Leapfrogging human rights in a leap year

Posted by News Express | 15 January 2020 | 1,230 times

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No doubt the year 2020 is a leap year. This means that we have a well-packed year going by the deficit of twenty-four hours in this calendar year. What this means is that whatever is worth doing at all, must be done very well without any waste of time. To gain a comprehensive insight into the significance of the concept of human rights as the first step in doing this reflection, I visited a British government-affiliated website to learn about how the people of Great Britain looks at human rights.  

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply, regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example, if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security. These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence. 

These values are defined and protected by law.

In Britain, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

As a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), our job is to make Britain fairer. We’ve been speaking to children across the country asking them about human rights and receiving simple, honest and funny answers.  The majority of schools we spoke to as part of this project belong to UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools network.

The website stated too that human rights are relevant to all of us, not just those who face repression or mistreatment.

They protect you in many areas of your day-to-day life, including your right to have and express your own opinions, your right to an education, your right to a private and family life, your right not to be mistreated or wrongly punished by the state. They then asked:  Where do human rights come from? Here is the response. The idea that human beings should have a set of basic rights and freedoms has deep roots in Britain. They listed the landmark developments in Britain include: the Magna Carta of 1215, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 and the Bill of Rights of 1689.

Also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights got an elaborate mention as being fundamental to ending the atrocities of the Second World War because in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) made the protection of human rights an international priority.

The United Nations was founded in 1945. The United Nations allowed more than 50 member states to contribute to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948. This was the first attempt to set out at a global level the fundamental rights and freedoms shared by all human beings.

Writing about the formation of the European Convention on Human Rights, we were informed by Great Britain that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights formed the basis for the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950. Also, we were told that British lawyers played a key role in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights, with Winston Churchill heavily involved. It protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe, including the UK. The United Kingdom has the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Human Rights Act 1998 made the rights set out by the European Convention on Human Rights part of British domestic law just like how African charter on human and people's rights and the UDHR are made chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution.  

The Human Rights Act means that courts in the United Kingdom can hear human rights cases.

Before it was passed, people had to take their complaints to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

In view of the demands of urgency and clinical implementation of programmes set out by individuals and corporate entities in the year of our Lord 2020, which is a leap year, it is the best way to begin by highlighting what need to form the fulcrum of Nigeria's Human Rights agenda. This is because of the journey to infamy in the area of human rights in Nigeria got to an all-time low when even key officials of the Federal Government made heavy weather of the the misconception that the rule of law and respect for human rights are secondary to the protection of national security (whatever that means). 

The intriguing thing about this needless debate triggered by an address on the appropriate hierarchical order between rule of law and national security is that it was made by the President of the Federal Republic and at the venue of the general meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). 

The solemnity surrounding the venue whereby this controversial debate was ignited and the high status of the originator of the debate was huge enough to tell any wise human rights observer in Nigeria that we are in for a long haul. 

Understandably, the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association did not disappoint Nigerians by immediately pushing back on the misconception in the statement by President Muhammadu Buhari on the place of national security vis-à-vis the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The Nigerian Bar Association is known to have rejected President Buhari’s comment that national security takes precedence over the rule of law. The President had made the comment while declaring open the 58th annual general conference of the NBA. The conference culminated in the inauguration of NBA’s current president, Mr Paul Usoro, SAN, and other newly-elected national officers of the association. Usoro, who became the 29th president of the association, took over from Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, who with his team had piloted the affairs of the association for two years.

In its communiqué, which it issued at the end of the conference, the association said it rejected Buhari’s comment, insisting that the rule of law was central to democracy. It added that national security must be managed within the parametres of the rule of law.

The President’s comment had attracted condemnations by Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, and other prominent Nigerians.

The NBA communiqué, signed by its immediate past president and general secretary, Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, and Mr Abiola Olagunju, demanded that the government and the citizenry must always obey a court order in compliance with the principle of the rule of law.

The communiqué read in part: “The conference completely rejects the presidential statement subordinating the rule of law to national security. The NBA restates that the rule of law is central to a democracy and any national security concerns by the government must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the rule of law.

“As a corollary, conference frowns upon the present growing trend whereby the government decides on which court orders to obey. The court has exclusive duty under a democratic dispensation to interpret the Constitution and other laws, and government and the citizenry must comply with court orders at all times until set aside.”

The communiqué also addressed various topical national issues bordering on the economy and the judiciary.

While calling for a budgetary arrangement that allows for funds to be directly allocated to the judiciary at federal and state levels in order to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, the association rejected the Federal Government’s Executive Order Six, which directs prosecuting and investigating agencies to take steps to ensure assets linked to pending criminal cases are temporarily forfeited.

It stated: “The conference emphatically objects to the issuance of the Executive Orders in respect to matters already in court and observes that any such order is a breach of the principle of separation of powers; and counsels that executive orders be issued for good governance and to manage operations of government, and not to encroach or usurp upon the constitutional powers of other arms of government, lest executive orders become attempts at decree-making.”

The NBA called for adequate funding and improved welfare for police personnel, saying serious consideration should be given to calls for state police, but with safeguards to prevent abuse. It also enjoined government to ensure free and fair electoral processes.

Many months after, it would seem that officials of governments at all levels have not come to terms with the demands of chapter four of the Nigerian Constitution which obliges them to respect the human rights of Nigerians and, importantly, section one of the Constitution unambiguously provided that the Rule of law is sacrosanct and the pillar of rule of law is the foundation upon which officials and all citizens are obliged legally to promote and protect human rights scattered in both chapter two and four, the Universal Declarations of Human Rights; International covenants on civil and political rights, and the African Charter on Peoples’ and Human Rights. 

Moreover, by the constitutional oath administered on the President and the holders of executive offices, as well as all other public offices of influence, the holders are obliged to obey the constitution without any pre-conditions.

In the last twelve months, there are growing concerns about disrespect to the human rights provisions and citizens are mistreated wantonly.

Nigerians face humiliation by government officials at all levels and particularly the disturbing disobedience to court orders by the president is a grave sign that there is the need for an emergency to be declared in the Human Rights sector.  

This worry got to a stage earlier in the year when the United States of America stepped in and warned the Federal Government of Nigeria  to obey the law and carry out the prosecution of the journalist, Mr Omoyele Sowore in compliance with the due process of the law.

From the United States of America’s Congress came a report that lawmakers had written a warning letter to President Buhari itemising their concerns about fading respect for constitutional freedoms. US lawmakers wrote a letter to Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, over the then continued detention of Sowore, a political activist.

Media obtained the letter which cautioned Mr Malami against the disobedience of rule of law under President Buhari’s administration.

The letter was signed by six lawmakers: Robert Menendez (senator), Charles Schumer (senator), Cory Booker (senator), Christopher Coons (senator), Bill Pascrell (congressman) and John Gotheirmer (congressman).

Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, was arrested on August 3 for planning #RevolutionNow, a series of protests to demand an end to corruption and demand better living conditions for all citizens.

The protests were planned to commence on August 5. But on August 3, armed State Security Service (SSS) officers broke into an apartment Sowore was occupying with some of his associates in Lagos. He and his associate, Olawale Bakare, were taken away in the raid that was captured by security cameras.

The SSS refused to release Sowore and Bakare despite two separate court orders for his release. They were eventually released on December 5 after a court on that day directed the SSS to release both men within 24 hours. A day later, the SSS stormed the court to re-arrest Mr Sowore. He has been held without fresh charges since then not until USA mounted considerable pressure before government caved in.

The US lawmakers in their letter dated December 20, to Mr Malami said they are really concerned that established legal procedures and rule of law are not being followed in Sowore’s case.

“Disturbing videos of the melee in court are circulating, which appear to show armed agent in court and Mr Sowore being placed in choke-hold after which he was re-detained by DSS, though no new charges have since been filed to justify this re-detention. We understand that his case has since been placed within your purview.”

 Part of the letter read:

“We are pleased to stand alongside Nigeria as a democratic country. As the largest democracy in Africa, Nigeria has an opportunity and responsibility to serve as model for following the established rule of law under its own constitution. And as with all advanced democracies, this includes the lawful application of prosecutorial powers and actions as well as ultimate compliance with judicial rulings. In the case of Mr Sowore, this does not appear to have happened.”

The lawmakers said Nigeria must learn how to uphold the basic human rights of its citizens, including their “freedom of expressions and political affiliation without fear of government reprisal and harassment, particularly for opposing or dissenting voices.

“Mr Attorney-General, we request that you take immediate steps to ensure the safety and security of Mr Sowore while he is held in government custody; work to facilitate speedy and fair resolution to the circumstances of his re-detention; and ensure he receives a legally sound and credible trial.”

The lawmakers maintained that the continued detention of Mr Sowore will only serve to tarnish Nigeria’s international reputation. Previously, the media reported how a former American ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, also warned that Mr Sowore’s treatment was damaging Nigeria’s international reputation.

In an article entitled “Buhari’s Dictatorial Past and the Rule of Law Today in Nigeria,” Mr Campbell said: “The state security service assault on a courtroom and the re-arrest of Sowore has already damaged the country’s international reputation.”

The Nigerian government inevitably capitulated to the overwhelming pressure from the international community and belatedly decided to release the journalist Omoyele Sowere and erstwhile National Security Adviser to president Goodluck Jonathan, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd) who spent four years in pre-trial detention against multiple bail orders granted by the Federal High Court.

Therefore, the main human rights agenda in this current year is for all governmental authorities to respect the constitution. 

Officials must respect lawfully made orders of the court of competent jurisdiction as provided for in section 6 of the Constitution thus:

 “(1) The judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation. (2) The judicial powers of a state shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established, subject as provided by this Constitution, for a state. (3) The courts to which this section relates, established by this Constitution for the Federation and for the states, specified in subsection (5) (a) to (1) of this section, shall be the only superior courts of record in Nigeria; and save as otherwise prescribed by the National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of a State, each court shall have all the powers of a superior court of record.

“(4) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall be construed as precluding: (a) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly from establishing courts, other than those to which this section relates, with subordinate jurisdiction to that of a High Court; (b) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly, which does not require it, from abolishing any court which it has power to establish or which it has brought into being. (5) This section relates to: (a) the Supreme Court of Nigeria; (b) the Court of Appeal; (c) the Federal High Court; (d) the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (e) a High Court of a State (f) the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (g) a Sharia Court of Appeal of a State; (h) the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (i) a Customary Court of Appeal of a State; (j) such other courts as may be authorised by law to exercise jurisdiction on matters with respect to which the National Assembly may make laws; and (k) such other court as may be authorised by law to exercise jurisdiction at first instance or on appeal on matters with respect to which a House of Assembly may make laws. 

“(6) The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section - (a) shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law (b) shall extend, to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person; (c) shall not except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution; (d) shall not, as from the date when this section comes into force, extend to any action or proceedings relating to any existing law made on or after 15th January, 1966 for determining any issue or question as to the competence of any authority or person to make any such law."

Apart from the above, there is growing worry about extra-legal killings by security agents of citizens in their detention facilities. Cases of deadly attacks on citizens by Islamic terror groups and armed gangs of different variety, including herdsmen, are critical human right worries in 2020.

The right to life which section 33(1) of the Constitution provided for is consistently been breached. Sadly, supposed law enforcement agencies are the worst violators of the right to life. 

There is the need to bring all extra-legal killers to trial locally or internationally. Nigeria also confronts other worrying human rights dilemmas such as mass unemployment, poor housing, lack of health care, failing state of infrastructures that are necessary for the protection of the right to life. Funny enough, Nigeria has one of the largest population of hungry people due to mismanagement of public resources by government. 

Civil and political rights are abused with reckless abandon by an incompetent electoral institution with their criminally compromised security forces who connive to rig elections and kill voters to stop them from electing people to govern their community. 

The weakening of institutions such as National Human Rights Commission; code of conduct Bureau; Federal Character Commission and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the judiciary, including the National Judicial Council, by the presidency are danger signals and constitute grave threats to human rights in 2020.

These are critical issues making up the year 2020 human rights agenda of action for citizens and government.


Source: News Express

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