Building Blocks for Peace Foundation in collaboration with the Action Group on Free Civic Space and with support from Funds for Global Human Rights organized a Multi-Stakeholders Dialogue under the theme ‘Improving Civil Military Relations in Southwest Nigeria’ on September 1, 2022 at Koltotel Plaza and Suites, Ikolaba, Ibadan, Oyo State.. The event was attended by over 50 stakeholders, including civil society representatives, peacebuilders, academics, state and local security actors, and media personnel.
Introduction of Participants and Welcome Address
Mr Rafiu Lawal (Executive Director, BBFORPEACE) while delivering his opening remarks, noted that the overall essence of the project was to operationalize and amplify findings from the recently-published three parts ‘Security Playbook’ by the Action Group on Free Civic Space, which chronicled extensive evidence of the misuse of security architecture to shrink the civic space in Nigeria and explore possible opportunities for mitigating these emerging tendencies.
The representative from the Secretariat of the Action group on Free Civic Space and Spaces for change in person of Miss Ololade spoke on what the Action Group on Free Civic Space is all about. She also gave an overview of the three reports of the security playbook:
- Security playbook of digital authoritarianism in Nigeria;
- Harms from abroad: Impact of global security measures on civic space in Nigeria; and
- Nigeria: Shrinking civic space in the name of security (which is where the report from Southwest Nigeria conducted by BBFORPEACE falls under).
Two questions were posed to the participants:
- What do they think about the state of the civic space in Nigeria? and
- What are the participants’ expectations from the dialogue between CSO and the security agencies?
A large percentage of those that submitted the pre-dialogue assessment expressed their concern on the worrisome state of civic space in Nigeria. On their expectation from the dialogue, most of them stated that they are interested in seeing workable strategies on how they can improve and enhance the civic space in Nigeria.
Some of them also wrote that they hope that the event will lead to greater partnership, networking, and collaboration between stakeholders so that they can collectively work to create a healthy environment where there is liberty, freedom, and human rights, and one where citizens’ rights are not violated in the name of security.
Others hoped that the dialogue would serve as a platform for stakeholders who have vested interest in development to learn from one another, especially on best practices to strengthen civil-military relations in the country. There were also comments that at the end of the meeting, an actionable plan should be mapped out for policy making.
Dr. Tola Winjobi, an AGFCS member based in Oyo State was invited to give the opening remark/keynote address in which he shed more light on the topic of the day’s dialogue. He explained what civic space is and then paid attention to the state-induced role in the shrinking of civic space in Nigeria as well as the need to protect the civic space from reprisals from state and non-state actors.
He looked at the different ways civic space is affected, stating that the civic space in Nigeria can be classified as narrowed but is gradually moving towards being obstructed, citing various examples of human rights violation and abuses in the country. He also stated that there is systematic oppressive and repressive activities and action by the government, which threatens Nigeria’s fledgling democracy as well as the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Finally, in view of the shrinking civic space, he gave several recommendations as well as charged Nigerian government and state security actors to:
- take concrete steps to reverse the trends of shrinking and closing civic space so as to protect and enable space for civil society;
- repeal and halt all obnoxious laws, policies, and bills stifling the operations of civil society including CAMA, social media bill, and hate speech bills that mete out death penalty on the violators;
- respect democratic country ownership of national development plans;
- hold effective, inclusive, and transparent consultations with civil society actors, including FBOs, CDAs, academia, human rights activities, national youth council, etc.
- hold effective and inclusive meetings between Government, NGOs, CSOs etc.;
- uphold the rule of law, shun impunity, respect human rights, and uphold all fundamental rights and freedoms.
He concluded by stating that the Nigerian Police Force should stop using lethal gadgets on demonstrators and should see citizens as their kith and kin who must be protected against dangers and rights violation.
Goodwill messages were taken from some of the stakeholders present at the meeting:
Government Representative: Mr Dayo Ogunbowale, the Special Adviser to the Oyo State Government on Communication spoke on the need for CSOs to work together. He went further to speak on the importance of social media and the need for CSOs to make use of social media to amplify their contributions to the socio economic development of Nigeria and importantly spread and discuss civic right matters. He gave examples of how Budgit and Tracka are making use of it and how other CSOs can maximize the usage of social media for civic activities.
He suggested that while we talk about things not working in the society, we should also talk about the things that are working. He concluded by commending the AGFCS for providing the platform for CSOs to work more as a coalition because a coalition of 20 organisations would have more effect and would be taken seriously by the government then when CSOs work individually.
EFCC Representative: The representative of EFCC in the person of Mr Hassan Saidu spoke about how EFCC interacts with the society and youths. He mentioned that civilians and civil society is a priority to the EFCC. He concluded by stating that the work that the EFCC does is to ensure that citizens are safe both locally and in the eyes of the international community.
NSCDC Representative: The representative of NSCDC in person of Mr Bukola during his welcome address mentioned that without the civil society, there would be nothing like the civil defense as it is part of the civil defence to protect the civil population.
Mr Kola Ibrahim presented the findings of the report on “shrinking civic space in the name of security: the case of southwest Nigeria” especially in relation to the rising insecurity in the country. The research looked at various themes, which include the #EndSARS protests and its aftermath; self-determination movement in the region; establishment of the western security network (codenamed operation Amotekun); rising insecurity (cattle open grazing, kidnapping, banditry), as well as government’s anti-rhetoric. He stated that the research was conducted using both desk research and fieldwork, with 108 informants interviewed across the six southwestern states.
He gave a clearer view of civic space, using the United Nations Human Rights Commission definition, which sees civic space as the environment that enables civil society to play a role in the political, economic, and social life of any society. It also relates to the ability of citizens to exercise their rights in three basic areas: freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly. He then touched on how the civic space in Nigeria is fast shrinking, citing several cases of abuse of citizens’ rights by state security agencies using the pretext of national security. According to him, some of the recent cases of government attack on civic space using national security include:
- Government’s response to #EndSARS protest and the aftermath;
- Government’s response to self-determination agitation in the Southwest region;
- Arrest and securitization of protest movement;
- Attack on civil society through legislation and regulations;
- Attack on the free press through legislation and regulations.
He also mentioned some legislations and regulation that impinged free press, right to freedom of association, examples of which include the Social media bill, National commission for prohibition of hate speech bill, NGO regulation bill, Press regulation bill, Anti Protest bill, etc. He stated that while some of the bills have been dropped due to civic society protest, all of these act as an attack on civic space.
He also gave a brief overview of the findings of the report based on several identified themes. He concluded by providing several recommendations for the Nigerian government, civil society, and media that came up from the study. He encouraged participants to read the full report, which is available online. The presentation ended with participants making their comments and observations while the lead researcher responded accordingly.
Some of the key observations, suggestions, and debates among participants based on the research report include the need for the Western Nigerian Security Network (Amotekun) to have a prosecuting power as it will strengthen them to do their work.
The first session of the dialogue ended with a group photograph after which there was a short tea break which gave participants some time to network among themselves as well as reflect on some of the information garnered from the session. At the end of the tea break/networking, participants regrouped for the final session of the day, which featured the panel discussion session that was moderated by Mr Rafiu Lawal.
The panel sessions featured a representative from the Oyo State government, a human right activist, and the state security agencies especially the NSCDC and EFCC. Mr Dayo (Oyo State Government) spoke on the importance of the CSO to Nigeria’s national development and progress. He highlighted how CSOs are supporting to build democracy in Nigeria, supporting governance and the economy through anti-corruption interventions and projects etc. He concluded that no one should see CSOs as anti-government but as partners in progress.
The representative from the NSCDC provided an insight on how we can strike a working balance between trying to combat the threat we face in the country and protecting the civic space. He recommended that CSOs improve on the way they reach out to security agencies and should ensure that they are duly carried along.
The representatives of the EFCC spoke on the intent behind some of the policies and framework targeted at CSOs.
The human right activist, Comrade Abbey Bamigboye shed light on some of the abuses he has faced in the hands of various security agencies in the name of protecting national security. He narrated how he has been picked up severally by officers of the DSS in Ibadan all because he led and supported a workers protest against casualisation in a certain factory in Oyo State. According to him, he was charged to court for public disturbance and incitement of unrest in the state. According to him, the court refused to hear his case after he was represented by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in court. Abbey concluded that part of the violations that we see from security agencies is as a result of their poor welfare, salary and condition of service. He therefore encouraged that CSOs should intensify efforts to advocate for better welfare and condition of service for the security actors.
At the end of the panel discussion, questions were taken from the participants with the panelist responding appropriately. Some of the key recommendations that came up from the dialogue include:
- There is the need for CSOs to come to the aid and defense of the security actors when they face abuse from civilians.
- Citizens must show interest in the lives and welfare of the police and other security agencies in the country otherwise, there can be no cordial relationship between the civilians and security actors.
- There is a need for CSOs to meaningfully engage the military in the work that they do.
- There is a need for CSOs to involve faith-based actors in discourses like this because they also have a role to play in sensitizing the public.
- Information sharing is important between CSOs and state security agencies.
The meeting came to an end with participants filling the post-evaluation form in which they also gave their recommendations as well as made their individual and institutional commitments on strategies that they can adopt to improve civil-military relations in the country. This was followed by the closing remarks, lunch, and departure, with the participants leaving energized from a fruitful interactive session.
Individual and Institutional Commitment
Participants were asked to state the individual or institutional commitment that they will take as an outcome from the dialogue event to strengthen civil-military relations. Among the responses received, about 80 percent committed to raising awareness and organizing community sensitization programmes in schools, churches, mosques, and market places to educate the public on the issues related to civic space as well as the role that they can play in strengthening the relationship between civil actors and security actors for peaceful coexistence.
Others committed to leading advocacy missions, increasing collaboration with other CSOs, conducting more research on the topic, and reorienting the public especially those in ghettos and slums who may not be privileged to attend these kinds of gatherings. Some participants also commit to engaging more with the security agencies in order to build trust and confidence.
On institutional commitment, most of the representatives of various institutions present committed to passing the message and best practices garnered from the meeting to those in positions of power and authority in their organisation. They also commit to fostering partnership and collaboration between various stakeholders, as well as to incorporating the recommendations from the event in their work.