Civic space continues to be regularly violated in Nigeria
#NoMoreBloodshed, #SaveTheNorth, #NorthIsBleeding protests against insecurity in northern Nigeria
Following the killing of 23 bus passengers in the northern Sokoto State on 6th December 2021, online and street protests in several localities, took place against rising insecurity in northern Nigeria and the failure of the Buhari administration to combat the security crisis. Security threats in northern Nigeria include terrorism by jihadist groups and attacks and kidnappings by bandits, claiming an increasing number of lives. According to media outlet The Punch, at least 3,125 people had been killed and 2,703 people abducted in the eleven months prior to the protests. Protests initially started on social media platforms, using hashtags such as #NoMoreBloodshed, #SaveTheNorth, #NorthIsBleeding, followed by street protests in Kano, Bauchi, Zamfara, Sokoto States and Abuja, mainly attended by youth.
According to media reports, security forces dispersed the protesters in Kano on 10th December 2021 and in Abuja on 15th December 2021. Seven people, including two journalists, were arrested in Abuja. The journalists were released after two hours.
Co-organiser of the protest in Kano, Zanaib Naseer Ahmad, was invited to the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria's security agency, where she was reportedly questioned. In Kaduna, co-convener Ibrahim Birniwa was likewise summoned to the DSS in relation to the protest. Leader of the protest in Abuja, Zainab Ahmed, also known as Bint Hijazi, said to Sahara Reporters:
"They are trying to intimidate innocent people who are trying to speak up against the killing in the country. We are calling on our Southern brothers to join us. This is a fight for Nigerians. We will continue the protest and we will not stop."
#EndSARS Memorial protests: assaults, arrests, dispersal of protests
On 20th October 2021, protests to commemorate the victims of the #EndSARS protests held a year earlier took place in several cities in Nigeria. At Lekki Toll Gate and Alausa in Lagos - the site which saw at least 12 people killed when military and police officers opened fire on #EndSARS protesters on 20th October 2020 - security officers dispersed, including through tear gas, pedestrian protesters during a vehicle procession and arrested at least six people. Previously, police in Lagos State had said that only indoor and virtual protest events would be allowed, denying a claim spread on social media that 'street protests' would be allowed to take place. This prompted dozens of protesters to rally in a vehicle procession, blasting horns, chanting and waving the Nigerian flag, while security forces were deployed in numbers at the Lekki Toll Gate.
In Abuja, hundreds of protesters, dressed in black, gathered at Unity Fountains and marched to the National Assembly but were halted by security officers. Protesters in Ilorin, Kwara State, and in Enugu, Enugu State, and Osogbo, Osun State, were dispersed by security officers. At several localities, physical assaults of protesters were reported. Several journalists were assaulted, detained or intimidated while covering the memorial protests (see under Expression).
A counter, pro-government protest was held in Abuja, with protesters claiming that the Lekki Toll Gate massacre is a hoax, echoing Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who called it a "phantom" massacre and further accused Amnesty International and CNN - both having reported extensively on the Lekki Toll Gate protest killings, of making misleading claims.
According to human rights group Amnesty International, at least 56 people died during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020. The organisation further said that pro-government mobs infiltrated many of the protests and instigated violence which provided cover for security forces to use lethal force against protesters, while detained protesters were subjected to torture. In a statement issued in September 2021, the CSO Enough is Enough Nigeria said that some detained protesters continued to be imprisoned.
Judicial panels of enquiry were set up in 28 states and Abuja to investigate allegations of police brutality and violence towards #EndSARS protesters. The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters submitted its damning report to the state governor on 15th November 2021, indicting the police and military, while also finding security officers guilty of the killing of unarmed protesters. The panel found there were 48 casualties, of which 11 people were killed and four were missing, at the Lekki Toll Gate, while evidence points to efforts to cover up the actions by security forces, including by removing blood stains and bullets. The report further said:
“The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags and while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context."
Member of the Panel Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said in a statement that he had received threats and was attacked, in particular in the media, by government-sponsored agents, since the report was submitted to authorities. Meanwhile, civil society groups have condemned the harassment, intimidation and attacks against activists who have testified before the Panel of Enquiry.
Nigerian women have resolved continue to struggle to push back on the misogynistic attitude of some of the lawmakers at @nassnigeria & the pattern of neglect toward women concerns & disregard for womanity.— EiE Nigeria (@EiENigeria) March 8, 2022
📷 Women protest rejected gender bills at the National Assembly#IWD pic.twitter.com/dzBWQrevdA
Women protest against the rejection of five gender bills by National Assembly
On 2nd March 2022, hundreds of women gathered at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja to protest against the rejection of five bills seeking more gender equality and opportunities for women in politics and society, among 68 bills amending the Constitution, by the country's federal lawmakers. One bill sought to reserve 35 percent of the legislative seats for women, and 35 percent for leadership positions in political parties. Chioma Agwuegbo of the CSO TechHer and one of the organisers of the protest commented to Al Jazeera:
"They shut the bills down with a vehemence that actually scares us. The reason why women are out today and tomorrow and keep having this conversation is because women are not just good only for votes. You cannot lead us without us.’’
On International Women's Day, 8th March 2022, hundreds of women protested again before the National Assembly to demand that lawmakers reconsider the five bills.
Civil society protesters lament delays in electoral reform
On 22nd February 2022, 25 civil society groups, including Electoral Reform, Nigeria Civil Society Room, Yiaga Africa, Centre for Journalism Innovation, Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organisations (NNNGO) and Development and International Press Institute, organised a protest in Abuja to demand that President Buhari assents to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill without any further delay. The protesters, who gathered at the Unity Fountains for several hours, said that delays in the signing of the Bill will affect the preparations for the organisation of the 2023 general elections.
Several students queried over student protest
According to Sahara Reporters, several students from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Osun State, including the president and vice-president of the OAU Students’ Union, were queried about their role in protests against poor management of the university’s health centre following the death of fellow student Aisha Adesina. As the university opened in January 2022, the students received query letters from their respective departments asking them to explain why they should not face disciplinary action for their role in the protests.
ℹ️ Update: Twitter has been restored across #Nigeria 222 days after the government banned the popular microblogging service.— NetBlocks (@netblocks) January 13, 2022
Real-time network data confirm service is now restored on major operators Airtel, MTN and Globacom #TwitterBan 📈
📰 Background: https://t.co/3WahgWmaCk pic.twitter.com/YDRIk2Mkte
Twitter ban lifted after seven months
Twitter was finally restored in Nigeria on 13th January 2022 after a seven-month long suspension. According to the government, Twitter agreed to a set of conditions for its return to the country, including the registration of its operations in Nigeria, new tax arrangements and rules for the management of prohibited content.
As reported previously on the Monitor, Twitter was suspended on 4th June 2021, on grounds of the “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. The suspension followed the platform’s deletion of a tweet by - and a 12-hour suspension of the Twitter account of - Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari days earlier, stating that the tweet violated Twitter’s “hateful conduct policy”. In his tweet, president Buhari responded to recent attacks on government and security installations suspected to have been perpetrated by pro-Biafra militants by threatening to “treat them in the language they understand”, referring to the 1967-1970 Biafra war, in which over a million people were killed.
Detention, harassment, assault of journalists covering #EndSARS protest commemorations
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), police officers detained, harassed or assaulted at least three journalists on 20th October 2021 during the commemoration of the victims of the #EndSARS protests held a year earlier (see under Peaceful Assembly):
- Daily Post journalist Sikiru Obarayese was arrested and repeatedly beaten by police officers in Oshogbo, Osun State. When the reporter finished filming the march, he was pushed by a police officer who was asking what he was doing there, before being taken to a police van where he was beaten by at least six officers. At the local Dugbe police station, he was punched in the face and received death threats. He was taken to a Magistrate's court where he was charged with “breach of peace for videoing the Divisional Police Officer”. The charges were later withdrawn and Obarayese was released, albeit without his glasses, which were confiscated during his arrest and not returned to him. Police denied the beating of the reporter.
- Video editor and digital content producer Abisola Alawode for the online media outlet Legit said he was stopped by officers and asked to show his press credentials after he filmed the arrest of a protester at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. He was taken, by his trousers, to a police van after the officers refused to accept his business card and driver's licence, where he was repeatedly beaten in the face and across his body. Alawode was taken to a police station and detained for over five hours before being released.
- Police officers pulled and dragged Adefemi Akinsanya, a correspondent for Arise TV, when they tried to confiscate a drone being used by the broadcaster to film the protest at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. The Lagos State police commissioner, Hakeen Odumosu, apologised for the officers' conduct to the Arise crew and Alawode.
Offices of online newspaper People's Gazette raided
On 10th January 2022, officers from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Nigeria's foreign intelligence service, raided the headquarters of online news site People's Gazette in Utako, Abuja, attempting to find its managing director, Samuel Ogundipe, and reporter Hillary Essien. The two reporters were sought for the identification of the source of a leaked confidential memo, which formed the basis for several articles published by the media outlet in December 2021. According to the People's Gazette, the memo, reportedly issued by NIA officials and addressed to President Buhari, warned of retaining NIA director-general Rufai Abubakar on grounds that he was not qualified for the position. The NIA operatives who stormed People's Gazette brought with them a letter on behalf of Abubakar accusing the media outlet of failing to consult with NIA prior to the publication of the articles based on the leaked memo and of spreading "falsehood". It further threatened the outlet with "activation of other options to seek redress". Arnaud Froger of Reporters without Borders (RSF) commented:
“For an intelligence agency to conduct a raid on a news organisation in order to identify a source with the sole aim of protecting its own interests is extremely dangerous. We call on the authorities to end their harassment of this site, which is constantly subjected to pressure and threats because of the quality of its reporting and the serious subjects it addresses.”
Despite the show of force and threats, People's Gazette did not reveal it sources.
Previously, in January 2021, several mobile internet providers operating in Nigeria - MTN, Airtel, 9mobile and Glo - blocked the online news site.
Kaduna state journalist spends 84 days in detention
Journalist Luka Binniyat, a correspondent for the US-based international daily Epoch Times, was arrested on 4th November 2021 in connection with an article he wrote in which he accuses the authorities in Kaduna State of having an indifferent response to the killing of Christians in the south of the state. The arrest is in response of a complaint made by the Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs as the article quotes a state senator who accuses the Commissioner of being implicated in the massacres. Binniyat, whose trial was postponed on several occasions, was charged with cyberstalking and aiding and abetting the offences of cybercrime and cyber stalking. He appeared before a High Court in Kawo on 27th January 2022, where he was granted bail of 1 million Naira (approximately 2,400 USD) and two sureties in the same amount by two people residing in Kaduna State. On 3rd February 2022, after spending 84 days in prison, Binniyat was released on bail.
Offices of online news site Thunder Blowers attacked, journalist assaulted
On 3rd January 2022, eight unidentified perpetrators entered the offices of online media outlet Thunder Blowers in Gusau, Zamfara State and demanded to see the news site's Hausa language editor, Abdul Balarabe. As the latter was not present, the attackers proceeded with beating editor Mansur Rabiu with sticks, injuring his left arm, according to CPJ who spoke with Rabiu and the managing editor of the media outlet. The attack ended when Rabiu managed to escape and lock himself in a room. The attackers destroyed eight desktop computers and an internet server, while they stole technical equipment, including two radio transmitters, laptops, phones, a server decoder and sound mixers.
In the police complaint filed by the outlet, they claim the attack was orchestrated by Musa Ardo, a youth leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Zamfara State. They further said that Ardo had called after the attack, claiming that it was retaliation for recent interviews by Thunder Blowers, which criticised the state government.
Radio programme suspended for six months
Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) suspended Vision FM’s programme ‘Idon Mikiya’ for a period of six months, starting from 28th January 2022, and gave the radio station a five million naira fine (approximately 12,000 USD) on grounds of breaching section 39 (3) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, which imposes restrictions on matters concerning government security services or agencies. During a broadcast on 5th January 2022, ‘Idon Mikiya’ had discussed the controversial extension of the appointment of the director-general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Rufai Abubacar.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is appalled by the illegal detention for two hours of Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of its partner organisation in Nigeria, @IPCng , by the State Security Service (SSS).https://t.co/6BUy76NU9s— Media Foundation for West Africa (@TheMFWA) February 16, 2022
Media rights activist briefly detained at airport
On 10th February 2022, Lanre Arogundade, the executive director of media rights organisation International Press Institute, was detained by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) - also known as the Department of State Services (DSS) - at Murtala Muhammed International Airport when he arrived back from a trip to Gambia. He was released a few hours later. It is not clear on what grounds the CSO activist was detained.
State Security agents storm the offices of CSO Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre
On 27th December 2021, DSS agents stormed the headquarters of the anti-corruption CSO Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), which is the national chapter of Transparency International in Abuja, demanding to see the Chief Security Officer, according to CISLAC's executive director, Auwal Musa. In a letter addressed to the DSS' Director General, Musa called the action "unprofessional" and said it "clearly violate existential rights guaranteed by the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria and puts the country on a global map of ‘bad policing’ and seen shrinking voices of citizens demanding for good governance in the interest of all". It is not clear what the reason was for the visit by DSS agents.
Intimidation and harassment of anti-corruption CSO
In a joint solidarity statement in December 2021, 28 signatory CSOs asked authorities to cease the intimidation and harassment of the anti-corruption CSO Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and end the increasing intimidation and aggression towards human rights defenders and journalists. The statement follows the public statements made by presidential advisor Garba Shehu, warning SERAP to "desist from putting out its divisive, irresponsible, and bare-faced publicity stunts” and further that “SERAP should stop the publicity stunt and end the repeated ridiculous claims that it is bringing legal action against the Government and/or President of Nigeria.”. The anti-corruption CSO has brought several legal actions against the government, including for suspending social media platform Twitter. The statement further states:
"We are concerned that the attack on SERAP is clearly aimed at creating a climate of intimidation against civil society organisations, human rights defenders, and journalists in the country. The targeting of civil society organisations and human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on the promotion and protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law in the country. "
HRD briefly detained
Human rights defender and founder of media outlet Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, was briefly detained on 24th February 2022. Security officers arrested the activist on the premises of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, reportedly in connection with a complaint by former member of the House of Representatives, Ned Nwoko. Sowore was released later that day.