Media Experts to build Multi-stakeholder Network to Support Conducive Media Environment

images (2)Experts Media and governance from 15 Sub-Saharan African countries have agreed to establish a multi-stakeholder network comprising of non-state actors to work with governments, parliamentarians, and other stakeholders to support a conducive legal, regulatory, and economic environment for media and to defend independent voices, especially when they come under attack.

The experts met in Durban, South Africa on July 5 and 6, 2017 where they formed the network and agreed to communicate a clear set of African priorities in the media sector. And to use the agenda identified at the meeting to mobilize support from international donors and organizations, and may provide a basis to form new coalitions for action in the region.

The Concluding Statement which emanated from the meeting disclosed that the multi-stakeholder network would be an essential resource for confronting a complex combination of global and regional challenges to media systems that threaten to reverse the progress made on the continent in fostering pluralism, quality journalism, and freedom of expression.

Participants at the meeting express they conviction that: “Democracy and sustainable development in Africa will depend upon defending and deepening the role of media as a source of reliable information, a spotlight on abuse and injustice, a driver of growth, and a platform for citizen voices.”

The network therefore plans to focus on building broad coalitions, including media associations, human rights groups, media outlets, legal and judicial organizations, and trade unions to work on four objective areas namely solidarity among proponents of independent media; sustainability of media outlets and markets; an African voice in digital debates; and media literacy and professionalism.

The group further identified steps to be taken in the coming months to set the network in motion. These include mapping existing networks to identify the existing stakeholders and networks that could form the basis of this wider network; forming working groups aligned to the four objective areas to elaborate specific action plans and proposals and developing common policy positions for advocacy on media issues at the global level and at important upcoming events on the continent.

The two-day meeting was held with the support of the Centre for International Media AssistanceDeutsche Welle Akademie, and the Pan-African Lawyers Union.

Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) Calls for Restraint, Tolerance Among Nigerians

Funke Egbemode
Mrs. Funke Egbemode, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)

The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), rising from its second quarterly meeting, has called for restraint and tolerance among Nigerians, stressing that the country remains stronger together while condemning the hate speeches and other vices emanating from different sections of the country.

Editors and journalists as major stakeholders in the Nigerian Project, the Guild reminded the hate agents, fought for the enthronement of the current democratic dispensation, with some paying the supreme price, to birth a constitutional government.

The Guild noted and condemned the overzealousness of operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and other security agencies against the media reminding them that at all times, duties come with deep responsibilities that must be upheld.

The Guild noted that those sowing seeds of discord should realise that they are not just destroying the dreams of the nation’s founding fathers but the progress that has been made over the years as a nation reminding them that their actions have the capacity to alter the destiny of Nigeria negatively.

It regretted that elders from different parts of the country kept quiet for too long allowing the youths to take over the socio-political space and bring the nation to the present situation. It therefore urged the elders across the country to always take keen interest in the affairs of the nation, rather than play the ostrich.

Urging Nigerians to ignore those agitating for the dismemberment of the country the Guild asked them to go about their businesses without fear or let, and focus more on repositioning the country for present and future generations while appreciating the firm and decisive intervention of the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, which it said has calmed the situation and urged the government to do more.

The Guild noted that although the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has been issued orders to his men to arrest those seeking to dismember Nigeria, it said it is worried that no commensurate action has been taken. It urged the Police to be more responsive and pragmatic.

While commending the Nigeria Police Force for the arrest of the kidnap kingpin, Chukwudi Dumeme Onuamadike and other kidnappers, the Guild urged the police to do more to ensure the release of the abducted pupils of Igbonla Model College, Epe in Lagos State, who have not been rescued.

Communiqué_Issued_at_the_Advocacy_Workshop_on_the_Digital_Rights_and_Freedom_Bill

Advocacy Workshop for Civil Society Organisations
On the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill

Organized by:

Media Rights Agenda

Under the Global Internet Freedom Program (Nigeria)
At Beverly Hills Holiday Hotel and Resort, Abuja
On Wednesday, June 28 and Thursday, June 29, 2017

Communiqué
“Support the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill”

A two-day Advocacy Workshop for Civil Society Organizations on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, organized by Media Rights Agenda, was held in Abuja on June 28 and 29, 2017.

The objective of the workshop was to improve the understanding of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill by representatives of civil society organizations, build their capacity to advocate for its passage in the National Assembly and increase civil society engagement in the ongoing legislative process on the Bill.

The workshop was addressed at its opening session by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, and Mr. Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, while Mr Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant on Digital and New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, gave the Keynote Address on: “Protecting Human Rights Online in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges”.

The workshop featured sessions on The State of Digital Rights and Freedom in Nigeria; Understanding the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill; Making the Case Against Network Disruptions in Africa; Effective Communications in Campaigns and Advocacy; Conducting Advocacy in the National Assembly; Building an Effective Coalition for Civil Society Engagement; among others.

Participants at the workshop noted that the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, if passed into Law, will provide a comprehensive legal framework for the advancement, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and in the digital environment.

They further noted that if passed into Law, the Bill will effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment, boost the innovative spirit of Nigerians and accelerate the country’s development in the digital age by enabling Nigerians to take maximum advantage of emerging opportunities online.

The participants commended the Nigerian Government for playing a leadership role on the digital rights issue globally when it co-sponsored in 2012 the landmark “Resolution on the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet” at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva along with Sweden, the United States, Brazil, Turkey and Tunisia as the Resolution provided the much needed guidance on how to protect human rights on the Internet through its affirmation that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

The participants observed that there was ample evidence available to support the proposition that maintaining an open, human rights respecting online environment has beneficial economic impact for countries as well as aiding development, democracy and innovation.

They called on the National Assembly to speedily pass the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into Law to bring Nigeria’s domestic law, policies and practices on the protection of human rights online into conformity with international norms and standards.

They also urged the National Assembly to ensure that the Law that will emerge from the process is a strong piece of legislation that can effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment.

The participants called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign Bill into Law as soon as it is passed by the National Assembly and sent to him for assent.

They invited other civil society organizations, the Media, the Private Sector, Trade Unions, Professional Bodies and Other Non-State Actors, as critical stakeholders, to support the Bill and contribute to creating public awareness about the Bill.

Adopted in Abuja this 29th Day of June, 2017

Journalist Covering Protest Brutalised, Detained

Ibraheema Yakubu,  German Deutsche Welle Correspondent
Ibraheema Yakubu, German Deutsche Welle Correspondent

On June 23, 2017, Ibraheema Yakubu, a correspondent of the German Deutsche Welle (DW) radio who reports for its Hausa service was arrested while covering a peaceful procession by the Shiites Muslim sect in Kaduna. The policemen beat him and damaged his equipment while he was covering the procession and thereafter detained him.

Mr. Yakubu was arrested while covering a scene in which locals attacked the Shiites and tried to force them to disperse.
He was later released on bail to officials of the Kaduna council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) about six hours after. He returned to the police station on June 18 as directed.
Following confirmation that Mr. Yakuba is not a Shiite member as alleged but a journalist carrying out his duty, on June 29, Mr. Agyole Abeh, the Commissioner of Police, Kaduna State Command apologized to the journalist on behalf of the command.

When Yakubu met the police commissioner in company of other journalists he said his command will also consider replacing the journalist’s damaged equipment.

Conference to Discuss Ways to Guarantee Freedom of Expression, Others under International Human Rights Law

Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri,  Chairman of Qatar's National Human Rights Committee
Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri,
Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee

The National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) of the State of Qatar and the International Federation for the Protection of Journalists (IFPJ) will on July 24 and 25, 2017 host an international conference on “Confronting threats to freedom of opinion and expression and access to information” in Doha, Qatar.

The conference aims at getting participants to discuss ways of enforcing the guarantees of freedom of opinion and expression and access to information under international human rights law; addressing the problems related to the modern communication technologies in the international human rights law; and introducing ways of protecting journalists and supporting and promoting pluralistic, independent and free media.

With the theme: “Freedom of Opinion: Facing Up to the Threat”, the conference will bring together over 200 participants, representing international and regional non-governmental organizations in the field of human rights, media institutions and research centers, as well as researchers, policy experts, treaty body experts and a number of UN special rapporteurs, representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO).

The Conference will also seek to find ways to protect journalists in dispute and conflict areas; combat incitement to hate speech   in the media; and code of conduct for those working in the media field.

It is meant to serve as a forum for exchanging ideas and proposals, as well as good practices and initiatives in the field of promoting freedom of expression and access to information.

Several working papers will be presented at all sessions in English and Arabic with interpretations provided.

MRA Launches Policy Brief on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill

Ms. Morisola Alabi, Legal Officer, Media Rights Agenda
Ms. Morisola Alaba, Legal Officer, Media Rights Agenda

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) launched a “policy brief” on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill at an advocacy workshop for civil society organisation which took place on June 28 and 29, 2017 in Abuja.

The policy brief aims to enhance the understanding of the civil society on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill especially for use in their advocacy engagement to policy and decision makers as well as other relevant actors.

The brief explains the fundamental rights and freedom which the bill seeks to protect such as the right to privacy online, protection of identity of internet users, privacy and protection of personal data and information, freedom of opinion online, freedom of expression online, freedom of association and assembly online, e-governance, access to education online, financial transparency, among others.

It further states the need for the bill to become a law given the fact that other national legislation related to the internet in Nigeria are far from being consistent or in conformity with international human right standards. Some of these internet related legislation seek to criminalizes some internet activities and in the event limiting such rights and freedom as freedom of expression online, right to information online, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, etc.

The brief pointed out that there is no data protection law, noting that the personal data and information of virtually all Nigerians are put at risk and the public institutions and private entities which collect the information are under no legal obligation to protect the data, while affected citizens whose personal information or data are wrongfully exposed, including as a result of negligence, have no recourse to legal redress or protection.

The policy brief also emphasises of the objectives of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill which are to: promote the freedoms of expression, assembly and association online; guarantee the fundamental privacy rights of citizens and define the legal framework regarding surveillance, clearly outline the provisions of lawful and authorized interception of communications within the digital environment and online without sacrificing the freedom of citizens or their constitutional right to communicate freely, accord data privacy more priority and thus safeguarding sensitive citizen data currently being held by numerous government and privacy institutions, and guarantee the application of human rights which apply offline within the digital environment and online.

The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill also seeks to provide sufficient safeguards against abuse and provide opportunities for redress where infringement occurs; safeguard the digital liberty of Nigerians, now and in the future; and seek the guarantee of the inviolability of communications, except by order of  Court obtained in accordance to due process of Law and equip the judiciary with the necessary legal framework to protect human rights online.

MRA Launches ‘FOI Hall of Shame’, Names Ikeja High Court Judge, NNPC Inductees

Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on July 3, 2017 in Lagos launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” aimed at focusing attention on public officials and institutions undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, decisions or utterances.

MRA named Justice Doris Okuwobi of the Ikeja High Court as the first inductee into the FOI Hall of Shame on July 3 and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as the second inductee on July 10.

Announcing the initiative, MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said: “six years after the Act was enacted into Law, it has become clear that there is a concerted effort by some public officials and institutions, cutting across all arms and all levels of government, to ensure that it does not work and that it does not achieve its objectives. We intend to call them out in the court of public opinion.”

He disclosed further that: “every week, MRA will induct into the FOI Hall of Shame a public institution or public official who, by its, his or her action or inaction, decision, utterance or in any other way is undermining or has undermined the effective implementation of the FOI Act and we will provide ample justification for our decision regarding such an institution or official.”

Explaining the choice of Justice Okuwobi as the first inductee into the FOI Hall of Shame, Mr. Ojo said her ruling on an FOI suit on June 19, 2017 is “one of the most ridiculous decisions ever given by a court anywhere in the world”, adding that the implication of the ruling is that if a public institution ignores a freedom of information request by failing to respond to it, it can never be sued, despite the clear provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to the contrary.

He recounted the events leading to Justice Okuwobi’s ruling, from November 4, 2016, when MRA made a Freedom of Information request to the Ojodu Local Council Development Area (LCDA), by a letter with the subject: “Request for Records of Water Works Plans for Araromi Zion Estate”; the LCDA refusal to respond to the letter; and MRA’s December 6, 2016, application filed at the Ikeja Judicial Division of the Lagos State High Court seeking leave to compel the Council to comply with the provisions of the FOI Act and provide MRA with the information requested.

Continuing, Mr Ojo said it took the court more than seven months just to list and hear a simple motion ex parte for leave and when Justice Okuwobi finally heard the application for leave on June 19, 2017, she held that MRA’s failure to show evidence of a written notice by the Council denying it access to the information was fatal to its case.

Although the FOI Act gives public institutions seven days to provide the information requested and requires an applicant who has been denied access to information to approach the Court within 30 days after the public institution denied or is deemed to have denied access to the information, Justice Okuwobi held, more than seven months after MRA made its request for the information, that the application to the court was “premature” because the Council had not given MRA a written notice that it would not grant access.

In effect, the judge used the Council’s disregard of its duties and obligations under the FOI Act, against MRA, the victim, which had come before the court for redress.

Mr. Ojo said: “It beats the imagination that a judge will condone and actively encourage such an act of impunity by making it impossible for those whose rights are so flagrantly and wantonly violated to approach the courts to vindicate their rights. The Judgement does not only constitute a deadly impediment to the effectiveness of the FOI Act, it also brings the Judiciary to disrepute and diminishes citizens’ confidence in it.”

In a similar vein, on June 10, 2017, MRA named the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as the second inductee into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame for the organisation’s “persistent and unjustifiable violation of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act over the last six years.’’

MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said in a statement: “It really should not be a surprise to anyone that the NNPC has become a cesspool of corruption over the years, having opted for a corporate policy of lack of transparency while resisting all attempts to hold it accountable to both the people of Nigeria and political authorities.”

According to MRA, “In the six years since the enactment of the FOI Act, the NNPC has not submitted any annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29(1) of the Act; it has persistently failed to comply with its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2(3) and (4) of the Act; and has repeatedly refused to disclose information to requesters, opting instead to pay millions of naira in public funds to lawyers to implement its corporate strategy of lack of transparency and accountability.”

MRA accused the NNPC of not only violating the provisions of the FOI Act, but also disregarding with impunity all the directives contained in the Guidelines for the Implementation of the FOI Act, issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation.

It called on the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the National Assembly to take “urgent measures to check this unacceptable level of impunity” on the part of the NNPC, saying they have the primary responsibility for ensuring compliance with the FOI Act by all public institutions.

Mr. Ojo said: “It is a matter of serious concern to us that no official or institution of government seems able to call the NNPC to order or to hold it accountable despite numerous reports and audits attesting to the most egregious violations of the provisions of various laws, including the FOI Act, by the corporation. What we see instead is the inexplicable waste of public funds by the NNPC to retain the most expensive lawyers to help it resist any request for information, even of the most mundane type.”

According to him, “it is difficult to understand how it is possible that even in the midst of a blistering war against corruption and despite the various audit reports which have detailed the NNPC’s sharp business practices, violation of regulations, illegal deductions of funds belonging to the Government, failure to account for several billions of naira that should have gone into the federation account and over-deducted funds in subsidy claims, which it has not been able to account for, not a single person in the NNPC has been punished or charged with any offence.”

Judge Refuses MRA Leave in FOI Case, Says Suing is Premature 7 Months after FOI Request is Ignored

imagesJustice Doris Okuwobi of the Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja has refused a motion by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) seeking leave of the court to sue the Ojodu Local Council Development Area in Lagos State over its failure to disclose records requested by the organization under the Freedom of Information Act.

In her ruling delivered on June 19, 2017, Justice Okuwobi held that since the Council had not given MRA any written notice in accordance with Section 4(b) of the Freedom of Information Act that it would not grant access to the information requested by the organization since November 4, 2016 nor given any reason for denying access to the information, the application for leave was “premature”.

MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, described the ruling as “ridiculous”, saying the degree of “deliberate ignorance” betrayed by the decision was capable of bringing the Judiciary into disrepute.

By a letter dated November 4, 2016, addressed to the Ojodu Local Council Development Area, titled “Request for Records of Water Works Plans for Araromi Zion Estate”, MRA asked the Council to provide it with information

MRA subsequently filed an application on December 6, 2016, naming the Ojodu Local Council Development Area and the Attorney-General of the Federation as Defendants, and seeking leave of the court to apply for:

• A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Council to disclose or make available to MRA the information requested by the organization in its letter dated November 4, 2016 amounts to a violation of the organization’s right of access to information established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 4 of the FOI Act;

• A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Council to disclose or make available to MRA the information requested by the organization amounts to wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the Act;

• A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Council to give a written notice to MRA that access to all or part of the information requested will not be granted, stating reasons for the denial and the section of the Act under which the denial is made amounts to a violation of section 4(b) of the Act;

• An order of mandamus compelling the Council to disclose or make available to MRA why water supply is not being extended to the Araromi Zion Estate; details of any plans that the Lagos State Water Corporation has for providing portable water to the Estate and adjourning areas; the cost estimate for executing the plan to supply portable pipe-borne water to the Estate, if any; the cost of maintenance of both old and new water works facilities and equipment that supply water in the area; and the total amount collected as charges or fees for water supply in the Estate from 2012 till date;

• An order compelling the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the Council for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the Act; and

• The sum of N1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of MRA’s right of access to information established and guaranteed by the Act, and wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(4) of the Act.

Arguing the motion, MRA’s lawyer, Miss Morisola Alaba, told the judge that the Council willfully refused to reply to the organizations letter of request as provided for by the FOI Act and that the reply ought to have been made within seven days of the receipt of the letter under Section 4 of the Act.

She noted that the information sought by MRA was not within the exemptions contained in the Act and contended that unless leave is granted, the Council would continue to violate MRA’s right under the FOI Act.

Ruling on the application, Justice Okuwobi said the order for leave in relation to an order of mandamus for the performance of a statutory duty imposed by law “is not granted as a matter of course”.

She cited Section 4(b) of the FOI Act, which states that where a public institution considers that an application for information should be denied, the institution shall give a written notice to the applicant that access to such information will not be granted, stating reasons for the denial and the section of the Act under which the denial is made.

Justice Okuwobi ruled: “I find the failure to show evidence of this by the Applicant fatal to his case. It is a condition which must be met and not deemed in the peculiar facts of this case.”

She said “The Court will refuse to give an order of mandamus if there is another remedy open to the party seeking it.”

The judge ruled that the application for leave is premature, saying “I will not speculate on the fact that there was a denial by the Respondent’s failure to comply.”

She accordingly refused to grant MRA leave.

Reacting to the ruling, Mr. Ojo said: “This has got to be one of the most ridiculous decisions ever given by a court anywhere in the world; it simply defies logic.”

According to him, “First of all, it is a matter of serious concern to us that on an issue that the Law unequivocally requires courts to deal with expeditiously, it has taken the court more than seven months to list and hear a simple motion exparte. This itself ought to be an embarrassment to the Judiciary.”

Continuing, he said, “But this aside, it is difficult to understand how any judge could come up with such reasoning in the face of the provisions of the Law. The FOI Act gives public institutions seven days within which to respond to a request for information and states clearly that where the institution fails to give access to the information or record applied for within this time limit, the institution is deemed to have refused to give access.

Mr. Ojo explained further: “We are in court to complain that we have not been given the information we requested and that the Council has willfully refused to reply our letter of request. We are asking the court to declare the Council’s refusal to reply to our letter as well as its failure to give us the information requested violations of the FOI Act. Yet the judge is telling us that because the Council has refused to reply our letter after more than seven months, when it is supposed to do so within seven days, our application, which we are obliged to file under the Law within 30 days after the institution is deemed to have denied the application, is premature.”

He stressed that “A judge ought to be outraged by such flagrant disregard for the clear provisions of the Law, rather than taking such an untenable position that merely encourages impunity on the part of public institutions disobeying the Law.’

AFEX Calls on Governments to Protect Freedom of Expression in Africa

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) ), a network of AfriAFEX-Cover-706x380can freedom of expression groups, has called on governments in Africa to intensify efforts to protect freedom of expression online and offline. The call came at the network’s 5th Annual General Meeting held in Montreal, Canada, on June 16, 2017.

AFEX expressed concerns over the deteriorating state of freedom of expression in Africa saying the increasing incidence of killings, physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and detentions; threats and harassment of journalists, media professionals and activists in Africa as threat to the enjoyment of free expression and the ultimate development of the continent.

In particular, AFEX “condemned the abuse of public power and legal provisions by highly connected state and non-state actors to muzzle freedom of expression and stifle critical journalism for narrow personal and political gains”.

The group pointed out that most of the violations perpetrated against journalists and activists go unpunished due to the deep-seated culture of impunity and entitlement in the continent.

It reaffirmed its strong condemnation of all acts of violence meted to journalists and freedom of expression advocates in the region and called on governments in Africa to commit to ensuring that journalists carry out their legitimate duties freely without any intimidation whatsoever.

 The group also frowned at the use of “spurious charges” against journalists by state or non-state actors to counter dissent which, according to it, undermines and weakens democracy.

Furthermore, AFEX expressed concern over government’s activities that undermine freedom of expression online, which includes content filtering, restrictive cybercrime laws and internet shutdowns describing them as threats to freedom of expression online and called on governments in Africa to respect their citizens’ right to share and access information through the Internet.

Furtherance to the aforementioned, the Network called for the abolition of all criminal defamation laws and the decriminalisation of press offenses by African countries that are yet to do so.

According to AFEX, several journalists have been killed in the last three years, with their killers not brought to book pointing out that this development has laid back the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression by African citizens. It noted that the killing of journalists is the surest way of silencing dissent or even intimidating journalists into self-censorship, thus further emboldening perpetrators of these heinous crimes to recommit such violent acts.

The network implored countries heading to the polls in 2017 and beyond to ensure journalists are free to cover the electoral process freely, adding that “attacks on journalists and suppression of freedom of expression rights during elections undermine the democratic tenets of any country.”

The network supported the ongoing efforts by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, to develop Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa, under the auspices of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, with a view to guaranteeing free and fair elections on the continent and the overall strengthening of democratic governance in Africa.

AFEX members paid tribute to media personnel, civil society activists and human rights defenders who have been put behind bars unjustly or even killed for standing for cherished democratic values and fundamental human rights.

CSOs Canvass Support for Digital Rights and Freedom Bill

Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda

Civil society representatives at a two-day Advocacy Workshop for Civil Society Organizations have called on other civil society organizations, the Media, the Private Sector, Trade Unions, Professional Bodies and Other Non-State Actors to support the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill and contribute to creating public awareness about it.

The workshop which held in Abuja on June 28 and 29, 2017 was organised by Media Rights Agenda as part of a Global Internet Freedom Program supported by Global Partners Digital (GPD) in London, and the United States’ Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) in Washington DC.

The objective of the workshop was to improve the understanding of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill by representatives of civil society organizations, build their capacity to advocate for its passage in the National Assembly and increase civil society engagement in the ongoing legislative process on the Bill.

The workshop was addressed at its opening session by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, and Mr. Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, while Mr Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant on Digital and New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, gave the Keynote Address on: “Protecting Human Rights Online in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges”.

Mr Ogunlesi’s address and presence provided civil society with insight into the government perspective on the issue of digital rights, challenges faced even within the government and advice on best steps for civil society representatives to take.

Tolu Ogunlesi emphatically stated that the safeguards that exist offline must also be able to exist and apply online. He urged citizens and civil society to test existing

Tolu Ogunlesi Special Assistant on Digital and New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari
Tolu Ogunlesi,
Special Assistant on Digital and New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari

laws in cases of violations of fundamental rights online. He stated that it is important to challenge violations of digital rights in court as rights offline are challenged.

Another crucial point made by Mr Ogunlesi was the need to get the media involved in the digital rights conversation. He stated that he absolutely believes all human rights should be protected on the Internet but pointed to the fact that the Internet has played a big part in helping to disseminate hate speech and divisive conversations leading to a need to elevate safeguards and prevent them from dominating the online environment.

The workshop featured sessions on The State of Digital Rights and Freedom in Nigeria; Understanding the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill; Making the Case Against Network Disruptions in Africa; Effective Communications in Campaigns and Advocacy; Conducting Advocacy in the National Assembly; Building an Effective Coalition for Civil Society Engagement; among others.

Participants at the workshop noted that the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, if passed into Law, will provide a comprehensive legal framework for the advancement, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and in the digital environment.

They further noted that if passed into Law, the Bill will effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment, boost the innovative spirit of Nigerians and accelerate the country’s development in the digital age by enabling Nigerians to take maximum advantage of emerging opportunities online.

The participants commended the Nigerian Government for playing a leadership role on the digital rights issue globally when it co-sponsored in 2012 the landmark “Resolution on the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet” at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva along with Sweden, the United States, Brazil, Turkey and Tunisia as the Resolution provided the much needed guidance on how to protect human rights on the Internet through its affirmation that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

The participants observed that there was ample evidence available to support the proposition that maintaining an open, human rights respecting online environment has beneficial economic impact for countries as well as aiding development, democracy and innovation.

They called on the National Assembly to speedily pass the

Mr. Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm
Mr. Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm

Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into Law to bring Nigeria’s domestic law, policies and practices on the protection of human rights online into conformity with international norms and standards.

They also urged the National Assembly to ensure that the Law that will emerge from the process is a strong piece of legislation that can effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment.

Finally, participants called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign Bill into Law as soon as it is passed by the National Assembly and sent to him for assent.