By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Friday, said it would resist any attempt by the Federal Government to gag Nigerians through adverse legislation.
The Commission which took the position amid mounting protestations against the proposed Hate Speech Bill that has passed second reading in the Senate maintained that it would not support any form of legislation that will intend to limit the civic space in the country.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja, the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Mr Tony Ojukwu, recalled that the rights body had also opposed the same Bill when it was brought before the 8th National Assembly.
Ojukwu, however, urged Nigerians to be responsible in the use of the various social media platforms, noting that there are existing legislation that could be invoked to address any misgivings.
He said: “We recall that sometime during the last National Assembly, there was also similar legislation which purported to regulate social media and we made our views very clear that the Commission will never support any legislation that will intend to limit the civic space in this country.
“For the shrinking of the media space, we stand with Nigerians and we believe that the media space should be free. People should be able to air their views. But in airing those views we also urge those who exercise their rights to be mindful of the rights of others.
“In exercising our freedom to express ourselves, we believe that this freedom should be expressed and exercised responsibly. We will not encourage irresponsible conduct on the part of Nigerians but we don’t support the gagging of Nigerians in any way possible.
“But Nigerians must be mindful of using their freedom because where your freedom begins is where another person’s own stops. So we urge the users of social media to show commitment to responsibility and if they exceed their bounds the laws are also there.
“There are laws for defamation and there are other laws that anybody who feels aggrieved can also address any misgivings”.
The NHRC further reiterated its call for FG to release the detained pro-democracy activist and convener of the RevolutionNow Protest, Omoyele Sowore on bail in line with order of the Federal High Court.
“We have spoken out with regards to issue of detention of Sowore. The Commission has also made a statement on that.
“We believe that all law enforcement agents are in place to make sure they obey the Constitution and that they protect the rights of the people and respect rule of law. We always enjoined all law enforcement agencies to abide by decisions of courts. We still stand on that”.
He said the Commission had concluded plans to facilitate an annual national stakeholders’ summit on human rights in Nigeria.
In order to ensure that the country continues to improve on its human rights reporting obligations and to enhance public enlightenment on the regional and international review process of the human rights situation in Nigeria as well as the enjoyment of human rights, there is need therefore to institutionalize a broad national consultative process to assess the human rights situation in the country periodically and ensure steady progress in the realization of rights”, the NHRC boss added.
Meanwhile, People with Disabilities, PWDs, in a paper they presented at the NHRC, urged FG to prioritise inclusive budgeting for sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls with disabilities in Nigeria.
“According to WHO women and girls with disabilities comprise 75% of the total number of PWDs in the world whom generally are uneducated, underprivileged and lack access to opportunities that could enhance their living standards.
“These categories of women and girls in most cases fall victims of sexual violence and abuse and have high tendencies to contract Sexually Transmitted Infections (STDs).
“While the government has taken the initiative to enact the National Policy on Sexual and Reproductive Health of PWDs, policies on their own are as good as not having one, without a budget which is required to facilitate the implementation of the policy.
“Only recently, did President Muhammadu Buhari pass the annual budget to the National Assembly for approval. We want to use this medium to call the attention of the government to consider the needs of millions of women and girls with disabilities who are also Nigerian citizens and that are at high risk of sexual and reproductive health challenges.
“We would also like to use this medium to call on the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Finance, Women Affairs, International Development Partners, Civil Society Organizations and growth-seeking individuals to support us in getting the government of Nigeria to make budgeting inclusive to accommodate the needs of PWDs especially Women and Girls with Disabilities for the sustainable growth and development of our beloved country Nigeria”, they pleaded.