US Lawmakers Writes FG, Condemn Clampdown Of Journalists, Activists And Protesters In Nigeria
Two lawmakers from the United States Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Josh Gotthemer have expressed grave concerns over the continuous detention and harassment of journalists, activists and protesters in Nigeria.
In a letter dated November 25, 2019, and addressed to Sylvanus Adiewere Nsofor, the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, the lawmakers also made reference to the massacre of hundreds of Shiites in December 2015 and in 2018 by Nigerian security operatives. The Shiites are demanding the release of their leader Shiek Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah, who has been in detention since 2015 following a deadly clash between his followers and the Nigerian Army in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The letter reads in part: “We write to express strong concern about closing media and civic space in Nigeria. There have been a number of troubling reports about Nigerian security services assaulting and detaining journalists, using excessive force on non-violent protesters and taking other actions that inhibit freedom of expression, and otherwise prevent Nigerians from fully exercising their fundamental constitutional rights.
"Journalists and activists such as Omoyele Sowore, Jones Abiri, Kofi Bartels, Samuel Ogundipe, and others investigating and speaking-out about politically sensitive problems like corruption or insecurity have been harassed and detained; with reports that some have even been tortured. In at least one instance, the Department of Security Services has ignored a court order to release a detained activist.
"Restrictions and deadly crackdowns on non-violent protests since 2015 have similarly reflected a lack of apparent commitment to civic freedoms which is beginning to negatively impact the image of Nigeria’s government, both at home and abroad. Security forces used live ammunition on Shiite protestors in Zaria, Kaduna State in 2015; on protestors in Onitsha, Anambra State in 2016; again on a Shiite procession in Abuja in 2018: raided the offices of the Daily Trust, and arrested the editor in January 2019; and shot and killed Precious Owolabi, a journalist covering a July 2019 protest in Abuja.
"These crackdowns have collectively killed hundreds of Nigerian citizens, and serve as troubling demonstrations of the excessive force used by the military. The alleged perpetrators of these abuses have yet to be brought to justice."
The letter also added that Nigeria has a critical role to play in preserving peace and stability in West Africa, and as "the most populous democracy on the continent it could serve as a shining example of how countries can best observe the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights."
"However, failure to respect the rights in the Charter and those in Nigeria’s own constitution undermine your nation’s ability to lead in this area."
The lawmakers urge the Nigerian government to ensure that "the rights and liberties contained in the constitution are observed for all citizens, and to take strong action against further closing space for journalists, political opposition, and those in civil society."