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We the People Raise Alarm over Shrinking Civic Space in Nigeria, Trains Journalists, Bloggers and Activists to Defend the Space

In the last five years, Nigeria has witnessed an alarming rise in state backed attempts to stifle the civic
space, criminalize democratic dissent and suffocate freedom of assembly and expression. In this period,
there has been at least three legislative attempts made to stifle basic freedoms and the civic space.
These have included attempts to pass a bill to curtail the activities of NGOs, Hate Speech bill, Social
Media bill and the new CAMA bill which seeks to regulate the leadership of civil society organizations.
Other strategies have been characterized by state sponsored protests aimed at intimidating vocal
organizations. On at least five different occasions, following the publication of reports on human rights
in Nigeria, the office of Amnesty International has been besieged by paid protesters demanding that the
rights body leaves Nigeria. These calls have also been re-echoed by the Nigerian military who routinely
condemn reports by AI that indict Nigerian security forces, demanding accountability for rights abuses
and excessive use of force. The real motive behind these protests have been to pressure Amnesty
International into ending further reports of abuses by law enforcement. There has also been a notable
increase in actions by the government to criminalize dissent nationwide. On many occasions, legitimate
protests have been disrupted and peaceful protesters arrested. States have made executive
pronouncements banning protests in their domains against constitutionally protected fundamental
In the fast spreading spree of abuses, Journalists have not been spared. All over the country, journalists
continue to be exposed to abuses and infringements on the freedom of expression. On a regular basis,
journalists are intimidated and arrested for performing their tasks. Bloggers are also subjected to
bullying primarily aimed at ensuring they stay within boundaries of state censorship.
On the 30 th and 31 st of August 2020, We the People and CrossRiverWatch organized a training for
journalists, activists and bloggers on strategies for defending the civic space and staying afloat.
In resisting the closing civil space, the training explored four strategies that have been effective. The first
is an active collaboration between the media, activists and NGOs. This collaboration which should be
based on shared campaign goals, is critical in ensuring that government actions in closing the civic space
are regularly highlighted and kept in the front burner of public discussion; and that the government is
continuously pressured to respect citizens’ rights to speech and assembly.
The second strategy is research, documentation and advocacy. The training noted that through
researches, evidence is generated to counter the narratives of the government on the reason for
restricting civic spaces. The third strategy is through acts of visible dissent. This happens through
demonstrations and other acts of protests against government actions restricting civic space. The fourth
strategy is through externalizing campaigns across national and international boundaries.
The training which brought together media practitioners and activists from 7 states in Nigeria resulted in
the establishment of a network for collaboration on the defense of the shrinking civic space in Nigeria.