In this report, KUNLE OLASANMI, looks at the commitment of the Nigerian government to human rights and the constant violations of citizens’ rights
In every civilized society human rights are the inalienable rights that are without presumption or cost, a privilege to all human beings. It is therefore, unacceptable for human rights to be abused or denied for any reason except when it is lawful.
The rights of many Nigerians have been abused by the very government they elected to serve them due to the fact that many do not know their rights.
Studies have shown that a lot of people do not even know their rights, consequently they do not know when their rights are being abused and how to fight for their rights to avoid further abuse.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1948 adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the first global expression to protect the rights of everyone worldwide.
Nigeria’s human rights records since independent has not been enviable largely due to incessant military incursion into governance. All the military regimes were involved in gross human rights violations because one of their first acts in power is to suspend the constitution thereby automatically extinguishing the rights of Nigerians.
They promulgate decrees, forbidding expression of opinions, jailing of human rights activists and journalists under Decree 2, proscribing of labour unions and other organizations that advocate for activities they adjudge hostile to their continued stay in power.
Since the return of democracy into the country in May 1999, there has been some improvement with respect to rights and liberties of Nigerians by the civilian authorities.
Although, there is still room for improvement, many had attributed the improvements to the restoration of the constitution and the rule of law
The 1999 Constitution makes provision for the enforcement of the rights of every Nigerian citizen. The fundamental human rights in Nigeria are entrenched in chapter IV section 32 of the constitution.
Although, every government since the return to democracy in 1999 has expressed total commitment to the enthronement and enforcement of the fundamental rights of all Nigerians the reality on ground is radically different. Most of the issues they promise to focus on have remained largely unaddressed.
There are large and small scale human rights violations especially by the armed forces including the police. In its 2017 reports, Amnesty International said: “The Nigerian security forces, led by the military, embarked on a chilling campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence resulting in the deaths of many innocent Nigerians.
Many of the human rights violations were never acknowledged or addressed by the government.
Daily, social crimes like kidnappings have taken frightening dimensions leading to the death of thousands of Nigerians. On many occasions, armed Fulani herdsmens have unleashed devastating violence and arson on farming communities all across Nigeria but the Nigerian government has so far failed to bring these vicious circle of deaths to an end and to punish the criminals.
The menace of disobeying court orders by the executive and legislative branches at all levels is still the order of the day. The judiciary is still underfunded, delay of court proceedings has not being fully addressed, the issue of access to justice for the poor remain a big problem as many people believe that justice in Nigeria is for the highest bidder and the prison system in the country is one of the worst in the world.
Although, some reforms have been introduced to address the menace of delay in court proceedings, issues of lawyers writing letters for adjournment of cases, inability of judges and magistrates to deliver judgments on time, failure of the police or prison authorities to produce accused persons in court for trial, the rule that once a magistrate or judge is transferred and a new one takes over a case so it starts ‘de novo’, still persist.
In 2016, while addressing a special session of the European Union parliament in Strasbourg, France, President Muhammadu Buhari said his administration was doing its utmost best to protect the fundamental human rights of persons in the ongoing counter-terrorism operations against Boko Haram insurgents.
The President also said that his government shared the European Union’s commitment to peace and security, respect for human rights, democracy and good governance as well as equality and tolerance as ways of developing prosperous and strong societies.
He said, “on our part, we have updated our Rules Of Engagement in fighting terrorism and pay very close attention during operations to the treatment of captured terrorists, civilians caught up in the conflict and in general, safeguarding property.
“Our aim is to use minimum force necessary in our fight against terrorists,” the President said.
However, it seems that not everybody is satisfied with the human rights records of the current government.
In a recent letter written to the president, Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) noted that contrary to his pledge to ensure that all citizens are protected under the law, the State Security Service otherwise called the Department of State Security (DSS) has engaged in the indiscriminate arrest and detention of many citizens and foreigners living in Nigeria.
Falana, therefore, called on President Buhari to direct the DSS to either release all the citizens and foreigners being held in illegal custody or arraign them in the appropriate courts in line with the avowed commitment of his administration to respect the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people under the Rule of Law.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Yahaya Umoh, blamed the government for the violations rights of Nigerians.
According to him, Nigerians are not even guaranteed rights to life, noting something urgent needs to be done to correct so many things that have gone wrong.
“Even, the government that is supposed to protect the rights of its citizens violates them. Unlike in the past, we now experience senseless killings across the country and all the government does is to condemn the killing and life goes on. Honestly, we need to do much more to protect the rights of citizens in the country”, Umoh said.
Another lawyer, Soma Awukuma, agreed with the views expressed by Umoh. In his own argument, hd submitted that the rights of Nigerians are constantly being violated by its government that is supposed to protect them.
“The 1999 Constitution gives specific period a person can be detained but what you see today is that a person will be detained far beyond the number of days specified by the law without a valid court order and yet nothing will be done to remedy the situation”.
“Eve freedom of expression that is provided for in the constitution has now been termed hate speech, if you say things that are unpalatable to the ears of the government, so where is the fundamental human rights of Nigerians’, he said.
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