Human Rights Day: No Police Officer has right to physically assault suspects — SP

By Chino Obiagwu, SAN

In 2021, Nigerians suffered deteriorating livelihood more than at any period in recent times, exacerbated by the rising hyper-inflation, nationwide insecurity, loss of jobs flowing from post-COVID-19 closing down of businesses, and increased public corruption.

Yet, the government appears unprepared and unable to tackle any of the myriad  problems, despite its huge electoral promises hinged on improving the economy, fighting insecurity and reducing corruption.  Nigerian youths, trapped in this self-inflicted agony of life, exploded in the EndSARS protests in October 2020. At the end of 2021, government had not fulfilled any of the promises made to the protesters, a recipe for a massive civil protest in 2022.

In general, 2021 was a year characterised by instability and uncertainty in the enforcement of human rights in Nigeria. In the face of a continuing pandemic, economic recession and international crises, human rights violations in Nigeria has been on the increase. This is irrespective of actions and cries of Nigerians, civil society organisations and international organisations. Regardless of these factors, Nigerians have continued to build faith in the country, and to make the best of the difficult situation. To us, the ordinary Nigerians who survived the onslaught, hunger and terrorism are our heroes and sheroes of 2021.

Right to Life

The right to life which is the chief right guaranteed under section 33 of the 1999 Constitution, is regrettably, the most violated right in Nigeria. While state actors in the country are involved in unprecedented torture and extrajudicial killings of the citizens, non-state actors (armed and militia groups) indiscriminately shed the blood of innocent citizens in what now appears like a thrill killing because of their senseless nature and the fact that all known causes of conflicts ranging from religious, tribal, resource control, and political, can no longer justify the number of killings recorded almost on a daily basis in Nigeria. The media is inundated with death reports arising from widespread insecurity. However, the government is battling with the situation, but there seems to be no end in sight.

Aside the obvious violation of the right to life in 2021, Nigeria still retains the use of death penalty despite calls by CSOs in the country to officially end the use of death penalty or at least, a moratorium. In fact, a review of the legislative measures adopted by some states in 2021 reveal that death sentence is still drafted into our most recent laws. For instance, the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Law of Imo State prescribes mandatory death sentence as a punishment for rape where the rape victim dies within one year of the rape incident.

Right to own property

The right to own property is guaranteed under section 44 of the 1999 Constitution and derogable only under the circumstances provided in the Constitution. Housing rights is a socio-economic right that falls under the broader right to own property. In 2021, the government took some commendable steps to provide 5,000 units of houses at an affordable price for Nigerians under its National Housing Programme implemented as part of the country’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

In 2021, the government seized and auctioned off some assets belonging to former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison Madueke with trail of corruption allegations. The assets that were auctioned include some personal and intimate properties of the former Minister such as bras and panties; a move that was condemned by the rights community as discriminatory and un-dignifying primarily because never has the personal effects of any male culprit been displayed and auctioned off as proceeds of crime in the anti-graft war of the current administration and most importantly, the act was not subject to any known court order and can conveniently be adjudged a clear violation of the ex-Minister’s right to own property.

Right to Fair Hearing

Arbitrary arrest, prolonged and unlawful detention, as well as denial of access to legal representation, were some of the issues that void the right to fair hearing in Nigeria. A plethora of these were recorded in 2021; some reported and others unreported. The arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention of 21-year-old Ms. Gloria Okolie, who was accused of spying for Eastern Security Network, ESN, and arrested by the Imo State Police Command, makes an interesting case study in this regard. Despite court orders directing her release, at the time of writing this report, Gloria is still in detention and has been since June 2021.

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In 2021, Lagos State signed into Law, the Administration of Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill. One of the highlights of the law is the prohibition of media parade of suspects as a response to a long call by human rights activists to guard the constitutional provision on presumption of innocence of suspects until proven guilty. Although parade of suspects is still carried out in other parts of the country, it is hoped that the amended ACJL of Lagos State will curb the practice in the state.

Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

It is no longer news that the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is a proscribed group. It has been contended in some quarters that Biafra is not proscribed as there is a clear difference between the IPOB and Biafra. If the right to self-determination is still recognised, it follows that the agitation for the Sovereign State of Biafra remains valid and if it has to be actualised or abated, parties involved must have to take civil and honourable routes. So far, the government has matched Biafra’s agitations and any semblance of solidarity with brute force and resistance and has always in the process, breached the rights of Nigerians. In October 2021, a popular Nigeria actor, Chiwetalu Agu was arrested and assaulted by Department of State Security, DSS, for wearing an apparel with the Biafran insignia.

Nigerians lent their voices to his release and he was released after a few days. His ordeal in the hands of law enforcement is a minute reflection of the lived experiences of Biafra supporters in Nigeria with little or no social status.

Right to Freedom of Movement

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) in Section 41(1) recognised the right of Nigerian citizens to move freely throughout Nigeria and reside in any part thereof. Furthermore, various instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 1981 and so on, recognises the right to movement as a basic right. Irrespective of these legislative guarantees, 2021 witnessed gross violations of this basic right.

On July 30, 2021, the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, declared a total lockdown every Monday from August 9, 2021, from 6:00a.m to 6:00p.m in the five South-East states of Nigeria. This lockdown was to protest the continued detention of its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu by the Federal Government. Non-compliance with this order has resulted to loss of lives and property in Nigeria and has continued to cripple the economy. Unfortunately, the Nigerian Government has taken little or no action in reinstating this right in South-East Nigeria.

Right to Freedom of Expression

The freedom of speech in Nigeria is protected by Section 39 (1) of the Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), Article 19 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and other relevant international legal instruments. Despite Nigeria’s mandate to ensure that this right is protected and respected, the government in this past year made attempts to gag free speech. One of such attempts was the ban placed on Twitter on June 4,  2021. This Twitter ban, which has been in place for more than six months, speaks volumes about the government’s attitude towards freedom of speech.

International Treaty Obligations

One of the lowest moments of the country in fulfilling its treaty obligations was her failure to submit the 2021 Country Report on Torture to the United Nations Committee on Convention against Torture ahead of the Committee’s review in November 2021. Nigeria is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and as part of its treaty obligations; the country is required to submit periodic reports to the UN Committee on Convention against Torture for review of Nigeria’s status and obligations. Nigeria was reviewed in absentia and recommendations made by the Committee based on the alternate report submitted by CSOs.

Independence of the judiciary

One major affront to the independence of the judiciary recorded in 2021 was the invasion of Supreme Court Justice, Mary Odili’s house by law enforcement agents on the strength of an illegal warrant obtained from a magistrate’s court. Although the perpetrators have been identified and arrested, it was not the first of such incidents, as similar invasions were recorded in 2016, when some judges’ houses were raided by the DSS; a trend that if left unchecked, will reduce Nigeria’s judiciary to a ridicule.

Since the enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2013, the protection of rights, lives and property of the LGBTQ community has taken a turn for the worse. Members of the community face physical, emotional and psychological violence. Most have had to flee the country to seek asylum in other countries. Michael Ighodaro of Outright Action International spoke of how he was thrown out of the house at 14 years, suffered physical violence and bad health conditions before fleeing the country.

Police and military brutality

In the aftermath of the 2020 Lekki massacre, 2021 ushered in a wave of heightened awareness of police and military brutality. The #EndSars protest was born out of a need to curb incidents of brutality. This, however, did little or nothing to curb brutality meted out by law enforcement agents on civilians.  This is exemplified by the killing of 18-year-old Monsurat Ojuade by a police officer during a raid in her neighborhood in Lagos in September 2021. Equally discouraging is the reaction of the government to the report submitted on 15th November 2021 by the Lagos judicial panel of inquiry set up to investigate petitions on police brutality and the Lekki toll gate ‘massacre’ of October 20, 2020.

Legislations on Human Rights

2021 in Nigeria witnessed great strides in the protection of human rights using legislative instruments. Six states (Adamawa, Borno, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Osun) passed and assented to the Violence against Persons Prohibition Law in 2021 while that of four states (Bayelsa, Kebbi, Kogi and Nasarawa) are awaiting the governors’ assent. This is representative of the efforts of the government to curb violence against persons and enthrone enforcement of human rights. States that are yet to domesticate the VAPP Act are encouraged to do so while states that have domesticated the VAPP Act are urged to strengthen their implementation.

Terrorism and Human Right

The impact of terrorism on human right has been devastating, particularly on the right to life. In addition to its individual harm, terrorism has adversely affected social and economic development. Nigeria in 2021, experienced attacks from terrorists, bandits and unknown gun men which led to the displacement of millions of people from their local communities particularly in the North. In June 2021, many students estimated to be 80, were reportedly abducted by bandits who attacked the Federal Government College, Birnin-Yauri in Kebbi State after a gun battle that overpowered the police officers. One of the officers was killed and five teachers were kidnapped alongside the students.

Discrimination

Discrimination is unequal treatment, including privilege and priority, on the basis of gender, race, disability, age, nationality, religion etc. In spite of the positive efforts made at the international level in enhancing the legal protection of individuals and groups against discrimination, in Nigeria for instance, senators rejected a bill that sought to promote gender equality in the country for the third time in five years in 2021. The proposed package was rejected after some lawmakers in the upper chamber, mostly northern Muslims, cited social, cultural and religious concerns. The bill focused on making discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status a crime.

Gender Rights

Gender rights are fundamental human rights that are recognised in international human rights treaties. In 2021, there was little or no increments in promotion of gender rights. This can be attributed to the lack of domestication of most international statutes that encourage gender rights. This has also contributed to inadequate representation of women in the country’s parliament. Despite the efforts made in 2021 by some female legislators to increase women’s participation in decision-making in the ongoing constitution amendment, Nigerian women are still underrepresented.

Torture

Torture is a state of inflicting severe mental or physical pain or suffering on somebody else for a specific purpose. In December 2021, a female police officer in Delta State lamented how Nigerian soldiers tortured her 24-years-old son to death, yet nothing has been done to address the situation.

National Assembly and Laws

The primary functions of the National Assembly are the representation of their constituents and making laws that will protect the rights of the citizens. The National Assembly in 2021, passed the Electoral Act Bill after a thorough debate and considerations. Unfortunately, President Muhammadu Buhari declined his assent to the bill thereby obstructing the rights of citizens to enjoy democracy. It is expected that the federal lawmakers, with their veto, override the power of the President and pass the Bill into an Act.

*Chino Obiagwu, SAN, is the chair of Human Rights Agenda Network, HRAN, and head of LEDAP

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