10th December 2019, Ibadan, Nigeria – CAFSO-WRAG for Development in partnership with the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) is organising a series of events tackling the shrinking civic space to commemorate the International Human Rights Day in Nigeria as part of multiple actions marking the CPDE Global Day of Action 2019.

The event titled, “the imperative of enabling environment for civil society shrinking space in Nigeria”, aimed to advocate for the reversal of shrinking spaces for civil society and the promotion of CSO enabling environment in Nigeria. Its specific objectives include:

  • To create awareness on the shrinking space for CSOs so as for government to reverse the trend.
  • To popularise CSO’s role as vital, independent development actors in their own right, and partners for development according to Belgrade Call Action and AAAA.
  • To bring to governments’ understanding that the realization of 2030 Agenda is in participatory and human rights approach involving the civil society and the media.
  • To present before government-specific asks bothering on the release of civil rights actors and retracting the social media bill before the House of Assembly.

Dr Tola Winjobi, the African Representative of CPDE who is also the Principal Coordinator of CAFSO-WRAG for Development explains that the action is important in view of incessant attacks and threats against the press and the civil society that may impede the realisation of the 2030 Agenda.

Dr Winjobi laments the obvious human rights abuses especially being perpetrated by the state. There is much impunity and violation of the rule of law as governments are adamant to court rulings against them. Many political prisoners like Sambo Dasuki, and Ibrahim El-Zakisaky and some journalists including Agba Jalingo, Omoyele Sowore publisher of Sahara Reporters, and Olawale Bakare are kept behind bars despite court injunction to release them on bail. A brazen disrespect for human rights and desecration of the temple of justice was the Gestapo-like re-arrest of Omoyele Sowore in the premises of the Federal High Court by the operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) on Friday, December 6, 2019. This arrant display of barbarism, brutality, gangsterism, hooliganism, and impunity by the SSS is a reflection of horrendous experience by civil society on a daily basis in Nigeria. Some of these anomalies go unnoticed and unreported some of the time which is why the impunity persists.

Press freedom is being curtailed gradually as some of the time, media houses are shut with impunity on frivolous allegation of publishing inciting materials and falsehood. Commonplace from 2014 to date are clampdowns on the Nigerian press, from the outright closure of media houses, to the seizure of large numbers of newspapers seen as anti-establishment and the confiscation of thousands of copies of several newspapers.

There have been obnoxious actions and policies including draconian bills targeted at civil society by Nigerian government in order to stifle the former. Some of these actions required mandatory registration with difficult requirements for CSO operations; regulatory restrictions and nebulous legislation including hate speech attracting death penalty; measures banning public demonstrations and processions except for the Nigerian state; poor and limited spaces available for CSO participation; and lack of technical and financial support for CSOs effective engagement and operations coupled with donor’s fatigue. On top of these draconian policies targeted at civil society is the financial bill requiring mandatory presentation of Tax Identification Number (TIN) by any individual operating a bank account in Nigeria as from January 2, 2020. Not mindful of government’s failure to provide social services for the people, the bill is no respecter of indigent women, poor widows, pauperized pensioners, pensionless senior citizens, petty business people, artisans, unemployed youth including fresh graduates who keep the stipends they have in banks for security reasons. One wonders where an unemployed person, for example, would get money to pay tax when the government has even failed to provide jobs and services for the people upon which taxes are imposed.

Dr Winjobi also cries out that not only Nigeria’s fledgling democracy is being threatened, but the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is also being jeopardised in Nigeria through the action of governments. Upholding human rights is core to development; and human rights-based approach (HRBA) is a fundamental principle for development effectiveness. It represents a paradigm shift crucial in achieving the
SDGs as it affirms the agency of the poor and marginalized people to chart their own destiny by empowering them as rights-holders instead of mere beneficiaries of charity. The maginalised are so pauperised to the extent that they could not discern their rights let alone stand for them. Thus they are being left behind. Real and transformative progress in achieving core SDGs – including eradicating poverty (SDG1), eliminating hunger (SDG2), addressing gender and all forms of discrimination (SDG5) reducing inequalities (SDG10), promoting decent work and sustainable livelihoods for all (SDG8) – will not be possible without a fully engaged civil society and population. The strengths of civil society are its diversity, its rootedness in communities and territories, its direct development experience, and its capacity for public engagement.

Tola charges the civic leaders to demand from governments a robust civic space for democratic participation, end the persecution of human rights defenders including political prisoners, promote access to governance and opportunities for development, and actualise commitment to inclusive participation in realising the SDGs.

Reflecting the Belgrade Call to Action 2019, Tola calls on governments:

  • To take concrete steps to protect and enable space for civil society, including enabling laws and regulations, democratic accountability based on human rights norms and human rights standards, and the full protection of civil society under attack – such as social leaders, human rights defenders and gender equality activists.
  • To repeal and halt all obnoxious laws, policies, and bills stifling operations of civil society and the press including social media bill that metes out death penalty on the violator reminiscent of the repressive Decree No 4 of 1984.
  • To implement and respect democratic country ownership of national development plans, imbibe open governance partnership, and implement transparency and accountability for inclusive SDG delivery.
  • To recognize the importance of the inter-connected themes in achieving Agenda 2030 — civil society voice, eradicating poverty, women’s empowerment, fighting inequality, decent work, climate action and environmental justice.
  • To uphold the rule of law, shun impunity and respect human rights by releasing unconditionally all the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience including the activists and journalists like Agba Jalingo, Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare, kept behind bars despite court injunction to release them on bail.

CAFSO-WRAG for Development is a humanitarian, human rights, not for profit, and non-governmental organization established in 1994 in Ibadan, Nigeria. Its main task is to challenge the structures and institutions that perpetuate poverty, hunger and preventable diseases, and campaign for the fulfillment of all socio-economic and human rights for sustainable human and ecological development. For more information visit www.cafsowrag4development.org

CPDE is an open global platform that unites CSOs from around the world on the issue of effective development cooperation. It strives to make development more effective by reshaping the global aid architecture and empowering CSOs working on the ground. To know more, visit csopartnership.org.