Nothing is more important in these times than the securing of our rights in alignment with who we as human beings are. While some societies, peoples and countries are celebrating tremendous, exciting and ever so essential victories others fail to even see that our rights are dwindling, our lives increasingly determined by coercion and external agendas which don’t support our families and communities even though they claim they do. Safety has become an obsession to an extent which leaves no room for nature to act, for us to unfold, for humans to be human. Those who have long faced extreme measures of often brutal coercion see clearly and their voices are becoming ever louder. When will the rest of us finally wake up and muster their courage to speak and be themselves so that our children will get to know freedom, sovereignty and peace?
Let me clarify that I have never been to Nigeria. However, research in preparation for upcoming travels has quickly led to a number of puzzle pieces that came into my field in short succession and have formed a picture of a country whose diverse peoples know how to come together, organise themselves, collaborate rooted in a joined quest, united by a shared aliveness, shared concerns, shared values and shared visions for change while respecting each others many differences. These are people who are using the legal, digital and institutional infrastructures currently widely available to us to stand up for justice, set examples, and transform their societies and communities.
This blog post is a draft which will be shared with some of the Nigerian people who stand up courageously in their country and internationally, using the legal system determinedly and efficiently to secure civic spaces and the rights to speak, share, commune and be sovereign beings. Likely this blog post will be shaped by the responses I receive in the future and will be updated and augmented accordingly.
Nigeria is a country which deeply knows the disregard of human rights at many levels of society. This includes the abuse of power by security agencies and the closing down of civic spaces in the name of security such as the violent breaking down of protests and gatherings involving shooting and torture of protesters, the control and shutdown of media and social media platforms, arbitrary incarceration and torture of journalists and activists, arbitrary arrests e.g. of people who are seen with a smartphone based on the immediate assumption that prohibited media and social media platforms are being used. Manipulation of elections and legal processes is common. An intransparent network of terrorist organisations execute kidnappings, looting and killings in various parts of the country, some adhere to and enforce Sharia (Islamic) law. On the other hand labels such as terrorism are misapplied towards those who wish to bring about positive change and justice in peaceful ways. Repressive laws, incorrect and illogical issuing and implementation of worldwide anti-terrorism measures and restrictions on press freedoms have further reduced civic spaces across West Africa.
Yet Nigeria is also a country which sets a positive example by proving that strategic multi-layered action and collaboration among diverse people is possible and powerful, and is paving clear, practical avenues towards the securing of precious rights and freedoms. It is a country in which we can see the two parallel streams incredibly clearly – an old, extremely violent, highly coercive power structure that desperately and ever more aggressively and openly attempts to hold on to its agenda of external control, and the empowering, courageous uniting of people at grassroots levels based on their genuine need and right for justice, freedom and personal and community sovereignty. Let’s take a look at some of the layers of such collaboration. All the organisations and networks below are interlinked.
Closing Civic Spaces in Nigeria
Firstly we have to be aware of and understand the infringements on civic spaces and violations of related human rights. Closing Civic Spaces in Nigeria is a platform which tracks and reports on these issues in Nigeria and West Africa across a wide range of topics incl. freedoms of expression and assembly, press freedom, digital privacy, money laundering, internet shutdowns and the abuse of law and security measures to justify and execute coercion, detention and police violence. The 50 member organisations all contribute to the information input. The system is entirely public – by people for people. The platform also exposes gender inequities and in whole forms the foundation for a wide range of organisations, law firms and private initiatives towards addressing unhealthy influences within and towards Nigerian societies and communities. www.closingspaces.org
Spaces for Change (S4C)
Secondly we need lawyers and legal consultants who know how to use national and international legal systems and governing authorities to reestablish, uphold and secure human rights, and to address the misuse of power and law to suppress the thriving of humankind. Spaces for Change is an organisation lead by an outstanding Nigerian lawyer, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, and her team who together, and in collaboration with many action groups, organisations and initiatives demand accountability from local and international actors for crackdowns of civic spaces as well as intentionally created poverty and human suffering.
S4C expose and address key human rights violations via advocacy and the effective use of national and international legal systems, change norms on human rights in corporate business, and secure the rights of NGOs and other action groups in various West African countries. Among the issues addressed are urban and national governance, land theft, energy policy and gender inclusion all in relation to civic spaces and human rights. Legislative guidance is freely shared on the closingspaces.org which started out as a research initiative and S4C internal platform for tracking and reporting of civic space related human rights issues.
S4C is also active in the areas of capacity-building towards the securing of civic spaces and strongly supports increased youth and women inclusion in decision-making processes. The organisation has volunteer and internship programs. https://spacesforchange.org/
Civic Space Resource Hub for West Africa
The Civic Space Resource Hub for West Africa strengthens public responsiveness and resilience to civic space crackdowns, supports collaboration and increases public influence on governance through training programs, coaching, legal support, advocacy on technology governance and technical support with financial management and resilience. It’s main seat is in Ghana, but the network is also strongly present in Senegal and Nigeria. Training programs focus on country-specific legal frameworks, digital security, organisational competences in technology and communication. In this way private people and non-institutional organisations become more efficient in their work towards the securing of human rights and civic spaces. https://csrhubwestafrica.org/
Network of Probono Lawyers
The Network of Probono lawyers increases access to the legal system and quality legal aid particularly for private people who lack the financial resources needed to defend their rights. It is a sad and surreal reality that we live in a world in which securing one’s so-called human rights costs money – obviously a catch 22; if only those who have sufficient funds to participate in the legal system can defend and secure their rights, then these are no longer human rights but rights which are exclusive to those human beings who chose to be part of the financial system and are privileged enough to successfully cover their needs through that system. https://netprolaw.com/
Action Group on Free Civic Space
Thirdly organisations and businesses which work towards the same outcome need to come together to increase their influence, organise campaigns, education work, research, law suits etc more efficiently and streamlined, and to widen the spectrum of projects and initiatives. The Action Group on Free Civic Space is a coalition formed by Nigerian NGOs to frontally challenge and address the shrinking civic spaces in Nigeria and associated human right violations. The group merges, and to an extent unifies the many voices which speak up against unlawful and violent restrictions implemented in the name of security.
The Action Group consists of 84 member NGOs and draws from the varying areas of strength of these organisations. In this way skills become truly complementary and a mutually empowering network emerges. Lawyers secure the rights of NGOs so that NGOs can educate, communicate and advocate while the civic space is monitored together and resources and ideas are shared and exchanged continuously. https://closingspaces.org/group-activities/
Network on Police Reform in Nigeria / NOPRIN Foundation
Networks may be formed around human rights issues with specific institutional, governmental or military agencies. The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria consists of 73 civil society and human rights organisations. It is a platform for coordinated public input towards concrete police reforms which demand and establish police accountability and the respect of human rights by police forces. NOPRIN also facilitates legislation towards police effectiveness in the right way, rooted in integrity and transparency so that police becomes indeed an agency which protects and supports human life. Healthy dialogue and collaboration transform community-police relations by increasing mutual understanding and transparency. The goals of the network also include the internal transformation of the Nigerian police e.g. by outlining and demanding humane working conditions and an increase in gender equity. Concrete tasks and action steps include the monitoring of police – community interactions, advocacy work such as campaigns against police abuse and impunity, public tribunals, research, field surveys and education about human rights and the legally pinned down limits to police power. The networks volunteer program invites freely given contributions. https://www.noprin.org/about-us/
Lastly, local efforts are complemented by drawing from international resources and experience. Global Coalitions is a freely available book which outlines the foundations for the successful establishing and running of civil society campaigning coalitions that work towards change in international policy or law. The authors of the book, Richard Moyes and Thomas Nash, both gained much experience in the field through their work within the Cluster Munition Coalition (http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/en-gb/home.aspx). The book also draws heavily on interviews with people who have worked within various other types of coalitions in a diversity of roles, and provides guidance on topics such as coalition structure, the securing of funding, communication with external institutions and management of internal administration. The book has been used as a support material for the formation of various networks and coalitions in Nigeria. https://globalcoalitions.org/notes
Work towards profound and lasting transformation needs to deeply penetrate the physical layers of our societies. It does not happen in the head, or by sending love, by praying, wishing, or emotional release. It has to be physical and structured and requires multiple levels of organisation to actively take down what no longer works and construct what inherently reflects joined values. As you can see, avenues and action nodes in Nigeria include networks of grass roots civil organisations and their platforms, law firms, research, data collection and distribution centres as well as the use of internationally available infrastructure and knowledge.
Truly transformative work also requires humbleness in the recognition that no one can oversee the complete, ever-changing picture of happenings across the diversity of front lines linked to those who drive positive change, those who wish to force societies into their elitist world models, and those who would love to bring about positive transformation and even believe they do, yet their ideas and actions are still rooted in the same system that wishes to cut our rights. Securing our rights requires courage and readiness to make oneself vulnerable and be driven by an inner current which reflects nature’s intelligence, passion and enormous strength. With that comes a clarity. With clarity comes confidence, healthy power, the recognition of who we are and what we are capable of simply by being human.
Nigeria seems on a clear path of transforming its government, police force and institutions, and carrying that work to the international level. There are other ways of rebuilding our societies too, and differing circumstances across the world’s countries and regions require different, yet often locally very specific modes of action. Leaving behind current structures which govern and manage our societies in their entirety is another avenue. It leads to a complete split between the civic community level and institutions of any type and requires the complete rebuilding from the ground up. Both ways have their pros and cons and of course can also appear in any combination.
A poem for you
Who we are
A reflection that withstands all rejection.
A spontaneity that supersedes all calamity.
Every breakdown into that force of silence
Entails a leap towards embodiment of brightness.
Unheard of depths of wisdom
Flying towards us from that internal whisper.
Acts so bold that all not-life is stunned,
Into silence, into shiver – disassociating all around.
A force of transformation which cannot be faked,
Solid like a rock when everything is at stake.
Breaking new ground with every passing day
Amidst raging anger, despair and dismay.
Every moment of surrender into that current of trust
Dissolves more deception until it is all gone to dust.
You believe you can’t go on,
Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Fall below that persuasive, lifeless voice
Recognise the depth of your ever-increasing choice.
It emerges a freedom almost forgotten in earthly realms
From exploding flames and citadels.
Destruction and brightness taking a stance
Side by side in a combustion of confidence,
Driving nature ever further in its radiance.
You are an embodiment of exuberance
Which needs close to nothing – the simple magic of a glowing gem.
A self-sufficient spark of profound intelligence
Which stands strong and forever united with all those who resemble its primordial, fierce benevolence.
Fall back into the arms of your silence.