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In 2013, NGOs must return to the trenches (3)

By Chino Obiagwu

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

The ICC prosecutor opened preliminary examination into the situations to determine if Nigeria’s international justice obligations have been breached. The April 2011 post election violence, incessant cases of kidnapping, assassination, terrorist bombings and attacks on police and military formations, armed attacks on hapless civilians, etc demonstrate the urgency of addressing the situation as a matter of priority.

Jonathan’s administration has failed to take firm and decisive actions to stop the violence and prevent future crimes. Improving the intelligence expertise and institutional capacity of police, SSS and other security agencies are necessary but have been ignored, despite voting close to a trillion naira in the 2012 national budget for security.

Those arrested or fingered in perpetrating violence are not effectively prosecuted. Several reports of commissions of inquiry over past conflicts are not implemented or made public and victims remained without redress. There can be no development and peace when there is no justice.

Justice can only be done when those who commit crimes or infringe on rights of others are prosecuted and punished, and those offended are given remedy where necessary. This is totally absent in Nigeria today. So we live in a society without peace and justice. Civil society activists must rise up in 2013 and demand that justice be restored to our land.

A major social and economic challenge in the country today is the high rates of youth unemployment and job losses. Recent reports from civil society put unemployment rate above 40 percent, under-employment rate above 65 percent, and much higher rate among those under the age of 30.

The productive segments of the middle class and the lower artisans are completely wiped out in the country whose economy is fast shrinking towards the centre into the hands of less than one percent of the population. The only means of wealth ‘creation’ in Nigeria today is public office through which public funds are stolen.

Industries are closing down and the productive sectors are going extinct. In spite of these difficulties the current government has not demonstrated any commitment or competence to address the macro-economic issues including the power and transport sectors, the two critical drivers of any emerging economy.

The difficulties in accessing small and medium scale credit, and lack of adequate private sector investments in agriculture, cottage industries, and other small scale initiatives reduce the space for employment of our young citizens. Government has not shown sufficient commitment to job creation within the private sector.

It has neither increased motivation for small scale entrepreneurship among the youths nor opened channels for government-backed unsecured credits for young school leavers, and de-investing in critical economic activities in order to attract a truly transparent private sector-driven economy.

Nigeria’s maternal and infant mortalities are still one of the world’s highest, nearly 5000 of every 100,000.  Investment over the next four years in primary and maternal health is critical. The much taunted National Heath Bill, which was dead on arrival, have sloppily killed hope in that direction.

Government has not demonstrated commitment towards primary and secondary health care delivery beyond the usual rhetoric of the health ministry.  It is appalling that government officials rush overseas for treatment for any form of sickness including common cold at expense of the public, when medical facilities in the country are left to rot. The right to health is the basis for the building national wealth and sustaining governance. It is the primary function of governance to ensure that every Nigerian has access to quality health services.

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 Edmund Obiagwu is chair of Human Rights Agenda Network (HRAN)


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