As part of SDN’s Defend civic space project, we’re supporting investigative journalism in 2020 and 2021 through trainings and commissions to investigate abuses of power during #EndSARS protests and ongoing soot pollution in Port Harcourt City. Maintaining an informed public is key to holding government, its agencies, and corporations accountable for their actions and protecting democracy. One major source of public information is from investigative journalism. SDN, therefore, invited 16 journalists (6 men, 10 women) reporting on threats to civic space, freedom and basic human rights in 2020 to trainings in investigative journalism, to support a factual and critical voice in the Nigerian media. In particular, SDN reached out to journalists covering two of the major events in Nigeria of 2020 which had a controversial government response:
- First, the incidents of violent repression in response to #EndSARS protests and the lingering challenges in holding some of those responsible to account.
- Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has been used by Nigerian state actors to justify further restrictions on civic freedoms. An example is the presidential directive prohibiting certain media organisations from covering the activities of the presidency or the ordering of state agents to shoot at-sight escapees from isolation centres. At the time of writing most restrictions and Covid19 related security measures are being wound down but a few measures remain in place and seem likely to be enforced with little justification relating to the safety measure they purportedly represent.
In December 2020, SDN commissioned a group of the investigative journalists recently trained to jointly investigate two live issues:
- The illegal detention of citizens in prison and police cells in connection with the recent #EndSARS protests in Rivers State. The findings will be shared with civil society and the public to be used in defending their freedom of expression and movement. An article has been published in the National Point new source from this commission.
- The ongoing public concern of soot pollution around Port Harcourt City. This investigation builds on our own research around ‘dirty fuels’ and aims to uncover the associated health risks relating to the soot pollution, and why the state committee—created to give an update on the soot pollution—has not made any of those updates public. The results of this investigation have been made public to mobilise campaigning for state action to reduce soot pollution, and for the public release of updates from the state committee created to look into it. An article has been published in the Guardian as a result.
The investigations aim to support ongoing work by civil society organisations in Rivers State to investigate, document, and campaign on challenges to freedom of expression and movement in Rivers State, and a lack of transparency and accountability within state government and its agencies.