This report is based on research in Rivers State, Nigeria, on the status of civic space, and the implications for individuals and organisations seeking to defend and expand civil and political rights. This research was undertaken as part of a wider project to increase collaboration between different civil society groups to work together to defend civic space in Rivers State.
Two key incidents were unfolding during the research period—the response to the global Covid19 pandemic, and various incidents of police brutality that triggered nationwide #EndSARS protests. These feature as case studies throughout the report, to illustrate the important role of civic space during difficult times, and highlight the corresponding efforts of state and non-state actors to constrain civic space when they feel under pressure.
Key recommendations generated by participants in the research for civil society, government, the judiciary, and security agencies, are as follows. Further discussions are planned to refine these ideas.
For civil society:
- CSOs and the NBA should educate citizens on their civic rights, so that they are better informed and can hold the government accountable.
- CSOs should also build the capacity of young people in activism, advocacy, and for designing specific demands/reforms that will improve democratic governance.
- Journalists and CSOs should campaign for press freedom against unconstitutional regulations and sanctions from the government, so that the press can openly critique public service and policies, and increase the positive impact on the lives of citizens.
For the government:
- The National Assembly and Presidency should ensure full operationalisation of the Police Reform Act (2020),to decentralise security provision, enable local policing structures, form strong partnerships with vigilante groups, community leaders, and other groups to help promote community security.
- The government at all levels should increase political representation of marginalised groups – especially women, youth, and people living with disability – into decision-making and governance structures to improve service delivery.
- The Rivers State House of Assembly should adopt the freedom of information law, and the state government should build the capacity of institutions to respond to requests, to improve government transparency, accountability, and trust with citizens.
For the judiciary:
- The judiciary should implement the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015)- which promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy trials and dispensation of justice, and protection of rights of citizens and victims. Implementing this will improve citizen’s trust in the judiciary and access to justice for victims of the security agencies.
- The judiciary should also support victims to enforce judgements so that government institutions and security agencies pay the compensation awarded to victims and their families.
For security agencies:
- The Security agencies – including the police, army, and civil defence corps – should embrace CSOs and citizens to improve relations, collaboration, and reduce tensions, through regular town hall engagements or meetings.
See our related issue brief on freedom of the press in the Niger Delta