HUMAN RIGHTS LAW IN NIGERIA: THE HUMAN OR THE LAW

Barrister Victor Njoku Nweke speaking during the Social Action 2021 annual Camp meeting held in Rivers State

“The issue of human rights protection remains the cornerstone for proper existence of human race and their observance in a state encourages peace, civility and prosperity of human society.” Barrister Victor Njoku made the assertion as he gave a lecture at the 2021 Social Action Camp.

This discussion is essential to the fact a lot of human rights activists, CSOs and even innocent citizens face all manner of inhumane treatment at the hands of security agents. There have been several cases of unlawful and arbitrary killings by government and non-state actors, unlawful interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, serious restriction of free expression by the press and citizens on the conventional and new media spaces.  

These detainees sometimes are locked up, tortured without trial while being kept incommunicado without access to their friends and families whereas the law requires an arresting office to make known the charges against an accused, take the accused to the police station for processing within a reasonable time and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. More so, the security agents who are supposed to make the citizens feel safe with their presence now use nonlethal tactics such as firing teargas, batons, before employing the use of force in dealing with those they are meant to protect.

Also, another area of interest is the Police Act that makes provision for the protection of the human right of suspects in police custody. Nweke asserted that the police is bound to observe these rights while exercising their statutory function of arrest, investigation and prosecution and a violation could give the citizen the right to sue the police. While also listing these rights, he told attendees that the knowledge of these rights is like a lamp that will guide them not just during activism, but also in serving as watchdogs to ensure that security agents obey the provisions made by the law in course of discharging their duties.

He further noted that the Act also kicks against torture and describes torture as cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment which causes pain, exhaustion, disability or dysfunction of one or more body parts These treatments if meted out to detainees are punishable under law as the officer, upon conviction, is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty five years.

Sadly, the Act which he described as a “bold step” taken by the National Assembly to enhance the protection of human rights is still being violated by security agents as citizens still make confessions under duress for fear of losing their lives. However, these misappropriations that are gradually becoming a norm can be abated when citizens are abreast with the right knowledge and act accordingly. He, therefore, recommended that training such as the ones organized by Social Action be carried out more regularly equip CSO and active citizens with requisite knowledge and tools to defend themselves against the brute and inhumane treatment being meted by the security agents on innocent gullible citizens

NEW LEADERSHIP EMERGES FOR CIVIL RIGHTS COUNCIL, BORI

Members from different chapter of CRC Bori zone

The Civil Rights Council Bori Chapter recently saw the emergence of a new leadership that brought an end to the existing leadership. The congress/election took place at the Paul Naakuu Birabi Conference Hall in Bori, Rivers State. While giving account of his stewardship, Comrade Prince Dukan enumerated the human rights interventions the Bori Chapter has recorded in LGAs and senatorial district.  He reminded members of the sole purpose of CRC while charging them to ensure justice prevails wherever they are.

The National Coordinator, out-going chairman and the incoming chairman

The National Coordinator of CRC, Arochukwu Paul Ogbonna gave a solidarity message on behalf of the Executive Director, Social Action. He appreciated their resilience of CRC Bori Chapter and their doggedness in human rights intervention and assured them of support from Social Action. He emphasized the need to document and keep track record of all human rights interventions as this is a determining factor in monitoring the progress of CRC.  The National Coordinator encouraged members to work unanimously with security agents while also awakening human rights consciousness among the Ogoni territory as the Ogoni struggle also centres around human rights advocacy.

Representatives from the Gokana, Tai, Eleme and Bori zones also gave their solidarity speeches that centered on the various interventions carried out in their chapters and the progress made so far. Nkpordee Basil gave a review of interventions made by CRC Bori zone which include recovery of stolen properties, stoppage of various forms marital abuse, freeing victims of SAR illegally arrested and help them get justice

Elections to various executive positions was conducted by head count and winners were immediately announced by the adhorc electoral committee. The Chairman elect who gave his opening speech in behalf of his executives thanked members for the opportunity to serve. He assured them that the organization will continue to uphold its purpose to avoid any form of abuse as there is now better access to the people as a result of past interventions.

Group photograph of EXCOs and members after the congress

The National Coordinator addressed the new executives and tackled questions on the nitty-gritty of human right intervention and how to apply diplomacy when engaging people and security agencies. “Facts and not hearsay is important” he said. He concluded by urging the zone to expand its scope to universities and secondary schools as these youngsters can act as CRC agents in recording and reporting cases of human rights abuses as a lot of ills happen in such environment.

 

Ondo Citizens Set Agenda for Engaging NDDC on Accountability and Efficiency in Service Delivery

As part of an ongoing programme to institutionalize probity in the operation of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Social Action launched the Strengthening Civic and Community Actions Against Corruption in NDDC campaign. The project, supported by MacArthur Foundation, seeks to strengthen community agency and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the Niger Delta region to advocate for transparency and accountability in the management of public resource by the Niger delta Development Commission in order to advance effective service delivery in the region.

 

Speaking at the event, Social Action’s Programes Coordinator, Isaac Botti in his opening remarks noted that Ondo like other oil-rich Niger Delta states suffer significantly from the level of impunity by the Commission due to lack of critical checks and effective oversight by due process institutions as well as poor citizens engagement. He noted that funds for development projects that would have improved the lives of the citizens most times end up in the private pockets of public office holders and assured them of Social Action’s support as they set agenda and work plan for engaging NDDC

Groups set agenda for carrying out needs assessment in their communities and map out strategies to engage the NDDC

While taking the participants through “The NDDC Mandate”, Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Edegbuo lamented the cronyism and fiscal recklessness that have permeated the Commission. According to him, the Commission established in 2000 has failed to deliver on its mandate of ensuring development of the Niger Delta region. He therefore charged the people to make use of the power of their voices and probe the Commission as it is citizens’ duty to ensure development occurs in their region.

Mr Franklin Olaniju a facilitator at the workshop, urged participants to pick up a campaign on the openness of the NDDC budget after the training session. He assured Social Action team members that groups within Ondo would work to ensure that the issues raised during the training are effected. He acknowledged that now is the time to speak up and demand for an effective structure of NDDC.

Presentation of outcomes of strategic session

Participants who decried the appalling spate of NDDC projects across the states expressed their resolve to increase the volume of their agitations against the Commission and ensure they are held accountable. During the group session discussion, agendas were set. CSOs, NGOs, PLWD and other community groups present at the work shop were determined to get the 2020 NDDC budget, engage in advocacy visits to NDDC, amplify media reports, mainstream gender and include all social groups in their projects as well as to track and monitor all NDDC project.

Needs Assessment for Community Development and Service Delivery

Isaac Botti on Participatory Budget System

As part of the series of activities to strengthen community voices for Local government service delivery and autonomy, Social Action on the 23rd and 24th of June, 2021 organized a capacity-building workshop in Ado- Ekiti, Ekiti state. The workshop tagged, “Needs Assessment for Community Development and Service Delivery” was organised to address key issues that have hindered the effectiveness of the local government. The workshop provided a platform for CSOs, NGOs, Community Chiefs and People Living with Disabilities (PLWD) to deliberate on the topic and create a strategic work plan to hold Local government accountable to its people.
Speaking at the event, Senior Programs Officer of Social Action, Prince Edegbuo emphasized the need for an autonomous and independent Local government. According to him, no development can occur in the communities until the Local Government breaks free from the shackles of the state. The local government must have its financial freedom to reduce redundancy and make it easier for the communities to probe into their activities.

Isaac Botti on Participatory Budget System

A discussion on the significance of the local government further enlightened the participants on the duties of the third tier of government towards them. Resource person, Frankling Olaniju who gave the discourse urged the participants to collectively advocate for their rights. He stressed the importance of collective legal actions of common interest as opposed to individual actions. Bringing to limelight the provisions of Section 7(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, Frankling noted that the law has caged the local government. The provision confers too much power on the state assemblies over the local government councils to the extent of financing its activities. He, therefore, urged the participants to join in the clamour of a financially independent Local government. In doing this, they would be rendering their service to governance. According to him, “It is the duty of the masses to ensure governance work for all”.

Interactive Session at the workshop

Programs Coordinator, Social Action, Botti Isaac further engaged attendees on the need for a participatory budgeting system. Botti argued that citizens must be aware before any project is allocated to the community. Having noted that the budget process is flawed, he posited a bottom-top approach. The citizens must first identify their needs before a project is awarded and such project must be tailored to meet their needs. He reinvigorated the zeal of the participants by assuring them of Social Actions support toward the good of citizens at the grassroots level. As an organization, Social Action would provide needed assistance to ensure proper monitoring and tracking of Local government offices.
Participants expressed their willingness to engage the local government and ensure their needs are met. During the group workshop coordinated by Bukola Adedeji, work plans and agenda were set. Attendees discussed and agreed on ways they intend to mainstream gender and ensure there is social inclusion of all groups in their organization. Participants expressed their resolve to collaborate with Social Action and ensure the program meets its objectives.

JUNE 12 DEMOCRACY DAY: ABUSE OR CELEBRATION OF DEMOCRACY 

Lukas Nwachukwu

 

June 12 represents Nigeria’s “Democracy Day” – a day President Muhammadu Buhari chose to honour Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. It marks the anniversary of Abiola’s victory in the 1993 presidential election which was annulled by the then military government. 2021 June 12 Democracy Day marks more than 20 years Nigeria transited from military to democratic government. Civil societies and activists in the country called for nationwide protests to mark this year’s democracy day, to express deep concerns about bad governance and insecurity and the seeming inability of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to handle them.

It is not surprising that Nigerians no longer look to democracy as a system of justice and fairness that prevents abuse and protects the masses. Since 1999, democracy in Nigeria has always been tenuous, patently evident in rights violation, questionable elections, miscarriage of justice, and, repressive policies, spun by few powerful capitalist elites. 

At the protest grounds in Abuja, Lagos, Akure and Abeokuta, June 12 protesters were attacked by the Police and pro-Buhari supporters. Many local and international media bodies reported that police fired tear gas at peaceful protesters and live rounds in the air. Several protesters were arrested and journalists harassed, it was indeed a depressing spectacle and deliberate abuse of democratic principles. It is ironic and heartrending to note that when bandits murder people and insurgents overrun villages, there is hardly any response from the Police, but when harmless protesters march to the streets to express their discontent about bad governance or unpopular government policies, the police come out in their numbers, war-ready.  

Freedom of expression remains a sacrosanct right of every Nigerian. 

With the brutal style of governance in the current administration, the system stymies the desired goals of democracy. The only way to be heard is to speak against the bad governance by the current administration. The masses have long-standing grievances that are expressed on social media and through peaceful protests, but this has often been exacerbated by the poor and cruel government response that is all too common in this administration, like the suspension of Twitter and grand violation of human rights during peaceful protests.

Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is undermining the country’s democracy with numerous anti-masses policies and actions, sectional marginalization, and looting the commonwealth. His administration has become more dictatorial, and increasingly alienated from the masses. Insecurity is rife and manifest in all the regions of the country, and no nation needs a soothsayer to know that the spate of violence and insecurity in the country is hampering the social and economic development of the country to the disadvantage of over 200 million Nigerians. Rather than attack peaceful protesters, this administration should channel that energy towards tackling secessionist tensions in the southeast, banditry and insurgence in the northeast, and mass kidnappings and armed attacks by criminal herdsmen in the northwest and southwest of the country.

It is also troubling to state that the 9th Assembly led by Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila which is operating a rubber stamp-styled legislature has lost the trust of Nigerians. In times like this, a pro-masses legislature should not be silent when the people they claim to represent are constantly intimidated and violated. Regrettably, the legislature has remained mute and has lacked the courage to intervene in matters that adversely affect their constituents.

To regain and strengthen public trust in democratic processes, this administration should be tolerant and listen to the masses, not abuse or intimidate them. Incessant abuse and violations would continue to earn this administration a bad reputation and diminishing public trust in the democratic processes and its outcomes. To this effect, the government should release protesters that have been unlawfully arrested and desist from such in the future. The demand for good governance is not a crime. Freedom of expression remains a sacrosanct right of every Nigerian. 

On-Going Constitutional Review; Civil Rights Council Rejects Another Effort in Futility 

On-Going Constitutional Review; Civil Rights Council Rejects Another Effort in Futility

Being Text of Press Released by Civil Rights Council on This Day 1st June 2021

 

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, we have organised this briefing to lend our voice to and state our position on the on-going constitutional review exercise in Nigeria. The Civil Rights Council is a civil society organization committed to the advancement of human rights, rule of law and democracy in Nigeria. As partner and critical stakeholder in the Nigeria project we consider it a responsibility to unequivocally state that the ongoing constitutional review process is nothing but a distraction and an attempt aimed at achieving nothing but to score cheap political points in a failed attempt to win the heart of the Nigerian masses.

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CRC Collaborates with NSCDC on the Respect for Human Rights

Civil Rights Council, Port Harcourt, holds a lecture to educate men of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp on the “fundamental human rights of citizen’s vis-à-vis, the power to arrest, investigate and the detention of suspects.” The lecture, which was in collaboration with the leadership of the NSCDC and other stakeholders, aimed to sensitize members of the Corp on how to carry out their duties effectively within the ambits of the law.

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CRC INAUGURATES A RAPID RESPONSE REPORTING DESK FOR DOMESTIC, SEXUAL AND GENDER BASED VIOLENCE

Woman represented at the inauguration of the Rapid Response Reporting Desk for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence by CRC

The defilement of infants and constant rape and molestation of adolescent girls and sometimes little boys is so common among the urban poor. Oftentimes, victims and their parents are too poor and ignorant to seek justice and in other cases, the fear of stigmatization and culture of silence promotes the activities of perpetrators who escape justice and continue with their criminality. This is the reason behind the setting up and inauguration of a Rapid Response Reporting Desk for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The inauguration which took place on the 19th of May, 2021, at Chima Ubani Centre, attracted other CSOs and community-based organisations.

Over time, CRC as an organization has received reports and intervened in many cases of human rights protection and carried out education across its chapters in different states. However, it’s no news that cases of gender-based and domestic violence has become a reoccurring issue and indeed common among the urban poor prevalent in the slums. The Response Team which is a progeny of the Civil Rights Council became a necessity as the organization’s activities in human rights advocacy, protection and consolidation of the rule law covers issues surrounding domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. CRC has also received several reported cases of wife battering, leading to physical and psychological harm, forcing these women out of their marriages. The possible resultant effect of this is the exposure of the affected children to child labour and sexual exploitation and incest. Also, the male-dominant culture makes it difficult for most women to take up the initiative to divulge some of these acts of human rights abuses, often perpetrated by the male folks, to the authorities.

Group Photograph of CRC members some community persons after the inauguration
Group photograph of CRC members some community persons after the inauguration

Therefore, in view of these developments, the need for the Rapid Response Reporting Desk to attend to these cases became a necessity especially within the Diobu axis in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. This initiative is to ensure that such cases receive adequate attention by the CRC upon occurrence so as to ensure timely response in each case. To achieve this, collaboration with the media, security operatives and other NGOs is part of the plans deployed to expand the base of this campaign.

During the inauguration lectures, questions were entertained and explanation given by the facilitators on the various dimensions of rights abuse in their communities. The participants promised to liaise with the organization and other relevant partners to fight the menace of human right abuses in all its guise in our society.

PIB: A Call For Adequate Public Participation

Social Action led concerned CSO and host communities to make representation at the Public Hearing on the PIB at the Media Centre of the National Assembly Complex, Abuja

Introduced in 2008 at the Federal Government’s instance, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) now has a reputation for being one of the oldest and most contentious bills in Nigeria’s legislative history. Corruption, bad politics and deeply vested interests have all combined to ensure that the bill remains a miscarriage. It is a bill that is promoted as one that would sanitise the petroleum industry in Nigeria, improve benefits to the national economy and address the environmental and social costs borne by host communities. However, since its introduction 13 years ago, the bill has suffered several unfortunate and avoidable setbacks. That is why there was heightened expectation when the Muhammadu Buhari government reintroduced the PIB as an executive bill to the 9thNational Assembly, which promised to speedily pass the bill into law by the second quarter of 2021.

In line with its standing orders and house rules, the National Assembly announced a public hearing on the bill. The public hearing was expected to provide an avenue for public input into the bill and capture all the concerns by different interests. Public hearings, organised as part of the law-making process, enable the coalescing of recommendations from critical stakeholders to enable legislators to produce legislation that best serves the national interest, which cannot be divorced from citizens’ good.

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The Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference 2020

The State of the Nation

2020 has been a momentous year for Nigeria. First, the COVID-19 global pandemic further exposed the fragility of the country’s socio-political foundations. The state proved unable to respond to the needs of its citizens at a time of crisis. Secondly, the #EndSARS protests were the largest in the history of Nigeria. Youth-led mobilisations in Nigerian cities and globally expressed the outrage of the people against a failed system. The response of the Nigerian government to the popular and peaceful protests was reminiscent of the dark days of military dictatorship. We are, again witness to an escalation of state impunity and brazen disrespect for the rule of law and human rights in our country, as exemplified by the repression and attacks on #EndSARS protesters, the #Lekki killings, the Oyigbo massacre of civilians by men of the Nigerian military. The continuing trials and restrictions on the movement of Omoyele Sowore, and other activists and journalists, and fragrant disrespect and disregard for court orders and judicial pronouncements show shrinking civic and political spaces, which exacerbate a general state of insecurity and palpable tension in Nigeria at time of worsening social and economic conditions for most citizens.

More Nigerians are sinking into poverty than in any other country in the world. Almost one hundred million Nigerians are now living in extreme poverty even as the political elite and their cronies continue to profiteer from public resources. Over a million Nigerians are living in IDP camps as a result of violent conflicts. In the Boko Haram war in the northeast, incessant bandit killings in the northcentral, the Biafra secessionist agitations, kidnappings across the country, extrajudicial killings by men of the Nigerian Police, massive and ongoing corruption, enormous unemployment, we see overwhelming evidence of a Nigeria state in deep crisis.

Today, after more than twenty-one years of civil rule, more than ever, Nigeria is witnessing the worst period in its history with a glaring collapse of governance structures across the land. This, therefore, is a time for democracy defenders and concerned citizens to intervene to rescue Nigeria. The Conveners of the Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference believe in the imperative of civic intervention of the Pan-Nigerian character reminiscent of the 1990s pro-democracy movement in the face of the current struggle for a better Nigeria. Enduring nation-states that work for their citizens are built through the conscious will and actions of individuals and groups who envision and act, at different moments, to instil alternative national ethos and practices.

The Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference, 2020

The Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference is an annual event that brings together veterans of the pro-democracy movement and younger activists and serves as a platform for inter-generational dialogue. The Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference, 2020 will enable pro-democracy activists, social justice advocates and organic scholars to examine the democratic practices in Nigeria since 1999 in the light of recent repression of the #EndSARS protest and, and to discuss options for sustaining the popular democratic movement in the country.