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Open Civic Space Key To Citizenship Participation



Reclaiming Nigeria’s Shrinking Civic Space was the theme at a colloquium to mark 40 years of Global Rights’ existence as an organisation known for its fight to promote human rights through various thematic areas across the globe. RUTH TENE NATSA was there for LEADERSHIP Friday.

The Nigerian civic space is one that is said to be shrinking following poor citizenship participation in governance and democratic processes; however, stakeholders are of the view that an open civic space is key to reclaiming the nation’s civic space. In his presentation, titled the ‘Urgency of Now’, chairman, Global Rights Board of Trustees, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, centered his message on the five Cs, which he said included Country, Community, Company, Consumer, and Citizens.” He stressed that in Reclaiming Nigeria’s Shrinking Civic Space, Nigerians must realise that they are first of all Nigerians before they are tribes. “When we complain about our civic space and how it is constraining us, we are the enablers of the constraining of our civic space.”
The former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, who spoke with Journalists on the sidelines of the 40th Anniversary celebrations, noted that “On the basis of Ekiti and Osun and the primaries that we have seen, or the figures that have been produced from the Primaries, the elections don’t offer a lot of hope and that is my honest view. Do we have the opportunity to change it, yes we do, but we don’t have a massive window”.

He said, “When I see people say they are Hausas, Igbos or Yoruba, I am pained because we don’t seem to realise that there are only two people in Nigeria, the oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressed are in the majority while the oppressors are a miniscule fraction of the population, but rather, we like to divide ourselves and that is why we are where we are,” he said.
Giving a brief of the organisation, Global Rights Executive Director, Ms Abiodun Baiyewu -Teru said the organisation was founded in Washington DC in 1998 with the name, International Human Rights Law Group and later changed its name to Global Right Partners for Justice in 2003 on the occasion of its 25th anniversary “In 2014, the organisation shut its Washington headquarters and devolved the center of its operation to its country office in Nigeria, from where the organisation has continued to work with local activists in Africa to promote and protect the rights of marginalised populations.” “The thematic area of the organisation includes human security and access to remedies, equitable resource governance and security/human rights. This, we do, through developing the capacity of community-based organisations, media and government on human rights issues, train local communities on their legal and human rights, monitor and document human rights violations as well as facilitate platforms for stakeholder dialogues on human rights and governance issues,” she said. Ms Baiyewu-Teru- “We have been in Nigeria for more than 20 years and our footprints have birthed many organisations in this country as well. Global Rights has stood for the equality and dignity of all human beings. We have worked in the most oppressive countries around the world, including Nigeria, working on issues of ensuring access to justice to remedy the dignity of a human person and ensuring the effective governance of our natural resources and human rights”. Speaking on the organisation’s achievement, she said, “In Nigeria, we have done a lot, we have worked around countries ensuring that citizens are inbuilt with the capacity to engage in participatory governance and to build the Nigeria of their own dreams.” “In 40 years, Global rights has turned around legislations in countries like the Maghreb region in Morocco, instituting human rights, instituted legal airs in countries like Afghanistan. In Nigeria, we were able to call attention to the lead poisoning in Zamfara and ensured that those communities got remediated.
“We have also worked on issues of energy and human rights to Bauchi, Kano and Nigeria as a whole and helped build the capacity of more than 500 paralegals to offer legal first aid and a whole myriad of issues,” she said.

She maintained that “Ensuring that citizens have a voice and their voices are amplified and that people are able to speak for themselves and stand to be citizens in their own country is one that must be done. Citizens own their country, so we must claim that space otherwise we will keep talking about the cabal while portraying ourselves as weak, feeble citizens, which we are not.”
In her advise to citizens, a member of the Board, Mrs Juliet kego-Ume- Onyido, said because government flows from the people, we do not have the government that we deserve. The government that we have now is not representative of our needs that is why we have such horrible numbers of human development indices in our institutions.
My advice to all citizens, leaders, government is that if we, as citizens, will organise ourselves, a structure where someone is running for office and has to pay N45million to get a form, what advice are you going to give to that person that he will listen to. The people that we have now are benefitting from a system that is unjust, so if they had wanted to change it they would have, but they haven’t.
If a structure is not working for us, we need to stop hating one another. The one thing that Nigerian politicians fear is a united citizenry, because they have succeeded in weaponising poverty, religion, ethnicity, fear and information.

“We, as citizens, need to reclaim our space and tell ourselves what is not working and needs to be changed in terms of the land use act, constitution, policing, judiciary and how resources are shared, accountable; we need to, as citizens, focus more on our shared values,” she said.
The activist maintained that “People say we do not have a nation but a country, but I beg to differ. I believe that Nigeria has shared values, values of resilience, values of being hardworking, we have values of being generous and being open minded to different communities”.
“The difference that the political class amplifies is really what we use to control the grassroots, so that they are impoverished, unskilled uneducated and so dependent on them; break that cycle, so that we can start from the organic level.”
Another member of the Board, Miss Miriam Aliko Mohammed, said Global Rights empowers women to speak with their voices. We don’t do it for them, what we do is we build capacity, so that we can hear what it is that they want.
For me, I work with house-helps and one of the things that I have found that works is also to build capacity, most of the things that they want is the same thing that any other girl wants, right to education or learn a trade and have a viable future. So it is building capacity for them to be able to do that within the work that they do.
Aside the colloquium, participants were treated to an exciting live display of Beere.
Members of the Global Rights Board include the Board Chair, Chidi Odinkalu; Treasurer, Ayo Abraham, while other members include, Mrs Juliet kego-Ume- Onyido, Miss Miriam Aliko Mohammed, Dr Audu Maikori, Meghan Chapman and Mary White.