Report Raises Alarm Over Shrinking Civic Space in Rivers State

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New research by Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) indicates that civic space in Rivers State is squeezed on all sides… and it’s getting worse. The situation is particularly bad for journalists, and groups representing women’s rights, who are reportedly the target of harassment, arbitrary arrest, and threats of violence in Rivers State.

On a more positive note, SDN’s research suggests that civil society organisations are gaining legitimacy and improving in their own accountability.

SDN’s research highlights the way Rivers State’s Quarantine Act and Rivers State Government Executive Order were quickly passed with powers that were just as quickly abused by the agencies responsible, with extortion reportedly widespread.

In a bizarre incident, six goats were even arrested for violating lockdown and not wearing a mask, likely so money could be extorted from the owners for their release.

According to the research report titlrd, “The status of civic space in Rivers State”, journalists are consistently reported to be the most at risk of having their safety and personal wellbeing threatened. In related research on press freedom, SDN finds journalists to be under pressure over what they investigate and publish. This can make it harder for civil society groups to hold political, and industry, leaders accountable. Recent events like the nationwide Twitter ban, or suspension, reinforce the findings of this research.

These difficulties can increase the challenges of living and working in an insecure environment, where safety and wellbeing is often under threat. Civic space has a key role in turning this situation around, by driving development and stabilization forward in society.

SDN’s senior programme officer, Flora Asieri said, “We hope that this research will be the start of a wider collaboration between civil society groups to defend the civic space that’s critical to hold government to account and prevent the kinds of frustrations that led to the #EndSARS protests, as well as help society rapidly respond to events like Covid19”.

The report calls on government to ensure full operationalization of the Police Reform Act (2020), to decentralize security provision, enable local policing structures, and form strong partnerships with vigilante groups, community leaders, and other groups to help promote community security.

The report also recommends that the judiciary should implement the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015), which promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, reduced time awaiting trial, and the protection of rights of citizens and victims.

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. It 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.

Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) supports those affected by the extractives industry and weak governance.

The NGO works with communities and engages with governments, companies and other stakeholders to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights, including the right to a healthy environment. Our work currently focuses on the Niger Delta.