OPINION: Points to Ponder Before Supporting Amnesty International
By Ateko A. Adejo:
It appears that Amnesty International in Nigeria has eaten sour grapes and the teeth of its associate NGOs have been set on edge. They have had cause to allege paid protests and occupation of its offices in Abuja by motley groups asking it to leave Nigeria. Those after the NGO are basing their demand on the role they accuse it of playing in bolstering terrorists and separatist elements against the government forces. Amnesty International, its associates and activists that are sympathetic to its cause are pointing at the Nigerian government as the source of its woes.
This sounds uncharitable to a good host that is still tolerating their excesses despite citizens’ reservation.
Predictably, there is an outcry from them about how the government is being intolerant of dissention or criticism citing Amnesty International’s reports that have been critical of government as justification. However, if they can listen above the bedlam over accusations and counter accusations that have been going on about how terrorists and criminals are being dealt with in Nigeria, perhaps they would draw lessons that will help minimize the kind of din currently going on over the right of an international NGO to work in Nigeria or not.
In the wake of the Arab Spring uprising, the greatest beneficiary of putsch, the government of the then Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, began a trial of staff of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) using violation of foreign funding rules for such bodies as the basis. While it was widely reported as a repression and clamp down on activists, the position of the Egyptian government that these NGOs and their staff received money from abroad to destabilize the country did not charge.
Curiously, the subsequent removal of Morsi and the ascension of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as President in the wake of Morsi’s sack did nothing to stop the trial. Egypt went ahead to convict and sentence the NGOs and those that ran their activities, some of them in absentia. As reported “Twenty-seven of the defendants, all of whom were tried in absentia, received prison sentences of five years. Eleven of those who attended the trial received one-year suspended sentences, and five others received two years. Judge Makram Awad also ruled that the NGOs that the defendants worked for should be closed in Egypt.”
Perhaps taking a cue from the chaos caused by the Arab Spring, Russia preemptively passed a new legislation that President Vladimir Putin wasted no time in signing. The law empowers prosecutors to designate foreign international non-government organizations as “undesirable” in Russia, which effectively translates into expulsion. NGOs that “threaten Russia’s constitutional order, defense potential or security,” automatically qualifies for the tag of undesirable.
In the United States, where NGOs enjoy unrestricted freedom, they must comply with rules that are applicable to other citizens “such as restrictions on receiving contributions from a terrorist organization.” An NGO that violates this can be sure that being thrown out of the US would be like a pat on the wrist as the staff of such organization would inevitably end up in jail. This is one country that knows how to exploit NGOs as tool for infiltration as they apparently did that in Afghanistan to obtain DNA evidence in tracking down Osama bin Laden.
For India, delinquency on the part of NGOs is dealt with using a rule of the home ministry that ensures that no NGO is allowed to get unregulated foreign funding. NGOs regulation in that country requires that their accounts are with nationalized banks to allow security agencies have unfettered access to their transaction records and trail the sources of their finances. All these are in furtherance of India’s national interest.
Interestingly, when these details are recounted, the stories are told from the viewpoints of international media organizations that have themselves been accused of harbouring the same agenda of taking foreign money to destabilize the affected countries.
The Nigerian government has however proven to be lax in drawing relationship between NGOs operating in the country and where they draw their funding from even when evidence abounds that some of them are nothing but sleeper cells of certain foreign interests that activate them at opportune times. This failure of due diligence is possibly responsible in part both for the brazen infractions being committed by Amnesty International in Nigeria and the equally confrontational response of some groups that are demanding that it leaves Nigeria. The response of NGOs that are on the same side as Amnesty International is however what took the crown for what the country should worry about.
Had it for once neglected to treat Nigeria and Nigerians as a sub-class to the western nation that also not without their own issues it would have no need for cobbling an alliance of 40 NGOs to fight its cause. Sadly, this accusation is not peculiar to Nigeria: there is a set of templates for assessing rights issues among countries were former colonial powers and another bizzarely different set for countries that were once colonized and mostly make up the developing economies; in-between are the mid range countries that get half the bashing that the developing countries get.
It is from this perspective that the names at the bottom of the statement the coalition of NGOs issued to defend Amnesty International from the forced occupation of its premises read like the attendance register of a retreat put together by that organization – 40 NGOs in all put their names to it. Considering what the human rights organization is being accused of the vehemence with which these colleagues rallied for it, it would not be surprising if a check reveals them to be connected by funding. It is either that or they see value in pitching for an organization that has a track record of being the harbinger of meltdown for more than one country in recent reckoning.
Denying such link would be a natural thing and should be believed even when repudiation of being complicit in tearing down one’s nation should come by reflex. The tough task comes when the intervention of someone like human rights lawyer, Chief Femi Falana is factored in. Falana happened to be the counsel for the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a group that enjoys the patronage of Amnesty International, which creates the confusion of whether the Senior Advocate of Nigeria is reacting as a concerned Nigeria, counsel to a client or prospecting for a new brief to represent a troubled subject.
Furthermore, in their haste to defend a fellow NGO, Falana and the signatories to the critical statement set a dangerous precedence. Of the 40 signatories to the statement, anything in the range of 25 and more are of the same ethnic extraction from the southeast geo-political zone, which is clearly a red flag that their NGOs could be fronts that were established to facilitate the secessionist agitation in the region. Is it also sheer coincidence that one of the issues that Amnesty International drew flak for was the way it attempted to package insurgent separatists as victims when their own very kith and kin accused them of being aggressors?
Would it explain why the other branches of Amnesty International, including the parent office in London, has not raised alarm about the unspoken code in Europe for suspected terrorists to be extrajudicially executed at crime scene or in the space where they are being arrested? Whatever the answer is would be instructive for the rules of engagement that Amnesty International should embrace in Nigeria going forward.
In the details provided about how Egypt, Russia, India and even the US relate with external influences through foreign funding or intervention, the issue is being talked about today because in spite of the criticisms that trailed these choices the countries nonetheless forged ahead to manage a segment of society that may just as well have become a plague. Some countries that did not want to experience the backlash that came with regulating NGOs must today be blaming themselves or at least the citizens would be blaming those whose indecision opened the way for corporate insurrectionists. This by no means implies that all NGOs are mercenaries for anarchists but it rather speaks the need to ensure that those in the fourth sector are who they claim to be.
The Nigerian authorities, while ensuring that troops and those that command them answer for any crimes committed in the course of life and death during counter insurgency operation, must for the sake of their citizens take a second look at what Amnesty International is being accused of. The groups occupying the NGOs office may appear unruly but may as well be the last warning Nigerian will get to save itself.
Adejo is a legal practitioner based in Lagos, Nigeria.
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