Members of the Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) in the north-central region of Nigeria converged at a one-day CSO-funders roundtable held on March 24 to discuss the need for increased donor support for initiatives and coalitions working at the intersection of security and the civic space in Nigeria. Spaces for Change | S4C joined other AGFCS members at the roundtable attended by the representatives of civil society organizations and donor agencies such as Luminate, Heinrich Boll and Fund for Global Human Rights.
Introducing the AGFCS to the donors, S4C chronicled the history and collective action interventions of the group starting from GIABA’s second round of Mutual Evaluation and external assessment of Nigeria’s anti-money laundering and terrorist financing regimes in 2019 to the pushback against the securitization and repurposing of emergency response during the COVID-19 lockdown to the campaigns against restrictive legislative proposals such as Social Media Bill, NGO Bills, Infectious Diseases Bill and the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020. Members of the group regularly pool resources to finance projects, share offices and human resources, as well engage in collaborative problem-solving around specific security issues narrowing the spaces for civil society across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones. Members shared the progress recorded in the implemntation of previous projects while outlining follow-up initiatives proposed for the current year.
The use of security laws, particularly anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism legal regimes, to shrink the civic space is increasing at an alarming rate globally. The tightening of the spaces for a free civil society is having chilling effects on the operations of nonprofits working on diverse thematic issues ranging from gender, environment, good governance, healthcare, education, clinate change and human rights etc. Recognizing this rising drift toward authoritarianism, participants at the roundtable harped on the importance of long-term and flexible funding. Because challenging authoritarianism and the misuse of security achitecture takes time, long-term funding is necessary for advocacy to have the desired impact. Not only that, only few CSOs have the expertise to navigate the technical issues, complexities and reprisals arising from the application of anti-terrorism legal regimes to the nonprofit sector; hence, the need for greater investment in knowledge-building and capacity-building for activists and national organizations.
Against this backdrop, AGFCS members showcased their joint projects and collective action reports that examined and challenged the security-related drivers of closing civic space in Nigeria. The reports include #ENDSARS: Police Brutality, Protest and Shrinking Civic Space in Nigeria, the three-part joint action reports Security Playbook of Digital Authoritarianism in Nigeria, Harms from Abroad: Impact of Global Security Measures on Civic Space in Nigeria; and Nigeria: Shrinking Civic Space in the Name of Security. These reports identify the various drivers, enablers, and patterns of securitization of the civic space in Nigeria.
The meeting rounded up with the collective recognition that exisiting coalitions in the country need to be strengthened rather than the formation of new ones that serve the same purpose. The formation of new coalitions triggers the emergence of factional groups working at cross purposes, and in competition with the existing ones. Donors also shared their institutional programs and expectations when supporting projects relating to the protection of civic space. It was agreed that long-term funding and critical investments in knowledge-building are necessary to effectively counter negative narratives in the public sphere that undermine the civic space.