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The concept of human rights is one which seems to be pertinent to almost, if not all sovereign states in the international system. Every person across the world is entitled to human rights. It has become a globally recognized and accepted notion that individuals possess certain definite political, civil, economic and social rights which governments have the duty and responsibility to protect and enforce such rights. Therefore the idea of human rights has relevance to all and sundry without distinction as regards race, ethnicity, color or language. The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria was established subject to the ratification of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution to foster the protection of human rights across the country.
This study adopted a descriptive survey research design. Ancillary to the qualitative research design, the survey research instrument which the researcher used to obtain data is in-depth interview. The National Human Rights Commission headquarters in Abuja (Metro Office) was selected as the centre of analysis out of 23 offices of the Commission across the country. As such, 10 senior officials in the Human Rights Commission headquarter in Abuja were interviewed in order to retrieve relevant data and information concerning the study.
The result showed that the commission has stood by the reasons of its establishment to promote and protect the rights of Nigerian peoples especially in recent years and the years under review. According to findings too, the challenges of the Commission in its endeavor are insufficient funds, inadequate amenities for effective performance, insecurity of staff, ignorance and illiteracy concerning human rights education, and lack of respect for the commission’s awards (judgments) by both citizens and the government.
Finally, this study expressed the inalienability of human rights to every individual across the world and specifically the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria to foster human rights protection across the country. Having investigated the challenges facing the Commission in its endeavor, recommendations on how to address the identified challenges were given.
Keywords: Human Rights, Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Violation, Human Rights Protection.
1.1 Background to the Study
Attempting to totally eradicate crime and corruption in any society of the world may seem abortive. The reason for this is not farfetched. Conflict is innate in man. This implies that every human being has the propensity to defend himself/herself when there is perceived threat to one‘s life. This suggests the reason why Coser (2006) argues that conflict is instinctual for us, so we find it everywhere in human society. Humans have the ability to be both aggressive and altruistic in behavior. However, the behavior shown depends on a host of developmental, social and circumstantial factors. There is violent conflict which may involve the use of arms. But there is also the conflict that we find in our daily lives and relationships. Coser sees conflict as a normal and functional part of human life, and believes that most social conflict is based on the unequal distribution of scarce resources. This altogether brings into lime light the idea of allocation of rights to every citizen cut across the globe to reduce conflict.
Every person the world over is entitled to human rights. It has become a globally recognized and accepted notion that individuals possess certain definite political, civil, economic and social rights which governments have the duty and responsibility to protect and enforce such rights, (National Open University of Nigeria Study Guide, 2014). Wright posits that these rights include the right to life, the right to an adequate standard of living, freedom from torture and other maltreatment, freedom of religion and expression, freedom of movement, the right to self-determination, the right to education, and the right to participation in cultural and political life, (Yusuf, 2014).
The history of human rights can be traced to past documents, particularly the Al-Risalah al-Huquq (659-713), Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution (1791). The idea of human rights in Nigeria dates back beyond the advent of colonial rule. Human rights and Fundamental freedoms were acknowledged in the traditional Nigerian societies. But the idea of rights was not conceived in the modern notion as we have it now. Such values as right to family, kin and clan membership, freedom of thought and conscience, speech, belief and association, right to enjoy private property and right to participate in governance of the affairs of the society were protected, (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2006). Subject to the fact that respect for human rights would engender peace both locally and internationally, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 48/134 of 20th December 1993 implored all her member states to establish National Human Rights Institutions relative to their environment, (National Human Rights Commission, 2007).
Through this medium, the National Human Rights Commission was established in Nigeria following the (NHRC) Act of 1995 which gained potency in 1996 to spring into action (although it was amended by the NHRC Act, 2010). The Act saddles the commission with the authority to deal extensively with human rights issues while taking into consideration the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It enforces its power by protecting the poor, weak and vulnerable, and other victims of human rights violation by offering free services which are supposed to be accessible to the public.
Series of incidents of human rights violation give the impression that the rights of the citizens are not adequately protected by the commission. Such violations of rights which include torture, extrajudicial killing, human trafficking, unlawful detention, and so on are noted in details in subsequent chapters. Before the new beginning of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, successive military regimes violated the rights of Nigerians without remorse. The height of violations of rights was observed during the military rule of Abacha (1993-1998) with the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni non-violent human rights activists, (Alka, 2011).
After the dawn of democracy, civilian leaders similarly violated the rights of citizens. Unlawful and extra-judicial killings, torture, cruel and inhuman treatments from the armed forces were meted out to citizens under the civilian rule. An example of such according to Animashaun (2013) is the case of Godwin Anuka, a bus driver who was shot by a police constable on the 2nd of March 2005, due to his refusal to bribe the police at the check point in Makurdi, Benue State. This act is however contrary to section 33 of the 1999 constitution on the right to life, which states that: “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, except in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria”
Despite the legal provisions concerning the enforcement of human rights, the situation in Nigeria continues to deteriorate as various issues of the same violations continue to occur. Over 50 years of independence, the Nigerian society continues to face varying violations of their basic rights. Therefore, this research was carried out in order to examine the role and efforts of the Human Rights Commission in the protection of the rights of Nigerian citizens as the constant violation of human rights are recorded daily in our societies. This was done through the utilization of secondary data (Qualitative Research) such as journals, articles, texts e.t.c concerning the discourse of this work from the internet and hard copy documents. To amplify the data and information received from the secondary source, interviews of human rights officials were conducted. As a guide to this study, John Locke’s theory of “Natural Rights” is adopted.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Human rights violation is a phenomenon that has somewhat become a pronounced tradition which results to a gross violation of human rights in the Nigerian. Adetoro & Omiyefa (2014) described human rights violations as becoming a culture of impunity in the country. These violations usually involve degrading and ill-treatments meted out on individuals who are supposed to be protected by the state. Ancillary to that, the researcher observes that violations of the rights to security and protection of life causes fear and insecurity in the Nigerian society. Important to note however, is that security is an important criterion for human existence and coexistence.
During the military era, little or no concern was given to human rights by the government. In the Fourth Republic however, democratic rule is governed by a constitution which entrenches human rights protection. Yet, violations of all sorts, both by criminal minded citizens and the state officials are being perpetrated with impunity. More than 400 people lost their lives to inter-communal conflict in Nigeria’s Middle Belt States and scores were rendered homeless from these clashes in 2013. The Middle Belt is a human geographical term designating the region of central Nigeria populated largely by minority ethnic groups and stretching across the country longitudinally. These include Kwara State, Kogi State, Benue State, Plateau State, Nasarawa State, Niger State, Taraba State, Adamawa State as well as the southern parts of Kaduna State, Kebbi State, Bauchi State, Gombe State, Yobe State and Borno State. The states specifically affected by the conflict were Benue State, Taraba State and Plateau State (Human Rights Watch, 2017).
Ancillary to this, the judiciary remained nominally free from interference and pressures from other branches of the government, but corruption did impede pursuit of justice. Poverty and corruption continued to afflict the oil-rich Niger Delta, while the weakness of anti-corruption institutions in government inhibited the realization of social and economic rights and the fair transparent functioning of the public and private sectors.
Even with the establishment of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and other human rights organizations in Nigerian, human rights violation of different forms (such as kidnapping, extrajudicial killing, unlawful arrest and detention, torture, human trafficking among others) are still recorded on daily basis. Horrific abuses in the northern part of the country by the Islamist militant group ‘Boko Haram’ and the Nigerian security forces’ heavy-handed response to this violence has dominated Nigeria’s human rights atmosphere over the years since 2013. In may 2013 for instance, Former President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency, which was extended for another three months in November in the three states (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe) where Boko Haram is most active. The emergency failed to put a stop to the atrocities and protect civilians. All these are crimes against humanity (Human Rights Watch 2017).
Compendiously, the level of human rights violation in Nigeria gives the country a bad reputation in the international system and altogether insecurity to the citizens at large.
1.3 Objective of the Study
The general objective of this study is to identify the challenges facing the Human Rights Commission in protecting the rights of Nigerian peoples within the years of 2011 and 2015. The specific objectives are to:
1. assess the contributions of the Human Rights Commission to the enhancement of human rights in Nigerian;
2. identify the challenges facing the Human Rights Commission in protecting the rights of Nigerian peoples;
3. examine the consequences of human rights violation on Nigerian societies; and
4. investigate the role of international community in protecting human rights in Nigeria.
1.4 Research Questions
1. How has the National Human Rights Commission contributed to the enhancement of human rights in Nigerian?
2. Are there challenges facing the human rights commission’s enforcement of human rights in Nigerian societies?
3. What consequences has the violation of human rights had on the Nigerian society?
4. How has the international community contributed to the enforcement of human rights in Nigeria?
1.5 Significance of the Study
The level of human rights violation in Nigeria has increased up to the point where it has become a culture which is practiced with impunity. Despite the existence and effort of the Commission on the fight for human rights protection in the country, the situation of human rights has still not changed much for the better. This is not to say that the Commission has not lived up to expectation. On the contrary, certain challenges hinder the effectiveness of the organization. Upon completion of this research, the challenges facing the National Human Rights Commission are identified and addressed with positive recommendations.
To the society at large, this research brings into fore the reasons why protection of human rights is imperative and encourages citizens to report cases that threaten their existence to the commission. This is expected to foster peace in the society. To academics, this research draws the attention of the public to the progress of crucial organizations in Nigeria, such as the National Human Rights Commission and how the organization has fared over the years under review. Also, the present situation and effort of the organization gives an insight to researchers to further investigate the viability of the commission. This is as an important tool for researchers who intend to work on the organization in future. Conclusively, on completing this research, suggestions and recommendations on how the commission should further pursue its course to the advantage of the society, and how the accessibility of the commission to the public can be made easy in order to engender peace and development in Nigeria as a whole were proffered.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This study involves the investigation of the challenges facing the Human Rights Commission in its endeavor to protect the rights of citizens in the country. It covered the effort of the Commission in respect of various violations of the fundamental human rights of the Nigerian citizenry ranging from the period of 2011 to 2015. This time frame was chosen particularly to assess the viability of the commission in recent years since the phenomenon is an ongoing one. The study focuses basically on the Commission which has 23 offices across the country. However, the headquarter in Abuja (also known as Metro Office) was selected as the centre of analysis in this research.
1.7 Operational Definition of Terms
Human Rights: are described as the universal fundamental rights which individuals of every state are entitled to irrespective of their race, religion, ethnicity or sex. The most important of which are “Right to life” and “Right to physical safety” because, without these two rights, it is almost impossible to enjoy other rights. Human rights in this research are also referred to as rights, natural rights, fundamental rights or basic rights.
Human Rights Violation: To violate human rights is to deny people their fundamental moral entitlements and so treat them as if they are less than humans that do not deserve respect and dignity (Michelle, 2003). It may involve treating man in a cruel, unfair and/or violent way. This term is otherwise referred to as human rights abuse.
Human Rights Commission: is referred to in this study as an institutionary body of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is saddled with the responsibility of enforcing and promoting the notion of human rights and also to protect the fundamental rights of the peoples of the country. In this work, the Human Rights Commission is also referred to as ‘the Commission’.
Human Rights Protection: To protect human rights is to ensure that citizens receive some reasonable degree of humane treatment without discrimination. This invariably means that the fundamental rights of citizens are safeguarded, and as such, these rights are not taken away.
1.8 Plan of the Study
This research has a five-chapter report. The first chapter includes background to the study, statement of the problem, objectives of the study, research questions, significance of the study, scope and limitations of the study, operational definition of terms, and plan of the study. Chapter two reviewed relevant literature related to the origin of human rights and its establishment in the Nigerian system. It contains the types of rights human possess. Some Civil Society Organizations that encourage human rights are made known. The dimension of the international community concerning human rights was discussed too. Chapter two also examines the nature of human rights violations in Nigeria and a theoretical framework of the study. The third chapter of the research encompasses methodology of the study. That is, the adoption of qualitative research method. It also contains an interview schedule alongside questions to be posed at the interviewees. Ethical consideration also featured in this chapter.
Chapter four presents purposive questions for the research and discussion of findings from the field. Chapter five encompasses summary of the work, conclusions and recommendations.
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