AFRICAN BOAT PEOPLE VERSUS PEER REVIEW
Professor Bem Amgwe the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria (NHRC) and the sub-Chairman, codes and standards of the National Steering Committee on the 2nd peer review of Nigeria under the Africa Peer Review Mechanism graciously invited yours faithfully to attend a one day workshop on the African peer review standards and codes for the 2nd peer review of Nigeria which took place on May 4th 2015 in Abuja.
What struck me when I received this invitation was the fate of thousands of African migrants who have perished whilst attempting to escape to Europe through the rough and notorious Mediterranean specifically from the lawless Libya. These Africans branded by Western media as African boat people are running away from a range of man -made economic and political impediments in their African homelands. The situation of economic adversities in most African countries characterized by high youth unemployment, dysfunctional infrastructure and the high rate of crime including the vicious circles of impunity marked by mass killings are caused largely by poor leadership standards in Africa which these peer review mechanisms have failed to satisfactorily addressed and redressed.
The interrogatory that immediately hit my subconscious as yours faithfully planned to honour the invitation by Professor Amgwe aforementioned was ‘what really is the essence of the entire exercise of African peer review mechanisms if majority of Africans are fleeing the continent due largely to abysmal failure of Leadership and breakdown of law and order? This question on my mind was thrown at the Nigerian official Mr. Pius Otteh the Director of international law department of the Nigerian ministry of justice who stood in for the solicitor General of Nigeria but he spoke in favour of continuation of this processes and affirmed that what is needed is the creation of better and further sensitization so government officials are made aware of the duties and obligations imposed upon them by this peer review mechanism. But the funny fact that emerged from the first major paper delivered at that workshop us that most government officials from ministries that interface with some international bodies do sign treaties and instruments without a comprehensive comprehension of the imports of what they have signed in some of these global economic fora. For instance, Nigeria once acceded to the terms of World Trade Organisation but even before the ink used in signing the agreement could dry up the Nigerian Customs went ahead to enforce a ban on importation of some products covered under these sets of agreements signed by Nigeria which directly offends the terms of this commitment that Nigeria made at the World Trade Organisation ‘s treaty signing forum. Again, many government ministries are in the habit of failing to deposit copies of signed agreements with the office of the Federal Attorney General and minister of justice which is provided for by the National legislation governing international treaties and instruments.
Putting this African peer review mechanisms side by side with the emerging scenarios of Africans flooding into Europe through the risky venture of offering themselves to human traffickers in Libya at high costs who would in turn pack them like sardines inside derelict boats enroute Italy which most often experience shipwrecks with the consequential deaths of hundreds of these refugees in the high seas one can easily dismiss the African peer review mechanisms as African Leader’s peer deception gambit. Why we in Africa continue to engage in self deception by pretending to be complying to global best practices in matters of political governance whereas the opposite is the case is shocking.
For many years that this process started most African countries have witnessed cases of poor governance dominated by gross corruption that have rendered the economies of these countries incapable of engaging in proper and appropriate redistribution of their commonwealth. Because of economic corruption by most African leaders the required environment for self -fulfillment is no longer there thereby compelling many of the youth in their productive ages to seek for greener pastures in other continents of the World. It is a fact that nearly 80 percent of university graduates churned out yearly in Nigeria will not find jobs either in the public or private sectors.
This piece is basically an advocacy for a fundamental tinkering and restructuring of the entire gamut of the peer review mechanisms to ensure that the benefits are not only written in papers and kept in government offices but that the pragmatic impacts of the transparent implementation of the review process improves the living conditions of Africans so the ugly scenarios of African boat people will be checked. African youth will stay back in their countries and contribute meaningfully only if they are sure that the regime of impunity, lawlessness, arbitrariness, wanton looting of resources by government officials are brought under control and for the internal legal mechanisms of each African countries are brought to bear on any official that breaches the laws that protects transparency and accountability. Institution building in Africa is therefore imperative because there is just no way that the capital flight affecting many African countries through illicit financial transactions can be checked if the internal legal law enforcement institutions are not operationally and financially independent. For instance the Economic and Final Crimes Commission in Nigeria is usually impeded in carrying out its functions due largely to frequent political interference and lack of Leadership qualities on the part of the hierarchy.
From Wikipedia we learnt that the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is a mutually agreed instrument voluntarily acceded to by the member states of the African Union (AU) as a self-monitoring mechanism. It was founded in 2003.
The mandate of the APRM is to encourage conformity in regard to political, economic and corporate governance values, codes and standards, among African countries and the objectives in socio-economic development within the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
The 37th Summit of the Organisation of African Unity held in July 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia, adopted a document setting out a new vision for the revival and development of Africa—which was to become known as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
In July 2002, the Durban AU summit supplemented NEPAD with a Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance. According to the Declaration, states participating in NEPAD 'believe in just, honest, transparent, accountable and participatory government and probity in public life'. Accordingly, they 'undertake to work with renewed determination to enforce', among other things, the rule of law; the equality of all citizens before the law; individual and collective freedoms; the right to participate in free, credible and democratic political processes; and adherence to the separation of powers, including protection for the independence of the judiciary and the effectiveness of parliaments.
These steps ordinarily are salutary but the question that would reverberate whenever a dialogue session on the African peer review mechanisms comes up is why has Africa as a continent been unable to effectively guide against economic devastation of the member states by the political class? Why does African Union pay lip service to raising the issue of good governance deficit that afflict virtually 90 percent of their member States? Why are there no enforceable legal statutes to watch over member countries and stop the political leadership from misruling their countries and leading them into bankruptcy? Unless we address all these issues we will continue to delude ourselves and wallow in self pity in the guise of the so called African peer review mechanisms. Are we willing to change this process from a mere contraption to a working mechanism? Only a good response can stop the proliferation of African boat people flooding into Europe through irregular migration and creating global opprobrium for all of us who are Africans.
***Emmanuel Onwubiko, is Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria