Nigeria: Parlous state of human rights
The term “human rights” is used to refer to inalienable rights (entitlement) of all humans. The concept dates back to 539 BC when Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, freed the slaves and declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion and established racial equality scripted on the Cyrus Cylinder. Significantly afterwards, The Magna Carta, 1215 established new rights and made the king subject to law. It provided as follows:
“No freeman may be taken or imprisoned or deprived of his freehold or liberties, or free customs or be outlawed or exiled or in any way molested or judged or condemned except by lawful judgment or in accordance with the law of the land nor may justice be sold, or denied or delayed to any subject. And the crown or its ministers may not imprison or coerce the subject in any arbitrary manner.” This greatly influenced human rights globally and in 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) with thirty broad articles on all kinds of rights. Tomorrow, being the 10th of December, the World will once more gather together as one human family to mark the epochal and iconic signing into a Universal Law of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which together with the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights are key global human rights and humanitarian laws that are the best and greatest safeguard against the self-destruction of the World by the members of the Human race.
However in Nigeria the celebration is simply a cosmetic event given the propensity of the holders of political power to flagrantly and wantonly violate the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There is indeed rapidly shrinking CIVIC spaces in Nigeria and there are organized attacks targeting fundamental rights of citizens from both the executive arm of government and from the National Assembly whose members are incubating sinister plots to legislate against free speech and limit access to the Social media through the so called hate speech legislation. The police operatives who rob citizens and extort them of their hard earned money are some of the traitors of Human Rights. The Nigerian police needs to be professionalized and reformed just as there is a need to infuse efficiency and effectiveness in the law enforcement strategies by the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria. The way it is now with widespread violent crimes, there is the need to set up local and state policing institutions to work in tandem with the Federal police unit.
The Human Rights Situation in Nigeria:
Human rights in Nigeria are enforceable as guaranteed under Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (as amended) otherwise called fundamental human rights. They include right to life (section 33), right to dignity of the human person (section 34), right to personal liberty (section35), right to fair hearing (section36), right to privacy and family life (section 37), right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (section 38), right to freedom of expression and the press (section 38) right to peaceful assembly and association (section 40), right to freedom of movement (section 41), right to freedom from discrimination (section 42), right to acquire and own immoveable property anywhere in Nigeria (section 43) right to own property (section 44). Nigeria as a member of the United Nations has signed on to multiple humanitarian and human rights laws operational globally including the treaty AGAINST torture but the National Assembly is yet to domesticate the anti torture treaty as well as some critical international laws that would effectively criminalize human rights violations by government.
However abuse of human rights under the present administration is quite alarming and hardly distinguishable from the military era if not worse. This was aptly captured in the unreported case in Suit No.FCT/HC/CV/2770/2015 – Mrs Ngozi Umenwa v. EFCC & 2Ors where the Court berated the EFCC (1st Respondent) for flagrant abuse of fundamental rights. In its judgment delivered on the 27th day of January 2016, the FCT High Court per Hon Justice S.E. Aladetoyinbo (rtd) held thus at pages 13 to 15:
“Parts of the facts admitted by the 1st Respondent are as follows:
(a) That the Applicant was arrested by the 1st Respondent and detained in an underground cell for no reason for two days with effect from 9th to 11th day of September 2015 in the office of the 1st Respondent in Abuja, FCT:
(b) That during the detention, the Applicant was denied all basic amenities despite the fact that she was passing through her menstrual period at the time of detention she was not allowed to bath.One wonders why EFCC officers are behaving as if they are power drunk in the year 2015. This kind of behavior had been abolished by 1215 AD in Great Britain by Articles 38, 40, Magna Carta.”
The Honorable Court continued thus:
“What some civilization had abolished as far back as 1215 AD is what some of our security agencies are doing in 2015. In this case, the EFCC officers were accusers of the Applicant, the investigators, the prosecutor, the judge and the prison authority, the Applicant was sentenced to two days imprisonment without trial and without committing any offence, she served the two days imprisonment in underground cell of the 1st Respondent. The action of the officers of the 1st Respondent is arbitrary, ungodly and wicked. The Applicant was meted out with this inhuman treatment… Although the Applicant was detained for two days between 9th September to 11th September 2015, her detention amounts to torture…. The EFCC cannot be protected by law in this circumstance when they acted contrary to the law.”
In the case of Owhoruke v. COP (2015) LPER-24820(SC), the Supreme Court per Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, pages 22-23, Paras.G-C held thus as regards investigation and human rights:
“Confessional statement are most times beaten out of suspects, and the courts usually admit such statements as counsel and the accused are unable to prove that the statement was made voluntarily. A fair trail presupposes that police investigation of the crime for which the accused person stands trial was transparent. …. It is seriously recommended that confessional statements should only be taken from suspects if, and only if his counsel is present, or in the presence of a legal practitioner. Where this is not done such confessional statement should be rejected by the court”. Present human rights violations are done under the guise of fighting corruption to attract public sympathy but the reality is that no one is guaranteed right to privacy any more nor is right to life any more sacrosanct and same thing applies to the ancillary rights to liberty and dignity of the human person and such other necessities like rights to fair hearing and silence in the face of accusation.
One cannot forget in a hurry how a sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria was removed from office by the President acting on ex-parte order purportedly made by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) despite the pendency of a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the matter and subsistence of several Court orders restraining it from doing so. In the same vein security agencies have replaced the Courts in recovery of debts which have become criminalized against the warning of the Court in the case of Igwe v. Ezeanochie 7 NWLR (Pt.1192) 61 at 93, B-C where it held that the Police are not and should not in any community of civilized people be used as a debt or levy collectors, or in resolution or settlement of disputes among people as such use of policemen often lead to infringement on the fundamental right of others.
The high handedness of security operatives is notorious fact. A case in point is the attempted re-arrest and indeed the RE-ARREST of the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Mr Omoleye Sowore, at the Federal High Court Abuja just hours after his release from 124 day detention by the DSS. Popular human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN was quoted as saying that the action of the DSS was unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. The USA Senator and ranking member of the United States Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, Mr Bob Mendez on press conference on the issue said: “I am outraged by the blatant harassment of Omoleye Sowore, an activist and journalist whose only crime appears to be exercising his right to free expression….
This blatant miscarriage of justice is symptomatic of closing political and media space in Nigeria.” Also, Senator Cory Booker, a USA presidential aspirant condemned the incident in the following words via his verified twitter handle:
“It is appalling that NJ Omoyele Sowore was re-arrested in Nigeria hours after his release. This is a shocking affront to the country’s rule of law and Nigeria must cease its dangerous attacks on freedom of expression.” The United States Department of State via its twitter handle stated that: “We are deeply concerned that Sowore has been re-detained in Nigeria, shortly after a court ordered he be released on bail. Respect for rule of law, judicial independence, political and media freedom, and due process are key tenets of democracy.”
Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
The respected legal luminary, Mike Ozekhome, SAN best captures the bizarre situation in the following words:
“It was a show of extreme shame, disgust and delegacy to see a whole secret security apparatchik descend to the abysmal gutters of physically invading the hallowed chambers of a court of law to forcefully arrest a suspect, Viet arms, by resort to crude and unorthodox Hitlerism Gestapo tactics in a supposed constitutional democracy. The video that went viral about this ugly and ill-advised outing that has further reduced our worth in the perception of the international community is condemnable in every sense of the word. It downgrades us, belittles us, and our humanity and makes us laughable before civilized nations. We beheld an unarmed helpless and hapless Sowore being dragged on the floor, helpless like a vanquished prisoner of war (POW) just taken as a ransom.
Justice Ojukwu had to be spirited off to her chambers by her security. When a government that is supposed to respect and protect institutions, citizens’ rights and rule of law, invades and desecrates the SACRED precincts of Court of law, then we are in trouble. When the same DSS invaded judges homes in October 2016 terrorizing the helpless judges and their families, many uniformed Nigerians hailed the misadventure as a sign of fighting corruption. I had vehemently disagreed then, citing section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and section 7 of the ACJA that inure In us our humanity and human dignity and respect. I had warned then of a possible descent into anarchy and chaos if the masked DSS goons were not immediately restrained and halted on their tracks.
Friday’s disgraceful and atrocious outing by the DSS is the clearest exemplification of a rudderless state in search of a redemptive dues ex machina. A government that is short on tolerance to criticism, plurality of voices and opposition and which serially violates citizens’ rights and disobeys court orders is a ready recipe for organized disenchantment. Our constitutional democracy should be modeled on the rule of law and not on the rule of thumb of a benevolent ruler, even if dictatorial, tyrannical, absolutist and fascist.” The National Human Rights Commission equally reacted to the incident through a statement released on Saturday December 7, 2019: “The National Human Rights Commission has watched with dismay the conduct of law enforcement officers in facie yesterday Friday 6th December 2019…
Accordingly, the Commission directed all the relevant agencies of government to arrest and try all law enforcement officers involved in the desecration of the hallowed chambers of the Federal High Court Abuja on Friday 6th Dec 2019 for contempt in the face of the court.” Moreover, it seems the intimidation and harassment of judges has negatively impacted the enjoyment of human rights in the country. Besides the reluctance of some judges to make bold pronouncement for the protection of human rights in the face of obvious violations, the current trend of stringent and onerous bail terms suggest that some judges are tele-guided by the executive or have become a part of the prosecution which in some cases are mere persecutions.
Furthermore, the flagrant disobedience of court orders by the present government has greatly derogated from human rights. In the unreported case in Suit No.FCT/HC/CV/69/2015-Herfort Ike Ezeudu v. Inspector General of Police & 1or, the applicant, whose Nigerian and Canadian passports were seized by the Nigeria police, sued for redress of the breach of his fundamental rights. The erudite Hon Justice Peter Affen of the FCT High Court in his judgment on 15th of December 2015 held the seizure of the passports to be unconstitutional and ordered return of same “forthwith” to the Applicant, however four (4) years on, the order has not been complied with.
Imperative for the Protection of Human Rights; A call for redemption;
The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) clearly states that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. In the same vein, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan said when you deprive people of their right to live in dignity, to hope or a better future, to have control over their lives, then you expect them to fight for their rights. There is already a crisis on our hands. Surprise coups, violent revolutions and bloody confrontations have resulted from similar situations like ours, we are not immune to them but we cannot afford to have them because of the wider acceptability of democracy as the best form of government.
Nigeria must protect our constitutional democracy by all lawful means and never allow for the destruction of constitutionalism because there is no alternative to constitutional democracy. Moreover, no reasonable human gravitate towards areas of human rights abuses; the present situation is a minus to the investment drive of the government. Urgent attention is required to salvage the sinking sheep before it is completely submerged. The other grave threat to the enjoyment of human rights apart from the high rate of crime, the breakdown of Law and order and extra legal killings by supposed law enforcement agents, is the plan by the current government to dubiously borrow over $30 billion foreign loans which will inevitably be stolen by officials of the central government who cannot account for the already accumulated humongous amounts of credits the government collected from all kinds of institutions and nation’s such as China. Driving Nigeria into the debts trap will enslave us for a life time and this would mark the end of Human rights protection in Nigeria.
Nigerians must reject the plot now in the National Assembly to permit the President to borrow $30 billion USD. There is a general collapse of strategic national infrastructures such as roads and electricity and the basic necessities of water and health facilities are not available for the millions of Nigerians even as government official embark on medical tourism for themselves and their families to such civilized nations like UK and USA at public costs. The other time the President spent months in a London hospital at huge expenses to the tax payers. Government officials spend public fund to sponsor their children in European schools whereas public educational institutions are undermined and destroyed. This brings about wide inequality in the society which is a grave human rights crime. Nigeria has over 12 million out of school children and the Child Rights law is breached wantonly even as children face sexual violations by adults and the police aren’t sufficiently trained to tackle the menace. Human trafficking is also a menace.
These are the major violations of the Human Rights of all Nigerians especially the millions of commoners. That Nigeria now is the poverty capital of the World with over 90 million absolutely poor people shows that the state of Human Rights in Nigeria is precarious and has reached an emergency situation.
Summary and Conclusion
The present human rights situation in Nigeria is deplorable and does not aid the cause of the government nor the plight of citizens. It is one which must be urgently addressed otherwise the country faces uncertainty and most certainly drifts towards anarchy where even governance is not guaranteed. President Muhammadu Buhari must be told to set up the governing board of the National Human Rights commission made up of only credible persons so the commission can very competently attend to her constitutional mandate because the commission is being administered as a routine government office and it has failed in its ombudman’s role to promote and protect human rights. The international Criminal Court in The Hague Netherlands must be compelled to investigate the killings carried out by armed Fulani herdsmen which the current Federal government has failed to investigate and punish the mass killers. Impunity and human rights are strange bed fellows, so the Nigerian State must eradicate official lawlessness and impunity so Nigerians can enjoy human rights.
Onwubiko heads human rights writers association of Nigeria (HURIWA).