Police Violence and Suppression in Nigeria Threaten Civic Space
In 2020, there were massive demonstrations against police brutality around the world. To Nigerians, the Special Anti-Robbery Squads (SARS) have become the symbolic face of unchecked police violence in Nigeria and so youth activists, civil society organizations, and citizens gathered in protest across the country, to call for their disbandment and for accountability for officers’ actions. These protests were shared widely on social media to bring international spotlight onto their struggles.
In the following days, there were reports of over 100 people being killed by police in retaliation. As well as the violent suppression of protest, there are increased attacks on journalists, bloggers, online influencers, and human rights defenders that have been critical of government failings and police violence.
Beyond the immediate cost of human lives, and the casualties of police violence, what else is damaged when protestors, activists, journalists, and even people posting on social media, are targeted like this?
Protest, criticism, media coverage, etc. are all part of creating civic space. Civic space is part of an input and feedback process with the government. Without a healthy civic space, there can be no proper sense of democracy because it doesn’t feel like everyone is a valued participant in the decision-making process.
Defending Civic Space
Following an OGP-wide call to action for the protections of civic space, Nigeria included a commitment to the creation of civic space in the revised 2019-2022 action plan.
The goal is to develop and solidify space for individuals, citizen organizations, human rights defenders, and the media to have freedoms of expression, protest, association, and assembly. Beyond this, it is important for them to be able to use this civic space to participate in different stages of policy-making without fear of intimidation and violence.
The commitment aims to ensure that the public feels they are able to regulate the role of the police, and increase accountability. This can be done with oversight mechanisms, the creation of a guide on peaceful protests with the Nigerian Police, organized citizen-police dialogues, and by bringing independent bodies like the National Human Rights Commission in to facilitate change.
Building Police Accountability by Amplifying Citizen Voices
The inclusion of the commitment to create space for citizens, citizen organizations, and the media to freely participate in policy-development and criticism, in the 2019-2022 action plan shows that the Nigerian government is taking the protection of a healthy, functional civic space seriously.
Challenges remain in reversing a culture of suppression and police-violence, including lack of allocated funding, and a lack of frameworks to monitor compliance to new standards. However, the commitment of Nigeria in the action plan is a recognition of the fact that civic space is under threat and the inclusion of civil society and human rights campaigners in the oversight processes is a big step towards achieving police accountability, and ultimately a healthier and more functional civic space.
PHOTO Credit: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via Unsplash