In 2020, the US has accused Nigerian authorities of widespread corruption and suffocation of free speech.
This was reported by the United States in the ‘2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,’ which were published on Tuesday but only made available to The PUNCH on Wednesday.
Malachy Ugwumadu, a former President of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party both chastised Muhammadu Buhari’s regime in separate statements on Wednesday.
The US Department of State, which authored the study, said there were various reports of government corruption last year, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft stance.
It cited Ibrahim Magu, the former acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, who was arrested and is being investigated for corruption.
‘Many corruption lawsuits are now pending as a result of procedural delays.’
Many corruption cases, especially high-profile ones, remained pending in court due to administrative or procedural delays, according to the report.
“Although the legislation offers criminal penalties for official corruption prosecutions, the government did not effectively enforce the law, and government officials often engaged in corrupt activities with impunity,” the report concluded.
“Corruption at all levels of government, including the judiciary and security forces, was systematic, widespread, and pervasive. Throughout the year, there were several reports of government corruption.”
The report claimed that political leaders ordered security forces to target journalists covering sensitive topics such as human rights violations, electoral malpractices, high-level public corruption, and the war on terrorism, accusing the government of suffocating press freedom.
“Security forces arrested and abused journalists, often for covering sensitive issues like political corruption and security,” the report says. Journalists who criticize the government are occasionally arrested and detained by intelligence services such as the DSS (Department of State Services) and police.”
Although stating that the constitution and legislation guarantee freedom of speech and press, the United States claimed that there have been reports of the government limiting the right of speech and other types of expression.
It claimed that “authorities in the north have at times suppressed free speech by labeling it blasphemy,” and that critics have been subjected to threats, harassment, arrest, detention, and abuse.
“Army forces in some cases intimidated civilians who provided, or were believed to have provided, information to journalists or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on military misconduct,” the study reported.
“When uncovering corruption or mass demonstrations, journalists have been charged with treason, economic sabotage, or fraud on at least six occasions.
According to the survey, “numerous journalists were killed, detained, kidnapped, or arrested during the year (2020).”
The killings of a RegentAfrica Times reporter, Alex Ogbu, by policemen while covering an Islamic Movement in Nigeria protest in Abuja on January 21, 2020, and an intern with Gboah tv, Onifade Pelumi, on October 24, in Lagos, were cited by the Department of State.
It claimed that the Federal Government used regulatory oversight to limit press freedom, especially by cracking down on television and radio stations for allegedly violating amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code’s sixth edition.
The NBC fined local radio station Nigeria Info 99.3 FM for comments by the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, on insecurity in the region, citing violations of amendments to the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code in August.
“During October’s #EndSARS protests, the NBC licensed private television stations Africa Independent Television, Channels TV, and Arise News, claiming that their coverage of the nationwide protests relied on unverifiable video footage from social media handles.”
There were allegations that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, illegitimate, or extrajudicial killings, according to the US, with some suspects being held responsible when found guilty.
However, impunity remained a major issue in such situations, it said, adding that the police, army, and other security forces used force to disperse demonstrators and arrest criminals and suspects.
“In prosecuting corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence services did not always observe due process, arresting suspects without proper arrest and search warrants,” according to the study.
It also cited the #EndSARS protest on October 20 at the Lekki tollgate, where security forces imposed curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse demonstrators, arguing that reliable information on casualties as a result of the shooting was not available at the end of the year.
‘’Several unauthorized military detention centers, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State, continued to operate,” it added. While reports that conditions at the Giwa Barracks detention facility had improved, prisoners were still subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention.
“There were no records of transparency for previous deaths in detention, nor for previous Amnesty International reports claiming that an estimated 20,000 people were illegally detained between 2009 and 2015, with up to 7,000 of them dying in custody.”
The US listed accounts of sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls by soldiers, police, the Civilian Joint Task Force, and others, adding that such exploitation and abuse were a concern in IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, Borno State’s capital, and across the North-East.
According to the survey, Boko Haram killed and maimed thousands of people and kidnapped over 2,000 people, according to some NGOs, and the sect engaged in sexual harassment and rape of its victims.
The Buhari administration has been chastised by the United States for its evaluation of Nigeria’s human rights and corruption in 2020.
According to the PDP, rights violations under Buhari was higher than under military law.
The opposition PDP agreed with the US report, claiming that every Nigerian was aware of the current regime’s human rights violations.
Kola Ologbondiyan, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, confirmed this in an interview with one of our correspondents.
Rights violations under the current regime, according to Ologbondiyan, are worse than what the country experienced under military rule, especially under the late General Sani Abacha’s regime.
“In all fairness, every Nigerian knows that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is guilty of many human rights violations,” he said.
“For example, the APC claims to be promoting women to participate in politics, despite the fact that we have had cases where women who have participated in politics have faced life-threatening circumstances, including being killed.
“Another example is that, based on what we saw in Lekki and what has been going on in the streets of Abuja in terms of demonstrations, the government of this country is vehemently suppressing the right to protest.
“In total, the Buhari administration has violated rights in a way that we have not seen even in the military, especially under General Abacha.”
In an interview with The PUNCH, former President of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, Ugwumadu, characterized the US verdict as depressing.
The global verdict, he claims, weakens the recognised ingredients of democracy.
“Those constitutive blocks of democracy are free speech, rule of law, autonomous and impartial judiciary, periodic and reliable electoral processes by universal adult suffrage, respect and obedience to court orders, and, of course, security,” he said. Such a decision does not discourage the federal government.”
Ariyo-Dare Atoye, the Convener of the Coalition in Defense of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, said the study clearly highlighted the Buhari regime’s systematic corruption.
He believed that under this administration, corruption had become institutionalized, noting that it took a foreign government to tell the FG the facts.
“The report from the United States is not far from the truth,” Atoye said. Corruption is not only alarming; the Buhari administration has thoroughly institutionalized it. Impunity has become the rule, and we now have a government under which graft is thicker than justice.
FG remains silent.
Attempts by The PUNCH to obtain the Federal Government’s response to the US report on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
When contacted for a response from the government, Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said that because the report concerned the government, The PUNCH should contact the Ministry of Information.
When our correspondent attempted to contact the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, he did not pick up the phone.
As of the time of filing this article, he had yet to respond to the text message sent to him.
When our correspondent attempted to speak with the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), on the phone about the matter, the same scenario played out.
Attempts to obtain an official response from the ruling All Progressives Congress were also unsuccessful. Senator John Akpanudoedehe, Secretary, Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee, did not pick up or return calls to his mobile phone number.
A response to a text message to him on the subject was still being awaited as at 9:50 pm.
The national secretary is also the official spokesperson for the party.
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