By Henry Ojelu
In the face of the continued assault on the constitutional rights of Nigerians, one civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has remained resolute in the fight against all forms of such violations.
Through its numerous advocacy projects, partnership and litigations, the organisation has continued to live up to its mandate of holding government to account.
Aside from its core vision of pursuing transparency and accountability in government and protection of economic and social rights, the organisation has also doggedly remained astute in the fight for human rights and freedom of the press.
Last year alone, SERAP filed over 20 lawsuits against the federal and state governments on various cases of abuse of human rights and press freedom. It also recorded several landmark judgements to reverse cases of injustice and abuse of rights of individuals.
In the first and second quarters of this year, the organisation has undertaken several advocacies and litigation processes to cure a plethora of abuses of human rights and press freedom.
Repentant terrorists bill
Following the report of a bill before the Senate seeking to allow repentant Boko Haram terrorists opportunities to access public funds to enjoy foreign education, SERAP immediately moved to stop the bill.
In a letter to the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, SERAP urged the lawmakers to immediately jettison the obnoxious bill and rather sponsor bills that would ensure access to justice and reparation for the victims of Boko Haram terrorist group.
In the letter dated February 28, and signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “This bill erodes justice and makes a mockery of the suffering of victims, and the unspeakable human tragedy, humanitarian crisis and appalling atrocities committed by the Boko Haram terrorist group.
“By calling Boko Haram members ‘ex-agitators’, the bill mocks the victims of appalling atrocities committed by the terrorist group, and is a blatant affront to victims’ dignity.”
The organisation insisted that Boko Haram members should not be allowed to enjoy foreign education while over 13 million Nigerian children of school age are roaming the streets.
It said: “Alleged perpetrators of gross violations should not get the benefits at the expense of these and other deserving children. Rather than allowing perpetrators to access public funds to enjoy foreign education, the Senate should be promoting reparation for victims, to prevent future criminality and ensure the best interest of justice.”
The Senate has since temporarily discontinued hearing of the bill.
Arbitrary detention of deposed Emir Sanusi
In the wake of the arbitrary detention and degrading treatment meted out to deposed Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and the complicit role of the Federal Government, SERAP in March activated its human rights advocacy mechanism and sought the intervention of United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary.
In a complaint dated March 11, and signed by Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “The detention of Emir Sanusi constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of his liberty because it does not have any legal justification.
“The detention also does not meet minimum international standards of due process.”
SERAP urged the Working Group to request the Nigerian and Kano State authorities to investigate and hold accountable all persons responsible for the unlawful arrest, continued detention, and degrading treatment of Emir Sanusi.
It also called on the Working Group “to request the Nigerian and Kano State authorities to award Emir Sanusi adequate compensation for the violations he has endured as a result of his unlawful arrest, arbitrary detention, and degrading treatment.”
After days of sustained pressure on the Federal Government and Kano State Government occasioned by SERAP’s complaints and similar outcry from other organisations and individuals, Emir Sanusi was eventually released from detention.
Agba Jalingo sham trial
When all entreaties to the Cross River State Government to free Agba Jalingo earlier this year failed, SERAP dragged the state government and FG to ECOWAS Court over his sham trial.
Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, was arrested on August 22, 2019 over a report alleging that Governor Ben Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.
In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/2020, SERAP contended that: “The sole objective of the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade is to perpetually keep Agba Jalingo in arbitrary detention and to silence him simply for expressing critical views and carrying out his legitimate job as a journalist.”
SERAP further contended among other things that this was not the first time the government of Nigeria and the Cross River State government have taken actions to intimidate, harass and suppress journalists through the instrumentality of trumped-up charges and use of overly broad and unjust laws, including Section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act, 2015, which provides for the offence of cyber-stalking.
Although Jalingo has been granted bail, SERAP is still pursuing the suit before the ECOWAS Court with the hope to get reparation, including adequate compensation, restitution and guarantees of non-repetition.
Illegal life ban on The Sun, Vanguard report
When in April, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State decided to play God by banning the correspondents of The Sun Newspaper, Chijioke Agwu, and Vanguard Newspaper, Peter Okutu, from entering government house and government facilities in the state for life, SERAP rose against the attack on press freedom.
The organisation swiftly condemned the blatant intimidation, harassment and attacks on journalists and media houses, insisting that the governor’s action was a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and the country’s international obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
It vowed to pursue appropriate legal action nationally and internationally against Ebonyi State authorities if the illegality is not reversed within 48 hours.
Few days after SERAP’s threat of legal action, Governor Umahi made a volte-face and reversed the illegal ban.