Human Rights is celebrated every 10th day of December over the world. The day has been chosen to coincide with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – a document detailing the 30 fundamental rights that are said to be naturally available to any one born human – in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Human Rights Day affords every country and other smaller entities the opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in rebuilding the world. It is an occasion for individuals, organizations and even nations to show solidarity with one another and create awareness about the rights of the people. The chosen topic of this piece has actually been adopted from the theme for this year’s celebration. In view of the ravaging and damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that took the world by shock, it is not strange that this theme has been chosen. As countries recover from the incalculable destruction done to its economy and the human capital, I presume the theme is reminding us that we can only recover better when all of us stand up to defend our rights and those of others. Enough of our indolence as it concerns issues of human rights.
A cursory look at relevant records and statistics in Africa does not present any encouraging pictures as the continent has become notorious for armed conflicts with all forms of violations including torture; worse forms of communal violence with large number of internally displaced persons as never before witnessed; arbitrary arrests and other incidence of extra-judicial killings; serious violence against the weakest citizens; human trafficking and various forms of modern slavery; severe economic deprivations; extreme cases of insecurity, just to mention a few. Indeed, all these are common indicators of serious human rights violations, just as they undermine the relevance of any government and the entrenchment of constitutional democracy. The continent of Africa is acclaimed to be home to the largest number of people that live in abject poverty. In fact, Africa holds the records in virtually all the negative indicators that exist- has about the highest maternal mortality rates, extreme low literacy levels and very poor healthcare systems. Such pictures do not in any way give hope of any better future for the continent. At best, they have crystallized into reactions that have placed the situations in Africa in vicious cycles that qualify for extreme emergencies.
In Nigeria, the human rights situation is not any different from the general picture that the continent of Africa portrays. The human rights records coming out of and about this country have been gloomy. It is even ironical that the self-acclaimed constitutional democracy that the country assumed since 1999 has not done anything to improve the situation. Across Nigeria, reports abound of unprecedented hostilities to peaceful and legitimate protests, unlawful arrests and detentions without trials, farmers–herders conflicts, banditries and insurgencies leading to abductions, rape and other sexual abuses. All over Nigeria, especially in the North Eastern part, thousands of lives have been lost and a large number of people displaced from their homes thereby leading Nigeria to have one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. The Boko Haram terrorists that have operated almost freely in parts of the country have cut short the educational pursuits of many school girls and other children. It is of particular interest that all these are happening in country where basic access to education is so low.
In recent times, there have been serious attempts by governments and their agencies to stifle the social and other media and to also shrink the civil society spaces. A lot have been done by the two chambers of the National Assembly to pass laws that would muzzle the social media and that which would cede the controls of civil societies to government. Success in this direction would see freedom of expression gravely impeded.
Although some critical pieces of legislation such as the Violence Against Persons (Prohibited) Act, the Child’s Rights Act, the Administration of the Criminal Justice, Act and HIV/AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act have been passed in the last five years or so to booster the rights of the relevant population; not much has been achieved in terms of implementations. These laws being products of the National Assembly will need domestication in the various states to make them operational at that level. As at the last count, no single one of the pieces of legislation has enjoyed domestication in more than half of the 36 states of the federation. This development does not show that things are looking up and going in the direction.
As the world celebrates the Human Rights Day, it would be appropriate to recall that sometime in August 2017, Vice President Osinbajo (then acting as the president) in August 2017 constituted a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. The panel conducted hearings across the country and submitted its findings to the presidency in February 2018. As of December 2020, the content of the report had not been made public. It cannot also be forgotten in a hurry the recent ENDSARS protests that swept across the country and some of the alleged violations and human rights abuses that accompanied them. The popular Lekki killings where men in military uniforms were said to have opened fire on armless civilians is still fresh in our memories. Right now, judicial panels of enquiry are being set up to investigate allegations of abuses against police personnel. While the dusts generated by the controversies surrounding the setting up of the panels are yet to settle, it is expected that the reports to be submitted by same will be considered and implemented. This is the only way we can show the world that we are serious and ready to safeguard the rights of our people.
As the theme for this year’s celebration goes, the world can only recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic only if we all stand up for human rights. The era of standing aloof must be over if we all seek to be free from all forms of oppressions. Lawyers Alert as an organization says it is not over until it is over. We need to be reminded of the popular saying of Edmund Burke that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”