United States senator and Congressman have expressed concerns over increasing arrests and detention of journalists and activists including members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who have spoken against corruption and insecurity in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
In a jointly signed letter to the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S., Justice Sylvanus Nsofor, dated November 25, 2019, Robert Menendez, a senator and Josh Gottheimer, member of Congress took a swipe at what they described as “troubling reports” of assaults and detention of journalists and other Nigerians by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
The U.S. lawmakers named Sowore Omoyele of Saharareporters, Samuel Ogundipe of Premium Times, Jones Abiri, and Kofi Bartel as journalists who have been assaulted and detained by the DSS.
Accusing the Federal Government of closing the media and public space, the lawmakers called on President Muhammadu Buhari to do the right thing because the international community was watching and would not be quiet until Sowore and other prisoners of conscience were released.
Part of the statement reads: “We write to express strong concern about closing media and civic space in Nigeria.
“There have been a number of troubling reports about Nigerian security services assaulting and detaining journalists, using excessive force on non-violent protestors and taking other actions that inhibit freedom of expression, and otherwise prevent Nigerians from fully exercising their fundamental constitutional rights.
“Journalists and activists such as Omoyele Sowore, Jones Abiri, Kofi Bartels, Samuel Ogundipe, and others investigating and speaking out about politically sensitive problems like corruption or insecurity have been harassed and detained; with reports that some have even been tortured.
“In at least one instance, the Department of State Services has ignored a court order to release a detained activist.
“Restrictions and deadly crackdowns on non-violent protests since 2015 have similarly reflected a lack of apparent commitment to civic freedoms which is beginning to negatively impact the image of Nigeria’s government, both at home and abroad.
“Security forces used live ammunition on Shiite protestors in Zaria, Kaduna State in 2015; on protestors in Onitsha, Anambra State in 2016; again on a Shiite procession in Abuja in 2018; raided the offices of the Daily Trust, and arrested the editor in January 2019; and shot and killed Precious Owolabi, a journalist covering a July 2019 protest in Abuja.
“These crackdowns have collectively killed hundreds of Nigerian citizens, and served as troubling demonstrations of the excessive force used by the military. The alleged perpetrators of these abuses have yet to be brought to justice.”
The lawmakers said as the most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria had failed to serve as a shining example to other countries on the preservation of people’s rights as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
“Mr. Ambassador, Nigeria has a critical role to play in preserving peace and stability in West Africa, and as the most populous democracy on the continent, it could serve as a shining example of how countries can best observe the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
“However, failure to respect the rights in the Charter and those in Nigeria’s own constitution undermine your nation’s ability to lead in this area.
“We urge you to ensure that the rights and liberties contained in the constitution are observed for all citizens and to take strong action against further closing space for journalists, political opposition, and those in civil society.
“The rights of all citizens must be respected without the threat of government reprisal. We look forward to seeing progress on this critically important issue,” the U.S. lawmakers added.