Addressing Human Rights Abuses in Nigeria

The history of human right abuses in Nigeria is as old as Nigeria, herself. This is because the creation of the nation, Nigeria, was an abuse of the fundamental human right of the various entities that make up the Nigerian state.

The high level of corruption in Nigeria especially in the government makes it absolutely impossible to respect and protect human rights. It is obvious that a corrupt system of leadership can not guarantee the protection of human right because corruption, itself, is an abuse of the rights of the people.

The 2014 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG); shows that Nigeria ranks 37th out of 52 African countries. This appears an improvement from the 2013 ranking where the country took 41st position, but the Director of the IIAG at Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Elizabeth McGrath, gave a remark that ‘‘the score was insignificant, because Nigeria deteriorated further in two of the four major categories of the index.’’

The four categories composed of safety and rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development which are further divided into 14 subsections with 94 indicators.

According to McGrath, since 2009, Nigeria rank hasn’t changed much, it remains the same. Nigeria has over the past five years registered slight improvement in overall governance. It now ranks 37 after 52 countries covered. “It is interesting because this overall governance slight improvement marks different trend at the category level. So we’ve seen that safety and rule of law has deteriorated in Nigeria by 6.6 score point. Human development has deteriorated slightly by 0.3 point. But for the counter balance, we have seen an improvement in sustainable economic opportunities at 3.8 and even bigger improvement in participation and human rights at 6.4”

The report also stated that in this year’s ranking Nigeria scored lower than the African average (51.5) and ranked 37th (out of 52) overall. Also, the country scored lower than the regional average for West Africa (52.2), ranking 12th (out of 15) in the region.

Therefore the need for human right and its implementations is to make it possible for man to build and live peacefully and happily in any society by being treated in a humanly manner by his fellow man. Under the basis of justice, fairness, peace, and equality it is expected that any agreement should be respected and honoured. The case should not be different when it comes to the respect of human rights. It is unlawful for human rights to be abused or denied for any reason except when it is lawful to do so under the same law as in a case of being found guilty of a crime.

Despite the fact that the federal republic of Nigeria has a constitution, there are numerous cases of lack of rule of law and corruption in the court of law. It is clear that under such conditions the judiciary is owned by the Nigerian elite. This, overtime, has made it difficult for poor Nigerian citizens to seek justice in any court of law when their rights are abused by the selected few. Worse enough is that Most Nigerian citizens 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 even if it means seeking the help of international human right agencies.

It is the duty of the government through the police to provide security and to protect the life and property of Nigerian citizens but that has not always been the case. In fact the Nigerian police are more known for extorting money on the high way and detaining any driver that refuse to comply.

This act is an abuse of the citizens’ right. Instances abound how some drivers are even shot and killed because they refused to be extorted. The Nigerian police do not provide adequate security for the poor masses but they usually provide security and escort for the rich Nigerians that are willing to pay, and government high office holder.

Some notable institutions that were created to protect human rights in Nigeria include: National Human Rights Commission, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Human Right Education. These institutions have not lived up to expectation because of various problems which include lack of practical punishment for proven cases of human right abuses, corruption, inadequate financing, nepotism, limited independence, and lack of skilled personnel and effective means of carrying out investigations of reported cases of abuses. The failure of some agencies to protect human rights did not only lead to further human right abuses but also created a society were the rights of the citizens are constantly abused by those that are supposed to protect their rights.

The Nigerian government is known to oppose anti-government protests and demonstration. For instance, the recent bring back our girls protests in Abuja, “End impunity now” rally organized by ANEEJ, calling the Nigerian government to end impunity in the oil sector’ which was disrupted by the Nigerian police in Abuja, among several other protests both by the academia, labour, civil society etc

Educational system in the country has been bastardised over the years by poor management most especially by the same government that is expected to be the custodian of quality education for future leaders. This has now lead to top Nigerian officials responsible for the break down of the academic institution, sending their children to foreign schools, leaving the poor children to settle with poor academic up bring that is plagued with incessant strikes, and constant hike in school fees most likely un affordable by poor parents, a resultant effect of crisis and destruction of lives and properties around the country. It is a shame because education is the tool that should be used to instruct and develop the future generation. A recent event is the call for those deployed in the NYSC to pay thousands of naira before getting their call – up letters to serve their father land, even without guarantee of job after service.

The Nigerian prison and police cells are over crowded and dirty, and people are kept in such an unhealthy condition. One may be deceived to think that it is only criminals that are kept in such unhealthy environment but the fact is that most states are dirty because of lack of good environmental protection agencies. The conflict in the Niger delta region is partly as a result of an abuse and denial of their (safe) environmental right.

On fundamental human rights Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution Sec 35 (3) Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed in writing within twenty-four hours (and in a language that he understands) of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention. 39. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

In spite of the beautifully packaged Nigerian constitution, we have overtime witnessed constant violation of it by those who ought to be responsible in ensuring law and order. Especially when it comes to human right abuses as shown in the constitutional sections above.

Government should follow the rule of law. It has to ensure for instance that corruption in the judiciary is stopped and checked by another agency (checks and balances) and not to rather use it as a tool to weaken the efforts of those who seek justice or as a political weapon against opposition. This will make it easier for the citizens to trust the judiciary and seek redress in court whenever their rights are abused. At least it can create confidence, justice and a sense of belonging to the citizenry. Especially for those seeking justice on human right abuse cases, vis-à-vis poor or less privileged in the society like children and women, making it easier for all Nigerians to seek justice no matter their status in society. It can help to solve problems like child abuse (especially sexual molestation), forced marriages among others.
It is a demand that government should provide human right education to the citizens through media, workahop, and as part of academic curriculum, in the absence of none. This will help to educate the citizens on their rights and how to seek redress when their rights are abused.

In periods of crisis the military should be taught to use less force when called upon to help restore law and order; owing to the fact that any use of force or punishment thaw out on an individual or a group is denial of his/ her right until proven guilty. Human right offenders should be brought to book without fear or favour, by proper application of Retributive justice where necessary because it will act as an example to other human right offenders.

Finally, it is important to overhaul the judiciary, if the problems of human right abuses will be tackled effectively. This implies in areas of self dependence, proper funding, and absence of corruption within it, as it is deemed the last hope of the ‘common man.’ Same also in other agencies set up to check human right abuses in the country.

• Mr. Charles Iyare is Programme Assistant (Human Rights), Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), a Benin City based Non Governmental Organisation.