Interestingly, the delicate issue of human rights has, over the years in Nigeria, resonated to a pitch that, today, one can comfortably adduce that more needs to be done for Nigeria to have a clean slate. A time was when a radical Afrobeat musician called Fela Kuti composed and sang a song titled “Human Right is My Property.”
At that time, the military held sway in government and the people were held to ransom, especially their human rights, which were trampled upon by every security agency. Once one was in uniform, it became a license to perpetrate evil. They infused a culture of non-adherence to human rights. People were forcefully coerced into hard labour without blinking an eye at the gross violation of their rights. Nigerians were arrested and tortured for strolling on the road at night. Robbers were tortured into submission just to extract information and for them to confess their culpability in criminal acts. Parents traded their children for a fee as house servants. Even the military were lords to every citizen. For merely looking at a soldier, one could be detained against his will. Jornalists were not spared, as many were unjustly jailed. The violation of the people’s rights reached its peak when, at police stations, suspects were manhandled and female suspects molested. Despite public outcry, these human rights violations persisted and the uniformed perpetrators roamed the streets like victors in the full glare of the intimidated members of the public.
However, with the change in governance from military to a democratic dispensation, there arose the need to take a second look at how the country had faired in upholding the rights of every citizen. The security agencies, especially the police and the military, became the first port of call. As leaders of these security institutions emerged, there were noticeable efforts to address this malaise and erase the mentality of human rights violations from the personnel. With the reports by local and international media and those of Transparency International, all summing up to help in putting pressure on each emerging government to take a serious look and address the issue of human rights abuses within the security agencies. The change mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari and the appointment of internationally-exposed leaders like the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, and the police boss, Ibrahim Idris, and Mr. Babandede of the Immigration Service immensely helped in curtailing, if not eradicating, every trace of human rights abuse among officers and men of these security institutions. Although the country has been waging war against terrorists like Boko Haram and other violent arracks that has opened up more fighting frontiers for the military, it is interesting to note thatcaptured members of the Boko Haram have most times been treated without abuse or violating their fundamental human rights. No doubt in every dozen there would definitely be a Judas. These Judases are from time to time marched to the military court for prosecution. This writer witnessed one of such court martial sessions at the premises of Operation Lafia Dole in Maiduguri. Leadership has a big role to play in the reformation and reorientation of erring personnel. General Buratai, from the first day in office, has shown that even terrorists have rights as human beings. At a seminar to comemorate this year’s Human Rights Day as it is observed every year on December 10 by the United Nations General Assembly that adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, “The Nigerian Army firmly believes that human rights are an essential component of our military operations. On this occasion of the 2017 International Human Rights Day, the Nigerian Army affirms its commitment to the protection and advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Even more evident is the olive branch of amnesty that was extended to members of Boko Haram who might be itching to extricate themselves from the yoke of terrorism. These are very laudable steps by the military.
On the part of the police, the recent public uproar that went viral on the social media tagged #EndSARS places a dent on the efforts of the IGP to stop rights abuse on members of the public by the police. Maybe the word “Force” attached to the name “Nigeria Police,” should be erased and left as Nigeria Police. The word “Force” seems like an opium that intoxicates the junior officers who are the main defaulters of violation of people’s fundamental rights. Nigerians are looking forward to the day when an armed robbery suspect is not tortured or extra-judicially handled but is interrogated mildly and information extracted. Nigerians are looking forward to the day when a complainant would be offered a cup of tea after dilvulging information, instead of the unfriendly faces of the police. Nigerians are looking forward to the day when no member of the public would be forced to pay for bail, which the police always say is free. Nigerians await the day when interrogators would not be forceful neither would the the police demand for bribe from innocent citizens. Accordingly, that is when every policeman would have imbibed that human rights is simply “the inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being,” and which are “inherent in all human beings” regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status.