BusinessDay

Insecurity, Nigeria’s civic space and the effect on business

The impacts of Nigeria’s insecurity challenges have been wide-reaching in terms of the human and economic cost: according to the Nigeria Security Tracker, about 82,000 people have been killed across the country over the past ten years. In addition, about 2.3 million people have been displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency alone, mostly in the North-Eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

The increase in insecurity has also been a major driver of the spike in food prices as conflict has impacted the ability of farmers to engage in farming activities, as was aptly captured in a report by SBM Intelligence titled ‘Terror in the Food Basket’ back in October 2015. A survey conducted by SBM Intelligence in late 2020 to fully ascertain the existence of Nigeria’s food security crisis, showed an overwhelming percentage of farmers picking insecurity as their major concern, second only to the sorry state of Nigeria’s roads.

Equally damning is the effect of insecurity on civic space, as security agencies have continually used national security as a pretext for policies and actions that end up shrinking Nigeria’s civic space.

The most glaring example was in 2013 when the declaration of a state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States to fight Boko Haram terrorists was accompanied by the surrender of civil rights by the government to the military, who justified such by seeking to control the flow of information from the frontline. Although the state of emergency has long been lifted, the military continues to unilaterally act to clamp down on civic rights, such as the 2019 attack on the Daily Trust Newspapers in Abuja and Maiduguri, as well as the shutting down of two non-governmental organisations, the Mercy Corps and Action Against Hunger, in Maiduguri. In both instances, the military justified its actions as being in response to the victims undermining national security.

This has provided a template that has been copied by lawmakers where laws are proposed that would be inimical to Nigeria’s civic space, with the promoters of these proposed legislations using the need to preserve national security as the motivation for these bills.

Read Also: Illicit arms movement: The root of Nigeria’s insecurity crisis

For example, the NGO Regulatory Bill was introduced in 2016 ostensibly to check the funding of non-governmental and religious organisations given that there were indications that mosques funded from Saudi Arabia were responsible for extremist preaching. However, it was in truth a sinister motive to stifle voices in the NGO space and their activities which the government referred to as being “against the interests of the country” and “the corporate unity and existence of Nigeria”.

This has been followed by the introduction of the Hate Speech Bill in 2019, the Press Council Act (Amendment) Bill and a new Broadcasting Code by the National Broadcasting Commission. The three have the likely combined effect of stifling the media across print, electronic and even social media and ensuring that only views that are amenable to the government are allowed.

There is a direct nexus between a shrinking civic space and its effect on businesses.

The biggest and most brazen attack on the civic space yet came in June 2021 when hours after deleting a tweet from President Buhari’s account, Twitter’s operations in Nigeria were suspended by the government “for allowing its platform to be used by secessionists to threaten the unity of Nigeria”.

This claim has been stuck to by the government despite the lack of evidence that supports it; it has instead laid out conditions that have to be met by Twitter before it is allowed to operate in Nigeria again.

There is a direct nexus between a shrinking civic space and its effect on businesses. Using the Twitter ban, for example, there have been various estimates as to how much the Nigerian economy has lost in the 113 days it has been shut down: an estimate by the NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool, which estimates the economic impact of an internet disruption, mobile data blackout or app restriction in a nation using indicators from the World Bank, International Telecommunication Union, Eurostat and U.S. Census, calculates that it costs Nigeria’s economy N102.77m ($250,600) every hour to ban Twitter or about N240 billion since June 5th.

Of course, the methods used to constrict the civic space can be used against businesses that various government bodies dream of and then wake up on the wrong side of the bed thinking about. Think the arbitrary fines imposed on both MTN and Multichoice, and you get the drift.

While Nigeria’s security challenges continue to stifle economic growth through the prevention of economic activities and diverting funding for critical sectors to defence, we must not forget that the direct fallout of the security crises is one that takes no prisoners, of which the civic space has become a direct casualty, and which ultimately affects the business community.

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