Members of Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) at the event.
AGFCS advises Nigerian govt to halt, reform misuse of digital technologies
By Valentine Amanze
The Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) – civil society groups – has raised the alarm that the Nigeria government was using security rhetoric to clampdown human rights activities and restrict civic freedom in the country.
It also advised Nigerian government to halt and reform the misuse of digital technologies and security narratives to restrict civil liberties.
The group’s spokesperson, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, disclosed this at the launch and presentation
of its latest joint action research reports: The Security Playbook of Digital Authoritarianism in Nigeria and, Harms from Abroad – The Impact of Global Security Measures on the Civic
Space in Nigeria in Lagos on Wednesday.
She appealed for urgent measures to safeguard civic space, while accusing the government of abusing the law on terrorism.
“Because terrorism lacks a clear definition globally, the absence of a universally accepted definition of
terrorism has acted as a motivation for the government to drift towards authoritarianism and apply
overreaching measures to restrict the democratic rights of civic actors under the guise of
preserving national security.
“The most popular tactics include (1); recharacterizing organized dissent as terrorism (2); proscription of self-determination movements; (3) criminalizing free expression and (4) restrictions on open democracy,” she said.
She accused governments like Nigeria of introducing and enforcing stringent measures that shrink civil liberties for them to escape the dire consequences of non-compliance to global security norms and measures.
She pointed out that civic actors — journalists, protesters, LGBTQ activists and organizations, female activists and bloggers, persons with disabilities — were most affected by the state’s arbitrary surveillance and misuse of security measures.
Besides, she lamented that the crackdowns on civic actors were usually premised on national
security concerns or the enforcement of health emergency measures, or premised on the rhetoric of anti-money (AML) laundering and countering of terrorist financing.
Ibezim-Oheari also wondered why non-profit organizations in the country would continue to pay a heavy price for the heightened security measures.
Her words: “Blanket restrictions, multiple registration controls, onerous reporting requirements, deregistration, forced closures, aggressive financial surveillance add to the list of heavy burdens NPOs are subjected to in the name of counterterrorism.”
She therefore called for efforts by the government, international community, private sector, media, and civil society to strike the requisite balance between competing legal interests such as national security, profit maximization and human rights.
“We recommend the following actions to halt and reform the misuse of digital technologies and security narratives to restrict civil liberties:
- Civil society, members of the public and Nigerian parliament should institute a process to properly define the term ‘‘terrorism’’ in existing anti-terrorism legislation. The definition of
terrorism must be sufficiently clear and not exploited to target civil society actors or stifle
freedom of expression.
- The Nigerian government can explore the use of legislative measures, import controls and strong sanctions against powerful businesses and individuals that supply and operate
spyware technologies that are used to indiscriminately surveil citizens in the country.
- Civil society and concerned citizens can push for a review of all data protection legislation
and judicial provisions that empower state agents to arbitrarily surveil persons or obtain
personal data of citizens ‘‘without warrant’’ or court order.
- Businesses should seek to protect the rights of clients and customers by developing and adhering to data privacy policies and processes espoused under international and local
laws. The United Nations’ (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) provides standards and call to action processes that offer guidance to corporations on how to respect and protect human rights within their sphere of influence.
- International organizations can offer support to the advocacy by local organizations by
pushing for stronger legal regimes and stiffer sanctions for suppliers of digital technologies
used to indiscriminately surveil the activities of civic actors,” she said.
Members of the group include:
- Interactive Initiative for Social Impact (DATAPHYTE)
- The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS)
- Spaces For Change | S4C
- Justice Rights Initiative (JRI)
- Vision Spring Initiatives (VSI)
- Centre For Citizens With Disabilities (CCD)
- World Impact Development Foundation (WIDEF)
- Rule of Law And Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC)
- Building Blocks For Peace Foundation (BBFORPEACE)
- SB Morgen Intelligence (SBM Intelligence)
- Youths Right And Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC).