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Human rights decline: Lawyers set agenda for 2024

Lawyers have recommended steps to achieve a better human rights outlook for Nigeria in 2024 after the country’s low ranking last year. A former Attorney…

Lawyers have recommended steps to achieve a better human rights outlook for Nigeria in 2024 after the country’s low ranking last year.

A former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Ekiti State, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN); human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) and others believe the strengthening of law enforcement,  security and stopping impunity in government are some of the key approaches to reverse the trend in Nigeria.

Human rights organisations such as the Human Watch, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), World Justice Project (WJP) and Amnesty International had in their 2023 reports ranked Nigeria low on the observance and protection of human rights.

The organisations presented a grim scorecard in the observation of personal liberty, right to life, security, and extra judicial killings, freedom of expression, independence of the judiciary, and economic and social rights in the country with state and non-state actors as the main contributors.

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The HRW in its 2023 agenda for Nigeria report identified the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast, banditry in the Northwest and separatist agitations in the Southeast, as the major contributors to human rights violation in the country in 2023.

It also noted that the 2023 presidential elections led to human rights violations in Nigeria, explaining, “Despite repeated calls to Nigerian authorities to pursue accountability for past elections-related abuses and address widespread insecurity, the February elections were blighted by logistical failures and violence at the polls.”

To address the situation, HRW suggested that President Bola Tinubu “Urgently address the underlying factors that give rise to conflict and foster recruitment into armed groups or criminal gangs, such as poverty and inequality, intercommunal disputes, conflicts between groups over their livelihoods following the impact of climate change, and the failure of law enforcement to ensure justice and accountability.”

In its Nigeria Annual Human Rights Report 2023, PLAC recommended enthronement of credible elections, expanding the shrinking spaces, ending impunity, providing democratic dividends, police reforms, addressing insecurity, among others.

Amnesty International also listed the serious human rights violations including the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) fines on 25 broadcast stations in March 2023, the July 2023 leak of the memo on mass burial for 103 victims of the 2020 #EndSARS protests in Lagos State, and the several gender-based violence cases.

In a message to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the World Justice Project bemoaned the declining adherence to human rights principles across the globe, which saw Nigeria ranked 120 with 0.41 points in 140 countries studied.

The Executive Director of the WJP, Elizabeth Andersen said most countries are falling short of upholding their promise to ensure human rights protection.

We must strengthen human rights protection – Lawyers

Responding, Akinlaja said the issue of security is at the heart of the problem because it bordered on the right to the life of a Nigerian.

“Logically, therefore, the most pressing and imperative need of the country at the moment is the provision of adequate security for people and property,” he said.

“Once that is done, a radical reduction in the number of lives lost will follow as light follows day.

“Beyond this, there is a need for the government and the people to be reoriented and sensitised to the sacredness of life especially.

“The rate at which lives are being taken with reckless abandon all across the country is not only worrying but heart wrenching.”

Similarly, Falana also noted that the Nigerian constitution guarantees the right to life and self-defence.

Hamed Ajibola Jimoh Esq said a constitutional amendment of Section 46(3) is required to strengthen the powers of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to make fundamental rights enforcement procedure rules, to include his powers to make such rules to cover Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to stop the delays and unending appeals bogging rights enforcement suits and the N50,000 deposit for appeals at the Court of Appeal.

He added that “Continuous training for citizens and security and law enforcement agencies of the government on respect for human rights.

“Continuous roundtable in-house and public discussions on assessment on human rights protection in Nigeria.

“Strengthening intelligence gathering on security in Nigeria and quick response to security breach complaints. This would prevent likely attacks leading to human rights violations including loss of lives and property, breach of right to personal liberty, inhumanity by suspected kidnappers and criminals against citizens among other rights.”

E.M.D. Umukoro Esq said more reforms are needed including that the timeframe for human rights trials should not be more than three months.

He, however, said human rights protection in Nigeria should not be based on pleasing the international community or rights organisations but on what is good for the country.

He asked rhetorically, “What is the purpose of the government if not to improve on the citizen’s rights and other social economic indicators?”

Reacting to questions about its independence and determination to safeguard human rights in Nigeria, the Executive Director of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr Tony Ojukwu said the commission has never experienced any interference since his assumption of office in 2018 while maintaining that it continues to carry out independent investigations into the reported violations.

“We have carried out SARS investigations independently and are now carrying out investigations by Reuters independently, why should NHRC not carry out its duties independently in 2024?” He responded.


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