The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) on November 10, 2022, held a virtual public presentation of its Civic Space Guard media monitoring report on infractions on civil rights in Nigeria. Titled ”Hushed Voices and the Media’s Defence of the Civic Space”, the report assessed the coverage of infractions on civil rights by the Nigerian media
In her opening remarks, Mrs. Motunrayo Alaka, the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of WSCIJ took participants through a short presentation titled ‘WSCIJ Trajectory in Support of Open Civic Space in Nigeria’.
She explained that it is a project the Centre uses to fortify the position of the media as an independent protector, adding that it is working hard at renewing the awareness of the laws that work for and against the sanctity of the civic space so that people are better empowered to participate as citizens of the country.
The monitoring spans a decade (2012-2022) during which time data were obtained from 150 elements purposively sampled on civic space infractions by state and non-state actors reported in the Nigerian media. Thirty-three (33) media organisations published the 150 media reports that formed the study population. The content analysed comprised of news, interviews and feature stories.
The report identified 10 forms in which the government shrinks the civic space which it monitored. These are: making legally undertaking activities impossible without formal registration; arbitrary scrutiny of the governance of CSOs, deregistration, office closure etc.; enactment of restrictions on foreign funding for civil society; arbitrary inspection/harassment; and criminalization of strike and salary seizure of labour union members.
The other forms are: use of formal laws and procedures to regulate or suppress the work of CSOs; discourse or labelling of civil society actors; carrot and stick approach, which may be violent or non-violent; poor access to state-held information of general interest despite the Freedom of Information Act; and attempts at closing the media as an arena of contestation/discourage freedom of expression.
The WSCIJ added that from the listed infractions, it was clear that the media is involved in the civic space as an actor, protector and in the conversation, and that this is the assumption that guided the study. Thus, according to WSCIJ, the media dimension of the civic space forms the entry point for assessing the shrinking civic space in Nigeria.
On critical qualitative interpretive analysis, WSCIJ scrutinized all assembled media contents (news, interviews and feature stories) to interpret the essential communication content, determine the nature of infractions and types of perpetrators in line with the objectives of the research.
Key findings from the monitoring exercise showed, among others, that Abuja and Lagos were the cities most infamous for civic space infractions: out of the 150 incidents of civic infractions across the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory, 37 (24.7%) incidents occurred in Abuja and 29 (19.3%), Lagos.
The monitoring exercise found that most civic space infractions happened to journalists in the line of duty with 75 (50%) of the 150 incidents monitored, happening to journalists in the line of duty, a clear indication of attempts by state and non-state actors to gag the press. Additionally, venues, where the infractions happened threw up some interesting facts. Most of the incidents happened to journalists in the line of duty, citizens on protest grounds across the country and on business premises. Infractions also occurred in courts where rights were expected to be guaranteed.
Ironically, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) led perpetrators of civic space infractions among Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Out of 18 incidents of infractions committed by the MDAs, NBC was responsible for 10 (55.6%) through sanctions, licence suspensions, fines, and directives to media houses not to broadcast news that many say were unfavourable to the powers that be.
The monitoring also showed that men faced the highest rate of physical intimidation and harassment within the civic space. Data collated and analysed revealed that 133 (88.7%) incidents were on persons, while 17 (11.3%) were on media houses. The disaggregated data of the 133 infractions on persons showed that 72 (48%) were perpetrated against men; 10 (6.7%), were against the females; 34 (22.7%) happened simultaneously to both genders (male and female); while 17 (11.3%) did not specify the gender of the survivors/victims.
Despite police being the closest law enforcement agency to the citizens and being branded as ‘their friend’, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) was identified as the major perpetrator of civic space infractions among the security agencies. The Nigerian Police hold the infamous record of the highest number of infractions.
Out of the 104 infractions that security agencies committed, the NPF was responsible for 68 (65.39%) incidents; DSS officers, 18 (17.31%); Nigerian Army, eight (7.69%); Nigeria Correctional Service, four (3.85%); Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, two (1.92%), Hisbah Police (Kano state government), two (1.92%); and Security Operatives, that is, a combination of some of the security agents from different law enforcement agencies, two (1.92%).
The report made recommendations for various stakeholders.
The report asked the government to provide platforms for collaboration and continued conversation of all stakeholders through round tables/colloquium/workshops/seminars and town hall meetings for interactions on how to collectively work in civic space. It also recommended that the government should promote and encourage CSOs to express their views and discontent on the state of the nation. Feedbacks from dissenting views can be used as inputs to address bad governance and human rights abuses because democracy thrives on a free press, divergent views, respect for human rights of citizens and recognition of the statutory roles of journalists as protectors of the civic space.
To the Nigeria Police, it recommended that it embark on immediate and drastic reforms within its ranks to reskill and retool the police on how to engage with the media, CSOs and citizens in the civic space; invest in capacity development of police officers on the civil rights, importance of the media to this and the need to respect journalists and other citizens in the course of their work; and enable platforms for conversations with the media and other stakeholders. Media-police dialogue and platforms for conversation on the intersections and uniqueness of each one¡¦s constitutional roles and obligations will go a long way to make things better.
The report recommended to civil society organisations to strengthen existing consortiums and create other umbrella platforms of CSOs (collaborate and use the media to syndicate stories on civic infractions to help amplify them nationally and internationally).
CSOs were also advised to create new online civic spaces that could be artillery to efficiently defend offline civic space. This way, CSOs can creatively reverse the declining civic space by adopting opportunities provided by technology, the internet and social media to organise a more structured mode of information exchange among civic actors.
It advised citizens to update their knowledge of their civil rights, obligations and duties and ensure they know their rights under the law, citing the Police Act of 2020 which does not empower the police to arrest by proxy.
Hajia Zainab Suleiman Okino, Chairperson of the editorial board of Blueprint newspaper reviewed the report and made some recommendations including a recommendation that more states should be covered as monitoring in 11 out of 36 states of the federation were not representative enough.
She suggested that the report should cover shorter time frames because the 10 years that the report covers amounts to almost one term of the Jonathan and close to two terms of the Buhari administrations and, according to her, “it becomes impossible to make a government account for its infractions, and even if it has to, this becomes retrospective and of no consequence.”
She advised that the reports should be in segments of four years to take cognisance of Nigeria’s four-year democratic time-frames, and in the process make each administration account for its misdeeds in terms of civic space infractions.
She also recommended a mechanism of online reporting of infractions of civic cases, adding “technology will help to upscale the coverage”.
She also suggested that more states should be covered in the revised edition as she considers that the 11 states where infractions were reported are not representative of the country.
The monitoring exercise was carried out with the support of Luminate Group, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundations (OSF)-Africa and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, WSCIJ partners who supported the Centre financially to make the report happen.
To download and read the full report, please go to Hushed Voices and the Media’s Defence of the Civic Space.