25 June 2014 - Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS is shocked at the ongoing media and civil society crackdown in Nigeria. A number of legal and extra-legal tactics are being employed by Nigeria’s government to prevent the spread of information and the exercise of democratic freedoms.
“Once hailed for its progress on democratic indicators, Nigeria is fast becoming a hostile place for independent media and civil society groups, said David Kode, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “In moves reminiscent of the days of military dictatorship in Nigeria, the media and civil society are being blamed for threatening state security.”
Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria are extremely concerned by legislative moves to control their funding from international sources through the restrictive Foreign Donations (Regulation) Bill. The Bill gives the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission broad discretionary powers to deny foreign funding to CSOs on vague grounds such as `likely to affect’ the sovereignty and integrity of Nigeria, adverse diplomatic relations with foreign countries and religious harmony. Many believe this is a direct consequence of increasing civil society criticism of Nigeria’s government for its handling of the law and order situation in the country.
In a recent attack on media freedoms, Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on 30 May 2014 ordered broadcast houses to notify it 48 hours before the broadcast of “impromptu live political programmes.” Current moves to restrict media freedoms come on top of rising incidents of crackdowns on journalists and newspapers in the country. On 6 June 2014, the Punch, Leadership and the Nation newspapers were targeted in a number of cities by the military. Copies of newspapers were destroyed and delivery vans were held up and delayed to interrupt circulation through military roadblocks. Between 6 and 10 June the Daily Trust, Vanguard, Business Day, Osun Defender among other newspapers were also targeted.
The targeting of newspapers is believed to be in response to media criticism of the government’s handling of the kidnapping of over 250 girls by the outlawed Boko Haram group in April 2014 in Borno state. On 9 May 2014 Hir Joseph, a correspondent for the Star Trust Newspaper was arrested and detained by the police after writing an article about the participation of policewomen in protests calling for the release of the abducted girls. He was later charged with damaging the credibility of the police and granted bail of 150000 Naira (approximately US$ 915).
Efforts were made to impede protest demonstrations urging government to take concrete actions to free the kidnapped girls. On 3 June 2014, the Nigerian authorities imposed a ban on protests in Abuja under the pretext that the protests threaten national security but later backtracked after national and international condemnation of the ban. The police later explained that they had merely sounded a warning to protesters from intelligence sources that gatherings could be infiltrated by people with links to the Boko Haram sect. On 5 May, the first lady ordered the arrest of two female protest leaders and accused them of tarnishing the image of the country by speaking out about the abductions and calling for decisive action from the government.
In January 2014, the draconian Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was approved by the President banning the registration of any gay club, society or organisation while threatening supporters with imprisonment up to ten years. CIVICUS has raised a number of serious concerns over harassment and persecution of civil society activists and journalists in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in March 2013. We call on the Nigerian government to respect their international commitment to protect civil society and media freedoms.