By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Prior to 2017, when The federal government during one of the federal executive council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari decided to stop Nigeria’s membership of 90 international organisations, as a result of a backlog of $120 million in membership dues and other financial commitments, the nation reportedly belonged to about 310 international organizations.
These organizations includes; Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Permanent Court of Arbitration, United Nations Organization (HNO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITR),among others.
For reasons, many commentators have at different times and places interrogated the wisdom behind Nigerian government’s attitude of turning to the international community/organization for lessons on how to build a nation where citizens enjoy prosperity. Others have also established claims that Nigeria as a nation would automatically thrive and survive the challenges of modern statehood if it fortifies the levers of administration (political, social, economic, legal etc. institutions) and disallows powerful nations and figures from dominating and influencing them.
While agreeing with the above argument particularly as nations need ‘strong institutions and not strong personalities to thrive, I, however in one of my previous interventions underlined why nations like Nigeria should identify with international organizations/bodies.
Such voiced opinion as it were, was predicated on the fact that the 2030 sustainable agenda- a United Nation initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with a collection of 17 global goals not only supports it but has partnership and collaboration at its center. This is in addition to the premise that such membership often always provides platforms for nations to deliberate on common issues of concern and gain critical awareness about new research areas that address all spectra of human existence such as Security, Peace, social justice and infrastructural and economic Development.
However, with the spiraling insecurity in the country, and lack of pursuit of economic welfare of citizens which are the only two constitutional responsibilities of the state that all leaders must achieve of which the current circumstances in the country clearly demonstrates that Present administration has woefully failed to achieve, it is obvious that all these years, Nigeria has wasted its resources on payments of dues to these international organizations without learning something new or domesticate good governance policies and ideals that these organizations represent.
Telling examples to the above assertion are; the latest report by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) which ranked Nigeria an embarrassing third most terrorized country in the world, while noting that death attributed to Boko Haram in Nigeria increased by 25 percent from 2018 to 2019. The second is of course the Nation’s economy which recently going by the National Bureau of Statistics announcement slipped into its second recession in five years, and the worst economic decline in almost four decades as the gross domestic product contracted for the second consecutive quarter with the nation’s GDP recording a negative growth of 3.62 per cent in the third quarter of 2020.
With the above highlighted, let’s refresh our minds on how Nigeria government (Federal/state) failed or reluctantly appreciates leadership from a rights-based perspective via non infusion of human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency towards attainment of equity and justice in sectors such as education, social justices and housing development.
Take the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) where Nigeria is a prominent member as an example. The organization as part of its educational policy pegged funding of education at 26 per cent of the national budget or 6 per cent of the gross domestic products (GDP). But contrary to these directives, Nigerian government has never adhered to these dictates as it continually allocates about 6 per cent of the national budget to education. In the same vein, available information in this direction points to reality that the nation’s education sector which supposed to be the major and fastest agent of change and civilization is presently burdened and overwhelmed in such away that has created challenges in ensuring quality education since resources are spread more thinly, resulting in more than 100 pupils for one teacher as against the UNESCO benchmark of 35 students per teacher and culminating in students learning under trees for lack of classrooms.
From the above flows another area of apprehension; the Declaration On Social Progress and Development, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 2542 (xxiv) on 11 December 1969. Part II, article 10, which directs :that Social progress and development of member states shall aim at the continuous raising of the materials and spiritual standards of living of all members of society, with respect for and in compliance with human rights and fundamental freedoms, through the attainment of the following main goals:..(f) The provision for all, particularly persons in low-income groups and large families, of adequate housing and community services.
At the moment, while the global community is talking about living wage, Nigeria as a nation still foot drags over N30, 000 minimum.
In the areas of housing provisions, instead of the government giving constitutional recognition to housing rights with a view towards ensuring full and comprehension legal protection of the right of everyone to housing and supported by adequate enforcement mechanism, terms such as demolition/forced eviction have become entrenched in Nigerian government lexicons and very strong leadership instrument in states like Lagos, Rivers, Delta and of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
This is occuring in the face of the United Nations Human Rights Commission Resolutions 1993/77 and 2004/28 which affirm that when forced evictions are carried out, they violate a range of internationally recognised human rights. These include the: Human right to adequate housing; Human rights to security of the person, and security of the home; Human right to health; Human right to food; Human right to water; Human right to work/livelihood; Human right to education; Human right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; Human right to freedom of movement; Human right to information; and, Human right to participation and self-expression.
Even as clearance operations should take place only when conservation arrangements and rehabilitation are not feasible, relocation measures stand made, UN Resolution 2004/28, also recognised the provisions on forced evictions contained in the Habitat Agenda of 1996, and recommended that, “All Governments must ensure that any eviction that is otherwise deemed lawful is carried out in a manner that does not violate any of the human rights of those evicted.”
Away from housing right to Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP), as also proclaimed by the United Nations. It, among other provisions, prohibits all forms of violence against persons in private and public life, and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders. And on the other hand provides general protections against offenses including infliction of physical injury, coercion, offensive conduct and willfully placing a person in fear of physical injury.
It also offers protections against offenses that affect women disproportionately, including a prohibition of female genital mutilation; forceful ejection from home; forced financial dependence or economic abuse; forced isolation; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; harmful widowhood practices; and spousal battery, among others.
In line with this provision, Nigerians were glad sometimes in May 5 2015, to witness the domestication of same via the nation’s 7th Senate which passed the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) (Prohibition) Act and President Goodluck Jonathan, later signed into law on 25 May 2015. Nigerians also watched with interest this law domesticated at states levels with River and Delta state being the latest.
But such only existed in frames.
As noted by a commentator; the Act has taken us one step closer to a nation where women and girls for generations to come will live free from violence. But at the same time, it elicits the questions; how efficient it has been in the face of increasing cases of rape?
Talking about Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act in Nigeria, where do we situate the incident of Tuesday 20th October, 2020, at the Lekki tollgate where scores of protesters were reportedly shot as shooters believed to be officers of the Nigerian military opened fire on hundreds of youths keeping vigil to demand an end to police brutality?
This piece also remembers with nostalgia the condition of the people of the Niger Delta and Ogoni people in particular where communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies are being violated in the Niger Delta, and the oil industry by its admission has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region without adequately compensating the people for their losses.
All these took place without recourse to the existence of Article 24, of African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which clearly stated that all people shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development.
Looking above, the question may be asked; if policymakers of rich member nations can master, and figure out better policies that eliminate failures, why is it a difficult task for policymakers in Nigeria to find out these nations that on one occasion faced the challenges we currently wrestle with-insecurity, poor economic management act, find out how they solved such challenges, seek right advice, or at the very least, ’copy’ their method?
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.