Leading Nigerian civil society organisations, advocacy groups and individuals were joined by a Senator on Wednesday to condemn the attack on Amnesty International, AI, by a controversial group.
A group, Global Peace and Rescue Initiative, GOPRI, had on Monday protested at the head office of Amnesty International Nigeria demanding the organisation leave the country within 24 hours for releasing reports critical of Nigerian military operations across the country.
A coalition of 40 prominent civic groups in Nigeria, however, condemned the group for its action.
The coalition, in a statement signed by leaders of each of the 40 groups, noted that GOPRI has not provided any alternative facts or information to debunk the issues contained in the AI reports.
“We wish to state unequivocally that neither the group ‘Global Peace and Rescue Initiative (GOPRI)’ nor its leader is a known entity within the Nigerian civil society community.
“We have no iota of doubt that the protest the group has embarked on is procured and orchestrated. Members of the group have been paid to do the hatchet job for cowards in high places who are uncomfortable with the hard facts and truths contained in the evidence-based reports by AI,” the coalition said.
“It is useful to point out that AI-Nigeria is a fully Nigerian organisation, registered in Nigeria, whose members are Nigerians. We stand solidly in solidarity with AI and urge the protesters to give peace a chance and to respect the fundamental rights of AI to freedom of expression. They have nowhere to go and they are not going anywhere.
“We urge the government of Nigeria to independently investigate all AI reports and findings with a view to ensuring redress and accountability for the violations documented in them.”
In his reaction to GOPRI’s call, the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Shehu Sani, said: “Those opposed to the presence of Amnesty International in Nigeria are those inconvenient with its truth as contained in its findings and reports.
“Those who want a reputable human rights organisation like the Amnesty International out of our country are atrocious elements of darkness, allergic to the light of truth. They want a light out to give them the license to operate without transparency and accountability.”
The lawmaker said although “protest is a fundamental rights for all Nigerians but this one against Amnesty International is one of ‘the voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau’.
“Campaigners against Amnesty international do not represent the conscience of our people but the interest of their puppeteers uncomfortable with the score-sheet of their conduct.”
Also condemning the protests, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, in a statement requested that President Muhammadu Buhari urgently direct the Inspector General of Police to end the invasion of the Amnesty International Office.
“I am seriously concerned that the police would allow some apparently hired protesters to invade the AI office in Abuja in broad daylight and subject its staff members to intimidation and harassment. These intruders have impeded the work of the organisation and threatened the safety and security of its members of staff who are all Nigerian citizens.
“AI should not be harassed and stigmatised simply for exposing the human rights violations and abuses by the military in the North-East of the country. To allow that to happen is to endanger and undermine the work of not only AI but also other civil society groups in the country. This will in turn create a climate of fear and send an intimidating message to the human rights movement in particular and the entire country in general.
Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, called for an investigation of the protesters.
The group at the centre of the controversy, however, appears undisturbed by the criticisms that have trailed its actions.
GOPRI on Wednesday continued its protest against Amnesty International.
On Monday, the group had barricaded the Abuja office of Amnesty International and asked the international organisation to quit Nigeria within 24 hours.
Speaking for the protesters, its leader, Melvin Ejeh, said that the group would lead other Nigerians on a five-day Occupy Amnesty International protest as a first warning, if the organisation does not shut down its operations and leave Nigeria.
Mr. Ejeh said organizations like the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, and the Global Amnesty Watch had condemned a recent report by AI which alleged human rights abuses by Nigerian security agencies against arrested Boko Haram suspects.
He accused AI of having ulterior motives.
On Wednesday, the protesters marched to AI’s office with a coffin bearing the inscription, “RIP Amnesty International.”
Many of the protesters declined to speak with reporters, referring all questions to their leader, Mr. Ejeh.
Mr. Ejeh said the group was genuine and believed the Amnesty International reports contained several inaccuracies.
When asked to mention the inaccuracies, he said the group would release a detailed statement with the highlights.
Members of the group were later seen sharing money among themselves, an indication they could have been hired to partake in the protest.
The Amnesty International reports had accused the Nigerian Army of extrajudicial killings in its handling of the Boko Haram suspects in Borno, handling of pro-Biafra protesters and killing of over 300 Shiites in Kaduna.