- The need for the country to ensure that it protects the rights of its citizens was highlighted by stakeholders recently. The event provided ample opportunity to the National Human Right Commission, to explain some of its activities, writes MAGDALENE UKUEDOJOR
The National Human Rights Commission was established in 1995 in furtherance to Nigeria’s constitutional treaty and diplomatic obligations for the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights in Nigeria. Specifically, the commission was established by the Federal Government as a direct response to the resolution of the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993.
In the conference, member states of the UN were asked to establish and strengthen national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights in their various countries. Since the commission was established in Nigeria more than twenty years ago, observers note that it has recorded giant strides in the fight for the actualisation and observance of fundamental human rights in the country.
Prof. Ben Angwe, Executive Secretary of the commission, noted that there was significant growth in the nature and number of complaints that came to the commission from all parts of the federation. He said at the inauguration of the commission’s 20th anniversary in Abuja recently that it was a milestone worth celebrating for its dedicated and determined vision to earn public trust and legitimacy.
“In the year 2015 alone, the commission received more than 308, 000 complaints from the public.
“In addition to the central complaint treatment system, the commission authorised a number of inquiries to investigate grave violations of human rights monitored in different parts of Nigeria,’’ he said. He also stated that the commission delved into public inquiry of the popular killings of some squatters in an uncompleted building in Gudu/Apo District of the FCT; an encounter that involved internal security agencies.
“It has pioneered inquiry into various demolitions and forced evictions and has recently ordered investigation into a clash between a religious group and the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff on Dec. 13in Zaria,’’ he said.
For the benefit of hindsight, the commission has continued intervention through special monitoring of human rights situation in the North East and parts of North West and North Central of Nigeria since the escalation of insurgency in 2011.
The commission, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders such as UNDP and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, has trained and deployed 310 protection monitors to the affected states such as Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, Nassarawa, Plateau, Benue and the Federal Capital Territory.
Angwe said the commission on the platform of its Public Interest Litigation Programme in partnership with the Nigerian Bar Association, had assigned more than one thousand cases to legal practitioners. According to him, the lawyers had filed class action suits for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of awaiting trial inmates in Nigerian prisons on the basis of pro bono (for the public good) in various courts across the country.
He said that the programme had yielded desired results as many courts across the country released many awaiting trial inmates and awarded damages in their favour. In the area of prison audit which is the commission’s flagship programme, he said it had progressed from the initial periodic annual audit of prisons to daily monitoring exercise.
“It has also expanded its reach of audits to other detention facilities across the states of the federation to cover facilities managed by all law enforcement agencies.
“The commission now monitors agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Services, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Army, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps on daily basis,’’ he said. He noted further that the commission had grown from the initial six offices in the six geo-political zones to having offices in 24 states of the federation.
Stakeholders at the inauguration noted that the commission’s activities had increased its visibility with the attendant increased access to its services by the citizens. According to them, the commission is a strong national platform for the effective promotion and protection of human rights of all persons in Nigeria.
Angwe also opined that “the commission as a respected and credible voice on human rights in national and international arena, has served as an authoritative channel for human rights information and records.
“From a small beginning with few ad hoc staff in a few rooms at the National Assembly, the commission has grown and matured to be a formidable institution with tremendous national and international reckoning. In line with the expanded mandate, the commission has been restructured and repositioned to perform at the optimum.
“It is providing institutional linkages, quality representation and valued participation at various international engagements for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms’’. He said that many African countries, including The Gambia which just concluded a study tour of the commission, had also sought to adopt the Nigerian model in their bid to establish their national human rights institutions.
He, nonetheless, expressed concern about the conditions of detention facilities at the various offices of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and the rising cases of ungazetted places of detention, noting that these could disrespect human rights in Nigeria.
Expressing similar concern, Mrs Funmi Falana, a lawyer and wife of Human Rights Activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said “the use of state machinery to harass whistle blowers and critics of public officers and private citizens is illegal and unconstitutional.
“It is pertinent to remind the police and the anti-graft agencies that as far back as 1983, the right of the Nigerian people to criticise public officers was upheld by the Court of Appeal’’.
She observed that in spite of the avowed commitment of the government to put an end to the systematic abuse of powers by the police and other security agencies, rights were continually infringed. She, therefore, urged the Federal Government to fight corruption, end impunity, and uphold the respect for the rights of all persons under the rule of law.(NAN)