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Human rights retreat

The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. — Section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution.

THE once booming business of promoting human rights  is on serious retreat in Nigeria. It is appropriate on the occasion of the World Human Rights Day to remember this.

A major reason for the retreat could be the assumption that has translated to an impression that human rights abuses occur only under military regimes. The return to democratic rule 12 years ago has witnessed some of the worst forms of human rights abuses, including in some cases, the absolute denial of rights of individuals to anything, even rights the Constitution provides.

Odi, in Bayelsa State, was reduced to rubbles in November 1999 as soldiers bombarded the place after nine policemen went missing. Zaki Biam in Benue State followed two years after.

Governments, at all levels are the greatest sources of rights abuses. They begin from denial of the rights of Nigerians to the basic things of life.

Section 14 (2b) is observed only in breach. Governments do not care about the people. The neglect is not limited to social and economic rights of the people. It extends to the right to life.

There are horrifying statistics of the number of Nigerians who have been killed at police check points, tortured to death, shot in most brutal methods security agencies use in quelling riots and thousands detained for years without trial.

Security agencies operate above the law. Torture is a legitimate instrument for achieving their aims. They treat suspects as criminals, parading them on television and having them confess to crimes without legal advice. Some suspects are tortured until they confess, or die.

Justice crawls on all fours. Where justice has wheels, they barely turn, except in cases involving the high and mighty which can be decided in weeks and appeals slated within months.

The dreary conditions of prisons, police cells and detention centres round the country bear their own tales of the extent of government’s lack of concerns about the plight thousands of Nigerians who spend years in detention without trials. Some are too poor to pay for the services of lawyers.

Prison congestion that results from long waiting before suspects go on trials is a matter every Minister for Justice promises to address. In 12 years of democracy, nothing has been done in this regard. Yet the Constitution in Chapter IV devotes 14 sections to fundamental human rights. It provides for individuals to be brought to speedy trials, for them to be informed of their offences and for the authorities to pay compensations to people detained illegally.

The World Human Rights Day for Nigerians should not be another occasion for speeches and ceremonies. After the events today, there is need for the authorities to reflect on policies that can enhance the constitutional rights of Nigerians to better life.


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