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Nigeria: Report on Closing Spaces for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement

A research report ‘Closing Spaces for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement in Nigeria’ has been published (May 2017) by Spaces for Change. The study examines factors triggering  government restriction of the spaces used for charitable activity, civil society activism and democratic engagement in Nigeria. The restrictions, usually framed around the objective of protecting national interest and security, are often triggered by international regulations and treaties that governments have either ratified or submitted to  implementing. An example is the 40 Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global body that sets the standards for combating money laundering (ML) and the financing of terrorism (FT).

Is there any evidence linking the implementation of the FATF standards in Nigeria with the multiplication of oversight regimes for regulating non-profit organisations, resulting in the growing restrictions to their operations? Launching a systematic inquiry into Nigeria’s legal regimes for combating ML and FT, Spaces for Change  documents their findings in two parts:
The first part, Beyond FATF: Trends, Risks and Restrictive Regulation of Non-Profit Organisations in Nigeria, examines the (in)adequacy of Nigeria’s countering ML and FT legal framework, and tries to determine whether there is an evidential link between the enforcement of FATF standards and the ever-broadening state endeavours closing down spaces for civil society in the country. The second part, Closing Spaces for Civic Engagement and Civil Society in Nigeria, generates a database of closing spaces in Nigeria, presenting the evidence related to excessive restrictions on citizens and civil society operations perpetrated under the guise of ‘national interest’, ‘national security’ and ‘other ML and FT’ considerations.

Speaking about the research report, Spaces for Change’s Executive Director, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, elucidates that ‘the report looks at how state actors across Nigeria’s six geopolitical regions, comprising executive governors, security agencies, state and federal parliaments as well as government officials and departments, obstruct and constrain the spaces through which activists, media groups, non-governmental organisations, community associations, religious movements and other active citizens use to engage and demand accountability from the political leadership at various levels. Restrictive legislations like the rested Social Media Bill, the NGO Bill 2016, among others, also form part of efforts to clamp down the civic space in Nigeria in the name of national security and other considerations’.