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Human Rights Retreat

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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  to remember  this, as elections and contests for power  dominate national discourse. The quest for power cannot be an excuse, not even a reason for rights violations.

A wrong assumption is made that human right abuses occur only under military regimes. The return to democratic rule 14 years ago has witnessed some of the worst forms of human right abuses, including in some cases, the absolute denial of right 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. The recent illegal movement of people out of Lagos State is another version of the abuses.

From the executive local government chairman, whose security vote is for terrorising his domain to executive governors, whose utterances are law, the abuses continue. At the federal level, power is everything and can be used for anything.

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 use torture as 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 four. Where justice has wheels, they turn only in cases involving the high and mighty which can be decided in weeks.

The dreary conditions of prisons, police cells and detention centres bear their own tales of government’s lack of concerns about plight of thousands of Nigerians in detention without trial. They are mostly too poor to pay for legal services.

Prison congestion that results from long waiting before suspects go on trials is a matter every Minister for Justice promises to address. In 14 years of democracy, nothing has been done about this. Yet the Constitution provides for speedy trials and for the authorities to pay compensations to people detained illegally.

The authorities need to promote policies that can enhance the constitutional rights of Nigerians to better life.

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