By Dayo Benson and Abdulwahab Abdulah
Saturday December 10, lawyers, human rights activists and other critical stakeholders gathered to mark this year’s International Human Rights Day. It is a day set aside by the United Nations to commemorate observance of human rights as enshrined in different Articles and Charters of the UN. The day is also meant to draw global attention to countries that are signatory to the UN Charters but disregard the basic tenets of human rights.
The concept of rights observance or violation is rooted in adherence to the Rule of Law and obedience of court orders at all times. Since the fulcrum of any constitutional democracy rests on the rule of law, anything to the contrary is a recipe for anarchy.
Back home, how has the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari fared in upholding human rights since May 29, 2015 when it assumed power. There are instances that show a low score card for the regime in this regard. The case of former National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd) who is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is an example. Dasuki who is facing trial over alleged diversion of billions of dollars meant for procurement of arms in the anti-terrorism fight, has been denied several bails various courts granted him.
The Federal Government has also ensured that leader of Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu is not admitted to bail. An Abuja High Court had ordered the government to release leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky, who has been in detention since December 2015, after a bloody stand-off between members of the group and the military in Zaria, Kaduna State. It remains to be seen whether Zakzaky will be released and the consequential order that an accommodation be provided for him will be obeyed by the government.
It was indeed the call for the release of Zakzaky and others that resonated at various venues where the human rights day was celebrated. This may well be in line with this year’s theme “Stand up for someone’s right today.”
In commemorating the day, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in collaboration with National Human Rights Commission, NHRC organised a program on December 9, 2016 at the Lagos Television Combo Hall.
The United Nations Information Centre Director, Mr. Ronald Kayanja in his speech with the three pillar of the United Nations read the outgoing Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon speech on human rights. The speech of the Secretary General pressed on the fact that each one of us should take a conscious effort as well as make it our responsibility to stand up for another person’s right after which a pledge was taken by all in attendance to stand for every individual’s right.
Mrs Nneka Anigbo, the Chief Investigation Officer of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, enlightened the audience on what Human Rights is, its inception and the history of human rights. She also gave insight on the characteristics of Human Rights and the instruments and mechanism of Human Rights, with emphasis on the Childs Right Act, 2003 as an instrument of Human Rights and National Human Rights Commission as a mechanism.
For the second day, the Commission in collaborations with UNIC and other civil society groups such as- Rights Enforcement and Public Law Centre, REPLACE, Human Rights Defender and Advocacy Centre and Community Women Rights Foundation, embarked on ‘’Awareness Road Walk’’, from Ikeja GRA to Oshodi, Lagos.
In its presentation, the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, South West Zone, stated that there were numbers of complaints received, which shows that members of the public are now more aware of their activities, taking the opportunity to lodge complaints of human rights violations.
The zonal coordinator, Mr Ibe Obidigwe said: “the commission has a robust and effective complaint treatment mechanism through which all complaints received are handled and treated through mediation, reconciliation and if need be litigation. About 80% of complaints received in our office has been successfully treated and the matter resolved amicably.
“One of the cardinal programs of the South West Zone office is human right education/awareness program for secondary school students in Lagos state. We believe strongly in the adage that says catch them young and the society will be better for it. The objective is to inculcate the culture of respect of human rights among the young ones, who are the future leaders of this country. We believe that if we get it right with this young ones, the better for our country.”
The civil societies present also made observations on human rights values in Nigeria. Mr Innocent Agba of the Human Rights Defender and Advocacy Centre and Community Women Rights Foundation scored the NHRC low in speaking out about the government’s refusal to obey court orders. He specifically mentioned the case of Col Dasuki, Sheikh Elzaky-Zaky and IPOB chieftain, Kanu who are still being detained in spite of different court orders. Also, Mr. Lateef Akinborode of the Community Women Rights Foundation spoke in same vein.
The Nigerian Bar Association NBA, was not left out in the programmes for the annual event. The theme of this year human rights day significantly reflected in the speech of the NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN.
According to Mahmoud, “For the Nigerian Bar Association, this day offers us and the country a unique opportunity for sober reflection on the emerging and worrisome trends of human rights abuse in today’s world: Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be widespread in all parts of the globe. Extremists, militants and insurgents continue to maim, kill and subject people to horrific violence. Extra-judicial killings are on the increase. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears. Human values are under attack.
“We strongly believe that it is time we re-affirmed our common humanity. The time to do this is now. It begins with each and every one of us stepping forward to defend the rights of the defenceless persons with disability, women, children, a minority group, internally displaced persons or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence.
“The Nigerian Bar Association is committed to the defence and protection of the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens as guaranteed in the Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria, 1999. Permit me to use this opportunity to make a few comments about the fundamental right to life. The NBA is deeply worried about the huge loss of lives and property as a result of insurgency, armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, extra judicial executions and other rights violations.
“I decided to comment on the right to life because the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (as amended) guarantees the right to life and provides very clear constitutional basis, when someone’s right to life can be abridged. Even in those circumstances, very clear safeguards are provided. The right to life is therefore fundamental and inalienable to the human person. Yet it seems we have lost the value for life in Nigeria. It appears human life no longer has meaning.
“On a daily basis we are regaled with bizarre statistics of the number of persons who have lost their lives in questionable circumstances. In addition to loss of lives due to factors listed above, the lives of Nigerians are wasted on account of ethnic, communal and religious conflicts, and the government seems to be helpless or incapable to deal with the situation to the satisfaction of Nigerians. This sordid development is unacceptable. The 1999 constitution provides that the security, protection of lives and property is the primary duty of government.
“The NBA hereby calls on the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfil this fundamental constitutional responsibility by providing adequate security measures to secure the lives and property of Nigerians. We acknowledge that our security agencies have been engaged in difficult insurgency and militancy operations. We support our military and other security agencies who day and night toil to make sure that we remain safe, but we will continue to urge them to do more in protecting our lives and property.
“In doing so we demand that they observe the rules of engagement in their operations and not to engage in indiscrimination, extra- judicial execution of persons who are mere suspects, no matter the circumstances. They must endeavour to give unarmed civilian suspects their due rights.
“In view of the forgoing, permit me to use this opportunity to mention the case of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife Malama Zeenat Ibraheem. As you may be aware, since the religious crisis broke out in 2015, they have been in detention on the orders of the Security Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria. However, some time ago their lawyer approached the Federal High Court Abuja to demand for their release months after they were arrested and detained without being charged to court.
“Their lawyer asked the court to declare that their arrest and continued detention, without being charged to court, violated their fundamental rights. After hearing from the lawyers the Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, December 2nd, 2016 ordered the unconditional release of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife. The court held that their continued detention was an illegal, arbitrary act. But unfortunately the Federal Government of Nigeria has refused to release them as ordered by the court thereby disobeying the order of the court.
“As at the time of writing this speech, we are not aware that an appeal has been filed against the judgment of the court. This apparent disobedience of a court order is a sad commentary on the readiness of federal government agencies to comply with the principles of rule of law and respect for human rights.
“The NBA is deeply concerned about the continued disobedience of court orders by the Federal Government. This disobedience is not only unacceptable to the Nigerian Bar Association, but is antithetical to the principles of rule of law and due process. We therefore demand the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, his wife and other detainees whose release has been ordered by the courts.”