- Lawyers: Growing abuse of human rights worrisome
In sharp contrast to the views recently expressed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), lawyers have decried the high level of human rights abuse in the country. To them, the facts on ground do not support the AGF’s position that fundamental human rights of Nigerians are being respected. AKEEM NAFIU reports
“This is a government that has repressed media feedoms enormously. Journalists have been put in jail for extended periods merely because they were bold enough to speak their truths to power.
Some of these journalists were jailed by state governors but the Federal Government never did anything about it.
“We have seen several reports of extra- judicial killings by security operatives and the military.
Beside the hundreds, possibly thousands of arbitrary and unlawful killings, there are also the Lekki Tollgate killings. Note how the Federal Government was plainly indifferent to the shooting of harmless protesters”, one of them said.
Another one said: “I found myself unable to agree with the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), that the fundamental rights of Nigerians have been respected by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The AGF should search his conscience and tell the country the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.
The above quotes were part of submissions by some senior lawyers in response to a comment credited to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), that Nigerian citizens have since the beginning of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government had their fundamental human rights respected.
The lawyers while expressing outrage at the AGF’s comment said the Federal Government is not doing enough with regards to respect for the rights of Nigerians.
The AGF had a fortnight ago while speaking at the inauguration of the 5th Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Abuja scored the Buhari’s administration high in the area of protecting the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.
Malami while revealing that the Federal Government has complied with various rulings on human rights and has paid damages awarded against it assured Nigerians of the determination of Buhari’s administration continued observance of human rights.
He said: “The 2010 amendment has provided that in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its powers, the Commission shall not be under the control of any authority or person.
“All these measures have been taken to ensure that the Commission is able to advise the government properly in the fulfillment of its international human rights obligations and protect and promote the human rights of Nigerians and persons living in Nigeria without fear or favour in line with the Paris Principles.
“It is a known fact that the present government had complied with the award of damages for victims of the 2012 Apo killings of Okada riders by security agents, as well complied with the 2018 White paper recommendations on Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian Police.
“The disbandment of SARS and the setting up of various panels of Inquiry investigating and awarding damages for human rights violations by SARS is a clear testimony to the fact that this government is fulfilling its international obligation to set up an independent National Human Rights Commission for the promotion and protection of the rights of Nigerians.
“I am happy to note that in recognition of the compliance of the Commission with the Paris Principles, the Commission has been graded with ‘A Status’ in the comity of national Human Rights Institutions by the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).
“The Commission has affiliate status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. These give the Commission access to all necessary meetings at the UN and AU Levels.
This is indeed gratifying and it behoves the Governing Council to uphold and improve on the standard achieved by the previous Councils and the Management of the Commission before now”.
Concerns by Amnesty International (AI)
A global human rights group, Amnesty International (AI) had in a recent report to mark its 60th anniversary expressed deep concerns over high level of human rights abuse in Nigeria with a call on the authorities to do more in protecting citizens’ lives.
In the report, Osai Ojigho, Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, said: “alarming escalation of attacks, abductions for ransom and frequent killings across Nigeria have left people feeling more unsafe, showing utter failure of the Nigerian authorities to protect lives and property”.
“Incessant killings and the stunning failure of the authorities to end them and bring suspected perpetrators to justice have been and continues to be a threat to the right to life in Nigeria.
From the days of military’s heavy-handed rule to the years of civil rule and up to today violation of human rights by both state actors and abuses by non-state actors continue to be matters of concern.
“While facing violations or policies that undermine people’s rights, Nigerians always resort to protest and other peaceful means of seeking change.
But violent clampdown on protests remains a major area of human rights violation. Protest is not a crime and Nigerians must be able to assemble peacefully and express themselves without fear.
“We are concerned that the civic space is shrinking and the fear of violence by security forces and sponsored thugs are undermining the right to peaceful protest, and having profound impact on other human rights.
“From the 1960s to date, the work of Amnesty International Nigeria shows that while some successes have been recorded in some areas like Child Rights Act and Anti-Torture Act, suspected perpetrators continue to enjoy a sense of impunity for human rights violations.
Attacks by Boko Haram insurgents continue to pose danger to lives, as they now intensify attacks in Borno state and beyond. Failure to address violations by the military in the fight against Boko Haram has denied the hope of getting justice for hundreds of victims”, Ojigho further said.
Some senior lawyers have equally expressed concerns over what they described as the ‘worrisome’ violation of human rights in the country.
The lawyers while speaking on the issue at the weekend also criticised the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), over his claims that Nigerians have had their fundamental human rights respected since the coming on-board of Buhari-led administration.
In his submissions, Executive Director of a human rights group, Access to Justice (AJ), Mr. Joseph Otteh, lamented the level of human rights abuse in the country saying it is the highest since the nation returned to democratic rule.
Otteh said: “The Buhari-led government is arguably the biggest abuser of human rights since the return to democratic rule. How would anyone possibly agree with the position of the AGF?
This government has unparalleled records of human rights abuses in the history of post-transition Nigeria.
“We thought that some of the heinous things that happened under the former Presidents like Obasanjo and Jonathan’s regime would be hard to surpass.
But Buhari has easily surpassed all of them. “I don’t think we have ever seen the level of human right abuses under Buhari’s regime before, especially in terms of magnitude and scope.
It’s not just only that the government flouts civil rights, but it emasculates the institutions built into the constitutional order to checkmate the abuse of power.
“We currently have a government that consistently stares at our courts in the face and practically tells them off, reneging on the oaths to rule under the Constitution and not outside of it .
In other words, the Buhari administration also treats our courts with contempt, and undermines their adjudicational authority. “This is a government that has repressed media feedoms enormously. Journalists have been put in jail for extended periods merely because they were bold enough to speak their truths to power.
“Some of these journalists were jailed by state governors but the Federal Government never did anything about it.
We have seen several reports of extra- judicial killings by security operatives and the military. Besides the hundreds, possibly thousands of arbitrary and unlawful killings, there are also the Lekki Tollgate killings.
Note how the Federal Government was plainly indifferent to the shooting of harmless protesters.
“But for the Lagos State Government that stepped in to interrogate the circumstances of those killings, the Federal Government was simply disinterested in undertaking any sort of investigation, and this, of course, is the kind of reaction of a system that lacks value or respect for human life “Our security forces, under this government, kill willfully without any sense of possible consequences which is a classic feature of the culture of impunity.
In the South East, for instance, these operatives just simply put tags; like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) or the Eastern Security Network (ESN), on youths and kill them habitually.
“It’s not just with IPOB, others too, like the horrendous atrocities committed against members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. So the list is actually endless.
“Therefore, it is grevious and ill-fitting parody for the AGF to say rights of citizens have been respected by this government.
The AGF spits on the graves of the victims of the government’s atrocities by making unfortunate statement like that”.
Speaking in the same vein, a senior lawyer, Dr. Fassy Yusuf, also lamented the ‘debasing’ of human rights under the Buhari’s administration.
“Unfortunately, I found myself unable to agree with the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), that the fundamental rights of Nigerians have been respected by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“There are plethora of cases to show that human rights under Buhari’s administration have been debased. Do we talk about the case of El-Zakzaky and his wife, Meenat?
Do we talk about Sowore’s case? Do we talk about Sunday Igboho’s case?
They are too numerous to be mentioned here. “I think the AGF is only being clever by half and he is not sincere with his conscience, his creator and the country.
I am so disappointed that a Senior Advocate of Nigeria could be deceiving Nigerians simply because of his position.
I think he should know that power is transient and that one day we will all give accounts of our deeds on earth. It’s so sad and I am highly disappointed.
The AGF should search his conscience and tell the country the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, Yusuf said.
On his part, a rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, expressed concerns that human rights record under Buhari’s government has been generally accepted to be poor, not only in Nigeria but internationally.
Akingbolu said: “The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Malami, must be speaking with tongue in his cheeks when he said that the human rights of the people under Buhari’s government have been respected.
This is because the human rights record under this government has been generally accepted to be poor, not only in Nigeria but internationally.
“Even, if the Attorney-General is desperate to defend the indefensible, will he pretend not to know the worries expressed by America recently when it was trying to reconsider its earlier resolve to sell arms to Nigeria on the ground of poor human rights record?
The violations of human rights are just too poor that it’s impossible for any reasonable and objective man to say otherwise.
“Under this government, people are locked up in prison at will, either not tried at all or sometimes kept in the gallow for too long awaiting a trial that would not come.
And where the trial commences, the government using the ministry of Justice under Malami would deliberately not bring witnesses but continue to be stifling the cases.
To worsen the situation, the government, have times without number keep and detained people at will even when there was or were valid court orders.
“So with all these terrible anomalies, how can someone praise this type of government which deliberately violate human rights. That apart, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a toothless bulldog under this government more than ever before.
They are probably existing in principle because with the record I have of its performance as an agency, it scored below average or to be plain, it has not performed optimally. So, the swearing in is a common ritual.
And because of the AG’s remarks which is completely a deliberate prevarication, people should not expect much from them as an agency fighting violations of human rights”.
Another senior lawyer, Mr. Wale Ogunade, noted that aside the issue of rights violations, many Nigerians no longer enjoy any rights to life as their lives have been seriously battered through the economic policies of the Buhari’s administration.
“I disagree seriously with Malami on the issue of respect for human rights of Nigerians. I want to start from the issue of right to life.
The lives of Nigerian citizens have been battered seriously through the economic policies of the Buhari’s administration.
The prices of goods and services have gone off the roof, not even below. People now find it difficult to eat and this had affected their rights to life as guaranteed by the Constitution in Section 33.
“Looking at the issue of abuse itself to human rights, as I talk to you now, a visit to the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS), police cells and even some military facilities, will reveal that several Nigerians were being incarcerated without being giving fair hearing or taken to court of competent jurisdiction to be tried.
“In some cases like that of Nnamdi Kanu, his arrest has been in a gestapo manner and of course, we thank God for the courts, particularly the Kaduna State High Court that tongue-lashed the government for just arresting El-Zakzaky and then looking for a charge to hang him.
This means he did not commit any offence at the time of his arrest.
“I also thank God for the #End- SARS protests that exposed the various abuses of human rights by the police under Buhari’s watch.
This government has inflicted serious abuse on our rights individually and collectively.
It is not when the government is arresting people on the street that their rights are being abused, even the ban on Twitter is an abuse of our rights. There are so many rights that have been abused by this government.
So, I totally disagree with Malami’s position. As we say in law, the facts speak for itself”, Ogunade said.