MEMBERS of the United States Congress, the country’s federal legislative body, last Monday, wrote to Nigeria to condemn the suppression of the freedom of expression and state-sponsored assaults against journalists.
The lawmakers were senior Senator from New Jersey and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, and Representative for New Jersey, Josh Gottheimer.
In a letter written to Sylvanus Nsofor, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US, Menendez and Gottheimer expressed “strong concern” about closing media and civic space in Nigeria, as well as reports of security agents detaining journalists, harassing non-violent protesters and preventing Nigerians “from fully exercising their fundamental constitutional rights”.
“Journalists and activists such as Omoyele Sowore, Jones Abiri, Kofi Bartels, Samuel Ogundipe, and others investigating and speaking-out about politically sensitive problems like corruption or insecurity have been harassed and detained; with reports that some have even been tortured. In at least one instance, the Department of Security Services has ignored a court order to release a detained activist,” the lawmakers said.
“Restrictions and deadly crackdowns on non-violent protests since 2015 have similarly reflected a lack of apparent commitment to civic freedoms which is beginning to negatively impact the image of Nigeria’s government, both at home and abroad.”
They urged that the perpetrators of rights abuses are brought to justice, that the rights of all citizens are respected, and the country observes the provisions of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
It is not the first time issues relating to human rights violations and insecurity within Nigeria have drawn attention and reprimand from foreign countries and groups under the incumbent administration.
The UK on Buhari’s re-election
The United Kingdom, while offering congratulations to Buhari in February on his re-election as president, also expressed worry over violence and killings during the general elections.
“My thoughts are also with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in election-related violence. No one should die in the exercise of their democratic rights,” Minister of State for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, said in a release.
“We will continue to support Nigeria and its civil society in drawing lessons from these elections and strengthening its democracy.”
US President on religious violence
In April 2018, during a joint press conference held at the White House, US President Donald Trump told Buhari his country is “deeply concerned” about religious violence in Nigeria which has led to the killing of Christians and burning of churches.
“It’s a horrible story,” Trump said.
“We encourage Nigeria and the federal, state, and local leaders to do everything in their power to immediately secure the affected communities and to protect innocent civilians of all faiths, including Muslims and including Christians.”
EU delegation, 26 countries on electoral violence
In November 2018, in the lead-up to Nigeria’s last general elections, the European Union delegation to Nigeria and 26 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Canada, in a joint release condemned incidents of violence observed in previous elections.
“We were gravely concerned over widespread incidents of intimidation, interference and vote-buying during the recent gubernatorial elections,” the statement said.
“We were also perturbed by irregularities and violence during party primaries, and noted with particular concern that several women candidates were disenfranchised.”
The countries also stated that they “strongly support the principle of media freedom and the vital role the independent media plays in ensuring informed public debate”.
The European Union (EU) ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, also in August emphasised the need to uphold citizen’s freedom of expression, which he described as “a natural part of a thriving democracy”.
Other international organisations including the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) have, in recent time, also published damning reports about the Nigerian government’s poor handling of cases human rights violations.
The former said in December 2018 that local authorities have failed to ensure members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) get justice, hundreds of whom have been killed since 2015.
“The repression against the IMN Shia Muslim group by government security forces risks creating grievances that could worsen Nigeria’s already precarious security situation,” Anietie Ewang, HRW Nigeria researcher said.
AI’s Country Director, Osai Ojigho, likewise charged the Buhari-led government, following the presidential election, to “seize this opportunity to end decades of human rights violations and pervasive impunity including by making human rights central to its agenda and ensuring that human rights are not suppressed”.
Dozens of protesters, on Tuesday, marched in Newark, a city in New Jersey, to call for the release of Sowore, who is also resident there. The Sahara Reporters’ Publisher was arrested in August by operatives of the Department of State Services and has since been in detention despite two court orders granting him bail.
“We have seen our community come together, our family come together, free press organizations come together to voice concern for what is happening to him,” Opeyemi Oluwole, his wife, said during last week’s demonstration.
“This Thanksgiving he will not be here with me or with the kids, but we continue to hope and pray that he comes home safely to us.”