By Jibrin Ibrahim, Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja
28th March 2017
This afternoon, I paid a solidarity visit to the Amnesty International office in Abuja, Nigeria. We recall that on Monday and Tuesday 20th and 21st March 2017, so-called protesters surrounded the Amnesty International office in Abuja demanding that the organisation leaves the country immediately. The protests occurred about one month after the Nigerian military issued a press statement demanding that Amnesty International should “desist from meddling into security issues in our country which is inimical to national interest, cohesion and unity.” The army spokesman, General Rabe Abubakar directly accused Amnesty of “taking sides with terrorists and other belligerent groups to cause internal disorder”. It turned out that the “protestors” were a rented crowd paid to protest apparently on behalf of the Nigerian army. Since this completely unjustifiable attack on Amnesty, a wide spectrum of human rights activists and Nigerians in general have protested against this vile behavior against a venerable and highly respected institution.
Amnesty International has played a major role as one of the most effective eyes of the world on violations of the rights of Nigerians. Amnesty International has regularly exposed the serious human rights violations and abuses allegedly committed by the military in the North East. Last year Amnesty investigated the allegations that the Nigerian military had shot dead at least 150 peaceful pro-Biafran protesters and confirmed that atrocities had indeed occurred. Amnesty International also investigated and published a detailed report on the massacre of hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria by the army. The report of the Commission of Inquiry established by the Kaduna State Government subsequently confirmed that the army had in fact killed 347 members of the Shiite Movement. This gave credibility to the Amnesty report and confirmed to the whole world that the Nigerian army had not been cured of its vice of committing atrocities against the Nigerian people. It is for this reason that Amnesty International must be protected as an important player in the protection of the rights of the Nigerian people.
The Nigerian security agencies in general have always had serious challenges on policing civil protests and actions. Repeatedly we have seen cases over the years in which they have turned against the people, brutalized them and wounded and killed many. Consolidating Nigerian democracy requires civilizing the policing of civil protests and actions. Rather than harass human rights organisations working to protect the people, Nigerian security agencies should focus on improving their understanding of the rights of Nigerians and training the officers and men to orient their action towards improve protection of rights.
As many human rights defenders have argued, President Muhammadu Buhari should urgently direct the Inspector General of Police to guarantee the security and safety of all human rights organisations in Nigeria. The Nigerian Government should in conformity with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Defenders should publicly reinstate support for the legitimate work of civil society groups including Amnesty International and other international NGOs operating in the country, and provide them with protection.
Jibrin Ibrahim, PhD
Centre for Democracy and Development
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