December 10 every year is observed as International Human Rights Day, memorialising the anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This year’s event took place last Friday. The day is marked to heighten consciousness of rights that all human beings are entitled to, regardless of religion, sex, language, race, colour, nationality, among others.
This is a day when all people and their governments should reflect on the state of human rights around the world and in their own countries as well. It is a moment to recollect the struggles of the human rights defenders who demonstrate such remarkable determination in giving expressions to those who cannot speak for themselves.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme this year for the Human Rights Day is “Equality — Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights.” This theme pertains to the Declaration’s Article 1, which states that every person is born free and equal in rights and dignity.
In 1948, the UNGA adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration, which has been translated into over 500 languages, is the most significant document on human rights. December 10 was subsequently picked to mark Human Rights Day. On this day, the United Nations also encourages countries to create equal opportunities for everyone.
Every country needs to recognise that human rights are part of the national constitutional and legal system, as national laws have a more direct impact than international or regional laws. Nevertheless, nations which have endorsed different pacts on an international level to guarantee and protect human rights must enforce them.
As the world marked the global event, Nigeria has, in recent months, been generating headlines worldwide for its government’s crass disregard for egalitarian principles. The government professes alliance to democratic standards; but since coming to power in 2015, it has consistently exhibited a dearth of consideration for the rule of law and has held the judiciary in derision.
This attitude is distinctly correlated to the government’s human rights infringements, reflected in frequent disobedience of court orders and unrelenting attacks on freedom of expression. This situation has startling similarities with the savage era of military tyranny in the country, in which freedom of expression was under incursion and human rights abuses rampant.
Nigeria gloats over its 22 consecutive years of unbroken civilian rule. But, not since its return to civil rule in 1999 has the country witnessed such a conspicuous manifestation of outright insensitivity by the government to alternative views and bigotry of differing voices. This is substantiated by Amnesty International, which, in a report published in October 2019, specified that at least 19 journalists and media professionals had been assaulted in Nigeria between January and September 2019, the greatest number since 2015.
Human rights infractions in Nigeria have turned into a culture as successive governments seem to transcend the former. Rights violations in the country have been taken to a whole new height, and government officials outperform themselves in explaining away the infractions. Deliberate muzzling of the views of opposition, manipulation of the electoral procedure to deny people of their right to the legitimate determination of who leads them, gender discriminations, are all phenomena of intolerance bordering on dictatorship.
Citizens are arrested and detained at will, the courts are being constrained to issue remand orders to keep people in detention beyond the time sanctioned by law, and there are many more people awaiting trial than those convicted. Nigerians are denied their right to protest, specifically with the experience of the recent EndSARS revolts. The orders of the court are not obeyed, mainly in matters concerning the government and its agencies.
Money is yet being demanded by security personnel on the road and at their stations with impunity. There are still stories of torture of inmates to elicit confessions from them. And unfortunately, too, it seems to be business as usual as the government even pays lip service to these rights violations which are the foundations of any democracy. Indeed, it has been a tough journey for Nigerians so far in ensuring that their constitutionally guaranteed rights are not only venerated but advanced in all spheres.
However, the recent 2021 Human Rights Awards of best performing governors in enhancing the sustenances of citizens and protection of their human rights to Governors Nyesom Wike and Babagana Zulum of Rivers and Borno States respectively by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), bestows a glimmer of hope that the country still has leaders with commendable human rights accomplishments. Both governors are role models and hence, deserve to be lauded.
The Nigerian authorities must come to terms with the fact that authoritarianism, repression, and the jaded approach of wanting to whip citizens demanding governance reforms into submission is no longer effective. The government must consult more and intently listen to its people. That is the only way it can go through the pulse of Nigerians to reflect their concerns in the process of governance.
Task Before Peseiro
Little over a week ago, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) announced that Portuguese born football coach, Jose Vitor dos Santos Peseiro would take charge of the Nigerian national team, Super Eagles. This announcement- cum confirmation came on the heels of recent disengagement of the coaching crew of the Super Eagles led by Coach Augustine Eguavoen and Emmanuel Amuneke.
The crew and their team had failed to qualify the country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup billed to hold in Qatar later in the year, after losing out to the Black Stars of Ghana on away goals rule in one of the final qualifying matches in the continent.
Interestingly, this would not be the first time Peseiro would be associated with the NFF and Super Eagles. The well-travelled coach was said to be as line to take over from Eguavoen immediately after the recent African Cup of Nations staged in Cameroon. After the team flattered to deceive at the continental championship, exiting in the first knockout stage, Peseiro was not to be an Eguavoen, who was in charge on interim capacity, was mandated to continue as Head-coach.
Now that the Portuguese gaffer has been handed the opportunity to lead the Super Eagles, one of the top promising sides in the continent, despite the fact that many observers see him as a failure. It is our expectation that he would hit the ground running and return performances and mood in the national team to upward swing once again.
Indeed, the curriculum vitae of Coach Peseiro looks rich with exposure and experience, having coached top football clubs and national teams across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. His trophy cabinet is more of being half empty than half full. However, with a Degree in Physical Education/Sports Sciences top level coaching qualification and cognate coaching experiences in clubs such as Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto, Panthimaikos, Rapid Bucharest, Sporting Braga, Victoria Guimarais, Al Hilal, Al-Wahda, Al-Ahly, Cairo, Sharjah FC and Real Madrid, as well as Saudi Arabian and Venezuelan national teams, we expect that his glory count would begin with the Super Eagles.
Though the process of engagement and choice of the coach witnessed some measure of resentment from the Federal Ministry of Sports, and his contract, without stipulated duration, raises more questions than answers, there is huge expectations of Nigerians from him. The NFF in a statement had stated that Mr. Peseiro’s appointment was with immediate effect, subject to the signing of agreed terms between him and the Federation.
This is why we want the coach and his immediate employers, the NFF, to ensure that they cross all the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s early enough in order to ensure mutual understanding and good working relations.
It is unfortunate that the nascent Super Eagles Coach would be taking charge soon after the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying disappointment, coupled with low morale and anguish amongst the team and Nigerians. We, therefore, urge Peseiro to swing into action immediately and coax the team to life without delay, considering the imminent 2023 AFCON qualifying series.
The new coach will, in his official outing lead out the Super Eagles in a double-headed friendly games in a tour of the United States of America against the Mexican and Ecuadorian national teams, beginning this weekend. The Eagles will flex muscles with the EL Tri of Mexico at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Saturday before flying to New Jersey to confront Ecuador at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison on June 2.
These friendlies, we believe are opportunities for Peseiro to announce himself not only to Nigerians but fans of the national team all over the globe. He should see the matches beyond being mere friendlies but use them to make a bold and early statement of intent and show what he can bring to the team.
From the 2021 AFCON to the 2022 Qatar World Cup disappointments, it was obvious that what the Super Eagles lacked were neither quality nor enthusiasm, but tactical and technical edge to manouvre beyond stubborn and well organised opposition. Peseiro must show that he has really studied and understood the Super Eagles not by winning the forthcoming friendly matches, but by making statements with the overall performance of the team as a unit.
Beyond the friendly games, the new coach should be ready to identify and harness the plethora of talents within and outside Nigeria to ensure that any player invited to the national team truly deserves to don the national colours. Moreover, football fans in Nigeria follow and see the game as an elixir, a unifying factor that offers momentary escape route from the challenges of life. They will expect the coach to always deliver, while paying little or no attention to any of his handicaps or challenges.
Thus, we expect him to consult and compare notes with identified stakeholders, particularly his immediate predecessor, who is still around as the Technical Director of the NFF. In all, we demand that merit and not favouritism should be the yardstick in inviting players to camp, no matter where such player plies his trade. He must be fair and firm in his decisions as far as squad and team selections are concerned without leaving a window for manipulation from interests within and outside the NFF. We say so because at the end of the day, he will be held responsible and take the glory or otherwise of the team’s success or failure.
Beyond the Super Eagles, we think that the domestic league should feel the impact of the new coach. There should be one or two elements that we expect from him to rub off on the league apart from giving opportunities to players from the league and watching domestic matches live, from time to time.
The NFF, we also believe must pull necessary positive strings to ensure that the coach not only succeeds but leads the national team to the next level. Availing the coach a free hand and conducive atmosphere is not negotiable as well as setting out their terms of contract targets and goals from the onset.
While we agree that Coach Peseiro must earn his stripes and prove that he deserves to lead the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the NFF, other critical stakeholders and indeed, all Nigerians must not only show him support, he should be accorded all necessary assistance to lift the Super Eagles and place them on the path of glory again.
Deborah: Let Justice Be Served
Once again, religious extremism in Nigeria has been clearly discernible for its ultimate purpose in the expression of violence by the actors. The penultimate week, some Muslim students of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, in Sokoto State, stoned and battered Deborah Yakubu Samuel, a 200-level student of Home Economics, to death for alleged blasphemy. Shortly thereafter, the murderers set the lifeless body on fire. It was one of the most horrific murders to contemplate, but not the first cold-blooded savagery.
Deborah reportedly protested the exhibition of religious messages on the student’s WhatsApp platform. Her howling exacerbated certain Muslim students, who mobilised and then killed her. The unmannerly killing of the young female student is not a sequestrated incident. Many Muslims and non-Muslims judged to have slandered Islam, or its prophet, have accepted a similar fate in the region. This evil is in direct contrast with a just and civilised culture.
That such bestial behaviour occurred in a citadel of learning and in daylight is not only regrettable, but is symptomatic of the omnipresent nature of religious extremism in Northern Nigeria. Unchecked, it has birthed and sustained a 13-year-old bloody jihadist insurgency that has spread from the North-East through the Northern region and earned the country stardom as the world’s third most terrorised nation.
Similar incidents often occur in Northern Nigeria. In 2007, Muslim students in Gombe lynched their Christian teacher for defiling the Quran. There have been other cataclysmic attacks and killings of alleged blasphemers in predominantly Muslim areas in Kano, Niger and other parts of the North. Those charged with blasphemy were sentenced to death by the Sharia courts in Kano. Others, such as Mubarak Bala, were sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Some Muslim clerics and state officials have publicly approved the execution of blasphemers.
Gideon Akaluka was decapitated in Kano in 1995, falsely accused of defiling the Quran. Sharia riots in the year 2000 left over 4,000 persons dead across several Northern states. In 2002, by protesting against the Miss World beauty contest billed for Kaduna that year, the fanatics killed more than 250 people. Furthermore, in 1987, a female Islamic zealot accused a speaker at a Christian fellowship at the College of Education, Kafanchan, of blasphemy. Her fellow Muslims mobilised and burnt churches and relaxation centres across Kaduna and other states. Scores died.
There has been expeditious, unambiguous expansive denunciation of the outrage, including from significant Northern and Islamic chieftains like the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, and the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal. Commendably, esteemed Islamic clerics insist that the action of the mob does not reflect their religion. But prevarication and extenuation are still emerging from certain quarters.
President Muhammadu Buhari reacted belatedly to Deborah’s horrible murder over 36 hours after the despicable act. Although he denounced the murder, nevertheless, with a pontification to religious and community leaders to draw people’s attention to the need to exercise the right to freedom of expression in a responsible manner. That was rather disconcerting. Inadvertently, the President’s answer may have set the stage for politicising or escalating blame, especially on the victim.
The infelicitous action of the mob is definitely a crime. It is incumbent upon the government to identify those who perpetrated this heinous crime. They should be apprehended and brought to trial in haste. The next step is to determine if there has been negligence on the part of the school authorities and the police and to take appropriate action. Buhari and Tambuwal need to let religious fanatics know that Nigeria remains an amalgamated secular state.
At the instigation of certain religious extremists, Deborah’s killers assembled in parts of Sokoto to protest the arrest of only two of the killers, demanding their release. During this process, a person was killed and churches were attacked while businesses were plundered. They surrounded and tried to burn down the palace of the Sultan, as well as the church and office of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto. Only an immediate security response rescued the situation.
Carnage by extremists in Northern Nigeria must end. Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has demanded justice for Deborah. Reacting in a statement, Falana urged Governor Tambuwal and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that justice was served in the matter. According to him, out of the 190 victims subjected to mob justice and killed in Nigeria in the last two years, Sokoto is ahead of other states with 13 cases.
Under former United States President, Donald Trump, the United States had taken a renewed interest in religious freedom issues worldwide, with a specific focus on persecuted Christians. Trump released an executive order on advancing international religious freedom. The order directed the State Department and United States Agency for International Development to act to combat religious freedom violations and called for a budget of at least $50 million for programmes to fight religious violence and persecution abroad and protect religious minorities.
But the U.S. efforts have borne little fruit so far in Nigeria. Multiple reports have been coming in of increased killings. According to a report by the United Kingdom-based Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, more than 1,000 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2019. The organisation further reported that at that point, 6,000 Nigerians had been killed and 12,000 displaced since 2015. Attacks on Christians have spiked under Buhari’s administration.
Religious fanaticism prevails in the North because the violators are not severely punished. Instead, they are permitted to go scot-free. State governments aggravate the situation by promoting religion, which violates the express provision of Article 10 of the 1999 Constitution: “The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” The Nigerian State must dissociate from religion. There should be mass education and zero-tolerance for lawlessness.
We reject any suggestion of validation of Deborah’s killers and their motives. In a secular society, blasphemy should not be a criminal offence. Each religion is exclusive, and its followers operate according to pig-headedly held beliefs. Consequently, all classes of society must take concerted action against this heinous killing; strong enough to prohibit others permanently. All Deborah’s murderers must be apprehended and charged immediately. The Federal Government needs to put an end to this crudity.
Congratulations, Justice Mary Peter-Odili
The learned Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili of the Nigerian Supreme Court, officially left the
country’s judiciary on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Justice Peter-Odili, who is one of the earliest women to be elevated to the Supreme Court bench, stepped aside having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 after serving at the apex court for 11 years. The Imo State-born jurist, whose meritorious milestone judgments have shaped the political, economic and social terrains of the nation, was hosted to an elaborate retirement event on the day.
The apex court officials had a farewell session worthy of her. The sitting was chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, in the main courtroom of the Supreme Court that Thursday morning. Distinguished Nigerians, especially the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Body of Benchers, and Body of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, among others, graced the valedictory court session.
Spanning 45 years in the legal profession, her total journey to the Supreme Court tracked a steady climb through the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, in 1976 and was called to the Bar the following year. Shortly after, she enrolled in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and accomplished her primary assignment at the Ministry of Justice in Abeokuta, Ogun State, before proceeding to the Ministry of Justice in the old Bendel State as a pupil state counsel.
Upon being called to the Bar on July 1, 1977, Mary saw her dream of seeing her family become a reality. She and Dr Peter Odili, who had long been acquainted right from their days in the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus that housed both the medical and law colleges within it, decided to be joined in holy matrimony in Benin City, two months later (August 26, 1977). Both were said to have met at a campus feast and began a lasting relationship that resulted in a marriage. They received their first baby, Adaeze, in 1979. Not long after that, they had three more children — Chinelo, Peter, and Njideka.
For the first time since she became the second most senior justice of the Supreme Court, she had the privilege to speak about herself and the nation she had served dispassionately for over four decades. Born May 12, 1952, at Orieonuoha Maternity, in Onicha Ezinihitte-Mbaise, Imo State, young Mary’s father, Bernard Chigbu Nzenwa, was a reputable lawyer, sports enthusiast and traditional ruler while her mother, Bernadette Nwatuma Nzenwa, was a seamstress and textile trader.
Mary, a kind lady of glamorous qualities and eminence that surpass the legal profession, was well known for her irresistible voice in the temple of justice. She has offered the best of her intellect to the improvement of the legal profession through her many years of unparalleled rulings at various levels of courts in Nigeria. The retired legal giant is a specimen of hard work, industry, discipline and moral rectitude. We commend her for her contributions to the judiciary in Nigeria.
As well, Mrs Odili is a dedicated jurist and an example for the public service. She is an exceptional judicial icon whose service on the Bench will continue to be referenced as a result of her sense of balance, fairness, integrity and confidence in the nation’s judiciary. She has left the Bench as an outstanding jurist. Her devotion to duty took her to the peak of her career, having served creditably as a magistrate, high court judge and justice of both the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of the land. Her support for women, advocacy for legal reforms and her crusade for positive change in society are part of her legacy that will continue long after her retirement.
Attesting the virtue of the retired jurist, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, revealed that Justice Mary Odili saved his political career in 2004, and vowed to remain grateful to her. The disclosure was made at the 70th birthday and retirement thanksgiving mass of Mary Odili as Justice of the Supreme Court at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Chaplaincy, Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Port Harcourt.
Wike posited that in 2004, he cried to Mrs Peter-Odili after he got the clue that his name was left out from those approved to contest either as first term or second term chairmen of local councils in the state and the retired judge listened to him and took the complaint to her husband, Dr Peter Odili, who was then the Governor of Rivers State. Wike explained how the Mary’s presentation of the case led her husband to act immediately.
Citing a vital lesson of life he learnt from Justice Peter-Odili as the determination to build the capacity to be successful in one’s career while not ignoring giving requisite attention to the family, Wike said: “I have seen somebody who is very compassionate and very caring. The moment you are around her husband, she takes care of you. She sees you as her husband’s person, and so she will always relate with you. Some of us are direct beneficiaries of the care through our relationship with the husband.”
However, Justice Peter-Odili’s career was not exempt from a number of notable controversies. Her status as a judicial officer married to someone politically exposed made her an easy target in the intrigues of her husband’s and his party’s political rivals. An example was the knock-on effect from the All Progressives Congress (APC) following the Supreme Court judgment of February 13, 2020, that sacked the APC’s David Lyon as governor-elect of Bayelsa State, barely 24 hours to his inauguration. Justice Peter-Odili led the panel of the apex court justices that decided the matter.
The Tide joins all well-meaning Nigerians, the judiciary, the NBA, the international community and all illustrious sons and daughters of Rivers State to specially celebrate and congratulate our very own, Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, on her 70th birthday and her exit from the Supreme Court. Indeed, it has been a sojourn, and we are proud of her. She has made her indelible marks. Our best wishes for a successful and exceptional retirement.
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