Human Rights Practices and Nigeria’s Fledgling Democracy

National Association of Seadogs, Pentagun Deck (Washington DC, USA)

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The National Association of Seadogs (NAS), Pentagun Deck (Washington DC, USA) has joined hands with other like organizations across the globe to mark Human Rights Day, observed every 10th of December to commemorate the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This is inline with the mission statement of the NAS, which is “to promote a society that upholds human dignity, that is just, humane and progressive, where no one is a victim of colour, race, gender, ethnic origin, belief, social status, creed or other discriminatory factors of a similar nature…”.

The UDHR is a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Democracy from the time of Ancient Athenians to contemporary period has been regarded as a people-oriented kind of government. This notion stems from its etymological derivation- “demos and Kratos”, meaning rule or government by the people.

The issue of Human rights cuts across ages and epochs. In terms of the definition of human rights, it can be said that despite the abundant writings the concept has metamorphosed over time, with no clear and precise definition. Some scholars have represented this concept as laws and practices that protect ordinary people, minorities, groups and races from oppressive rulers and governments. Others define the concept in terms of Legal and Moral rights as relates to human beings. These rights that are inalienable to man, including but not limited to the following:-

a ) the right to life ( the status of the conceived but unborn child), the right to live, the right to corporal integrity, the right to a decent and healthy standard of living;
b) the  fundamental Social rights:- the right of meeting and association, the right to freedom of movement and residence within the state, the right to emigration and immigration;
c ) the fundamental Moral- Cultural rights:- man’s right to Respect and to his/her good name (reputation), the right to education, the right to learn and Investigate the truth;
d) the right to free Choice of State of Life;- the right of religious freedom, the right to a free choice of profession/Occupation;
e) Fundamental Economic rights;
f) Fundamental Civil- Political rights- the right to equality, the right to equal legal protection, and the right to take part in government (Oziogbo, 2017)

A Peek into Human Rights Experience in Nigeria (1999 – present):

In Nigeria, the law protecting Human rights is wholly enshrined in the 1999 constitution. Hence, when power shifted from the Military to the democratically elected government in 1999, Nigerians were shocked to observe that the violation of human rights with unprecedented crescendo in every aspect of it (Ikechukwu, 2017). In the last 20 years of Nigeria’s young democracy, there has been gross violation of human rights, which are akin to the days of the country’s military dictatorship. The common incidents include; the “ Odi Massacre”, where Inhabitants were agitating the way the democratically elected federal government, led by Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the military to descend on the town on the 20th of November 1999, leaving about 2,500 civilians dead, as reported by the Human rights Watch. In this case, the fundamental right to life of a people were violated by a supposed Democratically elected government. Not too long after this carnage, the Nigerian Military under the same Democratically elected government, ferociously descended on a town in Benue state called Zaki Biam on the 22nd October, 2001. The military display of brutality here, left about 100 people mostly of the Tiv tribal group, dead. In February and May 2016, security forces were accused of killing at least 40 members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State od Biafra (MASSOB).

The Conduct of Nigerian security forces have been of immense concern to her citizens and the world at large. The government has demonstrated the lack of political will to reform the Police and other State security apparatus, that are implicated in numerous extrajudicial killings of persons in custody, torture of criminal suspects, and widespread extortion and corruption. These societal ills are bold faced displayed by the recent flouting of court orders by this present Nigerian government.

There are lots of Nigerian prisoners in Jail, awaiting trial and being denied their fundamental rights to a fair hearing in courts. The Government have denied bail and fair hearing to prominent prisoners, like Sambo Dasuki- who has been in jail for well over 5 years, without trial, even when bail terms have been met. Another case in point is Ibrahim Zakzaky, a prominent Islamic religious leader who have been incarcerated based on trumped up terrorism charges, hat the Government have not been able to prove in court. The other case includes Sowore and others who have been under detention over charges of Mutiny against the state. Mr. Omoyele Sowore, a former Presidential candidate and democratic activist, has been denied freedom, even after bail terms have been met. Sowore’s arrest is one too many in this fledgling democracy. This past August 2019, Agba Jalingo- a journalist- was charged before a Federal High Court in Cross River State with treason, terrorism, and disturbance of public peace after an article of his alleged government corruption was published. In 2018, an Abuja Magistrate court conditionally released Jones Abiri, a journalist and publisher of the Weekly Source newspaper in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, after a prominent social media campaign for his release. Abiri was maliciously re-arrested in May 2019 on charges of terrorism, fraud and economic sabotage, in contravention of his Fundamental rights (Mohamed, 2019).

In conclusion, the most sustainable system of governance in the world today is a constitutionally defined Democratic system of government. It is this pivotal aspect, that makes Democracy very attractive. Emphatically, the rule of Law guarantees human rights protection. The Rule of law is lacking in the Nigerian form of democracy, with the government flagrantly disobeying court rulings, abuse of court processes, arrests and the detention of both real and imagined enemies without trial, sometimes releasing them unconditionally without compensation and apologies. Nigerians should know their rights and insist on them being respected without fear of intimidation, victimization and contradictions. It should be a collective effort, with members of the Civil society, Mass media; both electronic and print leading the way for this freedom, respect for the rule of law and the safe- guard of human rights, which should be a bedrock of the Institutions guiding the polity of the nation.

This article is the opinion of the National Association of Seadogs, Pentagun Deck (Washington DC, USA) to mark the World Human Rights Day 2019.
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