By Lorine Emenike
A coalition of civil society organizations in Rivers State has decried the daily shrinking of civic space in the state. Their alarm was raised at a one day press briefing in Port Harcourt on redressing the shrinking civic space in Rivers State, arrested victims of the #EndSARS protest, reappearance of black soot and community advocacy.
Lead the advocates, Debbie Effiong said “the form and essence of human rights and democracy and the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria have undoubtedly become a cause of concerns for citizens,” for which reason Stakeholder Democracy Network, SDN, a Niger Delta focused NGO in response to research, in collaboration with CSOs commenced advocacy activities to halt the growing reduction in citizen engagement in the democratic process stressing, that democracy must provide room for citizen participation and accountability from those in government.
“Democracy must allow for equal participation of citizens in government and governance, as well as transparent and accountable leadership by the covering class. Government requires strong institutions to sustain democracy. For instance the judiciary which is the last hope of the common man must always uphold the rule of law and human rights.
“It is against this backdrop that SDN coordinated series of engagement with Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) to commence advocacy action to reverse the trend of the shrinking civil space in Rivers State through the several meetings.”
According to her, the key advocacy issues are, illegal arrest and detention of citizens following the #EndSARS protest in Rivers State and need to address the environmental and air pollution in Rivers State.
She explained that the coalition will as intervention steps, visit key officials of the Rivers State Police Command (DCP-Investigations, PPRO and the Nigerian Civil Defense and Security Corps Rivers State Command to extract commitments in addressing documented cases of fundamental human rights violations, as well as ensure a pollution free Rivers State.
Also on the advocacy list are visits to courts and correctional centers to follow up on cases relating to victims of illegal detention during the EndSARS protest in Rivers State, media advocacy for the restoration of violated citizens’ rights, and prosecution of perpetrators of these crimes as well as stakeholders on the worrisome reappearance of black soot in Rivers State.
The coalition demanded revisit and properly investigate all lingering cases of human rights violations and police brutality.
“Beyond seeking the highlighted issues, the coalition demands that the Rivers State police command should as a matter of utmost urgency and priority carry out proper investigation into lingering cases of human rights abuses and police brutality; and immediately charge suspects to court within the stipulated time allowed by law centers in the state in order to enforce respect for human rights and show regards to the rule of law”
It charged the state government to set in motion machinery for implementing recommendations on ending the soot menace. .
“Also, the Rivers State government should live beyond policy enactment, and immediately implement recommendations made by the government panel on soot by setting up enforcement and monitoring team that will ensure that violators of illegal crude refining, etc., are brought to book and appropriate sanctions meted out to them.
Also, extent law, ( the Anti-Torture Act of 2017) frowns at torture and sees it as an infringement on human rights. Therefore offenders of this heinous crime/ torture should be immediately prosecuted no matter how highly placed and connected”
Earlier in his address, Mr. Green Isaac the advocacy team lead had said the judiciary and police should endeavor to enforce constitutional laws. “Nigeria has fine laws amongst other countries of the world but in enforcing these laws they slack.”
“Nigerian Police has become the law and jury. Take for instance, the arrest of Success Odinaka a suspect arrested after the EndSARS protest, He and others are still held by the police when they are expected to approach the nearby magistrate court to inform the court that someone is held in their custody and request for trial, by which the judiciary will determine what is to be done”
Green said the media and others are watching the police.
“Nigeria Police should know henceforth that people are watching what they do, the media is also watching. We have visited the Port Harcourt correctional centers to see what is happening; we want the judiciary to carry out their oversight functions to see that justice to human rights is guaranteed”
Lawrencia Chioma, a member of the coalition pointed out that according to a private research on the air quality, findings in Rivers State with Woji and Port Harcourt/ Aba road expressway in the Port Harcourt metropolis as case study, there is heavy presence of carbon, lead and iron in the air which is very heavy around these areas.
“These substance are in concentrated doses, in a short time there is going to be respiratory issues. The long time result according to the researcher, an overdose of this substance will lead to cancer, reproductive issues, and we are going to have children that will experience low growth,” Chioma pointed out.
“The researcher said children will be affected greatly. The skin absorbs these chemicals, even the women selling bolle (roasted plantain) and yam, garri in the open, these chemicals are heavily rested on them”, she highlighted, explaining that the findings can be accessed on academic journal.org”
Chioma harped on the need for concerted action by government and civil society to end illegal refining of oil products.
“We are at risk of extinction. The research was actually an independent research. Five to 10 years from now, we don’t know what life in the Niger Delta will look like. As far as there is need for kerosene, illegal refiners of petroleum products will not stop; until the coalition of CSOs and government put in place an alternative to the public need of these produce of illegal bunkers, illegal refinery which is a devastating problem will continue”
She advised government to engage youths especially those involved in illegal oil refining by enrolling them in trainings with Boskel, a company in Rivers State that will educate them on how to properly dispose of wastes from oil refining and relevant trainings that will help them refine properly without causing harm to the environment.
Henry Eferegbo another coalition member added that the “non-seriousness” on the part of government to issue license for modular refining also prevented illegal bunkers from transiting to the more environmentally friendly modular refining.