‘Activism’ as defined by the Webster on-line dictionary, is ‘a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue’. The area or aspect of activism that this paper considers is the ‘human rights’ aspect, as there are several ‘activism’ such as: political activism, environmental activism, among others. There are some persons who just pick up human rights activism perhaps just for the benefits of it or due to financial or economic pressures of the country, without any ‘vision’! These kinds of human rights activists are ‘self-imposed human rights activists’ and rather ‘human rights wreckers’! However, to me, I find human rights activism as a divine call to service for the good of humanity and a just society, hence this paper in order to in a way, correct some wrong notions surrounding the concept and the loss of ‘vision’ in some supposed human rights activists.
Of recent, my eyes caught a book cover with the title ‘The Principles and Powers of Vision’, written by Dr Myles Munroe. I know some of the readers of this paper would have read it too. I also hereby recommend it for a guide to readers who have not read it. In the preface to this book, at page 11, it was stated thus ‘Vision is the source and hope of life. The greatest ever given to mankind is not the gift of sight, but the gift of vision. Sight is a function of the eyes; vision is a function of the heart. ‘Eyes that look are common, but eyes that see are rare’. Nothing noble or noteworthy on earth was ever done without vision. No invention, development, or great feat was ever accomplished without the inspiring power of this mysterious source called vision’. It is then true as stated by the author at page 21 that ‘God has placed within each person a vision that is designed to give purpose and meaning to his life’! Furthermore, this author stated at page 28 of his book thus ‘Every human being was created to accomplish something specific that no one else can accomplish. It is crucial for you to understand this truth: you were designed to be known for something special. You are meant to do something that will make you unforgettable. You were born to do something that the world will not be able to ignore’. It is also said that your gift will make way for you to achieve your vision. Most instructive too, the author stated at page 31 of the book thus ‘I have observed firsthand the truth of this statement, paraphrased from John Stuart Mill: One person with vision is greater than the passive force of ninety-nine people who are merely interested in doing or becoming something. Most people have an interest in their destinies, but they have no passion or drive to fulfill them. They don’t really believe the dreams God has put in their hearts. If they do believe them, they don’t do the things that will take them in the direction of fulfilling them. Yet that is what separates the people who make an impact in the world and those who just exist on the planet’. It is also true as stated by the author at page 31 of the book that ‘When you discover your vision, it will give you energy and passion’. Lastly, there is another quote from the author which is made at page 34 of the book thus ‘If you do things in a halfway manner, you will probably always be able to find some sort of job, yet you are going to be simply a mediocre employee. It is when you decide that you’re going to find something that is truly yours that you will find your gift, fulfill your vision, and be remembered by others’.
I had said it before and I shall say it again here that the nature of human rights activism is such that there are lots of challenges in the path which are enough to discourage one from the path. Sometimes, one’s financial challenges and those of the victim (or if in the public interest, which attract no fee at all), are enough to discourage one from pursuing such goal. A human rights activist at a time or the other faces a lot of criticism and name-calling by some critics. Some would speak to intimidate, threaten, and tarnish his image, etc. In fact, some would call him a busy-body, intermeddler, etc. Some might even speculate and term him what he is not. Some might even call you a ‘serial blackmailer’! But all these are not enough to deter a human rights activist from the sacrilegious path because of his ‘vision’.
The human rights activism is never for satisfaction of personal interest rather the goal is satisfaction of the interest of the public; justice; national development; among others for the sake of God Almighty (so, those who do not know some of these attributes of human rights activism, pick unnecessary annoyance at any person who is out to sacrifice his own personal interest for the interest of all humanity). These are some of the challenges in the path. Nevertheless, there is the need for activists to always strategise in fulfilling their ‘vision’. There is need for every human rights activist to always apply ‘wisdom’ on the path of his activism! Much more important is the fact that whatever happens to one as an activist, there are those who are likely to suffer as spouse(s), family relative or friends. The attitude of any human rights activist to always prepare to be thrown into prison custody for his rascality and or confrontations with the powers that be in the State or someone in power, in my humble view, is a display of ‘cowardice’ and use of ‘wrong strategy’ as well as a ‘suicide mission’ on the part of the such human rights activist! Also, following the footstep of some who have suffered this repercussion of being thrown into the prison and brag with same is a way of loss and wrong followership in the path of human rights activism! I also view that where there is proper strategy in the mode of operation, I see no reason why a human rights activist should be arrested for his mode of operation in a democratic civil society. Also, it must be noted by activists that the fact that they are activists does not mean that they are free from arrest, prosecution etc., arising from their alleged illegal or unlawful or criminal conducts or misconducts, as no one is above the law.
Furthermore, human rights activists should learn from what has brought another activist into trouble and to generally consider the whole circumstances for their own progressive operation. So, in my humble view, with due respect, using personal interest, emotions, political influence as tools for activism is not a true activism rather it is a ‘disguise’. I would humbly recommend that human rights activists should strategize more in their roles and focus on their ‘vision’ and to always avoid confrontational approach or condemnation as a tool to generate result. I view that human rights activism should and does have a goal and modes of operation, especially, in a democratic system where the rule of law is the core principles and that no one is above the law, then, the legal tools should be used as a tool for an activist to always achieve his aim. Therefore, human rights activism in my humble view might generally be to: correct a government’s system; change a supposed bad government; protect the human rights of citizens; protest a grievance; etc. For all these mentioned categories, I would like to recommend a better style/strategy. In the case of correcting a government’s system, I view that this is in a way administrative in nature and therefore, human rights activists should endeavor to utilize those already laid down administrative laws and procedures to champion their cause, in which case, where the result expected is not got, then, the court of law can be resorted to and no one will query or arrest such an activist for utilizing these laid down procedures by law. Also, in the case of changing a supposed bad government, I view that this category goes in a way of electoral system. Therefore, human rights activists will have a lot to do at every election period in such a way that it has to carry out enough and convincing public sensitization to ensure that people elect those who have the interest of the people at heart and those who would work for social and economic justice as opposed to those tyrant, corrupt and oppressive candidates or individuals and to dissuade/convince against people’s perception of ‘pocket-politics (by receiving materials such as: money, clothes, etc., from the aspirants as they thereby sell their enjoyment and future’. The 2023 general elections are by the corner and now is the time for a human rights activist to profess his ‘vision’ as advised in this paragraph! In a democratic system, anything short of using election as a tool to change a government and in support of an undemocratic revolution is unlawful and likely to face counter-confrontation by the government to which the said activist would then be at the mercy of such supposed bad government for his freedom. Also, in the case of protecting the human rights of citizens, I view that this goes in a way of enforcement of human rights. Therefore, the provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, is there to be used to seek redress in the court of law where there is an allegation that the right of any person is being or has been or is likely to be contravened by any other person, in the court in that particular State where the alleged contravention has occurred or is occurring or is likely to occur. The National Human Rights Commission is also available as a protector of human rights of Nigerian citizens. Other human rights courts established by international laws are also good tools. So, I believe that there is no human rights activist that would be arrested or alleged to have committed an offence by using the institutions established by the law to champion his cause.
Finally, in the case of protesting a grievance, I humbly view that considering the facts that this category has to be handled with care, human rights activists must strategise and apply wisdom. This is because this category involves public display and could easily be taken over by some suspected criminals who could use the opportunity to commit unpreventable atrocities. So, it is no doubt that ‘protest’ is a right under the provisions of Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which guarantees the right to freedom of association (and to freely assemble) but not to cause breach of public peace. So, where a rally or protest is carried out in conformity with the security or orderliness of the public peace, then, no activist can be arrested for protesting. I must also add that activists should also always be legally guided as to the proper words or terminology to be used in utilizing his right to freedom of expression by his activism so that he does not implicate himself by his conducts even though he does not mean evil. There are some words or terminologies that if used could mean the negative or are ambiguous as to be easily be interpreted to mean the negative. These kinds of words should be avoided in use as a tool for activism.
Furthermore, I have observed that some human rights activists do not operate within the legal framework, especially those non-lawyers. This is so because they do not seem to always seek legal advice of legal practitioners or seek legal advice from some self-imposed human rights activist/lawyers on the entire focus and operation of a particular activism that they intend to embark upon until they find themselves in serious troubles. It then presupposes that every Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) must have at least a private legal practitioner (who is also an activist or a human rights activist and who shares the same like-mind as theirs) to always guide them in their proposed operation. This is also a form of strategy to adopt. I also start to query some offices in every such association where there is ‘Legal advisor/adviser’! Is it really a legal advisory?! Is a capable person being elected into such office?! These are questions to be answered and determined by the association. I also recommend that law firms that are owned by activists should be on the list of legal retainership of Non-Governmental Organisations.
Finally, having said the above, I am of the firm view that where those recommended strategies by this paper are given consideration and are adopted for a progressive operation, no human rights activist would be troubled and or arrested for any allegation of having committed an offence in the cause of fulfilling his ‘vision’. I therefore advise human rights activists to consider what this paper has recommended in the interest of social and economic justice. For being a ‘God-sent’ to humanity, is a divine ‘honour’! Sometimes too, they say ‘he who runs away from a battle is said to fight another day!’