With the support of Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), a coalition of civil society worked to secure the detained protestors access to family and lawyers after months of being denied both. The 9 #EndSARS protestors from Rivers State were held, without an offer of bail, between 21 October 2020 and 17 February 2021.
The judge quickly ascertained the innocence of all 9 detainees, adding to the sense of injustice from months of avoidable detention—with the accompanying psychological, physical, and emotional impacts. Nigeria must remember that all people are to be treated as innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial. That means that suspects should be treated respectfully, and have their rights protected. In this case suspects had their rights to bail arbitrarily denied, right to a trial, right not to be held on indefinite detention, and right to representation all denied.
SDN and the coalition appreciate the Judiciary in Rivers State and the State Police Command for eventually responding to their calls to respect the rule of law, which resulted in the release of these 9 protestors. This highlights the importance of Rivers State, and its security agencies, allowing for proper investigation and respecting the right of citizens.
“I’m an apprentice, throughout the period I was in the prison I stopped learning and making the small money I make on a daily basis—being in the prison affected my income… The hardest thing for me inside the prison was eating the food and drinking the water they give to us, the water is not clean, the food is not nutritious, the air we breathe inside the prison is polluted… we also had to battle with insets such as bedbugs, mosquitos etc. I found it difficult to sleep because of the heat inside the prison room—we were eight of us sleeping in a small room. I missed my work, my siblings, my parents and my friends, I missed being free to move around whenever I want. I missed seeing the beautiful buildings in Port Harcourt, it gives me joy.”one of the nine #EndSARS detainees, after release.
In the course of the coalition’s advocacy they learned that many more citizens labelled as ‘suspects’ are still in detention, often without charge, and in inhumane conditions which will have potentially long-term health and economic impacts on their lives. We particularly appeal for the Rivers State Police Command, the Judiciary and State government to work transparently with civil society and expedite a fair trial for remaining ‘suspects’ so those found to also be innocent are released without further delay. We also ask that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) launch a nation-wide human rights investigation into the treatment and rights violations of #EndSARS protestors, including their fundamental right to protest without reprisal of the State. If the Police Command cooperate with this investigation, enforce internal accountability, and implement NHRC’s recommendations, this will begin to restore public trust in the police and politicians, which has been eroded over years, and expressed through the #EndSARS protests.
Notes to the editor:
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The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Civic Spaces is a coalition of civil society organisations convened by SDN to address the shrinking civic space in Rivers State. The coalition challenges the frequent violation of human rights by incessant and arbitrary arrests, deprivation of the rights to freedom and movement of persons, and also the absence of the rule of law in managing accused persons. The two focus areas of the coalition currently are: illegal arrest and wrongful detention, and environmental challenges and air pollution
Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) was established as a non-governmental not-for-profit organisation in 2004 to support those affected by the extractives industry and weak governance. SDN is based in the Niger Delta, and led by our local team with extensive experience of living and working there. This is reflected through a focus on pragmatic and positive solutions in our research and project work, sensitive to the political and social dynamics of the Niger Delta.
Demands of the coalition
- The Rivers State Police Command should prioritise the proper investigation into lingering cases of human rights abuses and police brutality, immediately charge suspects to courts within the stipulated time allowed by law, enforce respect for human rights, and show regard for the rule of law.
- Our extant laws (e.g. Anti-Torture Act of 2017) frown at torture and sees it as an infringement on human rights. Therefore, offenders of this heinous crime should be immediately prosecuted no matter how highly placed and connected.
- Those whose rights has been abused should begin to speak out in order to save many more persons and expose the abusers.
- Arbitrary delay in prosecution of cases is not just a breach of the constitutional rights of accused people but also gross violations of the Intentional Conventions and Instruments like the International Bill of Rights guaranteeing fundamental rights and freedoms. The Right to Bail is a constitutional right as guaranteed by the Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- Agencies of Government—the Police, correctional facilities, and other Law Enforcement Agencies—should become more accessible, transparent, and responsive to organisations promoting rights protection and enforcement. Currently, much of the driving force behind rights enforcement is sustained by the concerned voices of international agencies, activists, popular groups, professional organisations, and the media. These groups should be given support by government and all its agencies to help in ensuring fairness, justice, and equity for citizens
- Agencies of Government should incorporate Human Rights practices and standards in to their operating policies and programmes.
- An increased monitoring of correctional facilities by rights-based support groups to ascertain the state of human rights abuses in the state.
- The Rivers State government should go beyond policy enactment, and immediately implement recommendations made by the government’s panel on soot by setting up enforcement and monitoring teams that will ensure the most significant sources of soot are addressed. This is necessary to protect citizen’s right to a healthy environment, as set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights