The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations (UN) has accused Nigeria under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari of not doing enough to stem the high level of corruption, killings, human rights violations among others by various agencies of government.
This was contained in a report released at the conclusion of its review of the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Nigeria.
The UN also queried the Federal delegation led by the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Amb. Audu Ayinla Kadiri, on the killings of members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) popularly, acknowledged and known as Shiites.
The Committee Experts, Chaired by Ahmed Amin Fathalla, stressed that the purpose of the meeting was to find common ground so that the committee may formulate recommendations aiming to help the Government to move forward.
On liberty and security of persons, Experts sought clarifications on arrests carried out in the absence of a warrant and the related regulations and safeguards. Lengthy pre-trial detentions remained a problem, and information on this matter was needed.
Experts requested assurances that all religious minorities enjoyed freedom of religion, in all states, as the Committee had received reports about Christians in northern states who faced discrimination. How did the Government respond to hate speech and incitements to violence? It was good that Nigeria had an ex-ante process for judicial review. There were reports that mobile phone surveillance was extensive in Abuja.
What measures were in place to prevent abuse in this regard? There had been reports of violence occurring in relation to the elections and observers had expressed concerns about the turnout rate, which might be related to internal displacement issues. Could the delegation comment on these issues? Experts asked for information on women’s representation in the north and the election-related bill that had been vetoed by the President.
On hate speech, Experts asked about its legal definition and safeguards preventing overly broad interpretation. Could the delegation comment on concerns that libel accusations had been used to harass journalists who were critical of the Government? Could it also clarify whether current regulations related to peaceful assemblies required prior authorization by authorities? Were there any plans to adopt comprehensive minority rights protection measures, including on linguistic rights?
Replies by the Delegation
AUDU AYINLA KADIRI, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that answers to some of the follow-up questions had already been provided during the response to the first round of replies. Furthermore, some of the other questions were really unexpected. He urged the Committee to exercise due diligence regarding the veracity of the information that it had received. Some questions posed by Experts should not even have been brought to the delegation.
On arrests, the delegation said a person, after being arrested, was taken to the police station, where he had the opportunity to give an account of what had happened. To kill a fly, one needed not to use a hammer, and this principle guided the use of force in the country. Terrorists had been tried in public trials that were broadcast live on television. Each of them had legal representation and went through the judicial rituals even if they had admitted to their crimes.
All public officials were required to declare their assets to ensure no one was living above their means. The Chief Justice was not able to comply with this requirement and retired voluntarily. The National Judicial Council was the body that rendered final decisions on potential applicants’ fitness to be appointed as judges. Politicians did not influence this process.
On the military’s alleged detention of a large number of women, Mr. Kadiri said that to the best of the delegation’s knowledge, this was not true. On the alleged arrests and persecution of bloggers, he said he was not aware of this.
The delegation said that no journalists had been detained. The harassment of journalists only existed in the realm of imagination. There was a free press in Nigeria. Certainly, the Government had electronic media outlets, but there were also several media outlets that were privately owned. In the capital, there was even a private radio focusing on human rights called Human Rights Radio & TV.
Mr. Kadiri said that, as a Nigerian, and having hosted a trade union leader at his residence just a few days ago, he was very surprised to hear allegations that trade unionists were being arrested and killed in his country. The Committee had to exercise due diligence with regard to the information that was given to it about the situation in Nigeria.
On detention conditions, the delegation said that prisoners had free access to education, and quite a number of them had graduated from the National Open University of Nigeria, which had extended its academic activities to prisons. There were Ph.D. candidates in Nigerian prisons. In an effort to decongest the prisons, the Government had constructed a brand new detention facility.
In all the prisons, especially those in urban areas, new cell blocks were being constructed. The prisons mentioned by the Committee were exceptional cases, located in rural areas, and were now almost empty. Information on the number of inmates held in Nigerian prisons would be provided at a later time. Prisoners in Nigeria were also trained in certain trades such as carpentry and tailoring to ensure they enjoyed good living conditions after their release.
The issue of housing was overblown, said Mr. Kadiri. Nigeria was developing, and urbanization required that slums be demolished. In some of these areas, people had been living in conditions that were not conducive to their health. They had been given notification and provided with alternatives. The Government had taken care of the displaced persons, alternative accommodation had been provided to them, their children had been enrolled in schools, and livelihoods had been restored, the delegation assured.
Turning to the issue of freedom of religion, the delegation stated that the law mentioned by the Committee was about open preaching. It did not target Christians, but rather everyone who sought to preach outside of places of worship.
The law regulated the use of public space, and sought to prevent the propagation of ideas conducive to radicalization. On surveillance, in Nigeria, there was no targeting of people apart from the normal activities by law enforcement agencies to detect and prevent criminal activities. Human rights activists were treated like ordinary Nigerians who were all subject to the law of the land.
Mr. Kadiri, replying to questions on elections, emphasized that the Electoral National Commission was independent. The President had already left to go to his village to vote and was angry when the Commission decided to postpone the elections. Internally displaced persons voted in large numbers in camps; it was not true that they had not been allowed to vote. By and large, the election and its outcome were considered fair and reflective of the will of the people, despite isolated incidents, he added.
The delegation said that, in preparing for the last elections, the Government had strategized to increase the representation of women.
This work had started in 2017. Prominent leaders of civil society organizations and leading political parties had been consulted. Programmes had been rolled out to address violence that deterred women from participating in political life. Presently, efforts were being made to appoint more women in critical decision-making positions.
Furthermore, the turnout of female voters, especially in the northwest, had been impressive. There had also been female candidates that had put their names forward to become president and vice-president, something which had never happened before.
On the right to assembly, the only thing that was required was notifying the police, and this was done to ensure the police could provide protesters with protection. There had already been action taken prior to the crime bill to address corruption and related offences.
The Government had taken measures to forestall illicit financial transaction, and Nigeria had been certified as fulfilling the requirements of the United Nations anti-corruption convention. It was also a member of the Egmont Group. Going forward, Nigeria hoped that international cooperation would improve on these issues. On maternal health, efforts were deployed to build community health centres and provide free medical care to pregnant women.
Mr. Kadiri said there was no structural discrimination against ethnic minorities in Nigeria. Nigeria was a federation of states, not ethnic groups. States did not use ethnic or tribal origins in their social engineering. The existence of three levels of government was enshrined in the constitution. It was not even a matter to be discussed here; nobody would run a modern state based on ethnic groups.
Committee Experts said the remarks about due diligence were out of place, as Experts had had to do a lot of work and research in the absence of a report, and given that the State party had only replied to some of the Committee’s questions.
AUDU AYINLA KADIRI, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the dialogue had been interesting and illuminating and the delegation had done its best to answer the Experts’ questions. “All is well that ends well,” he said, stressing that the delegation and the Committee shared a common purpose. The delegation looked forward to cooperating further with the Committee.
AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation. He recalled that parties to international legal instruments had to abide by their obligations. There was no need to make references to other States, as the focus was on the report at hand. It had been a fruitful debate, he stated.”