Comrade Agbodemu Ishola Musbau’s release from police custody threw Spaces for Change | S4C and the Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) into a celebratory mood last week. Agbodemu is a vibrant community leader of Otto Mainland community in Lagos and AGFCS member. Nigerian police authorities at Zone II Police Command detained him on May 9, 2024, based on his posts on social media condemning the demolition of his community, which resulted in the displacement of over 4,000 urban poor residents, most of whom are women and children.

On March 22, 2024, authorities rolled in bulldozers into Otto Mainland Community in Ebute-Metta, Lagos, flattening buildings and setting over 100 houses ablaze.  Mr. Gafar Wahab, a young graduate was killed in the process. Comrade Agbodemu has been actively using social media to advocate for justice, compensation and resettlement for displaced Otto residents who are predominantly poor.

On May 9, the Zone II Police Command invited him for a meeting. When he got there, he was arrested, tortured and detained at the police station. Spaces for Change and AGFCS members swung into action, leveraging their solidarity networks and collective action to facilitate his release. All the efforts made to get the police to release him failed. On May 10, the police authorities charged him in court for “breach of peace by offensive publication, publication of false news and hateful statements”. His arrest was allegedly made at the behest of certain powerful individuals in the community discomforted by his persistent demand for justice and remedy for displaced residents.

Spaces for Change’s legal team followed up with the case right from the police station up to his arraignment in court. The organization provided free legal representation, arguing his bail backed by strong legal submissions in support of his immediate release from custody. The court upheld S4C’s arguments before admitting him to bail, while setting the matter down for trial. S4C also took steps to perfect his bail conditions to ensure his immediate release.]

Trial on the case begins May 20, 2024. The court’s decision to release him not only underscored the importance of protecting free speech, but also demonstrated that an independent judiciary is necessary for a healthy civic space. Comrade Agbodemu’s ordeal raises, once more, the need for the continued defense of the civic space against repression from state and non-state actors.  The right to protest against demolitions or forced evictions—whether online or offline—remains a fundamental human right protected by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and other international human rights instruments.

S4C will continue to work toward securing justice for not just Comrade Agbodemu, but for the residents of the Otto Community who have been devastated by the forced evictions and displacements they have faced in recent times. We remain resolute in our desire to combat the forces that threaten the civic space. Along this line, S4C’s legal team is committed to providing Agbodemu free legal representation throughout the subsistence of the trial in keeping with our resolution to continue to defend the civic space in Nigeria and across West Africa.

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