The Nigerian presidency on Wednesday launched a salvo on a front line advocacy group in Nigeria, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), intimidating the group over frequent legal actions against President Muhammadu Buhari or the federal government in the court of law. The Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement on Wednesday titled, ‘SERAP should stop the publicity stunt and render own accountability’, protested the frequent statements by SERAP “that it is bringing legal action against the Government and/or President of Nigeria”.
Garba Shehu ordering that SERAP should refrain from instigating “divisive, irresponsible, and bare-faced publicity stunts”, declared that “very little is known about SERAP, or who funds them – despite their claims of being an organisation that champions transparency and accountability”.
Garba Shehu protested: “to date, SERAP has announced on repeated occasions – each time via a well-funded media campaign – that it is suing the government or President over a range of issues from alleged human rights abuses to alleged corruption.
“To date, SERAP has not taken their retinue of legal actions to a logical conclusion. They don’t follow through.
“Yet, these headline-grabbing publicity stunts, however baseless, succeed in painting an inaccurate picture of life and governance in Nigeria and – more seriously – in sowing division amongst the Nigerian people during a time of heightened global economic volatility and hardship.”
Garba Shehu further stated: “Nigeria is amongst the top five countries in Africa for quality of life, and our ranking in the Human Development Index has steadily risen for a decade.
“This success is testament to the rights, rule of law and strong, independent institutions enjoyed by all Nigerian citizens and others who live there.
“Indeed, it is a fact that independent, non-governmental organisations can thrive there, especially, those that seek accountability from government.
“Put simply, here lies SERAP’s paradox: in a country without human rights, no rule of law, limited freedom of expression, and weak democratic institutions the cases and cacophony that SERAP causes – even the organization itself – simply would not be permitted.
“It is, unfortunately, the case that our progressive, modern, and liberal legal system is open to manipulation by cynical actors who seek nothing but to sow division amongst Nigerians and secure publicity for themselves. With the global pandemic exacerbating poverty across the continent, those who have always sought to divide Nigerians along cultural, racial and political lines for political or financial gain are more dangerous than before”.
The SSA Media dared SERAP to challenge the government publicly, legally and transparently, saying that in doing so, the organization should reveal in full view of the nation who they are, and who is funding them.
SERAP has been the main credible civil society group in Nigeria since 2015. Several other human rights groups and activists have been caged or recruited by the ruling party government. They have been silenced over the years.
SERAP appears to be at the risk of intimidation, suppression and being muted by the Nigerian presidency.