By Innocent Anaba
LEADING professional and civil society groups and activists in Nigeria have launched a campaign to â€œensure the inclusion in the constitution of legally enforceable human rights such as such as environmental rights,Â the right to housing,Â health care among others.
Others include food, water and social security, the right of every child to basic nutrition, shelter, the rights of prisoners and persons deprived of their liberty to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity.
The campaign was initiated following a request by the Senate President, David Mark seeking a presentation on the issue. In the letter dated March 24, 2010, by Arthur Ndiwe, Director of Protocol to the President of the Senate,, has said, â€œthe Special Adviser on Budget/Economic Affairs to the Senate President has been requested to receive your memorandum on the future of economic and social rights in the Constitution for necessary action.â€
They urged the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives not to rush to complete the constitutional review process but to extend the period to allow for nationwide discussion on the nature of a Bill of Rights to be included in the new constitution
They also want the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives to urgently begin a nationwide consultation to discuss and debate the desirability of including legally enforceable economic, social and cultural rights in the new Nigerian constitution.
According to them, President Goodluck Jonathan should publicly commit to the project, and fully support the initiative by the National Assembly in this respect. This is an important opportunity for the Acting President to provide the leadership to establish a progressive constitutional Bill of Rights that can serve the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised sectors of the population.
The campaign, jointly coordinated by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERA, and Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism, WSCIJ, is supported by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE,Â Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, WELA, Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group, PANAFSTRAG, Women in law and Development in Africa,Â WILDAF, Women Consortium of Nigeria, and Center for Reproductive Rights, New York.
SERAPâ€™s Executive Director, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, on behalf of the coalition, in a statement in Lagos, said â€œwe strongly believe that a simple vote, without food shelter and health care is to use first generation rights as a smokescreen to obscure the deep underlying forces which dehumanise people. It is to create an appearance of equality and justice, while by implication socio-economic inequality is entrenched.â€
â€œWe do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. Nigeria must provide for all the fundamental rights and freedoms associated with a democratic society.
We believe that human dignity, freedom and equality are denied those who have no food, clothing and shelter. Affording socio-economic rights to all people therefore enables them to enjoy the other rights which are already recognized and guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution,â€ the ESCR campaign said.