A coalition of civil society organisations has condemned attacks on human rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners especially since the start of the #EndSARS protests.
Last month, thousands of Nigerian youth took to the streets to express their grievances and demand an end to police brutality.
The peaceful protest led to the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and setting up of judicial panels of enquiry by state governments including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as directed by the Federal Government.
The hitherto peaceful protests, however, became violent when hoodlums hijacked it which resulted in arson, destruction and massive looting of government and private owned properties. It also resulted in the loss of lives.
However, contrary to the earlier position of the Nigerian government that it would dialogue with the youth, the government has begun moves against the protesters by freezing the accounts of 20 individuals allegedly linked to the protests and arresting six others.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this Coalition is of the view that the #EndSARS protests, which gripped the country in the last few weeks, focused on the legitimate demands of the Nigerian youth for an end to police brutality and other dimensions of human rights abuses.” the group said
This was contained in a statement signed by Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa), Enough is Enough (EiE), Partners for Electoral Reform, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Centre for Information, Technology and Development (CITAD), Yiaga Africa and twenty-six others.
The CSOs noted with dismay that instead of focusing squarely on the necessary administrative reforms to meet the short and long term demands of the protesters, the authorities have begun resorting to underhand tactics to coerce and clamp down rights activists, pro-democracy campaigners and other voices of dissent calling for systemic reforms, which will promote good governance.
“Increasingly, protest organisers are being intimidated and coerced by various state institutions. There have also been situations in which travel bans, which have no basis in the rule of law, have been slammed on individuals for their alleged roles in the #EndSARS protests.
“Our Coalition strongly condemns the resort to acts of intimidation, profiling and coercion of citizens who have done no wrong.
“We have no doubt that the actions of the government constitute a serious attack on freedom of expression, which is a constitutionally guaranteed right of every Nigerian citizen.” the group noted
The coalition noted that the protest is an affirmation of citizen’s dissatisfaction in the current state of the country.“We make no mistake about the fact that the peaceful protests staged in recent weeks provided an opportunity for the young people of Nigeria to air their views and express their opinions about the state of the country.
“The government’s acts of clamping down on those who participated in or mobilised for the protests amount to a brazen violation of citizens fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
“It is similarly unacceptable that the Nigerian authorities have also been resorting to diversionary tactics such as targeting the bank accounts of individuals who are said to be financing the protests. It is on record that most of these punitive measures by the government are being effected without any exhaustive recourse to the judicial process.”
They argued that the reliance on ex-parte applications to freeze accounts of citizens is antithetical to the principle of fair hearing and proper judicial oversight.
The coalition further said Nigerians cannot afford to stand by and watch in the face of unconstitutional measures to silence their voices and abridge their rights as citizens.
“This Coalition for the umpteenth time calls on the international community to take urgent measures to pressure the Nigerian authorities to henceforth act in accordance to the rule of law by halting the ongoing unconstitutional assault on citizens’ rights,” the coalition concluded.