December 10 and Nigeria’s unclear human rights protection scorecard By JEROME-MARIO UTOMI

Human Rights Day

 

On Sunday December 10, 2023, Nigeria joined other countries across the globe to celebrate Human Rights Day (HRD), a ritual of the sort celebrated annually around the world on 10 December every year.

Historically, the date was chosen to honor the United Nation General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 10th December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nation. The formal establishment of Human Rights Day occurred at the 317th Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on 4 December 1950, when the General Assembly declared resolution 423(V), inviting all member states and any other interested organizations to celebrate the day as they saw fit.

However, as the global community celebrates this unique event, a peep into Nigeria’s membership of international organizations. reveals that up till 2017, when the Federal Government during one of the Federal Executive Council Meetings presided over by former President Muhammadu Buhari decided to stop Nigeria’s membership of 90 International Organisations, as a result of a backlog of $120 million in membership dues and other financial commitments, the nation reportedly belonged to about 310 international organizations.

These organizations include; Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Permanent Court of Arbitration, United Nations Organization (HNO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITR), among others.

For some reasons, many commentators have at different times and places interrogated the wisdom behind the Nigerian government’s attitude of turning to the international community and organization for lessons on how to build a nation where citizens enjoy prosperity. Others have also established claims that Nigeria as a nation would automatically thrive and survive the challenges of modern statehood if it fortifies the levers of administration (political, social, economic, legal etc. institutions) and disallows powerful nations and figures from dominating and influencing them.

While agreeing with the above argument particularly as nations need ‘strong institutions and not strong personalities to thrive, I, however, in one of my previous interventions underlined why nations such as Nigeria should identify with international organizations and bodies. Such voiced opinion as it were, was predicated on the fact that the 2030 sustainable agenda – a United Nations initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with a collection of 17 global goals not only supports it but has partnership and collaboration at its centre. This is in addition to the premise that such membership often always provides platforms for nations to deliberate on common issues of concern and gain critical awareness about new research areas that addresses all spectra of human existence such as security, peace, social justice and infrastructural and economic development.

However, with the spiraling insecurity in the country, and lack of pursuit of economic welfare of citizens which are the only two constitutional responsibilities of the state that all leaders must achieve of which the current circumstances in the country clearly demonstrates that Present administration has abysmally failed to achieve, it is obvious that all these years, Nigeria has wasted its resources on payments of dues to these international organizations without learning something new or domesticate good governance policies and ideals that these organizations represent.

Telling examples to the above assertion are; the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) where Nigeria is a prominent member. The organization as part of its educational policy pegged funding of education at a specified level. But contrary to these directives, Nigerian government has never adhered to these dictates as it continually allocates about 6 per cent of the national budget to education. In the same vain, available information in this direction points to the reality that the nation’s education sector which supposed to be the major and fastest agent of change and civilization is at present burdened and overwhelmed in such a way that has created challenges in ensuring quality education since resources are spread more thinly, resulting in more than 100 pupils for one teacher in some government owned primary and secondary schools in the country.

 

There was a report by ONE Campaign, an International organization which keeps track of progress on Millennium Development Goals and development financing in Africa, submitted May 29, 2013, to the African Development bank, during the Bank’s annual General meeting in Marrakech, Morocco. The report, it was noted, among other concerns accused Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DR, of dragging the continent backward, as a result of the two countries inability to spend 15 percent of their budget as agreed by African Union, for the health and education sectors, unlike countries which have made progress.

More specifically, a key aspect of the report finds a clear link between African country investments in health, education, agriculture and improved MDG progress in those areas. In the Dakar framework on Education, African governments were to ensure that, at least, seven percent of their GDP is allocated to education within five years and nine percent within 10 years. On health, according to the Abuja Declaration in 2000, heads of state of the African Union pledged to set a minimum allocation target of 15 percent of their annual budgets for the improvement.

Today, after about a decade of such conversation, ( May 29, 2013), policymakers in Nigeria are yet to consider the above recommendation or deem it necessary for implementation.

From the above flows another area of apprehension; the Declaration On Social Progress and Development, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 2542 (xxiv) on 11 December 1969. Part II, article 10, which directs :that Social progress and development of member states shall aim at the continuous raising of the materials and spiritual standards of living of all members of society, with respect for and in compliance with human rights and fundamental freedoms, through the attainment of the following main goals:..(f) The provision for all, particularly persons in low-income groups and large families, of adequate housing and community services.

At the moment, while the global community is talking about living wage, Nigeria as a nation still foot drags over N35, 000 minimum. In the areas of housing provisions, instead of the government giving constitutional recognition to housing rights with a view towards ensuring full and comprehension legal protection of the right of everyone to housing and supported by adequate enforcement mechanism, terms such as demolition and forced eviction have become entrenched in Nigerian government lexicons and very strong leadership instrument in states such as Lagos, Rivers, Delta and of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

This is occurring in the face of the United Nations Human Rights Commission Resolutions 1993/77 and 2004/28 which affirm that when forced evictions are carried out, they violate a range of internationally recognized human rights. These include the: Human right to adequate housing; Human rights to security of the person, and security of the home; Human right to health; Human right to food; Human right to water; Human right to work and livelihood; Human right to education; Human right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; Human right to freedom of movement; Human right to information; and, Human right to participation and self-expression. Even as clearance operations should take place only when conservation arrangements and rehabilitation are not feasible, relocation measures stand made, UN Resolution 2004/28, also recognized the provisions on forced evictions contained in the Habitat Agenda of 1996, and recommended that, “All Governments must ensure that any eviction that is otherwise deemed lawful is carried out in a manner that does not violate any of the human rights of those evicted.” Away from housing right to Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP), as also proclaimed by the United Nations. It, among other provisions, prohibits all forms of violence against persons in private and public life, and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.

And on the other hand provides general protections against offences including infliction of physical injury, coercion, offensive conduct and willfully placing a person in fear of physical injury. It also offers protections against offences that affect women disproportionately, including a prohibition of female genital mutilation; forceful ejection from home; forced financial dependence or economic abuse; forced isolation; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; harmful widowhood practices; and spousal battery, among others. In line with this provision, Nigerians were glad sometimes in May 5 2015, to witness the domestication of same via the nation’s 7th Senate which passed the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) (Prohibition) Act and President Goodluck Jonathan, later signed into law on 25 May 2015. Nigerians also watched with interest this law domesticated at states levels with River and Delta state being the latest. But such only existed in frames. As noted by a commentator; the Act has taken us one step closer to a nation where women and girls for generations to come will live free from violence.

But at the same time, it elicits the questions; how efficient it has been in the face of increasing cases of rape? Talking about Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act in Nigeria, where do we situate the incident of Tuesday 20th October, 2020, at the Lekki tollgate where scores of protesters were reportedly shot as shooters believed to be officers of the Nigerian military opened fire on hundreds of youths keeping vigil to demand an end to police brutality? This piece also remembers with nostalgia the condition of the people of the Niger Delta and Ogoni people in particular where communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies are being violated in the Niger Delta, and the oil industry by its admission has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region without adequately compensating the people for their losses. All these took place without recourse to the existence of Article 24, of African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which clearly stated that all people shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development.

In similar vein, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an agency of the United Nations responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, of which Nigeria is a signatory to, in one of its Convention on the Rights of the Child, outlined specific rights for children, including the right to survival, a name, family life, private life, dignity, recreation, cultural activities, health services, and education.

To further explain these provisions, the world governing body added that all children have all these rights, no matter who they are, where they live, what language they speak, what their religion is, what they think, what they look like, if they are boy or girl, if they have a disability, if they are rich or poor, and no matter who their parents or families are or what their parents or families believe or do. No child should be treated unfairly for any reason.

UNICEF insisted that when adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. All adults should do what is best for children. Governments should make sure children are protected and looked after by their parents or by other people when this is needed. Governments, the Covenant added, must do all they can to make sure that every child in their countries can enjoy all these rights.

Even as it argued that government of every nation should let families and communities guide their children, so that as they grow up they learn to use their rights in the best way, UNICEF submitted that every child has the right to be alive and governments must, therefore, make sure children survive and develop in the best possible way.

Like other laws handed down on member nations by the World governing body, both the Federal Government and state governments have abandoned the above spelt out responsibilities to parents alone.

This is terrible!

Looking above, the question may be asked; if policymakers of rich member nations can master, and figure out better policies that eliminate failures, why is it a difficult task for policymakers in Nigeria to find out these nations that on one occasion faced the challenges we currently wrestle with-insecurity, poor economic management act, find out how they solved such challenges, seek right advice, or at the very least, ’copy’ their method?

While the answer to the above is in the womb of time, I hold the opinion that this is not a good human right protection scorecard on the part of the country. It is not only unclear but such failures and disappointments in the interim remain a sin that successive administrations must share in its guilt because none can boast of clean hands in the present circumstance.

 

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

DISCLAIMER

The OPINION / COLUMN is authored by independent contributors to the National Accord Newspaper. While contributors adhere to our editorial guidelines, they are not employed by the National Accord Newspaper. The perspectives and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the National Accord Newspaper or its staff.

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