There is now a compelling need to re-awaken the value for human rights in Nigeria considering the low regard accorded to human life in general with the wanton killings in the country of late. In recent times, thousands of deaths have been recorded due to the insurgency in the North East, the farmers/herders conflict in various parts of the country and the killings by cattle rustlers and other bandits. This is apart from deaths caused by armed robbers, kidnappers, ritualists, communal clashes, cult activities and domestic violence, among others.
Even more distressing is the fact that, most times, the culprits suffer little or no consequences for their actions. Also, there are thousands of innocent Nigerians rotting away in jail without trial, thereby denying them the fundamental freedoms accorded them by the constitution.
Universally, human rights are considered inherent entitlements of all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, et cetera. All humans are all equally entitled to such rights without discrimination, and these rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
The universal human rights principle is expressed and guaranteed by law in the form of treaties, general principles, customary and international law, and other sources. International human rights law lays down obligations of governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
With human rights being a universal issue, it becomes fundamental that citizens, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, sex and class, are protected and shielded from all forms of oppression.
In contemporary Nigeria, it has become important to re-awaken these values which have been gravely degraded as a result of poverty, widening gaps in social class, high rate of insecurity, corruption and political differences.
While reports indicate that Nigeria has made serious improvements in human rights under its constitution, the American Human Rights Report of 2012 notes areas where significant improvements are needed. These include the gross violations by Boko Haram and other armed groups, killings by government forces, lack of social equality, and issues with freedom of speech.
To underpin the importance of these values, Nigeria marks December 14 every year as Human Rights Day. However, not many Nigerians are aware of their rights, or how to exercise them, which makes them vulnerable to abuses.
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that the fundamental human rights, as captured in section 33-41 of the 1999 constitution, guarantees that every person has a right to life, and that no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
Other rights include the right to the dignity of the human person, which provides that no person shall be held in slavery or servitude, and the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, tribe, creed or political opinion or association. There is also the right to fair hearing; the right to private and family life; freedom of expression and of the press; freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to peaceful assembly or association, as well as the right to personal liberty, ownership of property as well as right to vote and be voted for in any given election, among others.
In our opinion, as a means of reawakening our value for human rights, a key strategy is to reintroduce civic education in the nation’s educational curricular. This will ensure that citizens grow up with a good knowledge of how to exercise their human rights.
Also, human rights education should be integrated into the training of security personnel across the various security platforms in order to ingrain in them the utmost importance of ensuring that citizens enjoy their full rights as citizens.
Notably, to check the accusations of human rights violations always levelled against its personnel, the Nigerian Police Force set up human rights desks in police stations to tackle such issues. As a newspaper, we believe this is good initiative. However, the impact of this intervention has largely been negligible. One way of making it effective is to forge a strong partnership between this police desk and civil society organisations (CSOs) towards protecting citizens’ rights and ensuring redress when infringed upon.