A rights group, Spaces for Change has raised the alarm that Nigerian’s democracy is at risk, just as it cautioned the federal government to adhere to the tenets of democracy and play by its rule.
Also the group, globally known for its human rights advocacy asked the Buhari-led government without further delay to release all #RevolutionNow protesters still in detention camps.
“We are aware that many of those involved in the #RevolutionNow protests are still in detention and we demand that they should all be released immediately. They are simply carrying out their fundamental right and does not deserve such inhuman treatment” the group noted in a statement signed by Zikora Ibeh, made available to the press at the weekend.
The group condemned in strong terms what it described as “the increasing trend of attacks, criminalization, and militarization of peaceful protests in Nigeria”, adding that “We are horrified at the cruel harassment, arrest, and detention of scores of #RevolutionNow Protesters who gathered across different parts of the country to express their constitutionally guaranteed rights to assembly and expression”.
Part of the statement reads “Our democracy is at risk where the civic space is unjustly squeezed by the government and its security apparatuses.
“It is unfortunate to note that security officials who are bound by law and, saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of citizens have departed from their core mandate.
“The persistent attacks on peaceful marchers underscore the government’s rising intolerance for dissent and, the negative trend of restrictions overwhelming the country’s civic space.
“We particularly reject the use of COVID-19 public health directives as a pretext to further shrink the civic space as revealed in the statement of the FCT Commissioner of Police, Bala Ciroma, who acknowledged that protesters were indeed arrested but on the grounds that they violated COVID19 protocols banning the convergence of gatherings that violate social distancing rules.
“The persistent attacks on peaceful marchers underscore the government’s rising intolerance for dissent and, the negative trend of restrictions overwhelming the country’s civic space. “The comments of the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in a callous dismissal, described the nationwide #RevolutionNow protests as a child’s play. This is an affront on the sensibilities of all young Nigerians brutalized during the protest for daring to express their genuine concerns on the present state of affairs in the country.
“Over the past few years, we have observed the steady decline of civic freedoms in the country. This reversal has manifested in various forms of threats such as punitive actions on journalists for engaging in their journalistic duties, the criminalization of lawful assemblies and free speech, arbitrary arrests and detention of citizens for exercising their democratic rights amongst many others.
“To further buttress this, we also like to note that a few days ago, Nigerians were rudely shocked by the news that the Federal Government had arbitrarily hiked the Hate Speech fine by an astronomical N4.5M as against the former N500,000 during a review of the country’s Broadcasting Code.
“This increase is not only a seeming attempt to gag the press but a testament to the government’s growing contempt for free speech and media freedoms.
“On the digital database, www.closingspace.org, attacks on press freedom, free speech, and lawful assemblies, accordingly, constitute the highest forms of attacks on the rights of citizens in the country.
“Targeted attacks of citizens on peaceful marches and expression of their thoughts on national issues portray a complete disregard for the important role of citizen engagement in the growth and development of any economy. “Beyond the spate of attacks on civic freedoms in the country, we must also inform the Nigerian Government and all its law enforcement agencies to respect the rights and dignities of all Nigerians as provided by Sections 34, 37 and 39 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and other international human rights treaties and legal instruments of which Nigeria is a signatory to”.