10 December 2012

Nigeria: Human Rights Day - Celebration Amid Challenges

Today, Nigeria joins the international community to mark the world's Human Rights' Day. The occasion calls for celebration and sober reflection on how well we have fared since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights decades ago. These two instruments have become reference points in the efforts of the international community to promote human rights and the defence of the fundamental right to life. They stipulate that no individual can be subjected to torture, enslavement, forced labour and arbitrary detention or be restricted from such freedoms as movement, expression and association.

But how have we fared? Some of these rights were infringed upon under successive military regimes, but with the advent of civil rule, some of those incivilities are gradually receding. However, human right abuses still continue to rear their ugly heads, resulting in the abuse of privileges by public office holders. Recently, a governor was said to have punched a protocol officer at an elder statesman's birthday, while another sacked a civil servant for raising issues about spending public funds on family social parties. Yet another flogged a Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) employee while on duty.

These cases are made worse by a judicial administrative system that keeps people perpetually imprisoned while awaiting trial. In the larger society, there are sporadic abridgements of citizens' right to change their government due to election fraud and other irregularities. Politically-motivated murders are still unresolved. Extra-judicial killings by security forces, torture, rapes and other kinds of inhuman or degrading treatments are routine in prisons, police facilities and military barracks. Harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions, arbitrary arrest, denial of fair trial, executive influence on the judiciary and judicial corruption, infringements on citizens' privacy rights, official corruption, violence and discrimination against women, child abuse, female genital mutilation, child sexual exploitation, ethnic, regional and religious discrimination, trafficking in persons, discrimination against persons with disabilities, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, vigilante killings, forced labour and child labour are also issues that are antithetic to the international covenants on human rights that we subscribed to.

Although Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) assures us that everyone has the right to the freedom of religion, discrimination against those of minority faiths is a reality in the country. The challenge of cyberspace was not considered in 1948 under UDHR, because it came in an era of postal stamps and telegrams. While we need not use new technologies to stifle legitimate dissent in an age of Wikileaks and cyber warfare, clarity around personal privacy and public security would definitely be eroded. We also think that the challenge of climate change has profound implications for the future of human rights because it could precipitate drought, the scarcity of resources and other environmental changes.

It is, therefore, necessary for our government to put in place adequate measures to promote human rights, and for legal instruments and public infrastructure to support the rights of Nigerians irrespective of place or circumstances of birth. Unless the leadership rise up to the new challenges, provide good governance and halt the drift toward Armageddon through the spate of killings, bombings and other attacks on the people throughout the country, the expectations from marking of world's day for human rights will be a mirage.

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