The 2017 human rights country report by the United States was published last week and it incorporated a 48-page report on Nigeria, which was critical in several parts, damning in some parts, and actually alarming in others. The report is an assessment by the American State Department of the State of human rights and governance in Nigeria. The report does not enjoy worldwide popularity but it is often a required reading for investors and tourists.
Officials of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration may not find the report flattering. But the report is more like a mirror with which to see the country as others see us, as different from our own self-perception. For instance the report asserted that civilian authority did not always maintain effective control over the security services; that there are 1.8 million internally displaced Nigerians; and that 205,000 refugees are taking shelter in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The report noted that all Nigerian prisons are over 70-80 years old, are overcrowded and prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. It reiterated that 69 per cent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial because of “shortage of judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia…” Many cases are adjourned because the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Prison Service did not have vehicles to transport accused persons to court. The damning practices contained in the report include extra-judicial and arbitrary killings, disappearances and arbitrary detentions, looting, destruction of property, civilian detention in military facilities often based on flimsy evidence, denial of fair public trial, torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse, and executive influence on the judiciary. These excesses are still shocking, even though organisations like the Amnesty International have harped on them in recent past.
One of the most shocking findings in the report was the fact that the much celebrated Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 prohibits torture, and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. The only rational interpretation of such a colossal omission is that the legislature merely wanted a window dressing, something to show to the world without any intention of curbing the malfeasance.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that that our police stations have become notorious torture chambers, our military detention centres are dungeons for human suffering. These atrocities perpetrated in the name of Nigeria go unreported and when reported, go unheeded by the Ministry of Justice which let them pass unprosecuted, unpunished and continue as if they are normal. Yet we know these are against every tenet of civilisation and humane conduct. Equally scandalous is the fact that only seven states – Anambra, Cross River, Ekiti, Enugu, Lagos, Ondo, and Oyo – out of 36 have adopted the ACJA. The Ministry of Justice established a National Committee Against Torture but denied it any legal, operational independence, and funding, thus preventing it from carrying on its work effectively. The report noted that National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has virtually become a window dressing having not released an audit report since 2012.
The report observed that there are no political prisoners and detainees and those persons arrested for treason years ago are still in detention. It also noted that there is no anti-Semitism in Nigeria. But it noted that the Shi’ites are denied freedom of assembly and that several states enacted laws restricting their activities. The Shi’ites, a minority Muslim group, have had a raw deal since 2015 when scores of them they were allegedly killed in a confrontation with the Nigerian Army. They were accused of obstructing the way of the Army Chief. Their leader, Mohammed El Zakzaky, has since then been detained without trial.
In January 2017, the Police raided the offices of the Premium Times, an online newspaper, and arrested Editor, Dapo Olorunyomi, and Reporter Evelyn Okakwu. The paper’s crime was that it stood by its story concerning the Nigerian Army and its operations, which the
Chief of Army Staff’s office found defamatory.
The report found that corruption has continued unabated, thereby corroborating the report of Amnesty International on the same issue. The government should take the report seriously, especially since the fight against corruption is one of the three cardinal missions of this government, the plank and promise that pushed it to power. The fire in anti-corruption is waning. The government must find a way to reignite it because it is a fight, which most Nigerians believe in. It must not be allowed to fail.