A new group that seeks to promote human rights in Nigeria is set for launch.
The group was midwived by citizens’ advocacy organisation, Tap Initiative For Citizens Development and Heinrich Boll Stiftung, which is devoted to promoting democracy and human rights worldwide.
It brought together civil society actors such as religious and traditional rulers, lawyers, gender and sexual reproductive rights activists, scholars, youth groups, people living with disabilities, media organisations, media practitioners and community-based organisations on Thursday in Abuja to brainstorm on the new association.
They are to form a consortium in response to continuous threats faced by Nigerians in exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, speech and association.
Besides, the consortium will be carrying out advocacy campaigns in underrepresented communities.
Addressing the guests, Team Lead at Tap Initiative for Citizens Development Mbasekei Martin Obono said the group was formed to respond to civic space attack by giving legal representation to human rights advocates and defenders.
“The diversity in the calibre of participants presents an opportunity for both information clearinghouse, advocacy, mediation, support for victims and legal intervention in defence of the civic space,” Obono said.
According to him, the platform would complement the work of other coalitions of civil society actors by providing an avenue for a loose marketplace for conversations, resources and actions.
“The idea behind this consortium is to have a platform that serves as a clearinghouse where everyone involved in civic space defence benefits. The consortium welcomes representatives from existing coalitions to work in exchange of information and ideas,” he said.
Country Director of Heinrich Boll Stiftung Jochen Luckscheiter, who declared the two-day meeting open, reminded the participants of roles which civic actions had played in the country in ensuring the protection of the civic space.
Luckscheiter cited Aba Women’s Riot of 1929 as one of such noble roles, noting that people in the country had been relentless in the protection of the civic space in the face of unfavourable laws being enacted to muzzle human rights in the country.
Similarly, Swedish Ambassador to Nigeria Carl-Michael Grans, who delivered the keynote address at the meeting, decried shrinking democratic space globally.
Grans said the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant effects in the form of restrictions, curfews and lockdowns had worsened the challenge across continents.
While calling for an immediate halt to shrinking democratic and civic space among nations, he urged all countries to return to the core values of humanism, democracy and inclusion, including to the right of free speech and the right of association.
In her presentation, Country Director of Amnesty International Osai Ojigho said for the civic space to be effective, people across various fields must be engaged as seen with the consortium.
Other speakers at the meeting included: Pastor Abigail Dike of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria; Fuad Adeyemi, Abdul Mahmud, Dayo Olaide and Etim Okon.
Participants at the meeting agreed that similar meetings would be held across the six geopolitical zones in the country in order to build structures that would strengthen civic engagement and participation.
Dignitaries at the meeting included: Chairman of Traditional Rulers Council of Cross River State, Etim Okon; Emir of Dass, Bauchi State, Lawan Baraza; Chairman of Traditional Rulers Council in Ezinihite, Imo State, Eze Ositadinma Nwokocha; Secretary of Traditional Rulers Council, Akwa Ibom State, Michael Akpabio.
Others were: Executive Director of International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Dayo Aiyetan; Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore; Inibehe Effiong; Omolara Oriye; James Ibor; Okechukwu Nwaguma; Agba Jalingo; Nelson Olanipekun; Abdul Mahmud, among others.