It is no longer news to see hundreds dying, as a result of an unsafe business environment which basically abuses human rights. The need to address this was brought to the fore when stakeholders brainstormed the need to create National Action Plan (NAP) aimed at creating a safe business environment and protecting the rights of citizens. Ruth Tene Natsa, was there for LEADERSHIP.
In 2010, records by the Medicines Sans Frontiers recorded the deaths of over 700 children, which were attributed to unsafe mining of gold deposits by illegal miners in Zamfara State. The story was not different when 27 children died following a similar lead poisoning in 2016, in Megero, Kawo and Shikira communities of Niger State, this was also attributed to unsafe mining practice by illegal miners.
The Niger Delta region is not spared, as they continue to survive the oil spill which had led to the degradation of their environment, land and waste of their agriculture, all these has been blamed on the unsafe business environment, common in Nigeria.
As a means to addressing this hazard, Global Rights, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission, brought stakeholders to create a framework that would protect citizens from the effects of unsafe business practices across Nigeria. Giving her keynote address, Global Rights, executive director, Abiodun Baiyewu said Nigeria’s prospects of economic prosperity has been attractive to business investors in diverse sectors, both local and international.
She noted that unarguably, businesses have been a force for our good through job creation, revenue generation, transfer of knowledge and production of goods and services among others even as we cannot deny the fact that business activities have also over the course of time, impacted negatively on society in the rights of its members. Baiyewu recalled that in 2010, at the height of the gold mining related gold poisoning in Zamfara State, which has been attested to be the worst in the world, more than 700 children died. She said, when they died, the federal, state government, Ministries of Mines and Steel Development and the Ministry of Environment bickered over whose responsibility it was to prevent and remediate the contamination
Speaking on the meeting, she said, “The essence of today’s meeting is to bring together government agencies to critically think through and analyse the responses to human rights violations particularly by developing a framework for business and international human rights commissions. So, it is bringing all these government agencies together to dialogue on these issues and chat a way together.
She said the meeting was aimed at ensuring that going forward, businesses would exist in Nigeria in a more respectful way that enhances business and at the same time, enhances the protection of the rights of citizens in Nigeria.
There has been a lot of instance on a daily basis, you only need to look at the Niger-delta and the human rights violation that happened in the course of doing business. You also need to look at the more than 700 children that died in Zamfara State and the 27 that died in Niger State as a result of gold mining related Lead poisoning.
She maintained that this example applies to many other human rights violations incurred in the course of doing business across Nigeria, whether child labour, host community, security infringements, women’s rights and consumer rights among others.
“We need to look daily to the children on our streets selling things rather than going to school, the conditions of service in lots of companies where people do not even get a day off and the conditions of service which are very poor. You need to look at the herdsmen/farmers crises and realise that businesses aren’t just about formal business but every aspect of business in our country” she said
Adding that, “this was the crux of the workshop as she recalled that the Buhari-led administration had devoted a good proportion of its policies to enhancing the ease of doing business. She however, asserted that if business must be done right, human rights must be contextualized in that conversation”.
At the onset of deliberations on appropriate mechanisms for addressing the plethora of business related human rights infringements experienced all over the globe, she said Nigeria was one of the 12 countries that had supported the development of the UN Guiding principles. “Till date however, the country is still in the early stage of the process of adopting a National Action Plan (NAP)”.
The activist recalled that the NHRC had taken a proactive step in producing the Draft National Action Plan for business and human rights, taking its cue from the UN Business and Human Rights Framework, better known as the UN Guiding principles on Business and Human Rights, or the Ruggie Principles’
While commending the commission for its doggedness in producing the draft to advance the conversation on business and Human Rights in Nigeria and globally, she however said, “We recognise that the key stakeholders in the implementation of these action plans are the government agencies and our parliament, and seek to ensure that they deliberate on the roles of their agencies in its successful implementation by examining its workability and seamless implementation.
She stressed that to address the above issues. there was need for a forward looking visionary government that works on all the different issues in a single framework to protect citizens.
Also adding to the discussion and speaking on protecting human rights within the context of Rule of Law, Advisor, Office of the Vice President, Gbolahan Adeniran urged that for human rights to thrive in a business environment, there was the need for the government to provide the environment for business to thrive.
He advocated that to effectively ensure the above, there was need to ensure transparency of business operators, observe enhanced border security and port operations, as well as access default approval and cleared travel (good immigrations)
The Advisor said there was the need to ensure that businesses do not become the problem, rather they should be scrutinised to ensure they are pro-human rights rather than anti-human right.
Maintaining that human rights commission should not be found working in segregation but rather seen to be working to protect the interest of the citizens.
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