U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Thursday met with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and both leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including the importance of respecting human rights, press and digital freedom as well as allowing dissent.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that Blinken and Buhari “noted the importance of strengthening democracy in West Africa and reinforcing the democratic principles of a free press and digital freedom, peaceful protest and dissent, as well as respect for human rights.”
They also discussed U.S.-Nigeria cooperation on the shared priorities of climate and the COVID-19 pandemic, including U.S. support for Nigeria’s renewable energy sector and the delivery of nearly eight million Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses provided by the United States.
“Met with Nigerian President @MBuhari today to discuss climate, COVID-19, and deepening our relationship. I reaffirmed the strong partnership between the U.S. and Nigeria as well as the people-to-people ties that bind us,” Blinken said in a tweet.
Price added that the leaders further discussed Nigeria’s security challenges and efforts to protect civilians.
“The Secretary reaffirmed with President Buhari the strong partnership between the United States and Nigeria, which is founded upon shared democratic ideals and a spirit of transparency and cooperation,” he said.
The Buhari government has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for a draconian regime that does not allow dissent, including on social media such as Twitter.
Last month, Human Rights Watch said the victims are still awaiting justice a year after security forces violently suppressed protests calling for an end to police brutality in Nigeria, asserting that the prospects for accountability remain inconclusive and bleak.
The organization called on Nigerian authorities to take concrete and decisive steps to ensure that those implicated in abuses against protesters are held accountable.
In October 2020, young people across Nigeria took to the streets calling for disbanding an abusive police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and for ending brutality in a movement tagged #EndSARS. Security forces responded with excessive force, including gunfire, which resulted in death and serious injuries.
“Nigerian authorities should clearly demonstrate that they are serious about holding those responsible for abuses against protesters to account,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Failure to pursue justice will strengthen the culture of impunity and reinforce the perceptions that brought protesters to the streets in the first place.”
And since then, the Buhari administration has only increased its attacks on human rights, including on digital platforms.