By Prisca Sam-Duru
UK-based Nigerian author and Law Lecturer, Dr. Allwell Uwazuruike, has in his new book titled “The Dogs And The Baboons: Human Rights Revolution Nigeria Needs”, described the declining human rights awareness in Nigeria as being “at its lowest level”.
He enjoins those who may fault his assertion to go out into the streets and ask people if they know what human rights are. “How can people that catch a so-called “thief” in the market and set them ablaze claim to know anything about human rights? How can people that lynch a person for blasphemy claim to know anything about human rights? How can people that praise the same leaders that impoverish them say they know anything about human rights? The awareness level is very, very low,” he says.
Uwazuruike who is the co-editor of Afritondo Media which offers a platform for African stories and voices, disclosed that the low level of human rights awareness in Nigeria motivated him to write the book; “The Dogs And The Baboons: Human Rights Revolution Nigeria Needs”.
According to him, “Every time I read the news, I come across stories of human rights violations. The troubling part is that most of these violations are taken as normal. People do not seem to appreciate that their lives could actually be different. In fact, I often come across comments that openly support or excuse these violations. I thought to myself: “things should not be like this. This drove me to write the book”.
The author, who has been working with publishers, editors, and writers across the globe to further amplify African and minority voices and stories, further revealed that he was motivated to write the book due to certain experiences while growing up as the son of an activist. “Growing up as the son of an activist meant that I experienced and witnessed, first hand, gross human rights violations perpetrated by the government against my father, my family, and members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). For example my father was arrested more than 30-40 times without trial. In one instance, he was imprisoned for more than two years with his case never proceeding to trial. Arrests without court appearances and trials are a breach of fundamental rights.”There is also the issue of police shootings. I know several members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) who were killed by the police. There were people I saw at the house one day but not the next simply because they had been gunned down at a protest. The reality of death particularly at the hands of the police became very clear to me from a very young age. “The constant anxiety and fear over the safety of my parents and friends dominated my adolescence. So, I grew up thinking and worrying about these things and they motivated me to study and research human rights. I wanted to know whether the state and police had the right to do all these things that they did; and, if not, why they continued to do those things with impunity and without repercussions. I also wanted to know if there were ways of making things better. And narrowing it down to the issue of literature, yes, I felt that this was a good channel for communicating my thoughts. I love writing, so why not convey my thoughts through that means? Why not share my experiences? Why not pass my message?”
Asked if in couching the book’s title, he had in mind Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari who before coming into power allegedly stated, concerning the irregularities at the previous presidential elections, that “if what happened in 2011 should happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dogs and the baboons will all be soaked in blood,” Uwazuruike replies, “to be honest, I had considered several titles and this one eventually came out on top for a number of reasons. I think the concept of “dogs and baboons” quite captured the main points I was trying to make in my book. “I tried to capture how both the government and we, the people, are complicit in human rights violations. In a sense, one party is the dog, and the other is the baboon. When Buhari referred to the dogs and baboons soaking in blood, he was painting a picture of violence and anarchy. That violence and anarchy persist in today’s Nigeria. The dogs and the baboons illustrate the sordid practices of mob violence, police shootings, jungle justice, extreme tribalism, and injustice that characterise present day Nigeria”.
On what he intends to achieve with the book Uwazuruike replies: “A lot. First, I want people to enjoy reading the book. If they don’t, then they probably will not get half-way through it; so, it’s important that they enjoy reading it. Secondly, I hope to create a great deal of awareness of the challenges bedevilling Nigeria and the need to revolutionise the way we see things. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I want to share my solutions to those problems. I want to ignite a cultural revolution hinged on the principles of human rights.
“We need to change the way we think. We need to, as a society, incorporate human rights and dignity in all our practices such that it becomes a way of life, a culture. We need to appreciate that everyone has rights, whether a presumed “thief” or “witch”. We need to know that certain practices we condone as normal have no place in a sane society. We also need to ensure that public institutions live up to minimum standards of human rights. Look, if we run a society based entirely on respect for human rights, Nigeria’s problems will be almost entirely solved.” “The word revolution used in the subtitle is intentional and is intended to provoke a certain sentiment. Revolution, in the sense that I use it, is not linked to violence. Instead, it is more about a drastic, decisive change to the way of life and governance.”
Interestingly, he avers that the human rights situation in Nigeria today cannot be narrowed down to one government.
“Honestly, I don’t want to narrow things down to one administration. As a matter of fact, it is unfortunate that the current administration has been made to bear the brunt of criticisms in my book, but it is only natural that I would refer more to the sitting government that one that presided several years ago. The truth of the matter is that, as far as human rights violations go, the past and current administrations are not too dissimilar. The present one, though, has taken things up a notch.”