Civic groups urge Nigeria’s rights commission to act on “anti-democratic” bills

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

Amnesty International and six other groups in Nigeria have requested the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Abuja, to take immediate actions on three “anti-democratic” bills before the National Assembly.

The bills are the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill, and the Civil Society Regulatory Commission Bill.

The groups, in a joint letter to NHRC, said they were concerned with “deliberate attempts by the State to close the democratic space and prevent every person from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights”.

The groups, therefore, want the NHRC to issue an advisory to the Nigerian government – the executive and the legislature – on the “inconsistencies of such legislations with constitutionally guaranteed human rights and international human rights norms to which Nigeria is a state party”

They also want NHRC to publish a report on the state of human rights in Nigeria.

The groups are Centre for Information Technology and Development; Girl Child Africa; Enough is Enough; Say No Campaign Nigeria; Spaces for Change; and Yiaga Africa.

The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, otherwise known as ‘Social Media Bill’ is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society, the groups said in the February 26, 2020 letter to the NHRC.

“Even though the Government’s purpose may be legitimate and substantial, that purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties.

“We strongly believe that the Bill contravenes extant constitutional provisions that guarantee right to freedom of expression. Restrictions that undermine the ability to receive and exchange information undermine the fundamental human rights provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and International treaties that Nigeria has agreed to be bound by,” the letter stated.

“Similarly, the Civil Society Regulatory Commission Bill (‘NGO Bill’) is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and other national laws.

“The Bill falls significantly short of international human rights norms governing the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, as provided in, Section 40 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Articles 10 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.

“Section 4 of the Independent National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill (‘Hate Speech Bill’) also prohibits abusive, threatening and insulting behavior, which is open to very wide interpretation.

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“The nebulous and vague nature of its provisions and unfettered discretion afforded government agencies pose significant danger to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression (Section 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria), and the rule of law in general. These provisions would pose a threat to critical opinion, satire, public dialogue, and political commentary,” the letter further stated.

The groups urged NHRC to stand up to its statutory responsibility to protect human rights in Nigeria.

They reminded the NHRC of the National Human Right Commission Act, 2010 (as amended) which empowers the commission to “deal with all matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and other international and regional instruments on human rights to which Nigeria is party”.

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They also reminded the commission that, besides being empowered to “examine any existing legislation, administrative provisions and proposed bills or bye-laws for the purpose of ascertaining whether such enactments or proposed bills or bye-laws are consistent with human rights”, is expected by law to “publish and submit, from time to time, to the President, National Assembly, Judiciary, State and Local Governments, reports on the state of human rights promotion and protection in Nigeria”.

The groups raised concerns over attacks on NGOs lately by the Nigerian government.

A few days ago, protesters suspected to have been sponsored by the government, besieged the Amnesty International’s office, Abuja, demanding the human rights group to leave Nigeria.


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