- Crackdown on the Media Damaging Nigeria’s Reputation
Despite its vantage position among African democracies, the United States’ Congress has said Nigeria cannot be a “shining example” for the rest of the continent if the nation continues with the current onslaught against journalists and activists advocating for good governance and accountability.
With the largest population and economy on the continent, Nigeria has a burden of responsibility to lead Africa by promoting democratic principles and the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, “however, the failure to respect the rights in the Charter and those in Nigeria’s own constitution undermine your nation’s ability to lead in this area,” said the U.S Congress in a letter dated 25th November 2019 and addressed to the Nigerian Ambassador to U.S.A, Sylvanus Nsofor.
The letter was jointly signed by Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
The New Diplomat learnt that both lawmakers represent the U.S state of New Jersey, where the detained publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore resides in the U.S.A.
The Congress also expressed its grave concerns over the trepidation the assault on journalists has caused among Nigerian citizens as the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration continues its clampdown on the media, trying to suppress the constitutionally recognised freedom of expression for citizens.
One of such coordinated clampdowns, wearing technical garb was the introduction of a controversial bill at the Nigerian Senate, seeking life imprisonment and death penalty for hate speech offenders.
Recall that on Monday, a federal high court sitting in Abuja threatened to jail the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi, over the agency’s refusal to release Sowore and Olawale Bakare despite meeting stringent bail conditions.
The duo were arrested in Lagos on August 3 for mobilising Nigerians to protest and demand for good governance in the country, a move that the Buhari government had since termed as an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government.
On November 6, 2019, the court had ordered the release of the activists after they met their stringent bail conditions. That made it the second time in one month that the court had issued an order to the DSS, mandating their release.
According to the U.S Congress, their continuous detention and that of other journalists and activists including Jones Abiri has been throwing up troubling reports in the international space about how the Nigeria Security Services operate without recourse to rule of law as etched out in the Nigerian constitution.
“We write to express strong concern about closing media and Civic space in Nigeria. There have been a number of troubling reports about Nigeria 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 constitutional rights.
“Journalists and activists such as Omoyele Sowore, Jones Abiri, Kofi Bartels, Samuel Ogundipe, and others investigating and speaking-out politically sensitive problems like corruption or insecurity have been harassed and detained, with reports that some have been tortured. In at least one instance, the Department of Security Services has ignored a court order to release a detained activist,” the letter read.
It noted that the repressive actions of the Nigerian government against the media were becoming more alarming and also resorting to the use of excessive force against non-violent protesters in some parts of the country.
“Restrictions and deadly crackdowns on non-violent protesters 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 home and abroad. Security forces used live ammunitions on Shiite protestors in Zaria, Kaduna State in 2015; on protestors in Onitsha, Anambra State in 2016, again on a Shiite procession in Abuja in 2018, raided the office of Daily Trust, and arrested the editor in January, 2019, and shot and killed Precious Owolabi, a journalist covering a July 2019 protest in Abuja.
“The crackdowns have collectively killed hundreds of Nigerian citizens and serve as troubling demonstration of the excessive force used by the military. The alleged perpetrators of these abuse have yet to be brought to justice.
“Mr. Ambassador, Nigeria has a critical role to play in preserving peace and and stability in West Africa, and as the most popular democracy in the continent, it 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 failure to respect the rights in the Charter and those in Nigeria’s own constitution undermine 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. Thank you for your attention on this urgent matter.”