The United States has accused authorities in Nigeria of massive corruption and stifling of free speech in 2020.
The US stated this in the ‘2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,’ released on Tuesday, but made available to The PUNCH on Wednesday.
In their separate reactions on Wednesday, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and a former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwumadu, berated the regime of Muhammadu Buhari.
Expressing concern about corruption in Nigeria, the US, in the report, stated that it was widespread and pervasive at all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services.
Against the backdrop of President Muhammadu Buhari regime’s anti-graft stance, the US Department of State, which authored the report, said there were numerous allegations of government corruption last year.
It cited the arrest and investigation of the former acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, for graft.
‘Many corruption cases pending due to procedural delays’
It observed that many corruption cases, particularly the high-profile ones, remained pending before the court due to administrative or procedural delays.
The report stated, “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
“Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services. There were numerous allegations of government corruption during the year.”
Accusing government of stifling press freedom, the report stated that the political leaders instructed security forces to harass journalists covering sensitive topics such as human rights abuses, electoral malpractices, high-level public corruption, and the war against terrorism.
It states, “Security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including the DSS (Department of State Services) and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticised the government.’’
While noting that the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the US said there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression.
“Authorities in the north at times restricted free speech by labelling it blasphemy,” it stated, noting that critics were subjected to threats, intimidation, arrest, detention, and sometimes violence.
It stated, “Army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who provided, or were perceived to have provided, information to journalists or NGOs on misconduct by the military.
“On at least six occasions, journalists were charged with treason, economic sabotage, or fraud when uncovering corruption or public protests.
“Numerous journalists were killed, detained, abducted, or arrested during the year (2020),” the report pointed out.
The Department of State cited the killing of a reporter for the RegentAfrica Times magazine, Alex Ogbu by policemen while covering an Islamic Movement in Nigeria protest in Abuja on January 21, 2020, and an intern with Gboah tv, Onifade Pelumi, on October 24, in Lagos.
It stated that the Federal Government used regulatory oversight to restrict press freedom, notably clamping down on television and radio stations, over alleged violations of amendments to the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
It noted, ‘’Citing violations of amendments to the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code in August, the NBC fined local radio station Nigeria Info 99.3 FM for comments by the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, on insecurity in the country.
“The NBC also sanctioned private television stations Africa Independent Television, Channels TV and Arise News during October’s #EndSARS protests, alleging their reportage of the nationwide protests relied on unverifiable video footage from social media handles.’’
According to the US, there were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings, noting that some culprits when found culpable, were held accountable.
But impunity in such cases, it said, remained a significant problem, adding that the police, army, and other security services sometimes used force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects.
‘’In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies did not always follow due process, arresting suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants,’’ the report asserted.
It also cited the October 20 Lekki tollgate #EndSARS protest where security forces enforced curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse the protesters, stating that accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end.
It further said, ‘’Several unofficial military detention facilities continued to operate, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Although conditions in the Giwa Barracks detention facility reportedly improved, detainees were not always given due process and were subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention.
“There were no reports of accountability for past deaths in custody, nor for past reports from Amnesty International alleging that an estimated 20,000 persons were arbitrarily detained between 2009 and 2015, with as many as 7,000 dying in custody.’’
The US alluded to reports that indicated that soldiers, police, the Civilian Joint Task Force, and others committed sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls, adding that such exploitation and abuse were a concern in internally displaced persons’ camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the North-East
The report stated that the Boko Haram had killed and maimed thousands and abducted over 2,000 persons as estimated by some NGOs, noting that the sect engaged in sexual abuse and exploitation of its victims.
The Buhari regime came under attack over the US’ assessment of human rights and corruption in Nigeria in 2020.
Rights abuses under Buhari worse than under military rule, says PDP
Opposition PDP agreed with the US report, saying every Nigerian was aware that the present regime was guilty of rights abuses.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said this in an interview with one of our correspondents.
Ologbondiyan said rights abuses under the present regime were worse than what the country witnessed under military rule, particularly the regime of late General Sani Abacha.
He said, “In all honesty, every Nigerian knows that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is guilty of many abuses of human rights.
“For instance, the APC is claiming that it is encouraging women participation in politics, whereas, we have had situations where women who are participating in politics have gone through life-scaring situations, including being killed.
“Another example is that the right to protest is vehemently being destroyed by the government of this country going by what we witnessed in Lekki and going by what has been going on the streets of Abuja in respect of protests.
“In totality, the Buhari administration has abused rights in a propensity that even under the military, particular under General Abacha, we did not witness.”
On his part, a former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Ugwumadu, in an interview with The PUNCH, described the verdict of the US as depressing.
According to him, the global verdict diminishes the known ingredients of democracy.
He said, “Those constitutive blocks of democracy are free speech, rule of law, independent and impartiality of the judiciary, periodic and credible electoral process through universe adult suffrage, respect and obedience of court order and of course security. The Federal government should not be put off by such verdict.”
The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said the report simply highlighted the endemic corruption under the Buhari regime.
He argued that corruption had been institutionalised under this government, noting that it required a foreign government to tell the FG the truth.
Atoye said, “The report from the US is not far from the truth. Corruption is not only alarming, it has now been fully institutionalised by the Buhari administration. Impunity has become the order of the day such that we are now in a government where graft is thicker than justice
FG keeps mum
Efforts by The PUNCH to get the Federal Government’s reaction to the US report failed on Wednesday.
When contacted for the government’s reaction, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said since the report had to do with the government, The PUNCH should contact the Ministry of Information for government’s reaction.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, did not take his calls when our correspondent made attempts to contact him on the telephone.
He had also yet to respond to the text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
The same scenario played out when our correspondent tried to speak with the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), on the telephone on the matter.
Also, attempts to get an official response from the ruling All Progressives Congress were futile. Calls to the mobile telephone number of the Secretary, Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, were neither picked nor returned.
A response to a text message to him on the subject was still being awaited as at 9:50 pm.
The national secretary is also the official spokesperson for the party.