the international community to “put pressure on Nigerian authorities to end the systematic crackdown on civic space, the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, media freedom and the right to political participation and other democratic rights”.

The international community was equally urged to publicly condemn all restrictions on democratic rights, and also call on Nigerian authorities to repeal repressive laws.

SERAP, in the same vein, asked the international community to “link enhanced bilateral cooperation and closer trade and political relations (with Nigeria) to clear human and democratic rights benchmarks, including promoting freedom of expression and association, media freedom and releasing those arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human and democratic rights”.

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