Nigerian Police. Photo: BLOOMBERG
• Nigerian Leaders Losing Credibility Over Citizens’ Harassment – Amnesty International
• Buhari’s Govt Showing More Aggression Towards Critics Than Against Boko Haram – Effiong
• Govt Should Be Tolerant Of Opposing Remarks – CACOL
With the third invitation extended by the Department of State Services (DSS) to a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, Nigerians and civil society groups have continued to come down hard on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government over its alleged increasing lack of tolerance for divergent views, as well as criticisms of its performance.
According to them, not only is this incessant invitations breaching the rights of Nigerians to freely express themselves in a democracy as enshrined in the universal fundamental principles of human rights, it also represents a blatant attempt by the government to cage the people from demanding good governance.
While warning that the Nigerians leaders are losing credibility in the comity of nations as a result of the actions of the country’s security agencies, they stressed the need to urgently curb the country’s gradual drift towards absolute dictatorship under this regime as a result of shrinking of civic space.
In the last seven weeks or thereabouts, some prominent Nigerians like Mailafia, former House of Representatives Speaker, Ghali Na’Abba, and artistes Tiwa Savage and Don Jazzy have allegedly been quizzed by security agencies, including the DSS and the Nigeria Police for either criticising the performance of the administration. Some of them were allegedly cautioned to steer clear of making political comments.
Reacting to the spate of harassment of citizens by security agencies, the Amnesty International (Nigeria) said the country’s constitution is very clear that citizens are free to express their opinions on every issue. Therefore, “stopping or restricting them constitutes an abuse and violation of their rights.”
Board chairman of the group in the country, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, said instead of harassing Nigerians, “whatever comment made should be subjected to verification and action. The state is fast moving to stricken the civil space for citizens. A reasonable government should restrain itself from such, especially as freedom of expression is non-negotiable. The government should not cage Nigerians from expressing their views. If anybody says anything that is not true, the person’s credibility is at stake, and Nigerians would not take them serious.
“So, it is not proper for government and security agencies to keep intimidating citizens. We at Amnesty International (Nigeria) are against it as we are here to promote citizens’ rights. When a government cages the people from expressing their views, it is not a good development, and it is bad for the image of the country regionally and globally. This is aside from the fact that Nigerians leaders will be loosing credibility in the comity of nations,” he stated.
Musa continued: “Last Thursday, 10 people were kidnapped in Abuja, this is what the security agencies should be alert to stop and not going after those expressing contrary views. It is shameful for a government to be intolerant of contrary views because it goes contrary to the constitution of the country.”
As far as constitutional and human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong is concerned, “the country is moving towards absolute dictatorship under this regime. The civic space is shrinking because of the intolerance of the Buhari regime to criticisms and dissenting opinions. The constant harassment of Dr. Mailafia by the DSS and the police should worry any true believer of a democratic society.
“This regime has shown more aggression towards people who speak against it than Boko Haram. Since General Buhari came to power, there has been escalation of attacks on journalists, lawyers, activists and peaceful protesters. Many Nigerians have been murdered by the security forces for simply engaging in peaceful protests. The police and the SSS have neglected their constitutional roles of protecting lives and property and are now preoccupied with arresting and detaining critics and opponents of the regime,” the legal practitioner said.
He pointed out: Across the country, governors have been emboldened by the impunity of the Federal Government to clampdown on critics, and free speech has been criminalised in Nigeria under Buhari. We cannot continue like this. A situation where people are arrested and detained, even in defiance of the court is unacceptable and condemnable.”
He warned that “this descent into full dictatorship has to be halted. Section 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution guarantees every person the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. These are rights that the Nigerian people have fought for and won. We should not allow a lawless regime that has failed in its electoral promises to subvert the rule of law.”
For the pioneer secretary-general, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Debo Adeniran, extending invitations to citizens by security agencies is not all that matters, rather, the outcome of such invitations that should be of concern to the generality of Nigerians.
Adeniran, who is the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) added that there are occasions when people make remarks or give information that are not generally available in the public space. When this happens, security agencies may think that such persons could help them shed light on the issues they raised or the remarks that they made. “It has happened to me a couple of times, even in the days of military rule.
“Of course, it is the fundamental right of every citizen to have freedom of speech, association, to hold opinion and disseminate it along the dictate of the law. What should not be tolerated is a situation whereby people who do not make inflammatory remarks, are unjustly invited. It should be noted that there is no freedom that is absolute anyway,” the consultant educationalist added.
He said even when citizens resort to protests, “as long as the protests are not violent, the government does not have any business stopping it. What government should do is to send its agents to join the protesters, listen to their demands, and take the information back to government for it to know the grievances of the citizenry. It is not the business of government to be over sensitive, and resort to stopping peaceful protests with brute force. That is not acceptable in a democracy, and is a violation of citizens’ fundamental rights.
“Even though we agree that no right is absolute. But the government should be tolerant of opposing remarks. Instead of chasing after the messenger, government should find a way of fixing the complaints and ensuring that there is good governance, accommodation and tolerance.”
Attempts to get the Presidency to comment on the travails of Mailafia, the former Presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the 2019 general election failed as presidential spokespersons, Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina failed to respond to emails or calls and text messages sent to their mobile phones.