Shrinking Civic Space: Threat to human rights and anti-graft war, By Tracy Keshi

The Nigerian Senate on Tuesday, November 5, re-introduced the bill, “Protection from internet and Manipulations Bill 2019” a proposed that will regulate the use of social media in the country.  The bill prohibits statements on social media considered likely to be prejudicial to the “security of Nigeria”, and “diminishing public confidence in the government”.

The lawmaker who led the debate on the bill at the plenary session of Wednesday, 20 November 2019, Sen. Mohammad Sani Musa explained that the Bill sought to address the threat and mitigate against the risk associated with information via internet networks by monitoring abuse and deliberate misconduct. However, the bill contains certain provisions that overly restrict the use of social media, violate the protecting freedom of speech, create ambiguous offences that allow authorities prosecute anyone who criticizes the government.

The freedom to information and expression, right of assembly and association, , human rights and citizens participation in public decision making is fundamental to the functionality of a developing society and a vital prerequisite for accountable governance and social justice.

The emergence of Muhammadu Buhari for the second time after the 2019 general elections may have brought with it a renewed hope of strength to overcome the numerous problems the country is currently facing.  Citizens believed his administration will to advancing the civic space and enable citizens engagement in a democratic way. Unfortunately, the right to freedom of expression suffered abysmally with the organs of state charged with ensuring rule of opposing voices of credible critics of bad governance and encouraging impunity and continued attacks on the fundamental human rights of citizens. An example is the arrest of Agba Jalingo, the publisher of Cross River Watch who been charged with treason for his writing and social media posts about the Cross-River Governor Benedict Ayade.

A worrisome trend of shrinking civic space emerged and created a system that denies citizens their basic human rights to freely express themselves and to hold their government accountable. The freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 39 (1) of the constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is a necessary tool in the fight against corruption. Muhammadu Buhari made tackling corruption his administration’s key priority and the best way to corruption is by respecting the constitutional right to freedom of speech. Any administration that participates in organised human rights abuses and civil society crackdowns pose serious to national peace and security.

When government increasingly control and restrict freedoms, it shrinks the civic space for effective citizens engagement and meaningful participation of citizens in democratic governance weakening social contract between government and their citizens, likely making violence an alternative to addressing grievances.

According to statistics, 29.3 million Nigerians majorly young people use social media across the country. The role of social media is critical in promoting good governance and limiting corruption as it raises public awareness about corruption, its causes and consequences as well a platform where citizens reports incidence of corruption. The use of social media exposed corrupt officials, prompted investigations by official bodies.

In commemorating the International Anti-corruption and Human Rights we are calling on Nigerian to ensure the laws protecting human rights are properly enforced and rights of everyone to peaceful criticism of the government without fear of reprisal, censorship, or legal sanctions.  I also urging civil society organisation, media and every anticorruption actor to stand #unitedagainstcorruption.

Tracy Keshi is a program officer with YIAGA AFRICA and actively involved with #BounceCorruption and #Upright4Nigeria Campaign. She can be reached via [email protected] and tweets via @tracykeshi

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