Jonathan's administration and human rights - National Mirror

By The Citizen

Nigeria will today join the rest of the world to mark Human Rights Day. The United Nations General Assembly, in 1950, proclaimed December 10 of every year as Human Rights Day to draw global attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. The UDHR itself is a declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10 1948 at Palais de Chaillot, Paris. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.

In Nigeria, however, despite official claims to the contrary, there are tell-tale signs that the government of President Goodluck Jonathan has not performed satisfactorily in the sphere of respect for human rights; even when the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a government agency that ought to champion the protection of the rights of Nigerians, is in place. The United States' 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices', 2012, for example, recently pinpointed pervasive impunity and corruption in the government of President Jonathan. 'Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government', a portion of the report stated. It accused the nation's security services of perpetrating killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, and destruction of property. 'During the year, Joint Task Forces (JTFs), composed of elements of the military, police and other security services, conducted raids on militant groups and criminal suspects in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Kogi, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto and Yobe states, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries to alleged criminals, militants, and civilians', the report said. It also recognised killings and bombings by the Boko Haram sect, kidnappings and other attacks throughout the country, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries, and widespread destruction of property as some of the most serious human rights problems in Nigeria in 2012.

President Jonathan, however, in an interview with newsmen in Paris, France, shortly before his departure to Nigeria at the end of a two-day summit on peace and security in Africa, recently, said reports of human rights abuses by the JTF were over-blown by the media and that most of the reported torture and killings were carried out by the Boko Haram group and not the military. 'The issue of human rights abuses is blown out of proportion. Whenever they have major encounter, Boko Haram destroy at will, they kill at will, some of these destructions that are being ascribed to the Nigerian Army are actually by the Boko Haram sect'', he said

But the Boko Haram insurgence and military presence in parts of the North and elsewhere aside, civil society groups, particularly the Kaduna-based 'Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria' led by Shehu Sani, have summarised worsening human rights violations under the Jonathan administration to include the cruel use of state security apparatus to intimidate striking university teachers and brutally suppress their right to protest, as was evident in the University of Abuja and Bayero University, Kano; security attack on newly employed school teachers in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital; repressive crackdown on the leadership of the G7 governors, thus denying them their right to freedom of assembly, as well as persistent threats to demolish offices and residence used for their gatherings; withdrawal of security details from entitled elected public office holders for expressing dissenting views and perpetuating the presence of the military on the streets and the misuse of such institution to molest, intimidate, traumatize and humiliate Nigerians at check points.

Others are escalating incidents of arbitrary arrests, search and detentions by non-civil forces; use of political party machinery to blackmail, intimidate and emasculate critical political voices; increasing use of security excuses to deny Nigerians the right to protest; use of sponsored machineries in form of youths and women groups to defame and malign critics; grounding and threats of decertification of planes used by dissenting state governors; unlawful demolition of houses on security grounds; arbitrary and massive deportation of nationals of other African nations on security grounds and the sacking of ministers for political reasons, among others. Indeed, all these are of public knowledge. They are glaring infractions of human rights that the President needs to also defend. For, it is not sufficient for a government to mouth its reverence for human rights. A government's actions and body language speak volumes about its respect for, or intolerance of human rights. The Jonathan government should reflect on the foregoing, particularly on a day like this, and make amends.