Fundamental human rights were first entrenched in the Constitution of independent Nigeria in 1960 as recommended by the Sir Henry Willink Commission of Inqury. Today the 1999 Constitution in its chapter iv, provides for fundamental human rights, Right to life, Right to dignity of human person, Right to personal liberty, Right to fair hearing, Right to private and family life. Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Right to freedom of expression and the press. Right to peaceful assembly and association, Right to freedom of movement, Right to freedom from discrimination, Right to acquire immovable property anywhere in Nigeria and Compulsory acquisition of property.
Inspite of these provisions, Nigeria confronts quite substantial problems of values, governance, citizenship and institutional capacity that together define the challenges for the realisation of human rights in the country. Nigeria’s human rights problems are also challenges of renewing the norms, institutions as processes of government. But this will be practically difficult because the government has been badly compromised by official corruption, indifference, cynicism and abuse of power which afflicts all echelons of governance, including those charged with ensuring accountability for such misconduct.
For the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria, accountability, compliance and prevention of impunity must be given priority. The pervasiveness of impunity has become a challenge for the promotion and protection of the rights to human dignity, safety and security. In Northern Nigeria today, at the beginning of every new week, there is news of renewed crisis either from the endless Jos crisis or the explosions of the faceless Boko Haram sect. People are daily losing their right to life. The high tolerance for violence in Nigeria is the reason for this.
Impunity has elevated corruption as a national way of life and those who are steeped in corruption are not only allowed to get away with it, but end up being celebrated, and even occupy the most important institutions in the country. According to former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the Fourth Academy for Enterprenural Studies, recently,
“Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly, what sort of laws will they make?
Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution made provisions for oversight role by the legislature.
S.88 (1) says that subject to the provisions of this constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in journal or in the official Gazette of the Government of the federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into:- (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws; and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for – (i) executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly. In S.88(2), the powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to – (a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws, and (b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
It is on the strength of these provisions that the Farouk Lawan Ad Hoc Committee to probe the subsidy regime in Nigeria was set up.
The committee did its work, tabled its report and got it adopted, with a long list of defaulting companies. (Good job). But to the amazement of many Nigerians, the kettle used on a battered kerosene stove is calling his brother pot black. Our own Mr. Integrity, Rep. Farouk Lawan was caught in the wave of corruption that is threatening to overflow the Nigerian nation. Mr. Lawan was alledged to have demanded the sum of $3 million from Mr. Femi Otedola, Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas to remove his companies names from the list. This was corroborated by the action of Mr Lawan when he told the House on the 24th of April, 2012, that additional findings had necessitated the delisting of Zenon and Synopsis, Otedola’s two companies, this he reaffirmed trice as the Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha asked. It was said that Mr. Lawan and the secretary of his committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo received the sum of $620,000 from Mr. Femi Otedola between April 21 – April 23, 2012 as advance payment for the $3 million earlier required.
It is embarrassing to note that nearly all oversight functions of the House are associated with allegations of blackmail and extortion.
In 2008, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu’s committee was widely acclaimed to have done a good job by unravelling corruption in the power sector, but shortly after, Hon. Elumelu and nine others were accused of being involved in the mismanagement of N5.2 billion earmarked for rural electrification nationwide. What of Dimeji Bankole who spent N400 million to renovate his official quarters and later sold it to himself for N100million. In 2010, former Speaker Bankole was alleged to have been involved in the N2.3 billion car purchase scandal, Remember the Hon. Dino Melaye group of progressive minded legislators who alleged a N9 billion contract scam against Speaker Bankole? In the words of Hon. Melaye, “we have documents to prove that some items approved by the Body of Principal Officers of which Speaker Dimeji Bankole is the chairman was inflated. A unit of 40 inch LCD TV set was purchased for N525,000 each contrary to the price list by the Bureau of Public Procurement and market price of N180,000 by Samsung while three bullet proof Mercedes Benz cars were bought for N57 million each.”
Bringing us back to the present is the Capital Market probe, where Hon. Herman Hembe was accused by Ms Arunma Oteh of demanding for a sum of N44 million for sponsorship of the probe of the Capital Market.
She also accused the lawmaker of collecting estacode and other travelling allowances for a foreign trip from the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) but neither went nor returned the money.
I could go on and on, but these are just a few corruption charges trailing different committees of the National Assembly. But my worry is that none of the past scandals went anywhere, will this also be the fate of the present? Well, while we wait for the outcome of the investigations, Nigerians cannot but bemoan the selfish nature of its elected representatives and the extent to which national interest had been sacrificed on the altar of wanton and insatiable greed. Suffice it to say that as the promise of common and equal Nigeria citizenship is unreal, so is the promise of human rights.
The Nigerian nation indeed needs DELIVERANCE for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Roman 3: 23), OH HELP US LORD.
Ewere resides in PH
Nkechi Bright Ewere