In 2013, NGOs must return to the trenches (4)

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By Chino Obiagwu

Obiagwu concludes this week, this article on why the human rights community must go back to the trenches.

Nigeria’s sincere commitment to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other tropical diseases that pose threat to right to health is deficient and totally intolerable.

Human rights activists must demand in 2013 that key human rights institutions are strengthened and made independent so that they can fight for the rights of the common person. The National Human Rights Commission should be the key driver of the popular human rights agenda. The commission stands as both the vanguard of the rights of the citizens and human rights advisor to government.

Since 1995 when it was established, the commission has been under-funded and barely supported by government. Recent developments however show considerable hope. In February 2012, the President signed into law the amendment to the commission’s enabling law, and recently appointed respected human rights activists into its governing council.

What is left is to ensure that four key areas of the new law are properly implemented namely: adequate funding of the Commission from the consolidated revenue fund, effective independence of the commission from executive interference, setting up and adequately funding the new National Human Rights Fund, and fully implementing the recommendations of the commission especially in individual cases of human rights violations.

The agenda of strengthening the new Commission will position it to engage government at all levels to implement the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (NAP), and the recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review, both adopted by government in 2009.

Nigeria prepared and deposited the NAP with the UN Human Rights Council as its five-year programme for improving human rights in the country but little or none of the agenda has been effectively implemented. Rather, government has adopted knee-jerk approaches to rights issues, including the insecurity situation.

Rights of women and the girl-children remain under threat in the country. There are widespread reports of child rape, gender-based violence, torture and killing of children, and widespread social and traditional practices harmful to women and children.

The girl-child primary and secondary school enrollment and graduation rate is still less than 60 percent nationally. Nigeria is not moving fast enough in this area to meet the 2015 targets under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The quality and access to basic education of the girl-children especially in the northwest and north east regions, and of boy-children in the south east and south-south, should be priorities of government at federal and state levels. Civil society must now demand that government pays priority attention to quality education and specifically ensure that at least 26 percent of annual budgets are directed to education at federal, state and local government levels.

Education is key to social and economic development of any society, and the lever for the citizens to understand their rights and to assert and demand for those rights.

The rate of deterioration of the quality and functionality of Nigerian graduates is a cause of concern to development experts. The civil society must demand that governments at all levels should declare state of emergency on the education sector, and immediately adopt and implement an integrated national education strategy.

Jonathan’s administration must target 100 percent enrollment into primary schools and 75 percent into secondary schools by 2015. To achieve this feat, the ministries of education and related institutions should be engaged constructively but also combatively by civil society activists in 2013.

Ultimately, the success of Jonathan’s government will be measured by its human rights record. At the moment the regime has failed woefully. With the highest rate of unlawful killings since civil war, impunity rate of over 95 percent, and widespread corruption among officials including within the presidency and federal ministries, this regime must be told that it is driving this country towards a failing state.  It is our duty as civil society actors to rescue our country. The present government has shown no faith and commitment to constructive engagement. This is why we must return to the trenches now.

* Chino Obiagwu is chair of Human Rights Agenda Network, HRAN.

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