RECLAIMING THE CIVIC SPACE FOR TRANSFORMATIVE GOVERNANCE AND POLITICAL CHANGE IN NIGERIA

Nigeria Social Action Camp 2022, held at the Man' War Leadership Training Centre, Aluu, Port Harcourt

Social Action organised the Nigeria Social Action Camp 2022, with the theme “Reclaiming the Civic Space for Transformative Governance and Political Change in Nigeria”, at the Citizenship and Leadership Training Camp, Aluu, Rivers State, from the 8th of November to the 12th of November 2022.

The Camp, a yearly weeklong programme, is an alternative space for anti-neoliberal political education and solidarity among Nigerians. The camp provides an opportunity for over 100 grassroots members of Social Action-supported Civil Rights Councils (CRCs) from different states of Nigeria and other Nigerian youths to meet and build solidarity to bring about social change in Nigeria. 2022 Camp participants included members of the CRCs, labour union activists, university students, journalists and activist scholars. Camp activities included lectures, workshops, group discussions, film shows, sports and games and other group activities.

The Camp Program commenced with a welcome charge by Professor Sofiri Peterside with a focus on reclaiming the civic space for transformative governance and political change in Nigeria. Professor Peterside x-rayed the concepts of the civic space from various scholarly perspectives and emphasized that in Nigeria, the civic space has come under attack by a desperate ruling class seeking to gag the media, civil society actors, political activists, left elements and social critics.


Dr Nelson Okene spoke on the topic, “Identity Politics And The 2023 Elections – Any Hope For Nigeria”. He held that the desperation among the political class to win power at all cost is the bane of development in Nigeria. The hope for Nigeria, he said, would be for civil society actors and pro-left tendencies to begin to champion the cause of national politics with an emphasis on nationhood and national unity.

A lecture under the topic, “Fundamental Human Rights, Procedures and Applications in the Context of The 1999 Constitution”, was delivered by Honorable Justice Simon Amadubuogha, a High Court Judge. The honourable justice carefully examined the fundamental right provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended and the attendant rules of applicability and enforcement under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. With the aid of judicial and statutory authorities, he showcased the attitude of the courts in human rights cases and the special provision in the rules of the courts to give special attention to such litigations when filed before the court of law.

A brainstorming session moderated by Sabatine Kpalap was deliberated by Comrade Omobude Left Agho and Frank Nornobari under the theme: “The Role of Nigerian Youths in the Struggle for Political Change”. Comrade Nornobari, while acknowledging that the Nigeria youths have played a historical role in the struggle for political change, however, maintained that in contemporary times the youths seem to have been co-opted in the structure of the various political parties where they act as state agents and pro-establishment thugs. To redeem this, there is a need for re-awakening the consciousness of the youths to their self-interests.


On his part, Sabatine Kpalap emphasized the training of youths and building organizations with adequate conscientization and political education. He believes that such a movement will play a cardinal role in the restoration of sanity and political change in society. Comrade Omobude Agho blamed ignorance on the side of the youths as a major concern.

In a panel section on the topic: “The 2023 Election and The Role of the Civil Society”, Adejoh Sunday argued that civil society has a fundamental role to play in ensuring credible and smooth elections. Beyond monitoring the election, and leading sensitization on various aspects of the election, it is the role of civil society to create platforms for the citizens to interrogate the political actors and aspirants from various political platforms.

The camp also witnessed a workshop on the practical application and use of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 for holding public officers accountable. The workshop section was moderated by Comrade Kelechi and Sabatine Kpalap. Peter Mazzi and Elizabeth Michael also took participants in a workshop on the efficient use of images in story-telling in promoting campaigns and advancing advocacies.

In his various presentations, Comrade Jaye Gaskia took a swipe at the decadent Nigeria ruling class bedridden in political corruption and lack of initiatives. He held that to reclaim the civic space and enthrone transformative governance, the Nigerian youths must organize and ensure solidarity under strong platforms of national movements in order to challenge and contest for power with the ruling class.

Other speakers were Rita Kigbara, Comrade Nyengi, woman rights activists and Barr Arochukwu Paul Ogbonna. They looked at the various statutory and judicial authorities that deal with gender equality, gender-based violence and the right of the girl child to inheritance. Starting from the Nigerian Constitution, which abhors discrimination of any type against the girl child, to Supreme Court judgments and legislations of various State House of Assembly, they spoke on the need to protect the girl child and vulnerable persons. They also lauded the enactment of the Violence Against Persons Act and encouraged its full implementation in order to punish violators and curb or reduce abuses.

The camp came to an end with the National Convention of the Civil Rights Council (CRC). The convention was attended by all the CRC units across the country, and the Convention made very conclusive decisions. Newly created units were ratified, and old executives dissolved in Delta State. The Conference also reestablished Bayelsa, Owerri, Akwa-Ibom and Enugu Civil Rights Council units.

DR UCHE IGWE PAYS FAMILIARISATION VISITS CRC DIOBU AND BORI UNITS

Dr Igwe visits CRC office Diobu with Social Action staff

On the 24th and 25th of November 2022 staff of the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) accompanied Dr Uche Igwe on an assessment visit of the Bori and Diobu Civil Rights Council units in Rivers State.
The visit was to enable the visiting Dr Uche Igwe to have first-hand information on the structure, objectives and functions of the CRC and recommend ways to make the organization more viable and responsive to its core mandate and purpose.

At Bori the members of the CRC outlined their objectives which among other things principally bother on the defence of human rights and the Rule of law especially among the rural community dwellers mostly the victims of Police extortion and brutality. They outlined their encounter with the Police, particularly their campaign against Police extra judicial killings during communal conflicts, and the imposition of illegal taxation and levies on community residents, farmers and market women. They also maintained that a similar approach is adopted for the Army and Civil Defense personnel operating in the area involved in similar activities. They identified the need for more financial assistance to spread and establish other units of the CRCs in various communities in the area to create a wider platform for the organization to spread their activities.

CRC Bori host Dr Uche Igwe accompanied by Dr Prince Ekpere and Barr Arochukwu Ogbonna of Social Action

In Diobu the members of the CRC comprising Diobu (1) and Diobu (2) CRC units on the 25th of November met with staff of Social Action and the visiting Dr Uche Igwe. In the course of discussions, the challenges of the CRC in the area were brought to focus. The CRC members identified the progress made especially in Political and Legal Education for the community people.
They observed that child molestation, rape and defilement of women and children, and domestic violence remain the human rights challenge of the crowded Diobu communities.  To mitigate this, they have adopted Political and Legal education to sensitize the community on options or remedies available to victims and procedures to raise complaints with appropriate state authorities for legal action.

They stated that the campaign and advocacy on these issues have been on for years with a rapid response human rights desk established in the area two years ago to facilitate a quick response from the CRC in case of human rights occurrences due to the prevalence of cases.
However, they stated the need for more financial assistance to enable them (CRC) seek legal redress for victims of human rights abuses of less privileged backgrounds especially vulnerable women and children in the communities.

 

CIVIL RIGHTS COUNCIL UNITS GIVE ACCOUNT OF STEWARDSHIP, ACKNOWLEDGE CHALLENGES AND OUTLINE PROGRAMS FOR 2023

Civil Rights Council National Convention held on the 11th of November 2022 anchored by the National Executive Council

The Nigeria Social Action Camp 2022 held in Port Harcourt was another opportunity for the Civil Rights Council Units Nationwide to organise its National Convention and take stock of its activities, challenges, and progress made in the past year and outline programs of activities for the coming year

A cross-section of members of CRC at the convention

On the 4th day of the Nigeria Social Action Camp Program, members of the Civil Rights Council drawn from across the units of the organization met to discuss and chart a way forward for all CRC units in the country. The convention was specifically to review the activities of the Civil Rights Council across the units and in various states chapters of the C.R.C. The Convention was presided over by the National Coordinator of the C.R.C Arochukwu Paul Ogbonna Esq. and the various state and unit coordinators of the organization.

The convention resolved that all C.R.C Units must maintain a register of Membership from the various units, Identification Card, maintain contact and keep a record of all activities including the creation of a new C.R.C Unit with the zonal offices which is at Abuja for C.R.C Units in the Federal Capital Territory and other states in the Northern parts of the country, Warri Office which is for units in Delta State and Edo State, Port Harcourt Zonal Office which is for Rivers State, Bayelsa State, Akwa-Ibom State, Cross River State, Imo State and Enugu State. It is expected that the particulars of all the units including details of memberships program activities should be logged at the zonal offices periodically. 

In line with constitutional provisions the convention took far-reaching decisions and unanimously arrived at the following conclusions:

  1. The ratification of Okpanam Civil Rights Council Units, which were created from Asaba Civil Rights Council.
  2. The dissolution of Delta State State Executives of the Civil Rights Council whose tenure has expired in October 2022.
  3. The setting up of a three-Man Committee to run the affairs of Delta State Civil Rights Council made up of Gabriel Omorere as Chairman, Joy Edibine and Sundrex Ogor as members.
  4. The fixing of a general election for Delta State Civil Rights Council for the 11th of December 2022.
  5. The reconstitution of the leadership (management committee) of Bayelsa, Owerri (Imo State), Akwa-Ibom State and Enugu State Civil Rights Councils Units. 

Finally, the conference adjourned for the Nigeria Social Action Camp, 2022 for another National Meeting of the C.R.C

NO SUCCESSFUL SOCIAL OR POLITICAL MOVEMENT WITHOUT THE SEVEN CHARACTERISTICS OF A MOVEMENT

Jaye Gaskia making his presentations at the Social Action Camp 2022

Nigerian youths must organize and ensure solidarity under strong platforms and national movements to reclaim the civic space and enthrone transformative governance. Comrade Jaye Gaskia disclosed this while making his presentations at the Nigeria Social Action Camp in Port Harcourt as a necessary to challenge and contest for power with the ruling class to be able to get a fair deal in government policies and programmes for a better Nigeria.
In his various presentations cutting across topics such as: What Can Be Done To Reclaim The Civic Space, Transformative Governance In 2023 And Beyond: A Need For A Mass Movement And The Role Of Nigerian Youths In Reclaiming Civic Space And Transformative Governance In Nigeria Comrade Jaye Gaskia took a swipe on the decadent Nigeria ruling class bedridden in political corruption and lack of initiatives.
He held that for there to be any meaningful social movement, there must be Organisation (in noun and verbal forms), Mobilization, Leadership, Initiative, Purpose, Politics and Autonomy, in what he tagged “The seven characteristics of movement”.

He explained that a movement needs an organisation (which gives the movement an identity) and organisation as a process, which is to bring interested people together as a body of like-minds. Mobilisation of active citizens must be done by leadership who provides the initiative drawn from a well-articulated and accepted purpose. The autonomy of the leadership (and by extension, the movement) is to ensure that the movement is not hijacked, coerced, intimidated or bought over by anti-progressive elements who are mostly part of the oppressive few.
Drawing an analogy from the recently organized #EndSars protest, and noted that the movement suffered an early aborted fate because it lacked some of the seven characteristics that would have caused it to endure and achieve the desired long-term goals
He insisted that playing at the gallery will not solve the problem rather a hardworking organization and building a strong movement with strong leadership by the youths and other oppressed segments of the society will bring the desired change and transformative governance in Nigeria.

WOMEN LIBERATION IS AIMED AT ACHIEVING EQUALITY FOR WOMEN IN ALL ASPECTS OF THE SOCIETY

“Women Liberation is aimed at achieving equality for women in all areas of the society” Rita Kigbara

The Nigeria Social Action Camp presented another opportunity for Rights Advocates to beam their periscope on the nagging problems of gender discrimination and marginalisation as practices as enshrined in some of our patriarchal cultures and society. According to Rita Kigbara in her presentation at the camp, gender balkanization has social and economic implications on the women and the resultant effect on the society is wider than being credited to the problem.

She admitted. though that the advances made by the women’s liberation struggles would not have been achieved without the support of some male champions she termed “he for she”. While she acknowledged that women have made appreciable progress in drawing attention to the issues and conditions impeding the development of women folks in society, there are still miles to cover and the burden of the responsibility rests on all stakeholders.  Her submission was made while speaking at the Nigeria Social Action Camp on the paper she titled “sexual violence and the struggle for women liberation: a feminine perspective”

Keenly attentive participants

She took on the subject from a historical perspective note as she reflected that women have come together to liberate themselves from the shackles of marginalization, at various times in history, outlining the various epochs of women’s liberation struggle up to the Beijing conference of 1995. According to her, all the women’s struggles over the years both on the political and human rights fronts (law) have re-emphasized the invaluable role of women in human progress but more has established women as disputable agents of social change. In spite of the progress made by women in different spheres of their endeavours, she noted that there are still practices inhibiting social, political and economic empowerment and advancement. Some of these practices she identified as impeding and retrogressive cultural practices, stereotyping and some corporate policies she interpreted as marriage penalties for carrier women. She regretted that many women have been prevented from aspiring to the height they wished to, due to these practices and policies.
For her, sexual violence is a germane aspect of discuss of women’s liberation struggle over the years and it is still an ongoing discussion as many women suffer sexual violence in diverse forms both in public and private life, conducts, she maintained, should be deprecated with severe consequences for the perpetrators. She advocates a legal regime that will extend more protection to women in all societies.

PLANET GRAB: CONVERGING, COMPOUNDED COLONIALISMS OF CONSERVATION, CARBON MARKETS AND EXTRACTIVISM

“Paying Africa to allow polluting industries and companies to continue wrecking the planet is just another type of neo-colonialism.”

This was the summation of Cassandra on the different carbon conservation programmes and schemes of the West as she spoke on the theme “Planet Grab: Converging, Compounded Colonialisms of CONservation, Carbon Markets and Extractivism“

Speaking via Zoom from the US, Cassandra opined that Africa Carbon market Initiative was launched as another (neo-colonial scheme) to dramatically expand Africa’s participation in voluntary carbon market. Unlike the colonial era when Europe through the 1884 Berlin Conference “shared” Africa among itself and forcefully took over the rich geographical expanse, this time Africa is being made to willing submit its land and airspace to the same old colonial land grabbers.

Rather than reduce carbon emissions, information sources reveal that Carbon Markets earned 24 billion euros from the European carbon market from 2008-2014. In a slide she shared, The Guardian reported that, rather than reducing carbon emissions, the United Nations Kyoto Protocol’s carbon trading “increased emissions by 600 million tonnes”, making climate change worse

The slide further revealed the following

  • Between 2008 and 2014 carbon-intensive industries in Europe profited by at least C24 billion from the EUs flagship market for reducing CO2. The heavy profiteers are Germany, UK, France and Spain.
  • Scorched Earth campaign against People who subsist on hunting and wild honey evicted with AK-47s over 1,000 homes torched Cultural genocide linked to CONservation and Carbon Offsets
  • Mozambique’s REDD program amounts to multigenerational carbon enslavement. Farmers get paid as low as $63 per family annually for seven years to plant and care for trees to reduce pollution in Europe and the US, but the contract requires them to keep doing so for 99 years. In the case that the farmers pass away, their offspring will be required to continue caring for the trees for free. The Africa Report calls the N’hambita project “a clear case of carbon slavery.”

Major Threats

  • Using living beings as sponge for pollution
  • Deforestation

Deforestation is happening four times more than any other continent in the world, resulting in a loss of roughly 40,000km2 per year

  • Elephant Forestry Increase

Each forest elephant can stimulate a net increase in carbon capture in central Africa rain forest of 9,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per km2

  • Poaching

Centuries are required for forest elephants to recover to their historic population level of 1.6 million from their current population of about a hundred thousand

She concluded that the carbon colonialism not only is a carbon copy of classic colonialism, but it also compounds colonialism. REDD + Lion Carbon enables a European oil firm to become “an active member in the governance” of the largest instance of carbon colonialism in Africa, as well as to grow its oil and gas exploitation in Africa with a massive multinational land grab (about the size of Iceland). This, she emphasises is not just a fallacious response to climate change, which will hasten the extinction of peoples and wildlife in Africa as well as instigate dangerous temperature increases. And it’s not just a little part of the Planet Grab. This is a POWER GRAB. This is the coup d’état of Nature.

RECLAIMING THE CIVIL SPACE FOR TRANSFORMATIVE GOVERNANCE AND POLITICAL CHANGE IN NIGERIA

A presentation of Prof Sofiri Peterside at the Nigeria Social Action Camp 2022

Introduction

True to its national spirit, the Social Action has convened us to discuss a theme of national and most -timely importance, “State Repression and Shrinking Civic Space in Nigeria” a topic choice for which the Programme Department ought to be congratulated. Today, many Nigerians and the international community observe that representative democracy is in crisis, and note a decline of confidence in public institutions. It is within the overall context of this camp meeting I was invited to deliver this keynote address which to my mind, underscores the fact that is a crisis our democracy. If there is, how does it manifest itself in the different geo-political zones of the Country? Furthermore, can we say something about the capacity of Nigeria’s democracy that may be pertinent beyond those differences? These are, of course, vast questions on which I want to offer some very general reflections.

To begin with, let me ask: is there State Repression? If there is, is it shrinking the Civic Space? If it is, how does it manifest itself across the country? Furthermore, it may be, and I will argue this that democracy itself is intrinsically characterized by perpetual tensions that are both worrisome and a testimony to its best qualities and indeed, strongest capacity. All through the conversations at the opening ceremony yesterday, we listened to several speeches that highlighted various aspects of the crises. Deep concerns have been expressed in many of them. Fortunately, deep concern is not despair. In this present-day world, haunted by the ills of war, domestic and international violence, social inequality and environmental damage, what I will say will strike a note of cautious optimism among those justified concerns about the civic space in Nigeria.

The second point you all know well. There have never been in the world as many formally democratic regimes as there are today. Moreover, there have been as many rulers claiming that their regimes are democratic. Being democratic or claiming to be democratic, might be compared to a currency: credibly holding it adds capital to those who claim it as their type of rule. Underlying this fact is that in most parts of the world, the ultimate claim to legitimacy, or at least to the acceptability, of political rule must lie in the type of popular consent expressed in the democratic process.

 

Conceptual Clarification

It is apposite to emphasize the point that a country can have a democratic regime, or a political democracy. These are two basic components. First of all, elections are reasonably fair so that the opposition has a reasonable chance of winning. The elections should also be decisive in the sense that whoever wins may occupy the offices for which they have competed, and endure in their tenure as it is constitutionally prescribed. Secondly, a democratic regime includes a set of rights or political freedoms such as freedom of expression, of association, of movement, of access to non-monopolized information. The reasonable effectiveness of these rights is a fundamental condition for holding fair and decisive elections before, during and after them. These are the basic defining characteristics of political democracy, or equivalently of polyarchy as stated by Robert A. Dahl, to which O’Donnell (2006) added the requisite of decisiveness. He stated two caveats in this regard. One is that the regime thus defined is absolutely fundamental to democracy.

However, he does not believe that the meaning of democracy ends there. Democracy is not ultimately based on voters, but citizens, and citizenship, in addition to the political dimension brought about the regime, also includes civil, social, and cultural dimensions. A fuller, better democracy is on that enacts and supports a wide gamut of all these rights. It is also one that resolves, by means that are legally and constitutionally prescribed, conflicts and trade-offs that unavoidably arise from these rights.

 

The Nigerian Situation

Throughout history, social movements- small groups though loosely connected but united by a shared purpose, have created transformational change by the powerless banding together against the powerful. In contemporary world, digital technology has intensified these potent forces making it much easier of groups of like-minded people to connect and coordinate actions against rampaging apparatus of the state. This implies that there is a greater opportunity to create change now than ever before (Satell, 2017). Yet, it appears that Nigeria is not a favourable environment for democracy because the governing elite always preferred the reputation of being democrats to the notorious inconveniencies of practicing democracy. Little wonder, most of the country’s leaders are enjoying the reputation of being democrats without the inconveniences because they have trivialized democracy to the extent that its practice is no longer threatening to positional incumbents. The Nigerian situation, like any other African country, underscores the fact that what is being foisted on Africa is a version of liberal democracy reduced to the crude simplicity of multi-party elections.

The term, “Civic Space” is often used to describe those human rights which facilitate the ability of individuals and groups to participate in the polity and governance of their country. According to the United Nations Human Rights:

Civic space is the environment that enables civil society to play a role in the political, economic and social life of our societies. In particular, civic space allows individuals and groups to contribute to policy-making that affects their lives, including by accessing information, engaging in dialogue, expressing dissent or disagreement, and joining together to express their views.”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the Civic Space as the

“set of legal, policy, institutional, and practical conditions necessary for non-governmental actors to access information, express themselves, associate, organise, and participate in public life”.

It entails the policies, laws, institutions and practices that provide a conducive atmosphere for citizens and civil society organizations to thrive as they promote progressive liberties, freedoms, and spaces for institutional growth. This creates and empowers structures necessary for social, economic and political mechanisms necessary for societal growth.

Similarly, a Transparency & Accountability Initiative Report noted:

“…civic space is defined as the set of conditions that determine the extent to which all members of society, both as individuals and in informal or organized groups, are able to freely, effectively and without discrimination exercise their basic civil rights. Principal among these are rights of information, expression, assembly, association and participation.

From the above, certain constitutionally-protected rights are implicated when the civic space is closed or obstructed, namely: Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Association and Freedom of Assembly. These mentioned freedoms, enshrined in Chapter IV of Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended) are interconnected and simultaneously facilitate the citizens’ engagement among themselves and with the government and the general public. As such, any interference with any of these freedoms may invariably result in the deprivation of other rights.  Again, by virtue of these constitutional guarantees, every citizen is a recognized participant in the civic space arena.

Freedom of Expression guarantees the right to express views on an issue through any media of choice irrespective of how irking those views are. Press freedoms are concomitant to this right. By guaranteeing the Freedom of Thought, the Nigerian Constitution protects the rights of citizens to hold and express religious or political views, or agitate for the betterment of specific target groups, tribes and ethnic federations without let or hindrance. Closely intertwined with the freedom of thought and expression are the association and assembly freedoms permitting citizens to form and belong to any group for the propagation of their thoughts and ideas, or belong to any political party of choice, hold and disseminate political ideologies. Accordingly, they can carry out protests, hold rallies and form pressure groups. Against this backdrop, the persecution of members and apologists of the Indigenous People of Biafra falls within the purview of civic space infringement within the context of the right to free assembly and free association. In the same way, the selective prosecution of members of an opposition political party is not inconsistent with politically-motivated restrictions designed to stifle dissent and limit democratic participation.

 

Are Civic Spaces Open or Closing?

According to Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights during the Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders in October, 2019, “Civil society participation is the lifeblood of any healthy democracy and society. When civil society channels flow freely, it means vibrant debate, freedom

For various reasons, governments around the world deploy various tactics to restrict the ability of citizens to engage, critique government failings or hold dissenting views. Some of the reasons advanced for these restrictions range from re-election ambitions to restraining political opposition or covering up the excesses of the governments. Civic spaces are closed when the limitations on citizen’s rights pose severe constraints to their ability to organize freely, including free expression, assembly and association, making civic engagement between themselves and other state and non-state actors difficult. Other notable manifestations of closing civic spaces take the form of repressive laws—such as the various anti-social media bills at the National Assembly; overbroad interpretation of existing laws—like the frequent use of the Cybercrimes Act to punish social media users; the retention of draconian laws—which includes charging journalists or social critics for the crimes of sedition and criminal defamation; and the excessive use of force by security agents to quell protests and  punish citizens beyond the prescriptions of the law.

Before now, particularly under the military rule, journalists and activists were the major targets of government crackdowns. Advancements in digital technology have helped to expose the tactics used to perpetuate these crackdowns. Technology has also widened the umbrella of activism, allowing ordinary citizens to have greater access to online and offline spaces for civic action. The internet and social media easily handed citizens a limitless tool for civic engagement, expanding the civic space beyond the traditional media, the streets and town halls. Likewise, the scope of government restrictions has widened, extending to ordinary citizens whose actions make governments uncomfortable and subject them to greater scrutiny.

The excesses in government’s arbitrariness tilt heavily against women participation, especially in Nigeria. Clampdowns on social media, unbalanced quota systems, societal stereotypes and lack of enabling environments have restricted the participation of women, especially in the area of politics and governance. Women voices are stifled and restrained, and political parties are not ready to actualize their mandates regarding the candidacies of women politicians. Equal gender participation is a facade on paper, just waved by Nigerian politicians and policymakers to restrict dissent and throw crumbs at women affected by the shrinking space they have found themselves in.

 

Democracy and the Situation of Women

A study by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics in 2018 shows that in the years between 1999 to 2015, 6% of councillors (at the local government) were women, 24% of judges in the federal court were women, and an average of 7% of each type of high-level government officials and senior administrators were women. There were no female central bank governors. According to the report, “the role with the highest percentage of women at 28% was the special assistant role”. This shows the depressing extent of women participation in political civic spaces.

Governments are making the civic space a tug of war – one of survival and strategic positioning by civic organizations and participants fighting against a system designed to kill activism and civic engagements. Civic actors are threatened and bullied with harsh policies targeted at dampening “dissent” against authorities. Being a female player in the civic industry does not help matters as cultural, political and social elements exist to hinder the impactful work of participants of the female gender, thereby contributing to gender inequality in the already shrinking civic space.

 

Challenge of Feminism

Historically, the very design of democracy and representation has continually excluded women. In ancient Greece, cradle of democratic experiment, democracy was vigorously exclusive -: the citizen was male and born Athenian parents. Theorists who examined social contract and social sovereignty of the people at best, ignored women, and at worst, foresaw their confinement to private and family spheres. The greatest revolutions that paved the way for representative democracy-the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution (17775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789) did little to promote the access of women to governance of the Nation. In fact, in France, the abstract individual- the notion underpinning republican universalism – padlocked the citizenship of women until, the beginning of the 22st Century an era when a highly stimulated debate on the subject of parity emerged.

Today, representative democracy, presented an ideal includes women or at least, those who do not think so keep quiet. Unfortunately, practice in contemporary times does no honour to this ideal. The proportion of women representatives in the National assembly is a case in point. Studies have shown that a multitude of factors influence women’s access to legislative arenas. These factors may be grouped into three broad categories: cultural, socio-economic and political. Culture refers to the values, standards, beliefs and attitudes that control a society and its institutions, and that are inspirations for the population’s ways of being, talking and doing.

 

Socio-Economic Factors: have to do with the conditions that lead women to envision careers in the field of politics. An improvement in women’s socio-economic conditions should favour their increased presence in the National Assembly.

 

Political factors: This influence the demand for candidates and, more specifically, it determines which citizens from the “eligible pool” are deemed qualified for a political position and worthy to be put forth as candidates. The factors fall into two categories or dimensions: The political rights of women and the profile of the political regime. The first dimension refers to the political citizenship of women. The second dimension: The profile of the political regime has enjoyed a greater deal of attention (these are examples of the State Structure (Unitary or Federal) the structure of the Legislature (Unitary or Federal) the number of seats, the party system etc.

 

Conclusion

It is necessary for state actors to recognize the importance of women’s participation in Nigeria, especially in an environment as crucial as the civic political space.

The equitable participation of women in public life is essential to building and sustaining strong, vibrant democracy:

“the full and equitable participation of women in public life is essential to building and sustaining strong, vibrant democracies. When women are not participating in politics, it’s less likely that policies will benefit them. Women need to participate to bring attention to issues that uniquely affect them, and to change attitudes towards gender.” (Damilola Agbalajobi, 2022).

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIVIL RIGHTS COUNCIL PROTESTS WITH NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS IN SOLIDARITY WITH ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES TO PRESS HOME DEMANDS ON THE GOVERNMENT

On July 26th and 27th 2022, the Nigerian Labour Congress with its affiliate unions declared a two-day nation-wide protest in collaboration with Civil society organizations. The two days protest was organized in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that embarked on a strike over breach of labour agreements by the federal government over staff welfare and funding of the Nigerian universities.

Protester march through the streets of Port Harcourt to demand an end to ASUU strike to ensure students go back to school

The procession which took off from the Labour House in Port Harcourt opened with an address from the state NLC Chairman Mrs Beatrice Appiah who reminded participants of the reason for the protest. She maintained that protests and strikes are strong weapons of labour, the working people and civil society actors to drive home their demands and compel the government to action on matters of national important, if the government is reluctant to do so.

 

The NLC chairman regretted the continued stance taken by the federal government which has ensured the striking lecturers continued on the industrial action, keeping students at home for upwards of six months. She said that ASUU, as an affiliate of the NLC, deserves all the support they could get to compel quick and positive response from the government adding that their demands bother on national development as funding of the universities is of key importance to national growth.

Members of Academic Staff Union of University, ASUU, Uniport Branch, set for the protest march

The protesters marched through designated routes in the metropolitan sections of Port Harcourt, singing solidarity songs to drive home their message. At major markets various affiliates of the NLC and Civil society actors addressed traders to sensitize them on the purpose of the protest and the need for all and sundry to support the campaign to save the university and return both students and lecturers back to the campus.

 

 

The protester finally converged at the government house where they were addressed by a representative of the governor. In his address permanent secretary at the Governor’s office agreed with the protesters that the situation of the country is unacceptable. He lamented the failure of the Federal government to reconsider their position on the ASUU crisis which he said is having its negative effect on the educational system. He, however, noted that the funding of the federal universities is not a state government affair’s but the exclusive responsibility of the Federal Government and promised to deliver the letter of demands handed down to him by the protesters to the Federal Government whom the letter is addressed to.

 

 

CRC members supporting the protest march to urge the Federal Government commit to promises made with  ASUU

 

The Civil Rights Council Port Harcourt, supported by Social Action was  well represented by its member as part of its campaign to promote the rights to education and means to reduce the crime rate in the society as many students have taken to crime and other vises as a result of idleness.

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

NEW LEADERSHIP EMERGES FOR CIVIL RIGHTS COUNCIL, BORI

Members from different chapter of CRC Bori zone

The Civil Rights Council Bori Chapter recently saw the emergence of a new leadership that brought an end to the existing leadership. The congress/election took place at the Paul Naakuu Birabi Conference Hall in Bori, Rivers State. While giving account of his stewardship, Comrade Prince Dukan enumerated the human rights interventions the Bori Chapter has recorded in LGAs and senatorial district.  He reminded members of the sole purpose of CRC while charging them to ensure justice prevails wherever they are.

The National Coordinator, out-going chairman and the incoming chairman

The National Coordinator of CRC, Arochukwu Paul Ogbonna gave a solidarity message on behalf of the Executive Director, Social Action. He appreciated their resilience of CRC Bori Chapter and their doggedness in human rights intervention and assured them of support from Social Action. He emphasized the need to document and keep track record of all human rights interventions as this is a determining factor in monitoring the progress of CRC.  The National Coordinator encouraged members to work unanimously with security agents while also awakening human rights consciousness among the Ogoni territory as the Ogoni struggle also centres around human rights advocacy.

Representatives from the Gokana, Tai, Eleme and Bori zones also gave their solidarity speeches that centered on the various interventions carried out in their chapters and the progress made so far. Nkpordee Basil gave a review of interventions made by CRC Bori zone which include recovery of stolen properties, stoppage of various forms marital abuse, freeing victims of SAR illegally arrested and help them get justice

Elections to various executive positions was conducted by head count and winners were immediately announced by the adhorc electoral committee. The Chairman elect who gave his opening speech in behalf of his executives thanked members for the opportunity to serve. He assured them that the organization will continue to uphold its purpose to avoid any form of abuse as there is now better access to the people as a result of past interventions.

Group photograph of EXCOs and members after the congress

The National Coordinator addressed the new executives and tackled questions on the nitty-gritty of human right intervention and how to apply diplomacy when engaging people and security agencies. “Facts and not hearsay is important” he said. He concluded by urging the zone to expand its scope to universities and secondary schools as these youngsters can act as CRC agents in recording and reporting cases of human rights abuses as a lot of ills happen in such environment.