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RIGHTSView: NIGERIA’S FINEST HOUR AT THE GLOBAL STAGE

By Emmanuel Onwubiko on 14/12/2013

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Mazi Cyprian Osonduagwuike Onwubiko, my dear father, is in his late eighties but still reads newspapers without his reading glasses. In spite of the occasional health challenges associated with the aged, my father is one of my favourite philosophers with incredible native intelligence which accounts for why I make it a ritual and indeed a mandatory tradition to always travel to my countryside to commune with him and other elders that are incredibly endowed with unprecedented native intelligence. During one of my few visits this year, I had a meaningful discussion with my father and part of what he kept emphasising is the essence of always being in company of good people the credible and traceable sources of livelihood. My ‘old man’ (pardon my use of cliché) told me that the English people were full of wisdom when they reasoned that a man is known by the reputation of his friends.

Wondering why this extensive dwelling on the reputable wisdom of my father? Wonder no more because I am going to write about the outing by the Nigeria’s delegation that recently presented Nigeria’s Country Report at the 17th Session of the Universal Periodic Report (UPR) of the United Nations General Assembly on Human Rights anchored by no other person but Nigeria's chief law officer or rather the man who holds the public office identified by the Nigerian constitution as  the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Nigeria had on October 22nd presented to the United Nations General Assembly her second Universal Periodic Report on the human rights situation in the country and interestingly, the critical Nigerian media was full of praises for the beautiful way that the Nigeria’s Federal Attorney General marshaled out Nigeria’s human rights template and stood tall amidst variegated probing questions intelligently thrown at his direction by an avalanche of highly reputable global human rights defenders who over the years have taken special interest about the human rights situations in Nigeria and who indeed have their sources back home and so are masters at the kinds of questions and views they expressed regarding their worrying concerns about the development or otherwise of human rights respect and the rule of law in contemporary Nigeria. Mohammed Bello Adoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who prior to his elevation had practised the different ramifications of law practice and so is at home with contemporary issues of human rights was at his very best intellectually wise to represent the Nigerian Government and he indeed vigorously defended what he calls the clean human rights slate of the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. 

As a keen observer of the proceedings that took place at the United Nations Human Rights Council and as one of the civil society leaders in Nigeria who strongly disagree with some of the views expressed by the Nigerian Attorney General in his recent global defence of the human rights situation in Nigeria, one factor you cannot take away from the presentation is the fact that the Nigeria's chief law officer did not allow himself to be intimidated by the dimension of probing questions that he was confronted with from a cross section of international human rights scholars and defenders but he took his time and sought to debunk some of what the Nigerian Government considered as unsubstantiated and wild claims that the current government had launched an all out war against those who identified themselves as persons with same sex orientation following the recent passage of the anti-gay legislation by the National Assembly. The Federal Attorney General also spoke in greater details regarding the continuous existence of capital punishment as part of Nigeria’s legal process.

The candour, courage and resilience displayed by the Nigerian Attorney General as shown on global media and also profoundly reported by some Nigerian credible senior journalists like Joe Nwankwo of Daily Independent; Tobi Soniyi of Thisday and Utibe Umoren of African Independent Television is the best explanation of my opening paragraph in which I cited the wise things my father told me during my recent visits to Arondizuogu in Imo State. Before proceeding I will like to say that Bello Adoke parades some of the finest friends in the legal profession that most of us are proud of including Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN); Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN) Mr. Damien Dodo (SAN) and Chief Jude Nnodum (SAN). Objective analysts and followers of the Nigerian legal scenes will agree with me that these are some of the choicest egg heads in Nigeria’s legal profession today. Many years when he was elevated to the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Damien Dodo was the youngest Senior Advocate in Nigeria even as Alex Izinyon combined law teaching at the Abuja University’s law faculty and his private practice before he successfully became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria after he rose from a very humble background. Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN) is a sound intellectual in the legal profession who is detribalised and nationalistic in his outlook and worldview. After establishing my point of view that Bello Mohammed Adoke surrounds himself with good men, I can now proceed to analyse his presentation at the global human rights stage adjudged by reporters as one of the best in recent history.

The Nigerian Chief Law Officer began by asserting that since its first UPR, in 2009, Nigeria has recorded significant developments in the field of human rights as according to him the country has amended the National Human Rights Commission Act in 2010 to grant the Commission operational and financial independence and to enhance its investigative and enforcement powers. As a former Federal Commissioner in the Nigerian National Human Right Commission who also worked to produce the draft of the amendment bill that resulted in the eventual amendments at the National Assembly and signing into law by President Jonathan to empower the National Human Rights Commission d as someone who has followed developments in the commission headed by the chairman of governing council Professor Chidi Odinkalu an international law scholar and a law professor from the University of Jos, Ben Amgwe as the Executive Secretary, I can testify that the Nigerian Federal Attorney General was brutally frank and sincere in his claim regarding the independence of the National Human Rights Commission granted by the National Assembly and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan. When the history of the brand new independent National Human rights commission will be written the names of Goodluck Jonathan, Mohammed Bello Adoke, Senate President David Mark and speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal will enjoy greater space of glory.
The AGF said: “Nigeria acceded to several international human rights instruments between 2009 and 2013 including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. On this I will say yes Nigeria has acceded to these global conventions but the security operatives especially the Nigerian Police still carries on with illegal detention of persons and the evil practice of hostage taking whereby the operatives of the Nigerian Police Force arrest next of kin in place of a wanted crime suspect has becoming increasingly worrisome and the Nigerian Government has failed seriously to stop this unconstitutional practice. This is an open challenge for the National Human rights Commission to build the capacity of the operatives of the Nigerian Police and use its new found independence and independence to name, shame and prosecute police operatives who breach human rights provisions in carrying out their jobs.
“The economic transformation blueprint ‘Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020’ sought to guarantee the well-being and productivity of Nigerians, including the eradication of extreme poverty, enhancing access to quality healthcare, and provision of sustainable access to potable water and basic sanitation. In terms of judicial reform, an Administration of Criminal Justice Bill, currently before the National Assembly, intended to institutionalise the broad objective of the proposed National Prosecution Policy to engender a criminal justice system that was quick, smooth, fair, just and firm. This writer will say that this noble programmes mentioned by the federal attorney general are beautiful and capable of reducing poverty by half but unfortunately the relevant agencies of government have failed and have not shown the political will to carry through their mandates to be able to reduce mass poverty which even in the thinking of World Bank has seen that there are now over 100 million Nigerians living in destitution. Although the Nation's Chief Law officer stated what are on paper but in practice the opposite is the case as everyone with discernible tendencies would have seen and noted even if they are blind.
“In response to terrorism and violent insurgencies, the Government adopted constitutional measures including the declaration of a state of emergency in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in northeast Nigeria where insurgents have their base and carry out their attacks. The Government proscribed the terrorist groups Boko Haram and Jamâatu Ansâril Muslimîna fî Bilâdis Sûn and stipulated a 20-year jail term for anybody who aided or sponsored them in any manner whatsoever.  Law enforcement agencies have been instructed to observe human rights while countering acts of terror.”

The Minister of Justice is right on point but I ask, why did it take Nigeria so long to classify those terrorists as terrorists? Did the Federal Attorney General not aware that President Jonathan at a point openly called Boko Haram mass murderers as fellow Nigerians when it is clear that these were dare devil mass murderers who mean evil to Nigeria and who have confessed that they want Nigeria wiped out from the global map? Is the Attorney General out of the country when this current administration set up a contraption it calls as Presidential dialogue committee on insecurity in the North with a serving minister of Special Duties Mr. Taninmu Turaki, a Senior Lawyer and probably course mate of the current Attorney General, as chairman? The truth is that on security this current government has terrible records of failure to protect the right to life of innocent Nigerians from freelance armed hoodlums and Islamic fundamentalists who are unleashing a reign and regime of terrorism all across Nigeria and it is not right to claim otherwise. 
The Minister pointed out: “On gender equality, consistent with the State’s Affirmative Action for Women policy, the Government appointed 13 female ministers representing 33.3% of the total number of 42 and four female Special Advisers out of 18, representing 22%.  Moreover, the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill has passed a second reading in the National Assembly. Yes, on this score the Federal Attorney General was correct hundred percent. The major legacy so far of this government is the penchant for appointing women into significant political positions which is highly encouraging and makes Nigeria one of the women most friendly government globally.
“The death penalty still existed in Nigeria. For the executions carried out in 2013, due process was followed in the trials and executions were carried out in accordance with the provisions of existing laws.” When the Federal Attorney General returned I took him on this he maintained that Nigerian law allows death penalty and all I can say is that he is correct. 

As to the rights of minorities, states have been created from time to time as part of efforts to give the different ethnic groups in the country more political control over their own affairs. “Furthermore, the Federal Character principle has been used to ensure that people from all parts of the country have a fair and equal chance when it came to the allocation of public good, social services and amenities,” he said. And I add that even the current President of Nigeria is from the minority Ijaw ethnic nationality thus validating this angle of the presentation.
Adoke stated that Nigeria is committed to the promotion and protection of rights of citizens noting that the government established the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons with a mandate to combat human trafficking that occurred within and across Nigerian borders. This agency is dead operationally as many girls are trafficked and indeed Nigeria now have many babies factories whereby innocent girls from poor homes are lured with financial enticements to be impregnated and paid off to sell their babies when they are born. How can we say that this agency that only exist on paper is working?
And as part of its commitment to open up the nation to scrutiny Nigeria has agreed to receive the Special Rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers, on violence against women, on IDPs, on trafficking in persons and the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide.
Nigeria reportedly at the global human rights stage vehemently restated its opposition to the same sex marriage in the country just as it declared that the nation’s marriage act defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman as according to Adoke 92% of Nigeria’s support the Anti-Same Sex Marriage Bill as passed by the Senate. Why has President failed to sign this law that has the support of over 90 % approval rating of Nigerians?
According to the AGF "on the recommendation 12 (Legalization of same marriage) Nigeria does not accept this recommendation because same-sex marriage is against its national values based on their deep religious background recent polling data suggests that 92% of Nigerians support the Anti Same-Sex Marriage Bill passed by the Senate. All the same Nigeria has no plans of victimising the practitioners of the same sex act.
“The Marriage Act defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Christianity and Islam, which are the major religions in Nigeria, also recognise marriage as relationship between a man and woman. Same-sex marriage is not in the culture of Nigerians. Sexual and gender minorities are not visible in Nigeria and there is no officially registered association of gays and lesbians. In writing this report, a consultation and validation process was held with various stakeholders where the issue of same-sex marriage was brought up, and the general view of the participants was that same-sex marriage was not a human rights issue in Nigeria. I agree because even Article 16 of the Universal declaration of human rights (UDHR) said so explicitly.
On the right of man to life Adoke noted that “Government uses the death penalty as a deterrence to protect human life.” Section 33 (1) of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 guarantees the right to life. It provides: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
“The Penal code and Criminal code prescribe death sentence for anybody who commits culpable homicide punishable with death and murder respectively. Death penalty is a valid part of Nigerian law. In Nigeria today, offences that are punishable by death include murder, treason, directing or presiding at an unlawful trial by ordeal from which death results, and armed robbery,” he added. Mr. Minister, the death penalty has not stopped violent crime even when it first started in the 1970’s with the first public execution in the Lagos bar beach because now we even have a private army called Boko Haram waging war against the Nigerian state and a time this same government played around with the idea of negotiating with them. So who is deceiving who?
The Justice Minister noted that “in respect to recommendations 14, 15, 22, 23, with regard to extra-judicial executions and torture by the police) that Nigeria is committed to respecting the lives and dignity of its citizens. Consequently, Government has zero tolerance for any form of cruelty such as ill treatment and extra judicial killings. Security officers that have been found culpable irrespective of their position have been made to face the full weight of the law.
“This is illustrated by the on-going trial of senior police officers accused of killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the Boko Haram sect, the Naval officer who killed a commercial bike rider in Lagos State and a soldier who killed an oil tanker driver in Kaduna State are being court marshaled. Apart from the Constitution and the Police Act, Government introduced a Code of Conduct for Police Personnel in 2012 which provides guidelines on the use of force by Police personnel. In addition to these national laws, the police personnel comply with the United Nations Guidelines on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement Agents and the Guidelines on Treatment of Persons under any form of detention when dealing with suspect,” he declared. Nigeria has a long way to go because it was just this year that dozens of corpses were freshly found floating in Ezu River in Anambra State and these were human beings belonging to Anambra and several South East states belonging to the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) who are non-violent in their agitation for self government allowed under global humanitarian laws that were arrested and killed extra-legally by the Nigerian police and till date no single police operatives has paid for these serial crimes against humanity. Mr. Federal Attorney General, you did not say it as it is on this score please. Sir.
Adoke pointed out that “Section 34 (1) of the Constitution protects the right to dignity of the human person by outrightly prohibiting torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and specifically provides that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.” The Government has set up a National Committee on Torture (NCOT) as a national A/HRC/WG.6/17/NGA/1 mechanism to investigate allegations of torture, extra-judicial executions and other unlawful killings.

This writer knows very well that Nigerian Police Force and security operatives still use torture and no one has faced the full wrath of the law even when torture is absolutely prohibited because there is no clear legal provision stipulating how severe torture as an offence is.
“Between February and March, 2013, the Nigeria Police Force, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission, trained 20,000 police personnel in police training institutions across the country on “Policing in a Democratic Society. Government has also established a forum known as the Police/National Human Rights/Commission/Civil Society Organization forum which meets quarterly to share ideas and information on human rights issues concerning the Nigeria Police Force,” Adoke said.
On forced evictions Adoke said that the demolitions were done in national interest noting that the authorities have always carried out a verification and people with genuine cases are relocated or compensated. Federal Capital Territory and some state governments have often demolished people’s property on political basis.
On electoral reforms the AGF pointed out that “determined to strengthen the democratic process and entrench a culture of respect for human rights, Nigeria amended the 1999 Constitution three times between 2010 and 2011 to grant financial autonomy to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enable it perform optimally, as well as enhance the electoral processes. The amendments to the constitution and INEC’s autonomy contributed significantly in making the 2011 General Elections of Nigeria free, fair and credible. This writer knows that the current INEC is incompetent and the Anambra governorship election which has now been bungled by INEC is a case in point. INEC needs comprehensive legal reforms to save Nigeria from implosion in 2015.
“Section 285 of the Constitution was amended to set timelines for determination of election petitions. The amendment mandates an election tribunal to deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days of filing an election petition, while an appeal from the decision of an election tribunal or court shall be determined within 60 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of the tribunal. The outcome of this amendment has been the speedy disposal of election petitions and avoidance of unnecessary distractions to governance often occasioned by delay in disposing election petitions. The Supreme Court of Nigeria has further affirmed, clarified and reinforced these amendments through various judicial pronouncements and declarations.”
He further said that “Section 254 of the Constitution was also amended to provide for the establishment of a National Industrial Court to hear and determine cases affecting the civil rights and obligations of workers, especially on matters arising from the workplace, conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of employees and workers, established and is promoting and protecting the rights of employees through its decisions.”
Joe Nwankwo who witnessed the presentation and did a beautiful piece praising Nigeria's appearance observed thus: “During the review of the Nigerian report the United States of America, Austria, Czech Republic, Sweden, Australia, Austria, Argentina and France took a swipe at the country over the rights of Lesbians/Bisexuals/Gays and Transgendered (LGBT) and expressed concern over what he termed insurgent attacks on the LGBTs, they called for an amendment to the laws against all forms of discriminations against LGBTs.”
Nwankwo further reported that in responding to the issues raised the Minister of Justice restated the nation’s opposition to same sex marriage noting that the issue of sexual orientation did not enjoy consensus within the United Nations human rights system and all attempts to integrate sexual orientation into existing universally recognised human rights have so far failed.
He pointed that “overwhelming majority of Nigerians objected to same sex relationship based on their deep religious, cultural and moral orientations, against which no government could successfully legislate.”
Adoke however reportedly noted that Nigeria has no official policy or practice of discriminating against anybody based on his sexual orientation. The Federal Attorney General is correct on this ground of argument because the overwhelming traditions and cultures of Nigerian people frowns against same sex relationship and is there is anything in which there is unanimity and unity of agreement among the diverse ethnic and religious people of Nigeria it is on their common hatred and repudiation of same sex orientation even as same sex marriage is seen as a big taboo. The foreign powers cannot change this deeply entrenched tradition of a deeply religious Nigerians.

RIGHTSVIEW appears thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays. 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

Posted 15/12/2013 01:52:41 AM

 

 

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