The Executive Arm of Government in Nigeria has allegedly consistently violated the fundamental rights of the citizenry “as guaranteed under section 34 and 35 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.” Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, cases of Human Rights’ abuses are alarming. Little wonder, the US government accused the administration in Nigeria especially security agencies for widespread use of torture during prosecution although the law of the land forbids it.
The detention of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) in disregard of four court injunctions is worth recalling. Even the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and other international bodies tried to intervene with little success. The enactment of the Executive Order No. 006 by the Buhari led administration as a legislation which permits security agencies to freeze assets of individuals who are standing trial without recourse to the court is a another case in point. The recent freezing of EndSARS protester’s accounts is another example.
In its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017,” the US Department of State allegedly indicted the Buhari administration over its reluctance to properly investigate and prosecute allegations of abuses by members of the armed forces and top officials. There were violent responses to peaceful protesters as evident in the crackdown on the agitators of Independent State of Biafra (IPOB) by the military. In Abuja and Kaduna, there were also clashes between the police and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) who were demanding for the release of their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaki. Three of Zakzaky’s sons were said to have been killed in July 2014.
Between December 12 and 14, 2015, the Nigerian Army reportedly killed about 348 Shiites. In April 2016, Amnesty International disclosed that 30 members of the sect were killed. The government failed to investigate or hold individuals responsible for the 2015 killings and mass burial of members of Shia group IMN and other civilians by the Nigerian Army in Zaria. While the disappearance of members of anti-government groups such as IPOB and IMN is frowned at, the Directorate of State Services (DSS) is blamed for the arbitrary abduction of persons opposed to the government. By the same token, Human Rights abuses and violations have been perpetrated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Police and Civilian Join Task Force (JTF) in the north eastern part of the country.
Lawmakers have had their fair share of trouble with the government in power. For instance, Senator representing Abia South Senatorial District, Enyinnaya Adaribe was allegedly whisked away by a detachment of DSS while on a function at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja and kept incommunicado at a detention facility for five days. That is not all, there are allegations of inadequate provision of security for courts which undermines the independence of the judiciary and exposes many judicial officers to violent attacks. In Rivers State for instance, some armed bandits attempted to overawe court officials when they stormed the Rivers State Judiciary Complex and killed scores of people.
The government is also accused of taking unfavourable unilateral decisions in direct contravention of Section 80 of the 1999 Constitution. The Senate made a case that the release of $496 million from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the purchase of 12 Super Tucano aircraft from the US government without the approval of the National Assembly. In 2017, the Nigeria Police raided the head office of Premium Times in Abuja and whisked the newspaper’s publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi and judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu over a story which involved the army and its operations. 10 journalists and bloggers were also reportedly arrested by the Buhari regime. Among these cases was that of Austin Okai, a blogger who was arrested for circulating news about Yahaya Bello’s purported inflation of contracts to purchase cars and that of three journalists of Channels TV, Silverbird TV and AIT who were attacked and arrested by officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
There is also the case of Aminu Nurudeen, a reporter with Voice of Liberty who went into hiding after he was invited by the Kano State Police Command over former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idri’s video went viral. The situation is worrisome because the administration’s Human Rights index is poor. Fingered as a country where journalists are killed and the killers walk free, the 2015 rating indicated that Nigeria ranked 13th worst country in the world; however, by 2017, the country had moved two points higher. While heavy fines are slammed on radio and television houses by the National Broadcasting Commission in an attempt to muzzle the media, there is undue pressure on media houses especially electronic media.
Instead of employing the relevant government agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and the Related Commission (ICPC) to forward alleged cases of bribery, corruption and other such anomalies to the courts, the government seems content with media-trial. EFCC appears as the worst culprit. Most times, before a case is taken to court, those involved are found guilty in the court of public opinion. Sadly, the media celebrates these issues without proper investigation.
The invasion of the National Assembly twice did not go down well with Nigerians. The first attack on the Hallowed Chambers was when suspected sponsored thugs invaded the Chambers of the Parliament and stole the mace. The culprits are yet to be fished out and punished. The Parliament was also invaded and forcefully sealed by men of the Secret Service under the instruction of the Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura who was later relieved of his duties.
President Buhari seems content with ruling based on wimps and caprices rather than rule of law. To reverse the trend, he needs to protect human rights, guarantee press freedom, ensure that those who violate human rights are brought to justice and reawaken the anti-graft agencies. Respecting human rights everywhere is in the interest of nation-building. It also increases the integrity of a nation before the international community. The government of the day should lead by example. It is hoped that the anti-torture bill which was signed by President Buhari would bring the much-needed respite for incessant cases of human rights abuses across the country. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.