Sunday, June 19, 2016

Has anyone seen Mr. Buhari’s Human Rights Map?

A lot of my friends on social media have accused me that I do not like our beloved president. But really I like the man. If nothing good is bad about him and if nothing bad is good about him, one thing stands out very clearly: the man is riding on the back of a tiger and he would never come down from that tiger. What I mean is that he would not steal our monies and those under him who came with the mindset of stealing public funds better go look for another job. Yet, I understand why some of my friends arrogate such an unfortunate emotion to me. At the heat of the 2015 general elections I was among those who believed that General Buhari would still be a General Buhari even though he would later, like an Emperor or an Emir, take a title which would somehow try to launder his image as a former dictator with a stiff neck. I believed then as I still do now that the times and seasons wherein he was an emperor of Nigeria, ruling with a Supreme Military Council have gone forever. The real change, from military to civilian government, in Nigeria took place in 1999. And with that change, all the appurtenances of dictatorship were supposed to collapse under a system wherein the soldier became subordinated to the adamant hypothesis of the rule of law. Yes while Mr. Buhari would be President, commander-in-chief, head of state and head of the party in power, he would never be able to reign and rule. I am not saying this out of malice or mischief but out of the reality that the very foundation of the government he runs as president and commander-in-chief is drastically antithetical to that which projected him as a Nigerian Moses.

In a democracy, leadership comes with what some students I hobnob with call ‘packaging’. It’s a mixed bag akin to the Machiavellian doctrine of benevolent dictatorship.  The commander-in-chief must not just be a lion with the cunning of a fox; he has to know that there are hyenas and tigers and leopards lurking around. He has to know how to relate with them. He has to build a network, and develop a followership among the grassroots. Yes, Mr. Buhari is the new Sheriff in town but he would have to realize that there are other Sherriffs in the legislative and judicial arms in the government that he is said to run. And yes, he has taken a title of civility and given the impression that he now lives on Civvy Street, but that would be far from reality. His administration has continued with impunity and abuse of human rights of his years as head of state, and which has characterized civilian governments since 1999. All of these are the things I saw from the onset, and which led me to predict that a General Buhari may succeed with dispensing justice of the jungle, and rule via fiats and decrees; but a Mr Buhari would never be able to do so in a democracy.

With the dawn of Democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the expectation was that the culture of impunity and abuse of human rights perpetrated under the jackboots of the military had died naturally. But with this great expectation come great disappointment. Rather than decrease, the culture of impunity worsened. Justice is one of the tripods upon which humanity stands. Yet that stand was strongly challenged by the September 2013 case of the Apo Eight who were mowed down mercilessly when security operatives raided their shack on the allegation that they were Boko Haram. It only turned out these Nigerians were homeless. They were unable to afford the high cost of accommodation in Abuja, FCT. Three years after they were killed, justice only got served recently. Prior to this on July 27, 2012, yet another instance of blatant impunity and abuse of fundamental human rights occurred in the case of the Rev. David Ugolor who was framed by the Nigerian Police as the mastermind in the dastardly assassination of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, Principal Private Secretary to the Edo state governor Adams Oshiomhole. Instead of pursuing the murderers of Comrade Olaitan, the Nigerian Police locked up Rev. Ugolor for 41 days in three different inhuman detention facilities, doctored and cooked up evidence with which to implicate Rev. Ugolor. When he was eventually brought before a court of competent jurisdiction, and released unconditionally on September 11, 2012, the court ordered the Police to pay him N5million as damages. Up till date the police have not paid the Rev Ugolor, but have spent more than that amount with litigation to appeal the decision of the court. 

An autopsy report obtained by Sahara Reporters detailed the summary and brutal execution in 2015 of one Benson Ogedengbe, a vigilante leader in Delta State on the orders of a Lt.Col Umar of the 19th Battalion stationed at Koko Military Base in the Oghara area of Delta State. According to Sahara Reporters Mr. Ogedgebe was pursued by soldiers and forced off the road. “Five military men came out of the vehicle and started giving orders and at that moment they beat him mercilessly. They treated him not as a human but as an animal. They shot him directly in his tummy. The guy was lying down lifeless on the ground’’, the report said. Ongoing investigations are shrouded in official secrecy.

In November 2015, the newly elected Nigerian government, together with Russia, China, Nigeria, Kenya, Myanmar and South Africa refused to sign a UN Resolution seeking to protect those who face risks to defend and promote human rights. It is impossible to ascertain whether or not this refusal to sign this resolution has anything to do with the escalation of rights abuses in Nigeria. But what is undoubted is the sharp rise in the number of rights abuses in Nigeria – the Agatu, the Nimbo, the recent beheadings of Christians in the North and the activities of Fulani herdsmen. And while it may be difficult to establish a connection between Nigeria’s refusal to recognize the UN Resolution with the rights abuses in Nigeria, it should not be difficult to ascertain that it set the tone of the very loud calls for the balkanization of Nigeria today. To the North-East, there is Boko Haram; to the South-South there are the Avengers; to the South East there are the MASSOB and IPOB; and while in the South West, the Afenifere are asking Mr. Buhari to review federal appointments skewed against the south-south.  

To resolve these abuses and unseat human rights abuses in Nigeria, I suggest that we must consider the Rev. Martin Luther King, who said that freedom from oppression is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. I want to encourage government to set up public defenders’ units in every local government area in Nigeria, akin to what the UN Resolution seeking to defend those who put their lives on the line for the human rights of Nigerians sought to achieve. Our beloved president, Mr. Buhari, as well must do all he can to set up machinery to look into all cases of economic and political infractions.

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is communications manager, ANEEJ, Benin City.