Feature Article by Chidinma Okpara, Program Officer, Nigeria Network of NGOs.
CREATING A SAFE SPACE FOR NIGERIANS
Nigeria is committed to the promotion of the fundamental human rights of its citizens with the ratification and domestication of international treaties, however, compliance with international and regional human rights obligations such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) are not limited to the enactment of legislations, but extend to effective enforcement to determine the level of compliance of the Nigerian government to protecting the rights of its citizenry.
Over time, the civic space in Nigeria has declined. A scan of the laws, policies, institutions and practices, shows that the Nigerian civic space is regularly violated. This level of violation and constraint has led to the categorization of Nigeria by the CIVICUS monitor as a ‘REPRESSED’ state since 2019. This means that democratic freedoms – such as the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association – are significantly constrained in the country.
The polity has witnessed an increase in restrictive laws, seen in the rate of surveillance, censorship, and restrictions on the internet and press as reflected in the #EndSARS protest, Twitter ban, and fine on stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). Citizens’ rights to freely express themselves and assemble have been threatened by the incessant use of force, arrest of protesters and silence of contradictory/ opposing voices, which is more amplified in recent times.
An analysis of civic space restrictions showed an increase in intimidation, harassment, and attacks on journalists in Nigeria which was evident in the 2019 and 2023 general elections, predominantly carried out by security officers (Department of State Security and the Nigerian Police). It was reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that at least 28 journalists were harassed, beaten, or attacked while covering the 2023 gubernatorial and state assembly elections across Nigeria. 
During the previous (2018) Universal Periodic Review -UPR (i.e., the review of human rights records of United Nations member states), Nigeria committed to “protect and promote freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly to create a safe and favourable environment for human rights defenders, journalists and civil society”. However, this has not been fully implemented as recent evidence shows that security agents have played a key role in violating the rights of citizens, especially in the freedom of assembly and expression.
Despite the enactment of the Police Act 2020, excessive use of force by security forces still prevails in Nigeria, this should be publicly condemned at all levels and perpetrators brought to justice. As Nigeria prepares for another UPR review, proactive measures need to be taken by the government of Nigeria to ensure the rights of citizens are not clamped down, especially by the authorities that are meant to protect their rights. Also, a framework should be adopted to cushion the Intimidation and attacks on journalists and the citizens of Nigeria.