RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: Troubling human rights situation in Nigeria

Posted by News Express | 12 December 2015 | 2,776 times

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On December 10, 2015, Nigeria joined the rest of mankind to mark half a century since the United Nations General Assembly adopted two international treaties that would forever shape international human rights, namely: The International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Sadly, whilst progressive democratic nations such as the United Kingdom and Spain, amongst many other Euro-American countries, are expanding the frontiers of how their citizens drink from the abundant fountains of freedoms, including the Right to Demand Self-determination and Self-rule, guaranteed under the above-mentioned international humanitarian laws.

Nigeria, on the other hand, has found itself in an era of press repression and muzzling of fundamental freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly.  The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is enmeshed in the scandal of mulling a legislation that could stifle freedom of the media, especially access to the social media. But the presence of some devout human rights crusaders like Senator Shehu Sani, Senator David Umaru, among others, is reassuring that this bad bill may never become realistic.  But on the angle of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, Nigeria is not doing well at all; and security agencies have given Nigeria terribly bad image internationally.

For a month now, Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari, an erstwhile military dictator, captured in the most brazen manner, Mr Nnamdi Kanu from his hotel room in Lagos, when he arrived from his adopted country of Great Britain. And this prisoner of conscience, who hails originally from Abia State, has been detained under crushing and inhumane situation by officials of the Department for State Security Services (DSS) for some strange reasons that he is the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and that he runs an illegal radio from Europe, known as Radio Biafra. Principally, most youths from the South-East of Nigeria have deep feelings of alienation, and are demanding a referendum to decide whether a Republic known as Biafra, or any other name, can be granted them since the Federal Government of Nigeria has treated the zone as a 'Conquered territory,' 50 years after the civil war. The Nigerian police and armed security operatives have on several occasions crushed, decisively, those peaceful and constructive civil rights movements and protest marches in the South-East organised under the aegis of the Indigenous People of Biafra in partnership with some elements within the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra.

The question on most people's lips is: How come Nigerian President mounted global podium in New York to campaign for the Right of the Palestinian people for self-determination, at the just-ended United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), but returned to Nigeria to order this kind of military crackdown on dissent and the arbitrary arrest and detention of civil rights leaders, such as Mr Kanu and hundreds of other Igbo stakeholders, just for exercising their basic human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to demand self-determination covered under international laws and, indeed, the same body of international laws now being celebrated in this year’s World Human Rights Day? Why this hypocrisy? 

Anyway, let’s return to the history of these aforementioned global human rights laws. We now know that they were created in the aftermath of World War II. The two Covenants along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became the International Bill of Human Rights setting out the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights that are the birth-right of all human beings. Nigeria has incorporated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into chapter four of the Constitution, making Nigeria a constitutional democracy in writing. But, why is Nigeria failing in her obligations to protect and promote the basic rights to free assembly and free speech? The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has correctly concluded that the bringing into being of the two aforementioned laws or sets of treaties marked a watershed in the global annals of human rights, but also added: “Since that time a fundamental sea of change has occurred across the world, with many countries recognising human rights and the rule of law as the basis for truly resilient and stable societies.”

The two covenants, in the assessment of stakeholders globally, are more relevant today than ever. However, we well know challenges abound, but a common thread binding humanity together is the universal acceptance of the indubitable fact that FREEDOM underpins the International Bill of Human Rights, which can be summed up as: freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want. Nigeria has done badly in all of these rights. In the north, the Boko Haram terrorists have bombed worshippers of both Christian and Islamic faiths, and the uprisings have made it impossible for Nigerians to enjoy these fundamental human rights.

The international community has also expressed frustration that 50 years on, many people are still unaware of the existence of the International Bill of Human Rights and many countries around the world still have much to do to build political institutions, judicial systems, and economies that allow ordinary people to live with dignity. “The growth of hate speech against religious and racial minorities, the justification of rights violations in the name of combating terrorism, the clawing back of economic and social rights in the name of economic crises or security, and the failure to respect the right to privacy in the digital age, show the relevance of the two covenants and the need to respect them,” according to an essay from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

To promote and raise awareness of the two covenants on their 50th anniversary, the UN Human Rights Office, launched on Human Rights day, Our Rights, Our Freedoms, Always, a year-long campaign to shine a light on the inalienable and inherent rights of global citizens - now, and always. Nigerians are indeed going to benefit if the right frame of minds are built and the institutional processes and mechanisms put in place through credible governmental and non-governmental platforms, to educate Nigerians on their rights and obligations as members of the civilised world. Nigeria needs to abolish torture and police and security operatives who commit murder and carry out torture against detainees must be made to face the full weight of the law. Nigeria needs to make laws to clearly outlaw torture. Therefore, clear punishment terms should be provided for, to put an end to police impunity.

“Our Rights, Our Freedoms, Always revolves around the timeless themes of rights and freedom and the relevance of the work that continues in securing and ensuring them. At its core, FREEDOM, underpins the International Bill of Human Rights: freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want.” These are the landmark conclusions of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Office of the High commissioner for Human Rights stated that on Human Rights Day, members of the human race are invited to join in celebrating 50 years of freedom, as embodied in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These four freedoms are as relevant today as they were 50 years back. Nigeria is not an island and so must put measures in place to promote these rights. The National Human Rights Commission has to be restructured so the most competent human rights activists are appointed into executive offices in the commission, to speed up the mobilisation and enlightenment of Nigerians on their human rights and put judicial measures to prosecute human rights violators.  For instance, those security operatives who instigate extra-legal killings of civilian protesters in the South-East of Nigeria must be brought to book, because peaceful agitation for self-determination is not a crime, at all.

Besides, the agitation for self-rule in the area has become resounding, because of the absence of a sense of belonging in the nation-state of Nigeria given a number of factors, including marginalisation by way of denial of significant federal presence of strategic infrastructure, such as good roads network and agricultural dams. South-East Nigeria is crude-oil-rich, but it has got no single refinery built by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Region was devastated almost 40 years back during the civil war, but no concerted reconstruction process was done. South-Eastern Nigeria, dominated by the Igbo, is the only major ethnic bloc not appointed into the constitutional body known as National Defence Council by this current government. With over 40 million people, how can President Buhari explain the alienation of the South- East from this strategic military appointment?

The people of South-East have lost patience in the slave ideologies that the Nigerian State has foisted on them. World HUMAN RIGHTS Day, it is appropriate to ask and find out: “What happens when the slave reaches this new kind of self- realisation – yet is not ready for a fight to the death?

 At this point Hegel, the philosopher, argues: “The slave finds ‘slave ideologies’ that justify his position, including stoicism (in which he rejects external freedom for mental freedom), skepticism (in which he doubts the value of external freedom), and unhappy consciousness (in which he finds religion an escape, but only in another world).”

As we mark the 2015, Hegel finds these Master-Slave relationships in many places: in the wars between stronger states and weaker states, and conflicts between social classes and other groupings. For Hegel, human existence is an endless fight to death: for recognition. And this fight can never properly be resolved.

Let the Nigerian government be serious about respecting human rights of citizens and stop this hypocrisy of appearing in international fora to pretend to be democratic, when in reality the opposite is the case.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source: News Express

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