The Closing Spaces database is a regularly-updated platform that tracks and documents crackdowns on the civic space in Nigeria and West Africa. It began by tracking incidents in Nigeria from 2015, and extended coverage to the West African sub-region in 2017. The database represents the first step in combating restrictions on the civic space, by identifying and demonstrating the manner, tactics, and extent state actors and their collaborators are limiting civic expression and participation in governance.
The database provides a tool in the hands of civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) around the world working to reclaim the civic space as they are able to filter through the various categories of restrictions, the perpetrators, the victims, the location, the tactics applied in each case, increasing their ability to strategize and respond effectively. Navigating the database is easy. Users are able to easily identify high risk areas and channel efforts and resources to areas of urgency in order to achieve optimal outcomes.
The database not only serves as a civic space monitor, but has been designed as a one-stop-shop for everything civic space to enable information resources to be more accessible to wider audiences within and beyond borders. Datasets visualized on the database through infographics, presentations, charts/graphs, or animations enhance users’ understanding, use and sharing of the incidents tracked, enabling a wider community of change agents to use the tools and resources to advance their own individual and organizational social justice agendas.
Incident reports are gathered from 4 major sources, namely:
- Online and offline media sources
- ‘Report incident’ button on the database
- Tracking team of the Action Group on Free Civic Space
- Eye witness reports from visitors to the website
Cases are categorized according to the rights violated or the strategy used to impose the restrictions. The categories include:
- Right to free speech,
- Right to freedom of association & assembly,
- Press freedom,
- Right to dignity,
- Right to life,
- Politically-motivated restrictions.
It also features restrictions on civil society resulting from the application of anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) measures, while hosting a number of literatures and publications analyzing issues affecting Nigeria’s civic space. Incidents can also be sorted by gender, geographical regions, or by the specific countries where the incident took place.
Incidents are primarily tracked from publicly-available media and non-media sources. Trackers use certain keywords to harvest happenings around the focal areas that might implicate civic freedoms, including themes and issues (hashtags, memes) that are gaining prominence in the social media spaces. Visitors to the site can report incidents or submit eye witness reports following the laid down procedures. The database is updated on a weekly basis.
In March 2020, a COVID-19 focus was added to the database, following the spikes in human rights abuses, including deaths caused by security operatives enforcing the lockdown directives issued by the federal and state governments in Nigeria to combat the spread of coronavirus. A 16-man COVID-19 Tracking Team (CTT), comprising 16 member organizations of the Action Group on Free Civic Space, have been tracking and documenting the emergency measures being repurposed to further close space for civil society in the name of curbing the spread of the pandemic. The 16 organizations are stationed in 16 different states of the Nigerian federation cutting across the six geo-political zones.
All information and incident reportage are duly verified by another 4-man team for credibility-checks before uploading them on the database. Sources of the incidents are disclosed on the database, except where anonymity has been specifically requested. The database has been supported by the Fund for Global Human Rights, Open Society Foundations, Freedom House and the Ford Foundation.