HUMAN RIGHTS: The American Verdict By Emmanuel Onwubiko

OPINION

In what has now become an annual ritual, Nigeria has once more scored a not so disappointing low in the observance of respect for the fundamental rights of the citizenry in the latest of the many global reports about the country in the current dispensation.

Mark my words- ‘not so disappointing’. This is because the knowledge that the respect to the human rights of Nigerians by successive administrations and most especially the current one has always been abysmal and horrendous is not in doubt. It is a notorious fact that on the average, ten Nigerians usually have their fundamental rights violated in every hour of the day. The general breakdown of law and order in some parts of Nigeria marked by armed attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen and other armed freelance killers is a graphic account that tells Nigerians that their most sacred of human right which is Right to life is violated with impunity and the security forces are so gravely compromised to an extent that it is usually after Nigerians are killed that the supposed law enforcement authorities are woken up from slumber to chase after these long escaped mass killers. So the report on human rights by the US department of state can be said to be so politically correct and too diplomatic to a notorious extent that the writers overlooked and never captured many of the cases of horrendous human rights violations that took place last year.

The report being talked about is the year 2017 human rights report on Nigeria published by the influential United States department of state. The Department is the Independent Coordinating Institution on all external affairs between the world’s strongest democracy and the rest of the world.

The highlights of this report which came out some few days back stated in black and white that the general climate of corruption that pervaded the Nigerian state in the last decades has not changed and that impunity, lack of transparency and large scale theft of public fund by government officials have become unprecedented. These are factual claims. Not long ago the Secretary to the government of the Federation Mr. Babachir Lawan was indicted of massive multimillion Naira fraud in the administration of the internally displaced people’s intervention fund even as the current management of the National Emergency Management agency is accused of the theft of over N19 billion belonging to the agency. NEMA stinks of corruption, managerial incompetence, contract scams and a general climate if inefficiency to an extent that the vehicles and the helicopter hitherto deployed in emergencies have all broken down due to financial misappropriation and gross incompetence. The Nigerian National Petroleum corporation is engrossed in high wire corruption amounting to over $26 billion as alleged by the minister of state for petroleum in a memo he did to the President which has been swept under the carpets. The minister of communications Mr. Shittu has been accused by his ex-media assistant of multimillion Naira theft of public fund and purchases of choice housing estates in the last two years he was made a minister from his hitherto near poverty stricken conditions as a struggling Ibadan based Lawyer unknown for any significant legal clientele. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is selectively chasing after political opponents of President Muhammadu Buhari and has overlooked the crimes committed by members of the political party that produced the current President. These issues are all captured in this 48 pages report of human rights of Nigeria by the American government.

The report also addressed the all-important issue of the notoriety of the operatives of the armed security forces to inflict torture, physical violence and ultimately, the extra-legal executions of suspects in lawful or unlawful custody of these security forces. As the report is being circulated the Army has just destroyed Naka community in Benue state after one of her operatives was killed by armed hoodlums. This destruction led to the death of two persons who were burnt to death when the soldiers went on rampage in the community that they are paid to defend. How can the minister of Justice Abubakar Malami speak against this report even in the face of all these cases? Was the justice minister himself appeared and indicted by the house of Representatives for influencing the recall of a fugitive and dismissed director of pensions back to the ministry of interior Abdulrasheed Maina even when the EFCC declared him wanted?

The trending issues of the unresolved large scale extra-legal murder by security forces of the unarmed members and sympathizers of the now proscribed indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) and the members of the hitherto Zaria, Kaduna state based Islamic movement of Nigeria got extensive mention.

The United States department also scolded Nigerian government for the brazen disobedience of binding court orders in the matters involving the erstwhile National Security Adviser- Colonel Sambo Dasuki and the illegally detained leader of the Shiites Islamic Movement Mr. Ibrahim El Zaclzacky. Is the justice minister not a party in the suits which resulted in the handing down of the bail orders by the Federal high courts to the duo who are still being detained against the binding orders of the competent court of law? The American verdict on this sort of governmental rascality and impunity is accurate.

The report then dovetailed into the disturbing issue of lack of independence and the much talked about corruption in the judiciary and focused extensively on the issue of lack of transparency in the administration of state based judicial institutions coupled with incessant allegations of bribery of judges. This is true. The National judicial Council had recently dismissed corrupt judges from service and some are undergoing public prosecution.

On the unending issue of extra judicial killings, the American government rightly stated as follows:

“The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property”

The Americans noted that civilian detentions in military facilities were often based on flimsy evidence; just as they pointed out other areas of infringements of rights to include, denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, trafficking in persons; early and force marriages; criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labor.

Although the US government acknowledged that The Nigerian government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but affirmed rightly that fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violation, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government were observed.

“Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power”, the report emphasized.

But there is a salient point which this report focused upon which Nigeria has persistently failed to address and this is related to the poor conditions of the Nigerian prisons. So why is any sane person criticizing this well thought out report from persons who have nothing to gain by framing up the Nigerian state?

The year 2017 human rights country report on Nigeria by the American government indeed painted the graphic pathetic picture of the dilapidated nature of the prisons and the high death rate of inmates due to poor environment. Have we not seen photos of prison inmates who were looking so malnourished, sickly and emaciated? These gory photos of terribly maltreated prison inmates trended on the popular social media platform not long ago.

The report by the U.S. government noted that Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening.

“Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to torture, gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government often detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system.”

Addressing the dilapidated physical Conditions of Nigerian prisons the report noted that overcrowding was a significant problem.

It significantly affirmed that although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of June they held 68,259 prisoners. These figures are factually correct going by officially published statistics known to most researchers in Nigeria.

The report noted accurately that approximately 68 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded and that as of January there were 1,225 female inmates.

“Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. In 2013 the Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) reported there were 847 juvenile inmates in juvenile detention centers, but prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults.”

“Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death”.

The report stated that guards and prison officials reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison even as female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.

“Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions”.

The report stated a very notorious fact that disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies.

It continued thus: “Inadequate medical treatment caused many prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. In April the Lagos State Controller of Prisons stated that 32 inmates died in 2016 in a single Lagos prison due to lack of access to medical care.”

They noted that the House of Representatives confirmed that more than 900 inmates died in prisons across the country in 2016 due to severe lack of drugs and health care.

It says although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. There were no reliable statistics on the total number of prison deaths during the year.

“Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates often relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison officials, police, and other security force personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money”.

“In general, prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–many of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons”.

“The NGO Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)-Nigeria reported children in some cases remained with their inmate mothers up to at least age six. While the total number of children living in prison with their mothers was unknown, CURE-Nigeria’s April survey of 198 of the country’s approximately 1,225 women inmates found more than 30 women with children in just three prisons.”

“Approximately 10 percent of survey respondents reported they were pregnant. Results of surveys of women and children in prisons conducted by CURE-Nigeria revealed many children in custody did not receive routine immunizations, and authorities made few provisions to accommodate their physical needs, to include hygiene items, proper bedding, proper food, and recreation areas. According to its March 2016 report, female inmates largely relied on charitable organizations to obtain hygiene items”.

Little wonder that the owner of Microsoft Mr. Bill Gates did not shock Nigerians when he noted with regret that Nigeria is the most dangerous places for babies to be born.

The report however left out a great body of the most grievous human rights violations meted out against babies which is likened to slavery. The phenomenon of baby factories have assumed disturbing. Nigerians in their thousands are fleeing from terror attacks by boko haram terrorists and the armed Fulani herdsmen who have combined to kill over 30,000 innocent Nigerians in the last 3 years. This exodus of Nigerians wasn’t captured in the American report. Nigeria is in an emergency human rights situations demanding comprehensive solution that must be constitutionally influenced. Those who commit horrendous genocides must be arrested and made to face the full weight of the law. Nigeria is sliding into a state of civil war so the government must never allow this to happen. Sadly, the government officials live in denial of these obvious facts and don’t seem to possess the political will to bring about a quick, decisive and effective solutions to these crippling challenges to our human rights.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) andblogs@www.emmanuelonwubiko.com,www.huriwanigeria.com.

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