Last month, Mr. Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, in his usual manner, made the unfounded and false statement that some Nigerian NGOs “are working to destabilise Nigeria” – and went on to attack NGOs that had exercised their constitutional right to challenge the Nigerian government in a court of law over the Federal Government’s indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.
Nothing could be further from the truth than the minister’s wild claims and allegations. We reject the allegation that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and other NGOs that sued the Nigerian Government are working to destabilise Nigeria or against the country’s interest. We condemn the statement as a reckless attempt to incite Nigerians against NGOs and undermine their credibility.
We wish to state that the opposite is actually true – it is Nigerian NGOs that are striving to save Nigeria from being destabilised in the face of relentless efforts by Mr Mohammed and others like him in the government who are afraid of freedom of expression and other fundamental rights that should be enjoyed by all citizens of a democratic country.
Mr. Mohammed apparently believes that being a Minister gives him the authority to be the accuser, judge and jury and that anyone who disagrees with him or criticizes him, or the government he serves, is an enemy of the state. He could not be more wrong! In a constitutional democracy, citizens have a right and indeed a responsibility, either individually or in groups, to criticise their government and to insist that the government respects their fundamental rights and freedoms, within the laws of the land.
When Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, International Press Center (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (formerly known as Premium Times for Investigative Journalism), SERAP, Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD), four journalists and other Nigerian citizens sued Nigeria over the suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, it was precisely to vindicate the rights that citizens have to freely express their opinions and an effort to provide relief from thousands, perhaps millions of Nigerians whose sources of income and businesses depended on their ability to use the platform.
We remain convinced that the Government’s action was illegal and unwarranted. It was further evidence of the commitment of President Buhari’s administration to close civic spaces and clamp down on the rights of citizens.
While the cases are at various stages of the legal process at the Federal High Court and the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court, we remain committed to our work of upholding democracy – including the fundamental right to freedom of speech – in Nigeria.
Mr Mohammed stated that “…the government was in receipt of reports that some of the NGOs were on the payroll of foreign agents, traducers with ulterior motives to destabilise Nigeria”. We challenge him to release the list of these NGOs, along with those that are, according to him, “not working for the interests of the people of the nation” and proceed to prosecute them in accordance with Nigeria’s laws.
We know that Mr Mohammed was in charge of propaganda for his political party for many years before his party won the general elections in 2015, so we understand the need for him to counter any opposing view even if it is the truth. However, we wish to remind him that the same NGOs that worked to ensure people like him – and all citizens – enjoy their fundamental rights to freedom of expression are the same ones he is now seeking to suppress.
We will continue to support Nigeria’s democracy regardless of the reaction of temporary occupiers of various government seats. We remain committed to universally established democratic ideals and will continue to challenge any breach – or attempted breach – of the fundamental rights of citizens as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999, as amended), supported by other regional and international instruments that Nigeria has subscribed to.