"Closing Spaces" is a digital database tracking incidents of closing civic space in Nigeria and West Africa, created and hosted by Spaces for Change (S4C). This citizen-driven platform provides freely accessible information to the public, highlighting real numbers and identities as evidence of the closing civic space. S4C is a non-profit organization working to infuse human rights into social and economic governance processes in Nigeria. Through digital crowd-sourcing, advocacy, and youth engagement, they aim to increase the participation of Nigerian communities in the development of social and economic policy, and also help public authorities to put a human rights approach at the heart of their decision-making. The existence of the "Closing Spaces" database represents the first step in combating restrictions on the civic space and S4C’s ultimate goal is to provide a resource for local organizations where they can find evidence, inspiration, and direction to move forward in their aims. S4C developed the "Closing Spaces" platform in collaboration with tech entrepreneurs and established partnerships with other locally-based organizations in order to divide responsibilities for support of the database and tracking information. Contributing their work and resource partners ensure the database is not controlled by any one actor or funder but remains an independent collective effort.
In March 2020, a COVID-19 focus was added to the database, following the spikes in human rights abuses. These have included deaths caused by security operatives enforcing the state-mandated lockdown, which was introduced to combat the spread of coronavirus. The database records revealed multiple trends in exploitation of COVID-19 health emergency powers to close civic space, such as the excessive use of force by state agents to enforce the lockdown and the use of legal tools to legitimize official restrictions on human rights. "Closing Spaces" has been tracking incidents of government directives to flog those not wearing face masks in public and to shoot-at-sight any person that tries to escape from quarantine centers. There have also been incidents of state security agents justifying their fatal shootings of Nigerian citizens in the name of enforcing restrictions on movement.
Theory of Change
Collecting and publishing evidence of human rights violations ensures a greater level of accountability for the perpetrators, preserves important press freedoms, and provides more security against a total shutdown of the civic space.
The "Closing Spaces" database documents past and ongoing crackdowns on the civic space in Nigeria and West Africa. Human rights defenders are able to filter through the various rights violated, the perpetrators, the locality where it occurred, and the tactics applied in each case, increasing their ability to strategize effectively. Using the database, CSOs are able to identify high risk areas and channel efforts and resources to areas of urgency in order to achieve optimal outcomes. S4C reports on trends, including crackdowns related to COVID-19, END SARS, and most recently, the increase in violations relating to digital surveillance. However, the database has demonstrated that violations on press freedoms are the highest category and that journalists are the primary targets of government attacks. S4C are also currently in the process of developing a new app that is more narrowly focused on journalists and will allow for anonymous reporting, protecting the freedom and security of West African journalists.
Since 2015, the database has tracked close to 400 incidents of repressive activities in the Nigerian civic environment, with attacks on free speech and press freedoms bearing the highest share. They have also tracked over 60 incidents in the rest of West Africa. Reports using evidence from the "Closing Spaces" database were used for project design and have concluded that frontline organizations must improve their capacity to repel and withstand persecution from their respective governments. Drawing on the analytics from the database, CIVICUS downgraded Nigeria from "obstructed" to "repressed" in its People Power Under Attack 2019 report.