RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: African Boat People Vs Africa Peer Review

Posted by News Express | 9 May 2015 | 3,711 times

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Prof Bem Amgwe is the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria (NHRC) and the sub-chairman, Codes and Standards of the National Steering Committee on the second Peer Review of Nigeria, under the Africa Peer Review Mechanism. He graciously invited yours faithfully to attend the one-day workshop on the African Peer Review Standards and Codes for the second Peer Review of Nigeria, which took place on May 4, 2015 in Abuja.

What struck me when I received this invitation was the fate of thousands of African migrants who have perished while attempting to escape to Europe through the rough and notorious Mediterranean Sea, specifically from the lawless Libya. These Africans branded by Western media as African Boat People, are running away from a range of man-made economic and political impediments in their respective African homelands. The situation of economic adversities in most African countries –  characterised by high youth unemployment,  dysfunctional infrastructure and the high rate of crime, including the vicious circles of impunity marked by mass killings – are caused largely by poor leadership standards, which these peer review mechanisms have failed to satisfactorily address and redress.

The question that immediately hit my subconscious as I planned to honour the invitation by Prof Amgwe  was: 'What really is the essence of the entire exercise of African peer review mechanisms if majority of Africans are fleeing the continent due largely to abysmal failure of leadership and breakdown of law and order?’ This question on my mind was thrown at the Nigerian official, Mr Pius Otteh, Director of International Law Department, Federal Ministry of Justice, who stood in for the Solicitor-General of the Federation. But he spoke in favour of continuation of these processes and affirmed that, what is needed is the creation of better and further sensitisation so government officials are made aware of the duties and obligations imposed upon them by this peer review mechanism. Ironically, the fact that emerged from the first major paper delivered at that workshop was that most government officials from ministries that interface with international bodies often sign treaties and instruments without adequate comprehension of the imports of what they have signed in some of these global economic fora. For instance, Nigeria once acceded to the terms of World Trade Organisation (WTO). But, even before the ink used in signing the agreement could dry up, the Nigerian Customs went ahead to enforce a ban on importation of some products covered under the set of agreements signed by Nigeria, which directly offends the terms of the commitment that Nigeria made at the WTO's treaty signing forum. Again, many government ministries are in the habit of failing to deposit copies of signed agreements with the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, which is provided for by the national legislation governing international treaties and instruments. 

Putting the African peer review mechanisms side-by-side with the emerging scenarios of Africans flooding into Europe, through the risky venture of offering themselves to human traffickers in Libya at high costs, who in turn pack them like sardines inside derelict boats en route Italy, which most often experience shipwrecks, leading to deaths of hundreds of these ‘refugees’ in the high seas; one can easily dismiss the mechanisms as African leader's peer deception gambit. Why we in Africa continue to engage in self-deception, by pretending to be complying with global best practices in matters of political governance, it is shocking to note that the opposite is the case. For many years that this process started, most African countries have witnessed cases of poor governance dominated by gross corruption that have rendered the economies of these countries incapable of engaging in proper and appropriate redistribution of their common wealth. Because of economic corruption by most African leaders, the required environment for self-fulfillment is no longer there, thereby compelling many of the youth in their productive ages to seek greener pastures in other continents of the world. It is a fact that nearly 80 per cent of university graduates churned out yearly in Nigeria will not find jobs, either in the public or private sectors.
This piece is basically an advocacy for a fundamental tinkering and restructuring of the entire gamut of the peer review mechanisms, to ensure that the benefits are not only written on papers and kept in government offices, but rather ensure that pragmatic impacts of the transparent implementation of the review process improves the living conditions of Africans, so the ugly scenarios of African Boat People will be checked. African youths will stay back in their countries and contribute meaningfully only if they are sure that the regime of impunity, lawlessness, arbitrariness, wanton looting of resources by government officials are brought under control; and for the internal legal mechanisms of each African countries are brought to bear on any official that breaches the laws that protects transparency and accountability. Institution building in Africa is therefore imperative, because there is just no way that the capital flight affecting many African countries through illicit financial transactions can be checked if the internal law enforcement institutions are not operationally and financially independent. For instance, the Economic and Final Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria is usually impeded in carrying out its functions due largely to frequent political interference and lack of leadership qualities on the part of the hierarchy.
From Wikipedia, we learnt that the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is a mutually agreed instrument voluntarily acceded to by the member states of the African Union (AU), as a self-monitoring mechanism. It was founded in 2003.
The mandate of the APRM is to encourage conformity in regard to political, economic and corporate governance values, codes and standards among African countries, and the objective is socio-economic development within the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

The 37th Summit of the Organisation of African Unity held in July 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia, adopted a document setting out a new vision for the revival and development of Africa – which was to become known as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). In July 2002, the Durban AU summit supplemented NEPAD with a Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance. According to the Declaration, states participating in NEPAD ‘believe in just, honest, transparent, accountable and participatory government and probity in public life.’ Accordingly, they ‘undertake to work with renewed determination to enforce,’ among other things, “the rule of law; the equality of all citizens before the law; individual and collective freedoms; the right to participate in free, credible and democratic political processes, and adherence to the separation of powers, including protection for the independence of the judiciary and the effectiveness of parliaments.”
These steps, ordinarily, are salutary. But questions that would reverberate whenever a dialogue session on the Africa peer review mechanisms come up are: Why has Africa, as a continent, been unable to effectively guide against economic devastation of the member states by the political class? Why does African Union pay lip service to raising the issue of good governance deficit that afflict virtually 90 per cent of their member states? Why are there no enforceable legal statutes to watch over member countries and stop the political leadership from misruling their countries and leading them into bankruptcy? Unless we address all these issues, we will continue to delude ourselves and wallow in self-pity in the guise of the so called-African peer review mechanisms.  Are we willing to change this process from a mere contraption to a working mechanism?

Only a good response to the foregoing questions can stop the proliferation of African Boat People flooding into Europe through irregular migration and creating global opprobrium for all of us who are Africans.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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