END-SARS ANNIVERSARY: SOCIAL ACTION JOINS OTHER CSOs TO DEMAND FOR POSITIVE TRANSFORMATION IN GOVERNANCE

Panelists at the Press conference (L-R: Comrade Oladimeji Macaulay, Rafiu Adediran Lawal and Godwin Kingsley)

As part of the activities to mark the solemn- first anniversary of the 2020 #ENDSARS protests against police brutality in Nigeria, Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action participated in a press conference organized by the Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS).
The event which was held in Social Actions Conference Hall, Abuja on the 20th of October, 2021 created a forum for civil society organizations, members of the press as well as concerned citizens to commemorate the anniversary of Lekki Tollgate killings, deliberate on the significance of the #EndSARS movement and the continuous shrinking civic space in Nigeria.
Figure 1 Panelists at the Press conference (L-R: Comrade Oladimeji Macaulay, Rafiu Adediran Lawal and Godwin Kingsley)
Speaking at the event, one of the panelists, Comrade Oladimeji Macaulay lamented the repressing civic space of the country. In his view, the incident at the Lekki Tollgate in 2020 and many others is proof that Nigerians do not enjoy their fundamental rights. The right to protest is a constitutional right under Section 38 through 42 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Sadly, as evident in the Lekki Tollgate protest, peaceful protesters were arrested, detained and even killed by security agents yet, no one has been held accountable. “We hereby demand the immediate arrest and speedy prosecution of every person responsible for perpetrating the horrid crime of police brutality in Nigeria and most importantly, the murderous attack of October 20, 2020”, he stressed.
Accentuating to this, Comrade Godwin Kingsley of World Impact Development Foundation, WIDEF urged the masses to demand a complete reformation of the Nigerian security system and ensure the culprits of the Lekki Tollgate Massacre are brought to book.
Responding to the issue of contracting civic space, Comrade Kingsley said that the Nigerian security agencies use several tactics to stiffen the activities of Civil Society Organizations and the public who campaign against bad governance. Kingsley explained that a joint research on “#ENDSARS: Police Brutality, Protests and Shrinking Civic Space in Nigeria” revealed some narratives that have aided the clampdown of the civic space. The institution of stringent operational and regulatory procedures by the Nigerian government, negative perception and smirk campaign against CSOs that receive foreign funding, illegal arrests and detention of civil society activists among others were highlighted by the Comrade. He however assured the media and the general public that AGFCS is resolved to provide a suitable environment for well-meaning youths and the press.
Figure 2: Cross-section of participants at the event

Moving forward, Comrade Rafiu Adediran Lawal a representative of Building Blocks for Peace Foundation assured participants that the #EndSARS Movement is not an event that ended last year but a process. This process, he explained, will continue till young people of Nigeria are treated right and there is a complete reformation of the executive system of government. He, therefore, encouraged all present to take the message of transformation home.
At the end of the event, a press statement was released and the following demands were made to the Federal government of Nigeria,
• That the government recommit to its primary obligation to citizens by bringing to book all erring security officers indicted at the various Judicial Commissions of Inquiry
• Restore hope in victims of Police brutality by fully implementing the recommendations for compensation submitted by the Panels
• Divorce itself from the undemocratic and despotic inclination to target and oppress individuals, activists, dissenting voices and civil society when they speak up, advocate for accountability from the government and organize lawful demonstrations
• Engage in dialogue with all aggrieved parties and all stakeholders to chart a new path to resolve the insecurity challenges and ethnic discontent that ails the country
• Release all #EndSARS protestors still unlawfully imprisoned for daring to challenge an oppressive status quo
Social Action joins Action Group on Free Civic Space and other Civil Society Organizations to demand an open civic space. We urge the Federal government to prioritize the protection of human rights and ensure that the victims of the #EndSARS protest get justice. We say NO to clamp down on the press, NO to Police Brutality and NO to Human Rights Violation.

MEDIA REPORT OF THE TOWN HALL MEETING ON PROMOTING PROBITY IN THE NIGER DELTA DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION, NDDC

Attendees listen as the Project Coordinator of Social Action, Comrade Botti Isaac gives his welcome address.

The oil rich Niger Delta region has been plagued with development challenges for several decades fueling agitations, restiveness and armed conflict across the region. This however necessitated the creation of NDDC, an interventionist agency, to critical intervention programmes that would bring about the development in the Niger Delta region. However, more than two decades of existence, the Niger Delta Development Commission has failed to effectively deliver on its mandate. Since its establishment, the Commission has been enmeshed in several cases of corruption scandal, contract racketeering and mismanagement of projects funds, resulting in loss of public trust. According to the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, the commission has in 20 years mismanaged over N3trillion. While out of the 13,774 projects it embarked upon, 12,000 were abandoned. This information was revealed from the recently concluded forensic audit submitted to the president. Nigerians and in particular, the Niger Delta people have expressed concerns over the seemingly attempt to cover up the findings of the audit report.
At the Town Hall Meeting held in Port Harcourt, titled “Promoting Probity in the NDDC to Rebuild Accountability Tenet and Public Trust”, organized by Social Action with support from the MacArthur Foundation, citizens of the region decried the lukewarm attitude of the federal government with regard to the forensic audit. They expressed disappointment over what they perceived as deliberate efforts to protect cronies and politically exposed persons who have been indicted by the forensic report. They noted that there is no possible explanation for the delay in making the forensic report public except for possible cover up or editing of the report. They further lament the deplorable of state of infrastructure across the region, noting that NDDC has failed to meet this massive infrastructural gap. They therefore call for immediate investigation into the alleged 12,000 abandoned projects and contracts. That they should be held accountable for the trillions of wasted on those projects.

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#ENDSARS: ONE YEAR AFTER, HUMAN RIGHTS MELTDOWN, REPRESSION PERSISTS 

Democracy and human rights are recognized as inextricably connected, but the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has always de-emphasized that link. The #EndSars protest and the atrocious breaches of human rights before, during, and after the period of the protests across the country provides sobering evidence that this government is increasingly fueling human rights violations. 

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2022 BUDGET: SOCIAL ACTION URGES FG TO PRIORITIZE FISCAL RECTITUDE

On Thursday, 7th October, 2021, President, Muhammadu Buhari, presented N16.39 trillion as the 2022 budget proposal before a joint session of the National Assembly. The proposed 2022 budget is titled, “Budget of Economic Growth and Sustainability”. Some of the 2022 budget key figures are: capital expenditure of N4.89 trillion, non-debt recurrent expenditure of N6.83trillion, oil benchmark price of $57 per barrel, with projected oil production target of 1.88m bpd and the exchange rate is projected at N410.15/US$.

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SOCIAL ACTION CARPETS PRESIDENCY AND NASS OVER PLANS TO BORROW $4BN 

In a frantic effort by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to increase Nigeria’s debt profile, he has again, requested from the National Assembly, the approval of another $4 billion and EUR 710 million loan. The request was contained in a letter read by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on the Senate floor Tuesday 14th September 2021. It could be recalled that this request is coming shortly after the National Assembly approved $6.18 billion foreign loans.

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NDDC FORENSIC REPORT: Accountability is sacrosanct and not negotiable

The concluded forensic audit report on the Niger Delta Development Commission- NDDC, highlights failures related to accountability, including financial mismanagement, chronic underperformance and service collapse of the agency. These fundamental gaps in accountability and transparency at the heart of NDDC activities result in underperformance. The devastating effects of the deficiency in the operations of the Commission have continued to ravage the Niger Delta with compounding hardship, and thus call for a pragmatic shift for a change in the narrative.

From its inception, the NDDC could be described as a cesspit of corruption, abandoned projects and political patronage. It is disheartening that the NDDC has remained in the same claws of mismanagement that has left the Niger Delta people to suffer, evidently seen in the poor accountability profile within the NDDC structure. This kind of system no doubt makes stealing easy. The NDDC has displayed long-standing weaknesses in how poorly it uses funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region for personal gains, which falls short of standards for spending public money.

Clearly, this shows that there is a lack of accountability in the operations of the NDDC. This has enabled repeated failures in service delivery such as abandoned projects, poor procurement practices, embezzlement and wasting public money. Accountability lies at the heart of masses-owned and service delivery institutions such as the Niger Delta Development Commission. The current system in NDDC displays critical management weaknesses, quantum corruption and lethargy that trail the need for prosecution where necessary. However, the good thing is that these can be addressed. The government must, therefore, begin to shift from the culture of blame and piling of reports to prosecution of those culpable, recoveries of illegally acquired wealth from culprits and returning same to the public coffers for the improvement and development of Niger Delta.

Matters of accountability and transparency in NDDC are sacrosanct because when it works, it benefits everyone. It will enable the people of Niger Delta to know what the NDDC is doing, and how to gain redress when things go wrong. It would ensure that the interventionist agency is acting in the interests of the people that they were appointed to serve. Consequently, accountability remains critical to the management and delivery of NDDC mandate and this will increase the trustworthiness and legitimacy of the agency in the eyes of the people of Niger Delta.

While accountability and transparency are not the only panaceas for solving the numerous challenges that NDDC faces in a complex environment, it can improve its service delivery, generate incentives for responsible individuals within the agency to act in the interests of the Niger Delta people. Even if this means those untouchable are prosecuted following the rot in the agency; what is important is a healthy system of accountability and transparency that makes it effortless for the agency to meet its mandate to the people of Niger Delta.

To rigorously pursue the good principles of accountability and transparency in NDDC, the agency should periodically publish transparent, authoritative information and data that underpins the spending process. They should publish financial statements at the end of each spending period and also declare details of all projects before and after they have been agreed upon and how these projects would be delivered in practice. This should also be subject to concerned communities’ scrutiny and validation. This would provide the people with information to inspect these projects as they are implemented. We also demand that the federal government inaugurate the NDDC Board which is in consonance with the law establishing the agency. The board would provide a forum for strategic discussions on service delivery, how to develop the Niger Delta and exert effective oversight, ensuring that policies work as intended.

The necessity to overhaul the prevailing system of corruption in NDDC is not negotiable. It is an effort towards redefining the working patterns of the agency to imbue it with sanity imperative for Niger Delta to begin to enjoy the benefits of good service delivery against the experience of untold  hardship which has been a product of administrative deficiencies and corruption.

Social Action will continue to be at the vanguard of expounding sanity with impeccable standards, to reveal the pervasive culture of corruption, perceivable ill practices and echoing gaps of accountability and transparency in NDDC until justice is done and the people of Niger Delta are better off.

Women as Agents of Social Change in Nigeria

Rita Kigbara speaks on the role of women for social change in Nigeria

As society evolves and new changes occur, it brings about different phenomenon that affects how we relate and accept these changes. In the past few decades, the role of women in public life and the social context has drastically changed. These changes have had different controversies and consequences. As a policy to encourage gender inclusion and participation in social development, the Social Action Camp 2021 dedicated a session on discussing Nigerian women and analyzing their role in the struggle for social change in Nigeria.

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HUMAN RIGHTS LAW IN NIGERIA: THE HUMAN OR THE LAW

Barrister Victor Njoku Nweke speaking during the Social Action 2021 annual Camp meeting held in Rivers State

“The issue of human rights protection remains the cornerstone for proper existence of human race and their observance in a state encourages peace, civility and prosperity of human society.” Barrister Victor Njoku made the assertion as he gave a lecture at the 2021 Social Action Camp.

This discussion is essential to the fact a lot of human rights activists, CSOs and even innocent citizens face all manner of inhumane treatment at the hands of security agents. There have been several cases of unlawful and arbitrary killings by government and non-state actors, unlawful interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, serious restriction of free expression by the press and citizens on the conventional and new media spaces.  

These detainees sometimes are locked up, tortured without trial while being kept incommunicado without access to their friends and families whereas the law requires an arresting office to make known the charges against an accused, take the accused to the police station for processing within a reasonable time and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. More so, the security agents who are supposed to make the citizens feel safe with their presence now use nonlethal tactics such as firing teargas, batons, before employing the use of force in dealing with those they are meant to protect.

Also, another area of interest is the Police Act that makes provision for the protection of the human right of suspects in police custody. Nweke asserted that the police is bound to observe these rights while exercising their statutory function of arrest, investigation and prosecution and a violation could give the citizen the right to sue the police. While also listing these rights, he told attendees that the knowledge of these rights is like a lamp that will guide them not just during activism, but also in serving as watchdogs to ensure that security agents obey the provisions made by the law in course of discharging their duties.

He further noted that the Act also kicks against torture and describes torture as cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment which causes pain, exhaustion, disability or dysfunction of one or more body parts These treatments if meted out to detainees are punishable under law as the officer, upon conviction, is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty five years.

Sadly, the Act which he described as a “bold step” taken by the National Assembly to enhance the protection of human rights is still being violated by security agents as citizens still make confessions under duress for fear of losing their lives. However, these misappropriations that are gradually becoming a norm can be abated when citizens are abreast with the right knowledge and act accordingly. He, therefore, recommended that training such as the ones organized by Social Action be carried out more regularly equip CSO and active citizens with requisite knowledge and tools to defend themselves against the brute and inhumane treatment being meted by the security agents on innocent gullible citizens

SOCIAL ACTION CHARGES FG TO UPHOLD ITS RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT NIGERIANS AMIDST N5TN DEFENCE ALLOCATION AND OVER 11,420 NIGERIANS KILLED IN SIX YEARS

According to statistics made available by Nigeria Security Tracker, and Amnesty International, since President, Muhammadu Buhari took office on May 29, 2015, his administration has allocated approximately N5.081tn for defence, supposedly used for the purchase of military equipment to execute the war against insurgency and other forms of security related issues. Despite this large allocation, the country has recorded the loss of 11,420 civilians and security personnel to Boko Haram insurgency and attacks by herdsmen and bandits between May 2015 and July 2021.

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