The Resource Center for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) has called on the International Criminal Court and the Federal government to address what it described as gross misconduct threatening the democracy of Nigeria.
The group said there are numerous undemocratic practices carried out in recent times by the political and judicial system in the obstruction of Justice and fight on corrupt practices.
In a statement made available at a press conference, Monday in Abuja, the Executive Director CHRICED Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi described the country as one manned with authoritarian recklessness and shrinking in it’s civic space.
Dr Zikirullahi decried the incessant disobedience to judicial verdict, regulations of social media and the abuse of state power and resources to rob citizens of freedom to express their democratic preference through election as very disturbing, stating that the end result of such arrogant behaviour is anarchy.
He therefore call on respective authorities to take punitive measures to address the issues for democracy to reign supreme.
Below is the statement in part:
“It is true that our country is confronted with many problems, that could cause all of us despair, and drive us toward giving up our patriotic roles in the process of nation building; conversations such as the one we are having here today, would always remind us that we have a duty to move from the point of agonising to the point of organising.
“Across this country, millions of citizens have invested their hopes in our democracy. There is a groundswell of expectations that as our fledgling democratic system of government takes shape; it will address the deprivations faced by the long-suffering citizens. Despite the failure of our emerging democracy to deliver impactful and sustainable development to the citizens of our country in the last two decades, Nigerians at the grassroots level still believe in and yearn for a democratic order.
“Notwithstanding its imperfections however, we believe democracy remains the most effective vehicle to enable citizens participate in governance, and for us as a people to realise our national aspirations. It is pertinent to recall that many Nigerians stood in the frontlines to wage the struggle for democracy. They sacrificed their time, blood and sweat for the democratic system to take roots.
” Those were not mean sacrifices because many paid the ultimate price because of the belief that our national greatness lies in the nurturing and consolidation of a democratic order. In the face of the Many travails faced by democracy and the rule of law, it is critical that all well-meaning citizen groups ensure they speak the truth to power. CHRICED as a platform of active citizens working for the promotion of democracy and accountable governance deems it critical to provide perspectives on urgent issues, which have serious implications for the stability, order and good governance in the Nigerian polity.
Shrinking Civic Space
The Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) is convinced of and committed to the principles of justice, truth, liberty, rule of law and respect for the human rights of all, especially the vulnerable, underprivileged and minority groups as the necessary foundation for a peaceful and prosperous nation. Therefore, if the very system of democracy based on the rule of law, free speech and plurality of voices is being assailed on the altar of authoritarian recklessness, with persistent assault on the hopes of the ordinary citizen, we will speak out. Indeed where lies the hope of the ordinary citizen?
“This question is fundamental given many recent trends and certain developments, that point to an unapologetic assault on democratic and civil rights by the current crop of political elite. One very worrisome instance is the emerging trend of flagrant disobedience to judicial verdicts. We are seeing very disturbing situations in which the government of the day is now taking it as its prerogative to pick and choose, which particular court orders or decisions to obey. For us at CHRICED, we are of the reasoned position that the judicial power of the State is in theory and practice the modulator of all the contests in the social space. Every government is bound by the decision of the courts.
“Governments are subject to the laws of the land, and the verdicts of the courts. No regime in a democratic system is beyond the corrective measure of the judicial process. Therefore, when wilful and flagrant disobedience of court orders is being instituted as a culture by the government, the very dangerous message being passed to citizens is that the government is above the law. The effect of such reckless erosion of a prime pillar of law and order is that citizens would stop believing in the efficacy of the judicial process and its outcomes. The end result of such arrogant behaviour is anarchy. CHRICED calls on institutions of the State, particularly the Department of States Services (DSS), which has been depriving citizens of their freedoms in defiance of court orders to understand the damage, that their impunity is doing to the stability and orderly governance of our country.
CHRICED similarly condemns the emerging culture of abuse and abridgement of citizens rights, and the attacks on free press. We reject the use of public resources to muzzle and emasculate free speech and alternative voices, which are all corner stones of the democratic order. CHRICED stands with journalists, pro-democracy activists, and all the messengers of truth who are making sacrifices to confront tyranny, oppression, corruption and bad governance in our country. We call for the release, based on the order of competent courts of Comrade Omoyele Sowore; we also call for the unconditional release of the journalist and anti-corruption crusader Agba Jalingo, who is being hounded by the Governor of Cross River State for daring to ask questions about accountability in the use of public funds.
“We call for the release of Dadiyata an outspoken critic of bad governance, who has gone missing for over 100 days now in what is suspected to be an abduction meant to keep him out of circulation. CHRICED stands in support with all other activists, including young people who are being arrested and sent to jail for making critical comments on the state of our country. We know it for a fact that they have defied the odds to raise their voices against the oppression of their fellow citizens. Related to shrinking of the civic space is the move by the National Assembly to regulate social media, and enact death for hate speech law. This is a diversionary pursuit, which adds nothing to the quest for a better polity.
“CHRICED is of the view that the regulation of social media as being contemplated by the National Assembly is an assault on the constitutionally guaranteed right of citizens to free speech. While we do not in any way endorse the use of social media to promote hate speech, fake news, misinformation and disinformation, it is an overreach for political actors to use the legislative power to deny the rights of citizens to free expression.
“Moreover, the Nigerian Cybercrime Act 2015 and other provisions in the criminal law legislations in the respective states already has sufficient provisions to address the gaps in the law relating to misuse of new media, sedition, defamation, etc. CHRICED has thoroughly analysed the motivations for these ill-conceived legislations. The political elite are acting on the basis that they are untouchable because they are in control of political power today. This feeling of invincibility is giving them the confidence that the draconian legislations they are trying to enact would only be used to haul others into jail. Little do they realise that the power which they wield today, is transient.
” The rabid champions of these legislations do not seem to realise that if they do not thread with caution, they could someday become victims of the very legislations, which they are attempting to enact to harass other citizens. CHRICED wishes to admonish the arrow heads of these discredited bills to rather shift their focus to more productive ventures including legislating to tackle dilapidated health infrastructure, collapsed education system, poverty, crimes, unemployment, corruption and terrorism.
Bringing Electoral Criminals to Justice
Bayelsa and Kogi States elections have come and gone but leaving behind a trail of sorrow, tears and blood. For us at CHRICED, we cannot consider the shows in the two states as democratic elections because both failed to meet the minimum standards for free, fair and credible polls that are universally recognized for election to be accepted. CHRICED observed how the abuse of state power and resources is rubbing off on the freedom of citizens to express their democratic preferences using the electoral process.
The recent elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States testify to the degeneration of the electoral process, and the assault on the sanctity of the vote. It is unacceptable that 20 years after the advent of the current democratic order, the political actors, who are busy talking about hate speech and social media regulation cannot regulate their unruly conduct, which has undermined our electoral process.
In the Kogi election for instance, Nigerians witnessed how thugs sponsored by politicians overran the electoral terrain, causing the death of innocent citizens and the disruption of the process. These dastardly acts on Election Day were followed by the very wicked act wherein thugs celebrating their blood-soaked victory in the election set ablaze the home of the PDP women leader in Ofu Local Government Area of Kogi State. These very terrible acts were orchestrated by the political elite to take away the voice of citizens so that they (the politicians) continue to wield power without accountability. CHRICED condemns these brazen acts of impunity.
“In the face of the lackadaisical attitude of the ruling party to ensure such electoral criminals are held to account, citizens and citizen groups must now consider exploring offshore alternatives. It is high time the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which Nigeria is signatory plays a role in ensuring democratic accountability in the face of impunity in Nigeria. CHRICED calls on stakeholders to consider steps to invoke the ICC’s principle of the right to protect to save innocent voters in Nigeria from the hands of politicians weaponizing thugs to win elections.
Utilising Proceeds of Corruption to Alleviate Sufferings of the Poor and Vulnerable.
“If there is one front where civil society and the government have worked with utmost synergy, it is in the fight against corruption. Civil Society Organisations have made enormous sacrifices in terms of time and resources to take the message of anti-corruption to the grassroots. Notwithstanding the success of this synergy, the fundamental question relates to how these efforts have had practical meaning in terms of the use of recovered proceeds of corruption for the benefit of citizens.
“Apart from the Abacha loot, which is being disbursed by the government through the Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT) and monitored by CSOs, the other recoveries made by the anti-corruption agencies are sitting idly in the national treasury. On many occasions in the past, CHRICED had called for these recovered proceeds of corruption to be used to execute a specific set of high impact intervention projects across the country. These projects will be visible to the ordinary citizen, and there will be clear attribution stating that the funds used to deliver the projects are specific recoveries made from a recognized set of looters.
“This is how we believe the country should demonstrate the devastating effect of corruption, and how it has robbed citizens of the basic infrastructure and welfare they are entitled to. For us therefore, the current unimaginative approach wherein the government talks about ploughing the funds into the national budget for normal capital and recurrent expenditure is simply not good enough or transparent, and shows the lack of initiative on this issue.
“As recent information from the ICPC has shown, several Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) will rather sit on these monies or pad the budget in order to siphon the monies to private bank accounts. CHRICED is therefore forced to ask why the administration makes the effort to recover stolen resources, only to hand them back to the system from which they got stolen in the first place? This approach is more frustrating when it is considered that millions of Nigerians continue to groan in the face of bad roads, poorly funded and ill-equipped health centres, and dilapidated school buildings. For us therefore, the use of recovered funds and assets must be driven by bold and fresh ideas to address the problems of poverty, malnutrition, maternal and newborn mortality, insecurity and other problems facing the ordinary citizen.
VAT, Sundry Charges and Plight of Citizens
CHRICED has followed the debate on the Federal Government’s proposed increment of Value Added Tax (VAT) to 7.5 percent. For us, the idea of taxation without a bold and imaginative effort to create wealth and lift citizens out of poverty is a recipe for economic disaster. It is our considered view that our policy makers are only looking for the easiest way out of the revenue constraints; this is the thinking that is motivating VAT increment. In a country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world, the first discussion must be wealth creation, not draconian taxation. With N30,000 minimum wage still practically in the limbo, especially as many states talk of not being able to pay, the discussion should first focus on how to generate wealth through employment creation.
“If over 70 million Nigerians have been practically shut out of the national economy because they are in the bracket of extreme poor, the implication is that they will neither produce nor consume on the scale that can generate revenue either from VAT or any other form of taxation. Beyond the VAT debate however is the key question; has the government itself added value to the economic environment to elicit the kind of activities, which would generate wealth and provide a basis for taxation? In a country where power supply remains as epileptic as if it is a war zone, where the transport system is practically non-existent, and where insecurity remains chronic, the important conversation should be how to fix these key areas to provide a basis for economic growth. Between 1999 and 2018, over 67 Trillion Naira was budget by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“Within same period, the out of school children rose from 9 million to 10 million. Maternal and new-born mortality also rise astronomically. It is clear that it is not more money that the government need, but critical thinking and planning.
CHRICED Action Civics Network Coming Soon Invited guests, distinguished media friends, in conclusion, let me say that in the face of the challenges discussed above, it is imperative that we as citizens take the initiative.
“The political elites are taking advantage of the absence of vibrant and resilient civil society coalition or network currently in the country to reign impunity in the polity. CHRICED is poised to fill this void. As we admonished before, let us work to organise, not just to agonise on these issues.
“To this end, I have the honour to inform you that CHRICED will be working in concert with citizens at the grassroots to float and drive the innovative Action Civics Network (ACNET). The network will be the vehicle to articulate and put into practice a number of the ideas around democratic participation and good governance, which we have espoused for long. Action civics is a methodology which provides the framework for the people to participate in the democratic process, not as passive onlookers of government actions, but as active participants, who get involved, learn and play their roles for the orderly governance of society. Further details of the plans and the launch date of the network will be communicated in due course. Thank you for your kind attention. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.