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CSOs ask senate to drop bills threatening citizens’ freedom

CSOs ask senate to drop bills threatening citizens’ freedom
December 18
13:24 2019

A group of civil society organisations has asked the national assembly to protect the nation’s democracy by halting the consideration of bills that threaten the freedom of Nigerians.

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Bills seeking to regulate social media and ”check” hate speech were recently introduced at the senate.

In a letter dated December 16 and addressed to Godiya Akwashiki, acting spokesman of the senate, the CSOs expressed deep concern about issues “that could potentially imperil our two decades of democracy, if not addressed through legislative actions”.

The issues, according to the groups, are flawed elections and electoral violence; threatened freedom of speech; shrinking space for civic engagement and assault on press freedom and civic advocacy.

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They said there is a need to improve the nation’s electoral system in order to build citizens’ confidence and trust.

They also asked the senate to leave a lasting legacy of passing high impact legislation that reflects the will of the people, expands the democratic space, and fosters national cohesion.

“While we appreciate the gains thus far in reforming the nation’s electoral process, citizen observation efforts during the recent elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States documented a decline in the quality and integrity of elections due to the high level of electoral manipulation, a deepening culture of impunity, and violence resulting in loss of innocent lives,” the letter read

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“We fear that if urgent steps are not taken to fix identified areas in need of reform, we risk the prospect of reversing the gains of twenty years of democratic practice in the country.

“The National Assembly is currently considering several pieces of legislation that threaten constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people, including freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and association.

“This has created an atmosphere of fear and apprehension, thereby undermining the capacity of citizens to effectively engage in the democratic and governance process.

“The deluge of illegal arrests of journalists and civic activists, as well as the unlawful and coordinated attacks and assault against journalists and media organizations by state institutions undermines the media as vanguards of transparency and accountability.

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The CSOs asked the senate to salvage “our democracy through bills, motions, and legislative advocacy”.

“Intensify pressure on the leadership of the National Assembly and your esteemed colleagues in the Assembly to accelerate the processes of further amendments to the electoral legal framework to protect the integrity of elections, strengthen electoral institutions, and safeguard citizens’ participation in the electoral process,” the groups said.

“Expand the civic and democratic space by upholding constitutional rights and halting further consideration of legislation like the NGO, Social Media, and Hate Speech Bills that restrict essential freedoms guaranteed to all Nigerians under the constitution.

“Increase protection of journalists and media organizations, as well as secure the release of journalists and civic activists who are currently detained, unlawfully, by various security agencies.”

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Some of the organisations that signed the statement are YIAGA AFRICA, Say No Campaign Nigeria, and Connected Advocacy for Empowerment and Development Initiative.

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