Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko is the national coordinator, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). In this interview with HENRY TYOHEMBA, he speaks on issues connected to the recent allegation by the army that Amnesty International (AI) Nigeria is working to destabilise the force among other national issues.
Talking about Nigeria’s fight against terrorists, the international human rights organisation has been scoring Nigeria low on the issue of Boko Haram attacks and most Nigerians are not happy about this. What is your view?
The problem is that from 1945 when the Second World War ended up until 1948 when the universal declaration of human right was codified and when Nigeria became an independent entity in 1960, it took less than one year for Nigeria to be enlisted into the United Nations. It shows you how responsible Nigeria was to be a member of UN and how the nation is expected to respect all international conventions and treaties, including universal declaration of human rights, the African Charter of human and people’s rights and all relevant human right laws and their provisions. Nigeria also has a constitution and a whole chapter is dedicated to human right provisions, which is chapter four of the constitution. So, what I am saying is that Nigeria has already subscribed to international treaties on fair treatment so if there are suspected cases of these international norms and laws, you would expect that an association like amnesty international will definitely talk. It is a very credible and big association; no amount of money you give them can influence them to write your report in your favour. So, when they write reports they are objective, although I admit that some human factors may come into play because they are not angels. Nigerians too are now members of amnesty but amnesty as a body, is independent that is one. Secondly, I don’t think amnesty as an international organisation that is publishing these reports, is doing it because it wants to destroy Nigerian army but a lot of Nigerians also feel that amnesty should be considerate, since Nigeria welcomes some of their activities they should also know that the army is not fighting Boko Haram for the sake of fighting enemies. They are fighting Boko Haram because Nigerian army has a duty to safeguard the territorial integrity of Nigeria. So, as much as I agree with the course of that war to maintain the territorial integrity of Nigeria, there could be some human mistakes. If there are errors, they should be documented, those who committed those errors should be taken to task but in doing that, we should be very mindful of not distracting those combatants who are putting their lives at stake on our behalf. We also have to applaud Nigerian soldiers and their leaders for trying to protect Nigeria from terrorists who are out to kill.
How would you assess the human rights issue as a whole in Nigeria?
As I said, we have a constitution in place and the constitution recognises the fundamental rights of citizens. Chapter four of the constitution is dedicated to all aspects of the rights Nigerians are entitled to. These are natural rights that as far as you are a human being, you are entitled to them. For instance, the right to life is almost total. The only thing that can take away the right to life is when you have committed an offence that the law in Nigeria says is an offense punishable by death. That is the only time government is permitted to take life but it must be in accordance with the rule of law. So, first and foremost, journalists are to operate freely, the freedom of movement is not very much respected, the state of security in Nigeria is so frightening and when you have a place where government deliberately fails to restore order, it means that government does not have regard for the fundamental rights of Nigerians. For instance, the armed herdsmen have been rampaging in all parts of this country, they have particularly, carved the north central zone of Nigeria as their areas of attack because north central is the place where you have over 90 per cent of the people as Christians so it’s like those ethnicities are targeted for elimination and the government has not made any deliberate effort to stop these killings. So, how can you say such government is responsible?
We have cases where states government contravened some human rights issues. What are you doing about that?
It is also a challenge due to lack of good governance. Those state government administrations all over the country, as you said, do not respect the major rights of citizens. Apart from Lagos, all other states in Nigeria do not respect human rights of citizens. It is quite difficult for NGOs to operate at the level of states because there is no friendly environment to operate except for a few NGOs like the one I head currently, but the condition they operate in is cumbersome, most of our people face threats. In fact, the governors are even worse in terms of respect for human rights of Nigerians. That is the reason we think Nigerians must be very vigilant and elect those people who love human rights as their governors in the coming election.
Why is Lagos different?
Lagos may be different from others because it’s a metropolitan area, where almost all Nigerians have family members. They are very civilised and educated people including the indigenes themselves. Besides, Lagos people have always had the luck of having governors who are not greedy.
What are the challenges of the association?
The challenges have always been the issue of funding. It is so difficult to attract international funds because the international fund is being controlled by cabals and some of these cabals who control the funding mechanism that come from there are from developed western societies, they have their own chosen NGOs where they channel these cash that come. Some of them were former staffs of these embassies so when they leave, they go and establish their NGOs and channel the monies there.