Abuja – A coalition of 26 civil society organisations (CSOs), and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to bring to an end “the intimidation and harassment of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)“.
“We are seriously concerned that this intimidatory tactic by the government against SERAP solely for peacefully carrying out its mandates illustrates the growing repression of civil society, attacks on journalists, and restriction of civic space in Nigeria,” the lawyer and the groups said in a joint statement on Thursday.
They issued the statement to solidarise with SERAP against the backdrop of a recent attack on the organisation by a presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu.
Mr Shehu had unloaded on SERAP in a piece, accusing it of engaging in “divisive, irresponsible, and bare-faced publicity stunts”.
Over the years, across different administrations, SERAP, an independent anti-corruption watchdog, has launched various public interest legal battles against the federal government, its agencies and officials, in demand for accountability, and over issues of breaches of the law and rights violations.
Reacting to the latest suits SERAP filed against the Mr Buhari-led administration, Mr Shehu, on December 1, accused the group of making “spurious” legal claims in court to challenge the government publicly.
It also challenged the group to reveal who funds it.
Falana, 26 groups speak
Mr Falana and the CSOs comprising Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Premium Times Centre For Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and 23 other human rights groups, in a joint statement, to “end escalating intimidation and aggression towards human rights defenders and journalists.”
The group reminded the federal government that its “Continuous and increasing attacks and intimidation against civil society organizations, human rights and journalists in the country is antithetical to Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.”
“We are concerned that the attack on SERAP is clearly aimed at creating a climate of intimidation against civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists in the country. The targeting of civil society organizations and human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on the promotion and protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law in the country.
“The government must strongly condemn the threats, harassment, and intimidation of SERAP and other groups, human rights defenders and journalists and ensure a conducive environment for them to carry out their work and operate freely without any fear of reprisals,” statement said.
Some of the signatories to the statement are: Amnesty International Nigeria, Human Rights Watch, Adopt A Goal Initiative, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, and Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE Nigeria).
They also include: Mr Falana, Access to Justice, Sterling Centre for Law & Development, Justice Support Network, Paradigm Initiative, Connected Development (CODE), Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Justice for Peace and Development Initiative, M.H.O.G Foundation, TechHerNG and Sesor.
The rest are Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Global Rights, NOPRIN, Alliances for Africa (AfA), Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF), Centre for Impact Advocacy, Rights Enforcement and Public Law Centre (REPLACE), and Premium Times Centre For Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).