By Emmanuel Onwubiko
The latest compilations of human rights abuses in nations around the World as done by the State Department of the United States of America is out and as expected, that of Nigeria is as treacherous and pathetic as it has always been in over a decade. In the case of Nigeria, it is clear that both the States and the Federal government are simply overwhelmed and are really not doing much to check these tragic human story.
A review of the Executive summary shows that there is not really any major milestones in terms of efforts on the part of the current federal government and the federating units to sufficiently provide effective redress mechanisms to victims of human rights violations.
The report noted that Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In 2019 citizens re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a second four-year term. Most independent observers agreed the election outcome was credible despite logistical challenges, localized violence, and some irregularities.
Significantly, the United States government has nothing good to say regarding the standards of human rights protection expected from the officers and the operatives of the Nigeria Police Force.
The Americans noted that the Nigeria Police Force, which reports to the Ministry of Police and is overseen by the Police Service Commission, is the primary civilian law enforcement agency and enjoys broad jurisdiction throughout the country.
The Ministry of Interior also conducts security and law enforcement activities.
The Department of State Services, which reports to the national security advisor in the Office of the President, is responsible for counterintelligence, internal security, counterterrorism, and surveillance as well as protection of senior government officials.
The Nigerian Armed Forces, which report to the minister of defense, also share domestic security responsibilities as stipulated in the constitution in the case of insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies or as ordered by the president.
Many states, in response to increased violence, insecurity, and criminality that exceeded the response capacity of government security forces, created local “security” vigilante forces. These local forces reported to the state governor. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
The USA reports that significant human rights abuses included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by the government, terrorists, and criminal groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and terrorist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including killings, abductions, and torture of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats against journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws.
Others are the serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; crimes of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate, punish, and prosecute alleged abuses by military and police forces, including the now disbanded police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, but impunity for such abuses and corruption remained a problem. These basically are the few areas captured by the Executive summary done by the USA on the situation of human rights. But the USA left many lacunae in this summary because there were no mention of the weakness of the National Human rights institutions such as the Premier Nigerian Human Rights commission. The National Human Rights commission is so weak that it stands by whilst federal government officials like the minister of Information rides roughshod on the media rights of Nigerians and the minister has so manipulated the National Broadcasting Commission to become a tool for the dictatorial witch hunt of independent broadcasting stations. Lai Mohammed is obviously one amongst the state officials that has done significant damage to human rights promotion and protection. The Ministry of telecommunications and digital economy is another agent of human rights violations through the implementation of some outrageous policies that have resulted in the monitoring of the private communications of Nigerians. The report did not speak about the near moribund status of the Public Complaints Commission which only exists on paper because their impacts are not being felt given that millions of Nigerians with genuine complaints against several public office holders can’t get redress from the Public Complaints Commission which basically exists just to pay salaries to their staff and the board members.
Nigerians expect that in subsequent human rights reports that the writers endeavour to name and shame Public office holders who are notorious human rights violators. This report is expected to become a springboard for the civil society community to continue to campaign for effective implementation of oversight responsibility by the National Human rights commission, the Public Complaints Commission and the relevant committees of the two chambers of the National Assembly because it is very clear that the security agencies have become enthusiastic human rights violators and these tendencies must be checked and indicted officers penalised in line with the due process of the law. Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is extensive enough to highlight the key human rights entitlements of the citizens. Reading one of the very recent reports done by the Washington DC based Human Rights Watch, it is clear that the problems are much bigger than what the US state Department captured in their latest human rights report on Nigeria.
The group in the USA says that attack on human rights is worsening in Nigeria, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organisation concerned with human rights matters around the globe, has said.
In its 2022 World Report, which reviews human rights trends and developments in more than 100 countries in the world, the organization said the ban on Twitter in June 2021, was indicative of worsening human rights issues in Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria after a controversial tweet by him was deleted by the microblogging site.
The government insisted that its action was unconnected to the taking down of Mr Buhari’s tweet but was based on alleged roles of the site in fuelling insecurity, fake news, and separatist activities in the country.
Government’s attempt to rationalise the justification were not accepted, with leading democratic nations like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and others condemning it as an attack on freedom of expression.
After seven months, the government announced the lifting of the suspension on January 12, after reaching some agreements with Twitter.
But in its 752-page report, the 32nd edition of its World Report, launched on January 13, HRW said the Twitter suspension was a sign of human rights repression in the country.
“The Nigerian government’s ban on Twitter in June, after the social media company deleted a tweet by President Muhammed Buhari for violating its rules, signaled a worsening repression of fundamental rights in the country,” the report read in part.
The report recalled that the ban was widely condemned by citizens who relied on the platform for critical social and political discourse.
Many Nigerians remained active on Twitter using virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent the ban even as the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, threatened to anyone by passing the ban.
In a decision delivered on June 22, the ECOWAS Court in Abuja stopped the government from taking any action against anyone or media houses still using Twitter.
The worst case scenario on human rights in Nigeria is the ease with which citizens are killed by armed non State actors especially armed Fulani terrorists. One instance will suffice as a good example. One hundred and six persons have so far been buried following the attacks on communities in Plateau State, media report say.
This is according to the Chairman of Kanam Local Government Area of Plateau State Dayabu Garga who gave an update about the renewed violence in some parts of the north-central state.
“I was present on Monday morning where we did mass burial of 106 killed and we are still picking more dead bodies in the farmlands,” he said on Thursday in an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily.
He also said there are “more than 16 people hospitalised”. Benue State has also killing fields with over 3,000 citizens slaughtered by armed Fulani terrorists in the past 7 years and no single killer is behind bars.
- EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and can be reached @wwwhuriwanigeria.org.