Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Congress of the United States, has expressed in strong terms, concerns about the closing of media and civic space in Nigeria.
The Congress made its concerns known in a letter dated November 25, 2019, addressed to the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Sylvanus Adiewere Nsofor.
The letter was signed by Robert Menendez, a United States Senator and Josh Gottheimer, Member of Congress, United States of America.
Recall that some journalists protesting the continuous detention of the #RevolutionNow Convener, Omoyele Sowore, recently had a brush with officials of the Department of State Security Service (DSS).
The letter is also coming after the manhandling of a Vanguard photo journalist accredited to the State House, Yomi Adeshida, by security officials attached to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, including Government’s move to sanitise the social media space in the country due to perennial hate speech in the country.
The content of the letter was however confirmed by a senior diplomatic official in the United States who told Daily Sun on condition of anonymity that the letter was already in the United States media space.
The congress particularly expressed displeasure over troubling reports regarding security agencies in the country assaulting and detaining journalists and using excessive force on non-violent protesters.
“We write to express strong concern about closing media and civic space in Nigeria. There have been a number of troubling reports about Nigerian security services assaulting and detaining journalists, using excessive force on non-violent protesters and taking other actions that inhibit freedom of expression and otherwise, prevent Nigerians from fully exercising their fundamental constitutional rights,” the Congress wrote.
Chronicling the actions of the Government against the media and activists, the United States Congress acknowledged the detention and harassment of journalists and activists such as Sowore, Jones Abiri, Kofi Bartels, Samuel Ogundipe and others investigating and speaking out about politically sensitive problems like corruption or insecurity in the country, while also saying that there were reports that some of the arrested journalists were tortured.
“In at least one instance, the Department of Security Services has ignored a court order to release a detained activist. Restrictions and deadly crackdowns on non-violent protests since 2015 have similarly reflected a lack of apparent commitment to civic freedoms which is beginning to negatively impact the image of Nigeria’s government, both at home and abroad,” the Congress also wrote.
While also noting that security agencies used live ammunition on members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria also known as Shi’ite while protesting in Zaria in 2015, and on protesters in Onitsha in 2016, the Congress said the same was used on the Shi’ite procession in Abuja in 2018.
The Congress also recalled the January, 2019 raiding of the Daily Trust office in Abuja whereby the Editor of the paper was arrested, while further noting the shooting and killing of Precious Owolabi, a journalist who was covering a July protest in Abuja.
“These crackdowns have collectively killed hundreds of Nigerian citizens, and serve as troubling demonstrations of the excessive force used by the military. The alleged perpetrators of these abuse have yet to be brought to justice,” the Congress added.
Declaring that Nigeria had a critical role to play in preserving peace and stability in West Africa, the Congress added that as the most populous democracy on the African continent, Nigeria could serve as a shining example of how countries can best observe the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
“However, failure to respect the rights in the Charter and those in Nigeria’s own constitution undermines your nation’s ability to lead in this area. We urge you to ensure that the rights and liberties contained in the constitution are observed for all citizens, and to take strong action against further closing space for journalists, political opposition, and those in civil society. The rights of all citizens must be respected without the threat of government reprisal. We look forward to seeing progress on this critically important issue,” the Congress stated.