Government plans to profile NGOs as NGO Bill remains under consideration
On 4th April 2018, the Nigerian government announced its plan to profile NGOs “to ensure [their] compliance with regulations against money laundering and terrorist financing”. Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Francis Usani said at a workshop in regards to the government's plans that:
"There has been this clamour and misunderstanding by some NGOs who had come out to oppose the regulations put in place by the government but these are for international best practices but we cannot just let NGOs to run around the streets of Nigeria unmonitored or uncoordinated otherwise this will lead to serious problems".
This announcement follows a public hearing at the National Assembly on 13th December on the NGO Bill, with the aim of receiving input from the public on the law. According to information received by the Monitor, more than 130 CSOs attended the hearing and about 30 memorandums were submitted. At the public hearing, the bill received no support by those attending, while hundreds of protesters in T-shirts and with banners under the slogan #NoToNOGBill led by renowned human rights activist Chidi Odinkalu gathered outside the National Assembly to denounce the law. As reported previously on the Monitor, the controversial bill has been widely criticised by civil society actors. A report of the public hearing will be presented to the House plenary, with civil society organisations hoping it will influence lawmakers to stop the passage of the law.
On 18th January 2018, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court upheld a decision to proscribe the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation. Members of IPOB denounced the decision and petitioned the Federal High Court, claiming that it was in violation of their fundamental rights to a fair hearing and to peaceful assembly. On 22nd March, IPOB further questioned the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court over the trial of four of its members accused of a "treasonable felony", saying that the prosecution’s argument that the members were “agitating for self-determination or secession” is not a crime under any Nigerian law. The movement’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu, has been missing since September 2017.
On 8th January, security forces responded with tear gas at a protest organised by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), as protesters tried to get to the National Assembly in Abuja. Civil Defense and police chased the protesters and arrested some of them. Protesters marched to demand the release of their leader, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who has been in detention without charge since 2015 despite a Federal High Court order for his immediate release in December 2016. El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested after a clash between his supporters and the Nigerian army between 12th and 14th December 2015 in Zaria (Kaduna State), resulting in hundreds of deaths of IMN members. A week later on 16th January, the rights group Concerned Nigerians released a statement in which it declared its intention to organise daily sit-ins to denounce the killings of members of IMN and to demand the release of the Movement’s leader.
On 19th March, members of the IMN staged a peaceful protest to commemorate the killing of a prominent leader within the movement, Shaikh Qasim Umar, by Nigerian forces. The leader of the sect in Sokoto died of gunshot wounds in early February, shot by police during a protest organised by IMN. On 16th and 17th April 2018, security forces used excessive force, including live bullets, to disperse protests by IMN members, which also resulted in the arrest of 115 protesters, according to Amnesty International. Among those arrested include Theophilus Abu Agada and Deji Adeyanju of Concerned Nigerians. Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, commented on the incident, stating that:
“Although there were reports that stones were thrown by some protesters, there is no excuse for the use of live bullets, water cannon and tear gas. These were highly reckless tactics that could easily have resulted in fatalities. Nigerian authorities must adhere to the rule of law and respect the right to peaceful protest when policing these events".
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Makurdi (Benue State) on 3rd January 2018 to protest the murder of 20 farmers allegedly killed by herders in attacks on 1st and 2nd January. Tensions between farmers and herders are usually high during harvest season (December – March) when farmers and herders both have high stakes in the land. Such clashes in Nigeria have resulted in 168 deaths in January 2018, said Amnesty International Nigeria.
#Nigeria:"Timothy and Daniel Elombah are journalists and not terrorists who should be free to continue their #journalism without legal harassment or fear of going to jail. Authorities should drop all legal proceedings against them." said @AngelaQuintal. https://t.co/GIhnnO20Si pic.twitter.com/Kh8A3ccQWv— CPJ Africa (@CPJAfrica) February 28, 2018
On 1st January 2018, agents of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) arrested Timothy Elombah and his brother Daniel, respectively editor and chief executive of Elombah.com, during a raid on their house in Nnewi, Anambra State. The journalists are accused of publishing an opinion piece critical of Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police on the privately-owned Opinion Nigeria. The brothers denied writing the article. One of the brothers was released two days later, while Timothy was released on bail after three weeks in custody. The brothers were later charged in February on four cybercrime and terrorism related offenses. The Online Publisher's Association in Nigeria (OPAN) commented that:
"The reputable media organisation has stated that they have nothing to do with the publication in question, because it was neither written by the Editor or Publisher or any staffer and there is nothing in Elombah.com that promotes terrorism in Nigeria".
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in Nigeria reported that police officers denied ten accredited journalists access to the public commissioning of a dry port in Kaduna State, an event in which president Buhari was expected to participate. Moreover, two journalists were allegedly pushed and shoved for attempting to negotiate their entry into the event. A journalist who sustained an eye injury from the altercation with police received an apology from police officials and from a representative of the inspector general.
On 18th February 2018, four perpetrators physically attacked Atabor Julius - journalist and correspondent for the Independent newspaper in Kogi State in central Nigeria - in Lokoja. The perpetrators are alleged members of a vigilante group of the ruling party - All Progressives Congress (APC). They were reported to have trailed the journalist to the gate of the secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) press centre and physically assaulted him for his critical reporting. The journalist also allegedly received a death threat if he did not stop from reporting. The Media Foundation for West Africa reported that two of the four attackers have been identified by name, but there have been no arrests thus far, although the incident has been reported to the police.
On 8th March 2018, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) petitioned Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police to investigate the murder of four journalists in separate incidents that occurred in the country in 2017, and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice as “impunity for these crimes have the potential to put fear and induce widespread self-censorship among journalists in Nigeria”. The four journalists who lost their lives in 2017 are: Famous Giobaro from Bayelsa State, Lawrence Okojie from Edo State, Ikechukwu Onubogu from Anambra State and Abdul Ganiyu Lawal from Ekiti State.
On 28th February, officers of the State Security Service (SSS) detained Tony Ezimakor, Abuja Bureau Chief of the Daily Independent newspaper, over a report in which he claims the government paid millions of dollars in a ransom deal with Boko Haram for the release of Chibok girls, and how Nigerian and Swiss officers profited from the negotiations. The SSS revealed later that the journalist would remain in custody until he discloses his sources and retracts the story. The journalist was unconditionally released on 6th March.