Nigeria’s 2023 Elections: In Pursuit of Electoral Reforms That Serve the Common Good

By Samson Itodo
Nigeria’s 21 years of democracy was tested with the conduct of last year’s 2019 general elections. The elections presented an opportunity for Nigeria to consolidate on the gains of the 2015 elections and deepen her democratic transition, but the polls substantially failed to do so. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) introduced reforms to deepen electoral integrity and citizen participation before the elections, yet the elections were fraught with the same shortcomings that marred previous national elections in Nigeria. As in past elections, INEC’s logistical challenges coupled with misconduct on the part of political parties and candidates undermined the elections‘ integrity. Not to mention the assault on voting rights by desperate politicians who recruited thugs and security agencies for voter suppression. The judiciary was no bystander. In most cases, it determined the final vote by substituting justice for legal technicalities with its logic of constitutional finality. The Supreme Court suffered a reputational setback when it declared a candidate who came fourth in an election the winner, despite computational inaccuracies and disputed results from polling units where elections did not hold. 

The landscape for electoral reform looks promising. Over ten proposed electoral amendment bills are under consideration at the National Assembly. Although these bills are at different stages of the legislative process, they contain proposals that can potentially fix Nigeria’s pressing electoral challenges, especially the predatory behavior of the political class. The bills include proposed amendments that promote the independence and impartiality of INEC by strengthening the legality of INEC regulations, guidelines, and manuals and prohibiting the employment or appointment of members of political parties into INEC. Also contained in the bills are proposals for electronic voting and transmission of election results. Comprehensive amendments were proposed to Section 87 of the Electoral Act on the nomination of candidates. They introduce new procedures for direct and indirect primaries and provide thresholds for party nomination fees. It restricts parties to the qualification criteria fixed by the 1999 Constitution as amended for elective offices, thereby stripping parties of the power to introduce additional measures often used to disqualify unfavoured candidates.

Recently, INEC released its agenda on electoral reform. The Commission is proposing amendments to strengthen the electoral Commission’s financial autonomy, confer power on INEC to suspend elections under certain circumstances, and the power to disqualify candidates. Other proposals include new timelines for campaigns and candidate nomination, review of election results declared under duress, diaspora voting, and improved oversight on political parties, amongst others. Civil society groups have also proposed amendments to the electoral legal framework. Signals from the National Assembly thus far shows that the electoral amendment process may be concluded by 2021.

Voting during the Coronavirus pandemic, 2020

A cost-benefit analysis of public expenditure on elections is an essential component of the electoral reform agenda. This analysis is highly recommended given the country’s economic recession due to bad economic choices, disruptions in public finance, and negative externalities. Political scientists will argue that the high costs of elections are an investment in democracy; therefore, countries should earmark adequate resources for election conduct. This seems like a plausible argument, especially for nations still evolving with a democratic culture. But what happens to equity and efficiency? What is the benefit of expending scarce resources on elections that fail to maximize utility or promote happiness for the greatest number in society, or elections that yield just outcomes?

Nigeria spent N139 Billion (N1,893 or $9 cost per voter) for the 2011 elections; N116.3 Billion (N1,691 or $8.5 cost per voter) for the 2015 elections; and N189.2 Billion (N2,249 $6.24 cost per voter) for the 2019 elections. All three elections recorded a poor turnout of voters. In Nigeria, the law compels the electoral Commission to use the voter register as a basis for election planning as against the figures for collected Permanent Voters Card (PVC). In the 2019 elections, INEC printed over 427.5 million ballot papers (of currency quality) for 80 million registered voters in the six scheduled elections. Less than 30 million ballots were used in the elections because only 35 percent of registered voters showed up to vote. Billions of Naira went to waste due to a large number of unused ballots papers. These scarce resources plowed to produce the unused ballot papers would have been allocated to health, education, or jobs given Nigeria’s place as the world’s poverty capital. Efficient allocation of scarce resources should be a priority agenda for reformers of our electoral process. This should encompass a clear strategy for reversing the deeply entrenched culture of waste in public finance management. 

No doubt, the current proposed amendments can foster popular sovereignty. Still, it is uncertain whether the ruling political class will pass these laws, given the potential of reforms to limit future chances of electoral victory. The apparent assumption is that most politicians will be reluctant to legislate themselves out of office. Therefore, they employ diverse tactics to dictate the pace and influence the outcome of reform efforts, leaving society to manage the tensions between individual and collective interests.

A just society is one that places the maximization of happiness as a key basis for decision-making. Moral decision making should be premised on maximizing the total happiness of members of society and advancing the common good, not just the interests of a few. As legislators consider decisions on electoral reforms within the ramifications of options available to them, they should be guided to choose options that serve the common good. In other words, in the spirit of democracy, they should pass electoral amendments that promote the common good of the Nigerian majority, in essence, the people and not the political class. After all, political authority is expected to serve the interests of the people, not individual interests. As Xunsi puts it, ‘Heaven did not create the people for the sake of the Lord, heaven established the Lord for the sake of the people.’ If an electoral amendment reflects the aggregate of the greater good, it indicates its responsiveness to the will and aspirations of the people.  Suffices to say, the greater the number of citizens who participate in designing a new electoral legal framework, the greater our chances of producing just outcomes and advancing the common good.

Citizens bear the burden to hold the ruling political elite to higher standards. Electoral policies should place a premium on moral principles, ethics, and maximization of happiness. The 9th National Assembly will be judged by the extent to which the proposed electoral amendments promote happiness for the greater number and not just the political elites. Any piece of electoral legislation that will not guarantee the people’s participation, protect the sanctity of the vote or advance electoral justice may not serve the common good. Suffice to say that there’s nothing special about the ongoing electoral reform process if it does not yield the greater good for the greater number, instead of yielding the greater good for the one percent who control political power.

Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA Africa
Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA Africa

Samson Itodo is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. He is an elections and constitution building enthusiast. He serves as Executive Director of Yiaga Africa and the Convener of the Not Too Young To Run movement. Send comments and feedback to sitodo@yiaga.org. He tweets @DSamsonItodo

Letter to the Biden/Harris Transition Team regarding SARS

As the Trump administration nears its end, U.S. foreign policy must prepare to reset and revitalize relations with Nigeria. Americans have an opportunity to repair the harm done by leadership that drew upon crude, racialized stereotypes of Africans and that coddled dictators. In the context of a reckoning with police violence against American minority communities, and a movement in Nigeria challenging serious and widespread abuses, it is urgent for the United States to recommit to global democracy and human rights. Yesterday, Chiedo Nwankwor, Patrick Ukata and I joined other African studies professors in a letter to the incoming Biden/Harris administration urging specific policy actions in response to the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria. Our goals closely align with those in an open letter to the international community recently published by NGOs and faith-based organizations, and are crafted to stand in solidarity with core demands of Nigerian protestors.

After Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes gave Joe Biden a majority on November 7, thousands of people went to Black Lives Matter plaza, across from the White House, to peacefully celebrate.

November 13, 2020
Biden-Harris Transition Team
Ted Kaufman
Anita Dunn, co-chair
Representative Cedric Richmond, co-chair
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, co-chair
Jeffrey Zients, co-chair


Dear Members of the Biden-Harris Transition Team:

We are writing to condemn the violent crackdown on non-violent protests in Nigeria, and in support of US assistance for police reform and accountability. As longtime scholars of Nigeria, we have been appalled by the government’s reckless use of violence and disproportionate force against peaceful civilians. We believe these abuses demand unequivocal diplomatic condemnation from the United States. Moreover, such gross human rights violations require additional action by the United States to eliminate any complicity with official actions blatantly at odds with American foreign policy principles, to advance the work of democratic reform in Nigeria, and to reinforce our shared obligations to international human rights agreements.
On 8 October, demonstrations erupted across Nigeria when a video surfaced showing officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) shooting an unarmed man. Nigerian youths organized peaceful protests across the country, uniting around demands known as “5for5,” calling for: the release of protestors being held, justice for victims of violence and their families, the formation of an independent body to oversee investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, psychological evaluations and retraining of officers formerly in SARS, and increasing police salary.  On 20 October 2020, in what has become known as the “Lekki Toll Gate Massacre” or “Black Tuesday,” the Nigerian army shot and killed at least 12 unarmed protesters singing the national anthem and holding the Nigerian flag while over 120,000 people worldwide witnessed this brutality on social media live streams. This pattern of violence by security forces, resulting in the deaths of at least 56 peaceful protestors in different incidents across Nigeria, obligates the international community to act. 
For years, SARS has committed systematic human rights violations. Even before the protests erupted in October, Amnesty International documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020. Such abuses continued despite the passage of Anti-Torture Legislation by Nigeria’s National Assembly in 2017. Recurring failures to reform the police over the last two decades have fostered an overall climate of impunity. President Muhammadu Buhari has neither responded to the 5for5 demands, nor taken adequate steps to stop the unwarranted killing of peaceful protesters. In a recent letter to President Buhari, the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus urged him to do so.
The Nigerian government is obligated to uphold the right to non-violent protest and ensure the safety of protestors in accordance with Chapter IV, Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also guarantees the right to peacefully assemble, and Article 5 prohibits torture and cruel and degrading treatment of persons.

We therefore urge the United States to:

  1. Use the authority granted under the Global Magnitsky Act to place targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on politicians, officials and other Nigerians implicated in recent human rights abuses. These incidents should include but not be limited to the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre, various attacks on protestors since October 8, and other abuses of Nigerians engaged in peaceful free speech activities. Consistent with the December 2017 Executive Order on “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” the sanctions should apply to SARS and other special police units determined “to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse.” As scholars of Nigeria, we believe such steps would advance democratic reform efforts and hold abusive security services accountable. As the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has poignantly reminded us, democracy and rule of law cannot flourish amidst impunity.
  2. Suspend security assistance and military sales to the Nigerian police and security forces implicated in or broadly culpable for violence utilized against #EndSARS protesters until the Buhari administration fully complies with relevant laws and policies to ensure accountability for human rights violations.
  3. Support the authorization of a panel of experts under the United Nations Human Rights Council. The panel could investigate human rights violations by the Nigerian security services, identify alleged perpetrators and hold them accountable. Such a process could broadly engage Nigerian authorities alongside other stakeholders in order to achieve a public accounting that would promote truth, healing, and democratic reform.
  4. Support the International Criminal Court’s ongoing preliminary examination in Nigeria by offering assistance to a widened inquiry that includes the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre and SARS-related atrocities. A critical first step in providing such support is for the administration to immediately rescind the June 2020 Executive Order used to sanction the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and one of her senior officials. Thereafter, the U.S. should offer in-kind support to the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC in its efforts to gather evidence about individual perpetrators accused of atrocity crimes arising out of SARS abuses.

We, the undersigned scholars, stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria in their quest to strengthen rule of law and advance democratic reform. We hope your incoming foreign policy administration will fully commit to the above requests, which we believe will both strengthen Nigerian democracy and America’s enduring friendship with a critical African ally and friend. We look forward to hearing from you soon. Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only and do not indicate an organizational endorsement.

Sincerely,

A. Carl LeVan, American University
Chiedo Nwankwor, Johns Hopkins-SAIS
Patrick Ukata, Halsik Group
Rita “Kiki” Edozie, University of Massachusetts – Boston
Olufemi Vaughan, Amherst College
John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations
Steve Feldstein, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, Brooklyn College – CUNY
Onwubiko Agozino, Virginia Tech
Matthias Chika Mordi, Johns Hopkins – SAIS
Brandon Kendhammer, Ohio University
Omolade Adunbi, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Shobana Shankar, Stony Brook, SUNY
Hilary Matfess, Yale University
Cajetan Iheka, Yale University
Adrienne LeBas, American University
David Laitin, Stanford University
Judy Byfield, Cornell University
Richard Joseph, Northwestern University
Matthew T. Page, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Amina Mama, University of California, University of Ghana, Feminist Africa
Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins University – SAIS
Cheryl O’Brien, San Diego State University
Larry Diamond, Stanford University
Daniel Jordan Smith, Brown University
Nathan Hosler, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, Church of the Brethren
Faith I. Okpotor, Moravian College
Abosede George, Barnard College – Columbia University
Farooq Kperogi, Kennesaw State University
Hannane Ferdjani, former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University
Bobby Digi Olisa, Nigerians In Diaspora Organization New York /Canvas Institute INC
Kara Roop Miheretu, Pennsylvania State University
Rebecca Rwakabukoza, Northwestern University
Beth Evans, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
Jacqueline Copeland, Black Philanthropy Month and The WISE Fund
Chenise Calhoun, Tulane University
Gretchen Bauer, University of Delaware
Oyeronke Oyewumi, Stony Brook University
Funmilayo Agbaje, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Ousseina Alidou, Rutgers University
Peyi S Soyinka-Airewele, Ithaca College, Ithaca NY
Modupe Oshikoya, Virginia Wesleyan University
Namulundah, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Mònica Cejas, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco (Mexico City)
Carolina Bank Muñoz, Brooklyn College
Elias Bongmba, Rice University
Rose Ndengue, Université de Rouen
Zola Makosana, University of the Western Cape
Kathleen Barker, City University of New York: Medgar Evers College
Chika Okoye, Rutgers University
Prudence Cumberbatch, Brooklyn College
Jill M. Humphries, University of Toledo
Mark Ungar, Brooklyn College
Mobina Hashmi, City University of New York
Zachariah Mampilly, City University of New York
Therese McGinn, Self-employed
Amy Kraizman, CUNY The Graduate Center
Anita Plummer, Howard University
Anene Ejikeme, Trinity University
Adryan Wallace, Stony Brook University
Jean Eddy Saint Paul, City University of New York: Brooklyn College
Nasim Almuntaser, City University Of New York: Brooklyn College
Saheed Aderinto, Western Carolina University
Emmanuel Balogun, Skidmore College
Gabriel Bámgbóṣé, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
Naluwembe Binaisa, University College London
Ifeoluwa M. Olawole, American University
Aderonke Adesola Adesanya, James Madison University
T.D. Harper-Shipman, Davidson College
Oceane Jasor, Concordia University
Zandi Sherman, Rutgers University
Rose Ndengue, Université de Rouen
Jacob Olupona, Harvard University
Judith Van Allen, Cornell University
Aderonke Adesola Adesanya, James Madison University
Professor Stella M. Nkomo, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Omowumi Olufunbi Elemo, James Madison College, Michigan State University
Candy Dato, Retired
Laurel Lesio
Kevin Mcgirr, UCSF
Pauline Halpern Baker, The Fund for Peace
Darren Kew, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Barbara M. Cooper, Rutgers
Meredeth Turshen, Rutgers University
Clovis Bergere, University of Pennsylvania
Justin Mullikin, Rutgers University
Oghenetoja Okoh, Loyola University Maryland
Faith Adogame, Rutgers University – Newark
Paul M. Lubeck, Johns Hopkins University – SAIS

Names added since November 13

Jon Kraus, SUNY at Fredonia
Leonard Wantchekon, Princeton University
Beth Elise Whitaker, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Jean Claude Abeck, Africa Center for Strategic Progress
Susanna Wing, Haverford College
Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, Ithaca College
Nicolas van de walle, Cornell University
Doyin Coker-Kolo, Indiana University Southeast
Laura Thaut Vinson, Lewis & Clark College
Leonardo A. Villalon, University of Florida
Scott Pegg, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
Olajumoke Ayandele, Rutgers University


THE #EndSARS PROTEST CRACKDOWN: THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE AND MATTERS ARISING. By Laz Apir

The #EndSARS Hashtag

Globally, it is no longer news what the #EndSARS hashtag and protest represents, what is now making the news rounds is how the democratically elected Government of Nigeria responded to the peaceful protesters, and how the young Nigerians who led the protest will react. However, for the benefit of anyone who may be coming in contact with the subject matter for the first time, let me give a quick introduction of the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria.

What Is SARS?

The Nigeria Police Force in late 1992 established a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit to specifically focus on crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and firearms. Aside the general decay, bribery, torture tactic and associated corrupt practices of extortion of motorists and individuals by operatives of the Nigeria Police, the last decade witnessed an alarming surge in cases of SARS wrong profiling and brutality of especially young Nigerians.

What triggered the #EndSARS Protest

In early October 2020, a video emerged showing police officers; thought to be from the notorious SARS allegedly shooting and killing a young man in Delta state. Although Nigerian authorities denied the reports, young Nigerians were enraged as once again, the authorities failed to take any concrete steps in addressing police brutality. There was an initial call for protest by a Nigerian Musician by name Naira Marley, after what was believed to be an act of intimidation from some the security operatives, the artist called off the protest. However, on 8 October 2020, nationwide peaceful protests erupted and were peaceful. The Lagos protest was again led by some other top music icons like Falz and Runtown with solidarity from other big Nigerian celebrities like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Tacha, MI, Tuface, Ebuka. Almost every social media influencer as well as other Nigeria pro Athletes identified with the protest. The protesters all along maintained two characteristics; to be leaderless and nonviolent.

What the Protesters Demanded

The embodying demand of the protest was a call to disband the SARS, but in details, contained five interrelated demands all aimed at reforming the Nigeria police. These were:

Attack on protesters and the knee Jerk SWAT Introduction

The #EndSARS protesters carried on while maintaining the nonviolent discipline. Suddenly, the media started reporting counter protests in support of the SARS unit even after the Federal Government agreed and disbanded the SARS unit. The counter protesters then changed their initial protest in support for SARS into attacking the #EndSARS protesters. These attacks all around the country including Abuja the federal capital territory where cars were burnt and a whole settlement razed. With the attacks on the peaceful protesters on the rise, rumours started filtering in that the attackers were being sponsored by some persons believed to be doing so in support of the regime. Momentarily, the Inspector General of Police announced the establishment of a new police unit called SWAT to replace the disbanded SARS. The protesters clearly saw the move as a knee jerk reaction and quickly doubled up and started a second hashtag #EndSWAT.

International Solidarity with #EndSARS Protest

By day 6, the #EndSARS protest had gained global attention and solidarity from top music icons like Cardi B, P-Diddy, Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Meek Mills, and other US and UK politicians, diplomats and professionals. Once the #EndSARS hashtag started trending globally, a lot more people started following the conversation and showing solidarity with the protest given that police brutality is not new to citizens of the world. Nigerian celebrities went a step further in crowd funding to cover supplies for the protesters.  Other men and women of goodwill also would buy meals and take to the protesters in support. The entire time, Government of Nigeria never came out to engage the protesters nor issued an official statement.

Spread of the #EndSARS Protest

The protest which initially erupted in just Lagos and Abuja quickly replicated across other Nigerian cities and soon spread to other cities around the world; all calling for #PoliceReformsInNigeria and an #EndToPoliceBrutality. Typically, similar protests or agitations of such proportion in the past never lasted more than a week. That the #EndSARS protest was waxing stronger, rumours started filtering in that security operatives were being moved around the country to some of the major hubs of the protest, preparatory for a crackdown. These rumours grew stronger on the strength of the continued attack on the peaceful protesters by hoodlums; believed to be sponsored by supporters of the regime. There was even a prison break in Edo state which many believed was staged to give the #EndSARS protest a bad name and warrant the use of lethal force. How could unarmed protesters overrun a prison facility successfully without fatalities?

The Lekki Toll Gate massacre

On day 12 of the #EndSARS protest, events unfolded routinely across the various protest grounds until about 8:pm on 20.10.2020 when Twitter spiked with cries in short video clips of shooting at the #EndSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. This was the most peaceful and organized protest ground. For this reason, it was puzzling what could have gone wrong to warrant the use of maximum force. Eye witness testimonies confirmed that at some point, the lights and the CCTV cameras at Lekki Toll gate were turned off. Momentarily About the time some security operatives in the Nigerian Army attire showed up. On sighting the armed military personnel, the protester started singing the Nigeria National Anthem while taking a kneel. This was when the soldiers opened fire on the protesters. A video surfaced on social media in which protesters being shot at were heard telling the other protesters to sit down and scamper about.

The Ensuing Reaction

The morning after the shooting, and the entire day went by without as much as a statement from the Presidency. While the government of Nigeria was silent, some world leaders, past and present reacted on social media in condemnation of the shooting and called on the Government of Nigeria to open investigation and bring culprits to book. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo even issued a press statement in which stated that use of brute force is historically proven to be unviable in addressing citizen agitations. He called on President Buhari to act fast and not let the situation to degenerate any further. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General, minsters and foreign secretaries all sent strong condemnation of the shootings which according to Amnesty International claimed 12 lives and injured several others. The governor of Lagos state is his press address mentioned visiting 24 injured protesters. He declared that there were no fatalities but later apologized and confirmed one fatality.

President Buhari’s Address

It was nearly after 48 hours since the shooting, that the President of Nigeria made a broadcast in which he acknowledged the fundamental right of citizens to protest as enshrined in Section 40 of Nigeria’s Constitution and other enactments. In the same breath, President Buhari quickly changed tone and dared the young citizens protesting to not misconstrue his swift response in announcing disbandment of SARS as a weakness. The speech further spiralled into stating the empowerment measures and initiatives principally targeted at youths, women and the most vulnerable groups in Nigeria. Suggestive of the fact that the youths should be grateful and not dare to demand police reform in Nigeria. The incoherence did not fail to add that his administration will continue to improve good governance and the democratic process, including sustained engagement. And how the liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens shall be protected under his watch.

President Buhari: re-elected in 2019. His 2015 victory was the subject
of my most recent book, Contemporary Nigerian Politics.

To the international community, Mr President called off their ignorance and advised them to seek all the facts available before taking a position or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements. On this note, he told the protesters to go and apply for Farmermoni, Tradermoni, Marketmoni, N-Power, N-Tech and N-Agro. That to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation which he will not tolerate. Just after issuing the threats, Mr President asked the protester to clear out the streets and find constructive ways of engaging government.

Next, the President paid tributes to the police officers who lost their lives, and thanked youth leaders who have restrained their followers from taking the law into their hands. he asked all Nigerians to go about their normal lives. No acknowledgement of the shooting at protesters by the security operatives and the victims of the shooting.

Matters Arising

Like many others who have tried to make sense of the events around the shooting of peaceful protesters and the corresponding response of the Government of Nigeria, three questions come to mind that President Buhari needs to answer; either for himself or for Nigeria:

There is a sense in how and why nations exist sovereign yet go into bilateral relations with other nations. And also belong to regional and global communities. Not long ago, Nigeria dominated the debate in calling on Malians military to order. Can the same Nigeria kill its citizens in cold blood and tell concerned potential allies like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton to back off?

Can Nigeria kill its citizens and tell Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton to back off?

Is Buhari expecting a return to normalcy, or is he postponing “the evil”?

Is a reformed Nigeria – the aim of these youth led protests – still possible?

Abuja protesters (photo by Laz Apir)

Nigeria demographics paints a picture of a youth dominated population wallowing in abject poverty as sustained by joblessness. A situation former president Obasanjo once described as Nigeria sitting on a keg of gunpowder. By Mr. President’s address, is he expecting that the balance is restored and normalcy will return or he is simply holding on to anything and postponing the evil for another day?

The sheer commitment, intensity and passion displayed by young Nigerians in the period of the #EndSARS protest; is an eye opener to the power the youths wield collectively. For the moment, it is safe to say these young Nigerians are nursing their wounds and trying to make sense of how a peaceful protest with clearly achievable demands, warranted the raining of live bullets on them. The question on the minds and lips of many others is how the momentum, collaboration and shared vision to see a reformed Nigeria can be further channelled. Or is this the end?

Whilst we await what happens in the next days, weeks or even months, it will be impulsive for anyone to imagine we have seen or heard the last of the #EndSARS agitation which encapsulates an emerging third force in young Nigerians towards galvanizing support to see far reaching reforms across Nigeria. Only time will tell what happens next.

Laz April is an election expert and civil society activist. He writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Follow him on Twitter @lazapir.

Laz Apir

Civil Society Statement in the Case of Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu v. Kaduna State, Nigeria

On October 22, 2020, an important case comes for decision before the Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria. The case – brought by Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu – will have an important impact on the rights of people in Nigeria to voice their opinions in matters of public interest and question those in authority. We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, see this upcoming case as an opportunity for Nigeria’s judiciary to ensure that the protection of human rights in the country aligns with the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitutional, regional and international human rights obligations. In particular, this case provides an opportunity for the judiciary to reinforce the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and civic participation.

The case before the Federal High Court challenges the constitutionality of criminal charges against Prof. Odinkalu, a renowned Nigerian human rights lawyer and former Chairperson of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, following a televised interview he gave in February 2019 in Abuja, the Federal Capital. In the interview, Prof. Odinkalu challenged claims by the Governor of Kaduna State Mallam Nasir El-Rufai – made a day before scheduled elections in the State – that 66 members of the Fulani ethnic group had been killed in Kajuru, Kaduna State. Prof. Odinkalu stated that the Governor’s statement appeared to have no basis in reality and could not be verified by the relevant state agents. He further expressed concern that the statement could cause ethnic tensions leading to electoral violence.

Kaduna State Governor, El-Rufai (presidential ambitions?)

Following the televised interview, on March 18, 2019, Prof. Odinkalu was charged by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of Kaduna State with inciting disturbance, injurious falsehood, public nuisance, and furnishing false information. The case, which was initiated before the Magistrate Court in Kaduna, was fraught with numerous procedural irregularities including an undated case file with no file number; closed hearings from the public; and the continuation of the case in the absence of Prof. Odinkalu despite an order from the High Court staying proceedings in the case. On October 26, 2020, the State High Court of Kaduna will preside over the judicial review of the criminal proceedings in the Magistrate Court of Kaduna.

The judgment of the Federal High Court on October 22, 2020 presents a monumental opportunity for the court to recognise the right to freedom of expression and ensure that it is enforced in Kaduna State in accordance with the country’s human rights obligations. Government officials and people in authority are not exempt or protected from criticism. United Nations special experts and mechanisms have specifically highlighted in reference to Nigeria, which includes all its Federal States, that public officials are required to tolerate greater criticism than the rest of society and that actions taken by them should not stifle public debate. While the right to freedom of expression may be restricted for public health and public security reasons, such restrictions – even when provided for by law – must be justifiable in a democratic society and must be necessary to achieve the stated purpose. Furthermore, any limitations must be the least restrictive means to achieve the objective.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has held that seeking to impose a prison sentence, let alone corporal punishments such as lashings, for criticism of a public authority – whether true or otherwise – can never be necessary or proportional. Regional and international bodies have further called on all States to repeal criminal defamation laws, as well as all laws which effectively criminalise defamation, sedition, insult and false news. Where necessary, such infractions can and should be dealt with through civil proceedings, which should also be adequately proportionate and provide appropriate defences.

Given Nigeria’s regional and international obligations, as a signatory to several treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, we are concerned that the Kaduna State government chose to undertake a criminal prosecution against Prof. Odinkalu for what is clearly protected speech. The undersigned organisations and individuals thus look forward to the decision of the Federal High Court of Nigeria in this important case.

Organizational signatories, as of October 22, include:

Organisations

  1. African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
  2. African Defenders (Pan African HRDs Network)
  3. African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
  4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
  5. AJPD – Angola
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Center for Democracy and Development (CDD)
  8. Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA)
  9. Chapter One Foundation
  10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  11. DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
  12. Friends of Angola (FoA)
  13. Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED)
  14. Global Rights
  15. Human Rights Defenders Network-SL
  16. Human Rights Institute of Southern Africa (HURISA)
  17. International Commission of Jurists- Kenya
  18. International Refugee Rights Initiative 
  19. Kenya Human Rights Commission
  20. Media Rights Agenda
  21. MOSAIKO-Angola
  22. Mouvement Inamohoro, Femmes et Filles pour la paix et la sécurité
  23. Open Bar Initiative, Nigeria
  24. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  25. Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
  26. Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL) Nigeria
  27. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  28. SADC Lawyers Association
  29. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  30. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  31. Tap Nitiative for Citizens Development
  32. The Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS-USA)
  33. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
  34. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
  35. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

Individual signatories include:

  1. Delma Monteiro                                 Angola
  2. Lúcia da Silveira                                 Angola
  3. Garcia Mvemba                                  Angola
  4. Godinho Cristóvão                             Angola
  5. Julio Candieiro                                   Angola
  6. Fortunato Paixão                                 Angola
  7. Cristina Gouveia                                 Angola
  8. Alice Mogwe                                      Botswana
  9. Marie Louise Baricaco                       Burundi
  10. Star Rugori                                          Burundi          
  11. Joseph Bikanda                                   Cameroon
  12. Ady Namaran Coulibaly                     Cote d’Ivoire
  13. Hannah Forster                                   Gambia
  14. Edmund Amarkwei Foley                  Ghana 
  15. Abdul Noormohamed                         Kenya
  16. Andrew Songa                                    Kenya
  17. Crystal Simeoni                                  Kenya 
  18. Diana Gichengo                                  Kenya
  19. Donald Deya                                       Kenya
  20. Irene Soila                                           Kenya
  21. James Gondi                                       Kenya
  22. Maureen Achieng Akena                    Kenya 
  23. Patricia Nyaundi                                 Kenya
  24. Roland Ebole                                      Kenya
  25. Charles Kajoloweka                            Malawi
  26. Happy Mhango                                   Malawi
  27. Nikiwe Kaunda                                   Malawi           
  28. Tiseke Kasambala                              Malawi
  29. Victor Mhango                                    Malawi           
  30. Professor Adriano Nuvunga               Mozambique
  31. Custodio Duma                                   Mozambique  
  32. Vicente Manjate                                 Mozambique
  33. Norman Tjombe                                 Namibia
  34. Abdul Mahmud                                   Nigeria
  35. Abiodun Baiyewu                               Nigeria
  36. Ariyo-Dare Atoye                               Nigeria
  37. Cheta Nwanze                                     Nigeria
  38. Chido Onumah                                   Nigeria
  39. Edet Ojo                                              Nigeria
  40. Mbasekei Martin Obono                     Nigeria
  41. Nana Nwachukwu                              Nigeria
  42. Ohimai Amaize                                   Nigeria
  43. Omoyele Sowore                                Nigeria
  44. Steven Kefason                                   Nigeria
  45. Valnora Edwin                                    Sierra Leone
  46. Annah Moyo                                       South Africa
  47. Corlett Letlojane                                 South Africa
  48. Hakima Haithar                                  South Africa
  49. Nomsa Sizane                                     South Africa
  50. Samkelo Mokhine                               South Africa
  51. Simphiwe Sidu                                    South Africa
  52. Shuvai Nyoni                                      South Africa
  53. Sufiya Bray                                         South Africa
  54. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  South Africa
  55. Abdel-Moniem El Jak                        Sudan 
  56. Mary Pais                                            Swaziland
  57. Muzi Masuku                                      Swaziland
  58. Thulani Maseko                                  Swaziland
  59. Vera Mshana                                       Tanzania
  60. Dismas Nkunda                                  Uganda
  61. Jackson Odong                                    Uganda
  62. Lamunu Lamunu Prossy                     Uganda
  63. Nelly Badaru                                       Uganda
  64. Salima Namusobya                             Uganda
  65. Sharon Nakandha                                Uganda
  66. Linda Kasonde                                    Zambia
  67. Professor Michelo Hansungule           Zambia
  68. Muleya Mwananyanda                       Zambia
  69. Muluka Miti-Drummond                    Zambia
  70. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  Zambia           
  71. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge                Zimbabwe
  72. Arnold Tsunga                                    Zimbabwe
  73. Brian Tamuka Kagoro                                    Zimbabwe
  74. Makanatsa Makonese                         Zimbabwe
  75. Charles Clint Chimedza                     Zimbabwe
  76. Deprose Muchena                               Zimbabwe
  77. Fungisayi Patricia Mwanyisa             Zimbabwe
  78. Hardlife Mudzingwa                           Zimbabwe
  79. Janah Ncube                                       Zimbabwe
  80. Janet Zhou                                           Zimbabwe
  81. Kelvin Kabaya                                    Zimbabwe
  82. Lloyd Kuveya                                     Zimbabwe
  83. Mamukeleni Tsunga                           Zimbabwe
  84. Memory Zonde-Kachambwa              Zimbabwe
  85. Mooya Nyaundi                                  Zimbabwe
  86. Muchengeti Hwacha                           Zimbabwe
  87. Munjodzi Mutandiri                            Zimbabwe
  88. Musa Kika                                          Zimbabwe
  89. Otto Saki                                             Zimbabwe
  90. Passmore Nyakureba                          Zimbabwe
  91. Siphosami Malunga                            Zimbabwe
  92. Stanely Nyamanindi                           Zimbabwe
  93. Professor Carl LeVan                         American University 
  94. Desiree Cormier Smith                       Open Society Foundations

Music is a Weapon(?)

As Fela Anikulapo Kuti once said, music is the weapon. But how harmful is it?

In Kano, Nigeria’s second most populous state, the authorities apparently consider songs very dangerous. For the second time over the last two months, a singer has been arrested for the content of his lyrics. In the first incident, on June 17, Mohammad Yusuf Yakasai, popularly known as A.G.Y. was arrested and accused of releasing a song and video without the approval of the Kano State Board and criminal defamation of Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. Some of the song’s lyrics criticized Ganduje, who had been surreptitiously filmed numerous times apparently taking bribes from public works contractors. Here is one the videos circulating. (I would welcome questions or comments regarding its authenticity or translation of specific comments.)

https://twitter.com/CITY1051/status/1057550261198176257

Leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and PEN (Nigeria), as well as think tanks such as the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja and the Center for International Policy in Washington criticized the sentence and his year-long detention. Article 39 of the Federal Constitution states “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” I was honored to join the writer Wole Soyinka and the musician Femi Kuti in a letter calling for his unconditional release. The public pressure campaign worked, and he has been released.

In the second major incident in Kano, Yahaya Sherif Aminu was recently sentenced to death by hanging for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a song he shared on WhatsApp. In the song, he praises an imam with the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood. Salafi Muslims have often clashed with Tijaniya Sufi followers in Nigeria.

“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

Article 39, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Jama’atu Ahlussunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad (aka Boko Haram) quickly released a video where he condemned the singer’s right to appeal the sentence. “He should just be killed. If you really sentenced him, we should only hear that you slaughtered him,” says a report by Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu in HumAngle analyzing the broadcast. Shekau criticized Kano as a den of infidels that should not be mistaken for an Islamic state, since it practices democracy. The sentence, carried out by a Shari’a court, is complicated since the constitutionality of state laws passed in 1999 and 2000 that extended Shari’a to criminal law, rather than limiting it to civil affairs, have never been decisively ruled upon by the Supreme Court.

Article 10 of the Constitution states, in full, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” The application of Shari’a law to civil matters stems from a political compromise dating back to the colonial era. During the drafting of the 1979 constitution, northerners famously walked out over the Shari’a issue and nearly derailed the transition to the Second Republic. David Laitin analyzed this in a classic article in The Journal of Modern African Studies, and I discussed the compromise, revisited in 1999, in my book, Dictators and Democracy in African Development.

A historic symbol of northern unity, which I photographed in 2003.

A press statement by Amnesty International on August 13 called the sentence “a travesty of justice. There are serious concerns about the fairness of his trial; and the framing of the charges against him based on his Whatsapp messages. Furthermore the imposition of the death penalty following an unfair trial violates the right to life. Yahaya Sharif Aminu must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Osai Ojigho, the Nigeria country director. Where does Mohammed Lai stand on Article 39? And how can Kano reconcile popular support for Shari’a (of some sort) with Article 10?