RIGHTSView: Worrying Signals from Enugu

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 20 September 2014 | 3,355 times

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During a recent regional advocacy activity engagement in the South-eastern states, two major human rights issues confronted us. These were the sudden unprecedented re-emergence of illegal police check-points, and the rapidly declining and shrinking democratic space in the run-up to next year’s elections, which is only few months away.

These rascally unconstitutional tendencies and activities of some persons we may classify as ‘animals called human’ are evidently present in other parts of the country, but the level of depravity and magnitude of indiscipline displayed by the erring police operatives mounting illegal money-extorting check-points in the South-east is beyond human imagination.

The recent appointment of Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mr Suleiman Abba, and his decision to authorise mounting of check-points in some Northern states, which constitute the frontline areas of the terrorists’ activities seems to have provided the lee way for the resurgence in police check-points all over the country. This is sequel to the exit of immediate past Inspector-General, Mr Abubakar Mohammed, whose only tangible achievement may have been the banning of police checkpoints, which in any case are avenues for extortion of commuters and commercial motorists and the perpetration of all manner of human right violations, such as tortures and extrajudicial executions of suspected offenders, and even innocent citizens.

Amnesty International (AI), the United Kingdom-based non-governmental body may soon release a comprehensive report on their findings concerning the widespread practice of torture as a mechanism of law enforcement by the Police and other security operatives all across Nigeria.

On the rapidly shrinking democratic frontiers in the South-East and the increasing manifestation of tyranny by state governors, the case of Enugu is more notorious, going by the widely repudiated unconstitutional impeachment of the Deputy Governor, Mr Sunday Onyebuchi, on the nebulous charge of rearing chickens within the premises of his official residence.

There are widespread cases of suppression of fundamental freedoms of expression and free assembly, constitutionally guaranteed by chapter four of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

A radio station in Enugu privately linked to the person of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, is the latest to come under Enugu State Government sponsored attack and harassment.

Specifically, Senator Ekweremadu, the most senior and most experienced federal legislator of South-East extraction, is rumoured to either be interested in vying for the office of Governor of Enugu State or to stage a comeback to retain his seat, which is reportedly coveted by supporters of the two-term governor, Mr Sullivan Chime, who is also rumoured to be interested in running for the same Senate position, after his mandatory second and final tenure as state Chief Executive terminates on May 29, 2015.

From the foregoing, it is easy to interpret that the deputy Senate president and the Enugu State governor are in fundamental disagreement on the critical question of who the next governor to succeed Mr. Sullivan Chime would be or who will occupy the Senate seat, now in the full control of Senator Ekweremadu.

The Enugu State governor is reported to have decreed recently that all those who have tested power in the National Assembly, since the last two dispensations, must give way and retire for fresh hands to also contest to represent the people. This unilateral decision shows that state governors have this belief that they are hin gods.

For political neophytes, this decision may sound plausible. But to imagine that the Enugu State governor, who has continuously remained in one political office or the other since over a decade, will now issue an unconstitutional edict to bar citizens from running for their choice offices, only to create the slots for himself (the incumbent governor] and his cronies, is highly undemocratic and illegal. But what is the position of the law regarding who should seek elective positions?

The constitution is absolutely against discrimination. So the unilateral decision by the Enugu State governor, on who should seek elective positions come the 2015 election, is against section 42(1). Section 40 of the Constitution, which speaks to the issue of ‘protection of the Freedom of Assembly and Association and Right to Freedom of Movement’ contemplated under section 41 also makes it illegal for the police to be used to violently stop peaceful demonstrators in Enugu State.

Under the platform of good governance and transparency coalition, my organisation and 36 others conducted an opinion poll and came up with the following points; which go to show that in the human rights sector, Enugu is the only state in Southern Nigeria yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act. No local council is headed democratically by any woman. There is, also, this widely celebrated separation case involving the Enugu State governor and his estranged wife – Mrs Clara Chime, an issue which is very notorious. Respondents are demanding the immediate domestication of this important bill of right, to promote the well being of Enugu State in particular and Nigerian children in general.

On Transparency and Due Process, we found out that the Enugu State government does not believe in due process in procurement. Most projects in the state are allegedly executed with what they call ‘Direct Labour’ through the Project Development Inspection. Big time projects like the N13 billion new state secretariat under construction were allegedly awarded to Arab Contractors.

Anti-graft agencies are reportedly investigating the inflated cost of the project.   Former Accountant-General, Mrs Eunice Ugwu, who allegedly told the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), that the real project cost was N8 billion and not the N13 billion approved by the State Assembly, was reportedly demoted to Permanent Secretary of State Civil Service Commission.

The secretariat project was allegedly reduced from six to two storey-building, once the money was allegedly cleared into the account of Arab Contractors, and allegedly diverted. Respondents insisted that these damaging allegations should be probed, and any money diverted recovered.

On the key aspect of respect for the constitutional principle of Rule of Law, there were two sad situations: The question of chicken impeachment and another case involving a top government official, Mrs Ethel Nebo-Ezeabasili, who was said to have been illegally removed, for raising eyes brows over alleged shady deals involving some key figures in the current Enugu State Government.

It would be recalled that an Enugu High Court declared her removal unlawful and awarded a N10 million damages against the State and N100 thousand in costs. A permanent Secretary from Awgu/Aninri axis was also demoted to a deputy director, for refusing to sign as one of the ‘Stakeholders’ (PDP members in Chime’s government) media attack on Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

The poll equally sought opinion of Nigerians on the chicken impeachment: whether it was constitutional and in good faith; and how they rate Governor Chime on democratic credentials based on this and a plethora of examples. Most respondents were unanimous in rejecting the illegal and unconstitutional broad-day brigandage against democracy perpetrated by the near-rubber stamp State Assembly, in unseating the then deputy governor, who they also suspect to be closely linked to the Senator Ekweremadu.

Good governance does not thrive in an atmosphere of personality cult and ego trips. Democracy is all about checks and balances. But in Enugu State, the governor operates like an emperor; whomsoever that does not genuflect before him politically is seen to be against him. What are the human rights provisions under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, regarding the right of all citizens to participate constructively in the governance of their society?  

Under Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), that globally respected human rights instrument states: ‘Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.’ For the Enugu State governor to demonise all those citizens of that state that identify with the lawful activities of the person and office of the deputy Senate president is not only a flagrant breach of the Nigerian Constitution, but is also a wanton abridgement of the internationally guaranteed human rights under several binding international humanitarian laws.

These signals from the Enugu State Executive and Legislative arms of government are antithetical to the growth and advancement of democracy, respect for the human rights of citizens and respect for the principle of the rule of law, which are necessary ingredients for any sustainable democratic culture. Besides, the Igbo speaking people are reputable for their egalitarian and democratic credentials, even from ancient traditions. Therefore, it is shocking beyond comprehension that in this 21st century, political office-holders are abusing their official privileges and powers in carrying out diverse campaigns of calumny against perceived political opponents.

RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Wednesday 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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