Our land soaked in blood, gloom, South-East Bishops wail

…Says over 70% of prison inmates awaiting trial

By Emmanuel Elebeke

Despite our past efforts and experiences over the years to lead in the transformation of the West African sub-continent into a democratically governed community, Nigeria has not fared well in all human rights indicators. 

This was the position of three reports launched by Centre for Democracy Development, CDD  on Monday in Abuja.

The reports were meant to gauge the performance of Nigeria against some basic attributes of democracy and socio-economic transformation in the last two decades.

 
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The three reports launched are reflections of CDD’s past efforts and experiences in its attempts over the years to serve as the ultimate catalyst in the transformation of the West African sub-region into an integrated, economically vibrant and democratically governed community. 

The first report appropriated empirical data on human rights conditions in Nigeria since 1999 and compared them to the constitutional guarantees and international human rights standards. 

Some of the major findings of the report show that over 70% of the prison population in Nigeria is made up of detainees awaiting trial, with over 20% awaiting trial for more than a year. 

The report also shows that Nigeria has not fared well in all human rights indicators used, despite utilizing the basic indicators. 

This trend, it said even deteriorated with the fact that there is now an emergent trend of security officers receiving orders from elites in Nigeria to remand detainees for longer on spurious grounds, adding that the menace of unlawful detention has become rather pervasive such that it has required the intervention of ECOWAS special court in some cases. 

Continuing, the report further revealed that the practice of torture has been ensconced in Nigerian law enforcement as a means of punishment as well as information gathering. 

In respect to extrajudicial killings, the report shows that the scourge of human rights abuse has become a commonplace in the country since 1999, with many of these killings perpetrated by security forces. 

These unlawful killings, according to the findings go largely unpunished, because of  Nigeria’s Force Order 237, which allows officers to use lethal force in ways that contravene international law, and because of government corruption and a prevailing culture of impunity. 

 The human rights report also noted that the media has been attacked badly in recent times with government weaponising censorship, harassment, arbitrary arrests, and even assassination attempts against journalists in a bid shut citizens up.

The second report interrogates the anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria by x-raying the activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and the Code of Conduct Bureau. The report, while noting the achievement of the anti-graft agencies, reveals that the anti-graft agencies have recorded a number of successes within the last two decades.

The third report examined the economic plans of the various administrations in Nigeria and compared it with the output recorded.  It focuses largely on comparing the projected and actual performance of the real, monetary, fiscal and external sectors within the plans of each administration and their respective performance targets. The findings show that despite efforts towards diversification, the Nigerian economy is still monocultural, relying on oil for its foreign exchange earnings.

To address the issue of human rights violations, the report urged government to safeguard the constitutional guarantees of human rights which they swore to uphold. For security forces, it advised them to be effectively trained and regulated in this area to avoid human rights breaches. 

The report also urged federal and state governments to take note of and execute relevant recommendations from various human rights panel reports, while urging the Civil society organisations to contribute to the training of security professionals in the conduct of ethical civil military operations. They are also to advocate for victims of human rights breaches and assist them in obtaining remedy.  

Also, the report advised media houses to give priority to investigative journalism that focuses on human rights issues to bring the abuses to the public attention. More so, the media is expected to assist in holding the government accountable and can become involved in educating the public about their rights and avenues for redress. 

However, the report called for public participation in governance so as to ensure that citizens demand their fundamental human rights and are held accountable for any violations. 

 To forestall corruption in the country as contained in our 20 years of anti-corruption report, it recommended that politicians should be required to publicly disclose their sources of income to foster accountability and develop public trust.

Also, legislators are urged to collaborate with anti-corruption agencies and commissions to enact legislation affecting the prosecution of corruption cases.  Given the decentralised nature of cryptocurrency, legislators are urged to amend vital legislation to address virtual money laundering concerns and to revise the Code of Conduct Bureau Act to permit public disclosure of officeholders’ asset declarations without jeopardising officeholders’ privacy or safety.   

It was also recommended that the Presidency and National Assembly must strengthen their supervision over ministries, departments, and agencies and collaborate to reinforce their legal and administrative mandates just as Nigeria’s international partners are urged to support national efforts by taking firmer measures to deter public funds theft and prevent illicit financial flows. 

For economic rejuvenation, the report advised that Nigeria needs economic policy reforms especially diversifications so that major macroeconomic variables can be brought under control. This, it said is urgently needed more than ever because of the economic and fiscal challenges brought about by the collapse of the global oil prices occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier, the Director of CDD,  Idayat Hassan, while delivering the broad overview of the reports and key findings, described the report as one of CDD’s modest contributions towards strengthening democracy and the economy in Nigeria. She said democracy after much experimentation, has gained ascendancy as the best form of government that has a greater capacity to guarantee the pursuit of public good. 

‘‘A major appeal of democracy is that it makes the common people not just the object but the subject of development. It is pertinent to state that civilian rule is not necessarily a democratic rule, therefore, there is need for self appraisal if the Nigerian state is on track in its democratic experience.

‘‘It is instructive to note that dividends of democracies are not necessarily infrastructures as even authoritarian governments including the military have been noted to provide some basic infrastructures. It rather encapsulates such attributes as popular participation, rule of law, respect for human rights, accountability, transparency, predictability, competition, economic freedom amongst others,’’ said Hassan.  

Citing the June 2021 suspension of  Twitter in the country an example of the way space for dissent is being closed down in Nigeria, Hassan said, ‘‘At various junctures, presidents have sought to exercise undue influence over the media space by controlling content or shutting down providers.  Nigeria was named one of the world’s worst countries in the world in 2013 for deadly, unpunished violence against the press.’’ 

Delivering his keynote address, a distinguished Prof. at School of Governances at Leads University, Adebayo Olugboshi said what we need is to redefine the very purpose of decmocratization, saying that nobody pursues democracy for its own sake. 

For him, we must be able to deliver development, job opportunity and future and failure to do this, our quest to strengthen and consolidate democracy will amount to jumping on the same spot without making progress. He urged political parties to be more programmatic rather than being pursuing personal and God fatherism type of politics.

‘‘This report for me is an attempt to offer a balance sheet of the road we have traveled since 1999.  In the early years of our transition, we made fairly significant progress. Our story subsequently becomes that of under performance in democracy governance.

‘‘There has been a gradual closing of civil spaces and conscription of civil liberties in the country, including restriction of media freedom and independence.  We have seen, despite the best efforts of election management authorities, we have seen a continued assault on election integrity in the country. Therefore, the struggle to make vote matter remains a live one.

‘‘There has been a significant social and developmental deficit in our experience of democratization so far.  A lot of emphasis have been placed on the mechanics and forms of democratic governance without underpinning any of them with an agenda citizens empowerment in a way that can be pursued through social policy of a universal kind, that can generate employment and income for the teaming youths and working poor who are driven to poverty and misery on a day to day basis accompanied by widening inequality, which the income and wealth 5%  of the top echelon of Nigerians is equivalent to what the rest of 95% of Nigerians are compelled to share.’’

In his remarks, INEC Commissioner in Niger State, Prof. Sam Egwu described the report as a deep reflection on our journey for the past 20 plus year, coming from very authoritarian background which we have tried to superimpose a democratic politics, which has yielded some dividends but also revealed the long miles we still need to cover.

‘‘We have seen flowering civil and political liberties, regular and periodic elections with some degree of improvements. We have seen some degree of competition and acceptance of defeat but we have not been able to bring so much benefits to people  in terms of material upliftment.

‘‘We have been blindly trying to build a liberal democratic order that has not factored in the importance of welfare of the people. So, we really need to interrogate our type of democracy and alongside improving our elections, beginning to think of a type of demo that can put in place to empower common citizens and make them come out of poverty.  We also need to work on national unity and integrity, trying to develop liberal democratic order in the contest of mass poverty,’’ he said.

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