By Henry Uche
Concerned citizens across disciplines yesterday called on Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the Media and Nigerians at large to stand tall against what they called “Draconian laws, regulations or policies” which were not only designed to gag the Media or suppress the Civic space, but meant against Nigerians at large.
At a one day hybrid interactive session held in Abuja, with the presence of media professionals, CSOs, Legal Luminaries, Rights Activists, Advocates of good governance and other stakeholders in the Nigerian project, the groups decried the level of attempted intimidation, suppression, oppression and repression perpetuated by state actors against dissent voices over the years.
According to them, the Twitter ban by the federal government of Nigeria in 2021, social media/ hate speech bill, among others were some of the actions taken against the citizens to stop them from expressing their views about the government, against their fundamental Rights of (Freedom of expression), but warned that any move to silence the Media, Activists or CSOs in particular would not only give room for more uproar, but would spell doom for democracy in Nigeria.
With the theme: Solution Lab: “Resisting Draconian Laws And Regulations On Civic Freedoms In Nigeria,” they recalled regrettably that, in the past 10 years, successive governments have attempted to pass not less than 10 draconian legislations and regulations to limit freedom of expression and citizens’ dissent.
A group, “Spaces for Change” , revealed that there were at least 252 government crackdowns on civic dissent in the span of 5 years. The session recalled that on June 4, 2021, millions of Nigerians were shut out of Twitter, following a ban by the Federal Government. During this ban which spanned over seven months.
“The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated that Nigerian businesses lost about N10 trillion. A lot of Nigerians also lost significant opportunities owing to the paucity of information which the digital platform originally provided.
“While the Nigerian courts ruled against the applicant in a case against the Federal Government challenging the ban, the ECOWAS court ruled that the suspension of Twitter operations by the Nigerian Government was unlawful and inconsistent with the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees civic freedoms, both of which Nigeria is a state party,”
They posited that the Federal Government surreptitiously passed the Amended Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA 2020) into law without following the due process of legislative amendments, such as proper public hearing, and seeking the input of key stakeholders.
Executive Director of Global Rights, Abiodun Baiyewu, bemoaned that the civic space in Nigeria is being repressed by many laws and more than 112 infractions are being perpetuated against the media, saying that there are more than 9 draconian bills at the national assembly that are not just a threat to the civic space, but against the security of Nigeria, nevertheless these should not be allowed to continue.
“We are going into 2023 elections and we must begin to think of how to engage as a people beyond just voting and the politics around elections, to ensure that we are able to hold government accountable through the laws and the policies they proffer to our civic space. The civic space belongs to the people. So we must protect the civic space.
“This Solution Lab is a forum to find solution to the issues of infractions. One of the things we readily identify is the role of citizens themselves and helping citizens to understand what goes on.
“We discovered that these draconian laws are not just at the federal level, there are infractions at the state level. So, we have to engage CSOs from the national to ensure they also hold state Assemblies accountable regarding human rights abuses.”
Global Rights’ Executive Director said on 16 June 2022, in collaboration with its partners, hosted a forum for civil society actors to give updates on efforts to repeal the CAMA law.
The Advocate of Sustainable Justice maintained that although some gains have been made by various CSOs and well-meaning organizations in challenging these insidious moves of government through initiating strategic litigations in local and regional, however, there is still a need to consolidate on the gains, especially at this critical time when Nigeria is gearing up for its 2023 general elections.
“We are not ignorant of the intent and purposes of every law, regulations and others targeted against CSOs, the Media, Rights Ativists and Advocates of good governance, it’s unfortunate the government do not know that the more they strive to suppress or repress dissent voices, the more their atrocities are exposed.
“But we not daunted, we must keep the faith alive, we shall never allow any body or group to kill nor bury our democracy- though they are doing everything to destroy it through their abuse of Rule of law, disobedience to court orders, military intimidation and other forms of undemocractic actions and inactions, but we remain auspicious that fairness, equity and justice shall prevail for every Nigerian regardless of differences,” she asseverated.
On his part, the Chairman, Human Rights Institute of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chino Obiagwu, SAN, said that the constitutional role of the judiciary is to balance executive and legislative powers.
According to him, if the executive is engaged in muzzling people and the legislature is engaged in making repressive laws, the judiciary has to intervene as the last hope of the common man.
“We are concerned that judiciary in Nigeria have not showed that passion in the freedom of the people.
“Why should someone be imprisoned for a month for criticising the Akwa Ibom government on social media. How could a court do that? Restricting right to freedom of expression? The judiciary has so far not responded to the need of our people. It is high time we drew attention to them that closing the civic space will also affect the judiciary. The judiciary has a great role to play to ensure that any draconian law is set aside,” he maintained.
Also speaking, Senior Legal Officer, Open Society Justice Initiative, Kadiri Maxwell, admonished citizens to reject law makers who are involved in making draconian laws as 2023 general elections approaches.
“People need to understand what is being done to address the challenges and key in. They should be abreast of what their representatives at federal and state levels are doing to marginalise the people by passing repressive laws. Many of them may be in the ballot in 2023, so it’s up to the people to vote wisely.
“It takes the connection of what is happening in the court room to the court of public opinion and links to preparations for 2023. Campaigns will soon start, however, it is still possible to take up National Assembly members on amending some of the draconian laws before they become busy with campaigns,” he said.