How Abuse of Security Infrastructure is Shrinking Civic Spaces in Nigeria

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The Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) has launched the third and final part of its Security Playbook Series which is centered on examining the over application or abuse of security infrastructure to crack down on civic actors in Nigeria.

The AGFCS is a coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) at the forefront of challenging and addressing shrinking civic space in Nigeria.

Last year, the AGFCS launched two reports that revealed how the Nigerian government has over time used the fight against terrorism to further encroach on civic spaces in the country.

In this latest report titled Nigeria: Shrinking Civic Space in the Name of Security, the report examined how the government has taken advantage of the festering security challenges in the country to undermine the ability of citizens to speak, associate, and organise freely, to mobilise for citizen action and to participate in governance processes.

The report notes the different socio-political threats plaguing the country; from terrorism and violent extremism to armed banditry, kidnapping, militancy, separatist agitations, pastoralists-farmers conflicts, transnational organized crime, piracy to mention a few. Religion, ethnicity, and the government’s prejudice were also highlighted as some of the drivers of the insecurity in Nigeria today.

According to the report, Nigeria has consistently recorded a higher than average threat index on the Security Threat Index in the last fifteen years (from 2007 to 2021) which has necessitated the expansion of law enforcement and also made physical and digital surveillance a routine.

While the intent of expansion of policing powers and the routinization of surveillance is to curb security threats, it has however led to an overflow of intended and unintended consequences, resulting in an increase in arrests and detention, use of deadly force to disperse civil demonstrations, censorship of free speech, internet restrictions, proscription of religious and ethnic agitators, designation of dissenters as terrorist groups, among others.

According to the report, the different security initiatives implemented across the country have increased opportunities for state security agents to misuse and crackdown on civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, and justify their actions in the name of protecting ‘national interest or national security’.

The national security architecture, key officials, institutions, and policies/mechanisms in place, and the different existing security laws and policies are routinely overstretched to capture activists and dissenters in the dragnet of counterterrorism efforts.

These actions have negatively impacted the activities of civil societies and tightened the traditional and digitised spaces for civic engagement in Nigeria, noting that the laws enacted and institutions established with the aim of maintaining law and order have been given new meanings, weaponized against the citizens and called “protecting national security”. Thus, citizens, particularly civil society actors operating in this type of environment feel repressed and unwilling to communicate possible security threats to the government.

The third instalment of the AGFCS’ security playbook explained how civic spaces are impacted when limitations are placed on citizens’ rights. According to the report, this constrains the ability of civil societies to organise, speak and assemble freely, makes it difficult for them to interact with state and non-state actors, and also to provide humanitarian aid to victims of insecurity in the country, especially in the Northern region.

Recommendations from the report include the need for the creation of safe spaces and mechanisms for inclusive deliberations which will enable the Nigerian government and civil society groups to mutually develop context-specific rules on aid delivery that support national counterterrorism objectives and also satisfy the requirements of international human rights and humanitarian law.

In addition, the report also recommends empowered coalitions and a vigilant monitoring of policy and legislative spaces by CSOs to be able to detect the inclusion of restrictive and disturbing clauses in draft statutes that will negatively impact their works in the country.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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