By Joe Ubeh
NOT a few Nigerians have knocked the report recently issued by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the Nigerian elections. Among the latest to spank the report was the immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Austin Alegeh (SAN), who threw a parting punch at the NHRC and the controversial report.
Speaking at the opening of the just concluded 56th Annual General Conference of the NBA in Port Harcourt, Mr. Alegeh lashed the Commission for meddlesome interloping. He advised the NHRC to leave politics and election petitions to politicians, the judiciary, and other relevant agencies and face grave human rights issues sprawling across the country. In its communiqué also, the NBA held that “the National Human Rights Commission has derailed from her statutory functions” and called on the institution to streamline and focus on its primary duties.
The report entitled “An Independent Review of Evidence of Gross Violations of the Rights to Participate in Government, to Public Service, and to Fair Trial Through The Election Petition Process in Nigeria 2007 & 2011”, which bears all the imprimaturs of a hatchet job both by content and timing of submission (it was dated January 2015, but just made public), not curiously indicted persons who are not in the good books of the current administration, but the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, went ahead to complete the cycle of witch-hunt by indicting persons not indicted by the Report. And many of them claim their right to fair hearing was trampled. But that is up to them.
The controversial report also went further to indict virtually every other institution but the NHRC. It even reviewed and maligned the judgments of the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on election petitions. It declared in part: “By 2007, the courts had evolved a jurisprudence that clearly condoned and even permitted electoral criminality. Section 146(1) of the Electoral Act, 2006, validates only elections that are ‘conducted substantially in accordance with the principles of this Act’ or where ‘non-compliance did not affect substantially the result of the elections’. In 2008, the Nigerian Supreme Court claimed that the word ‘principles’ in this provision was ‘vague, nebulous and large’ as well as confusing, and declined to affirm any principles governing the conduct of elections. Straying well beyond the scope of any laws, the Court established an impossible standard of proof for election-related malfeasance by adding that a petitioner in an election petition had to prove ‘not only substantial non-compliance but also the figures, i.e. votes that the (non) compliance attracted or omitted.”
The Report clearly sidestepped the 2011 post-presidential election violence, which remains the gravest human rights issue in Nigeria’s elections, at least since 1999. But a 2011 report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that over 800 Nigerians were killed. It also said: “The violence began with widespread protests by supporters of the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim from the Congress for Progressive Change, following the re-election of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Niger Delta in the south, who was the candidate for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. The protests degenerated into violent riots or sectarian killings in northern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara. Relief officials estimate that more than 65,000 people have been displaced”. Party offices, police stations, shops, churches, private properties, etc. running into multi-millions were razed.
Now, whom has the NHRC indicted or brought to book? Does it know those who said they would make the country ungovernable if they lost? Does it not know those who were so untouched and emboldened by the NHRC docility and selective amnesia that they threatened again in May 2012 that “If what happened in 2011 (supposed rigging) should happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood”?
Conversely, those suspected to have instigated the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, and former radio journalist- Arap Sang, have all been made to appear before the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, an August 10, 2016 report by Premium Times, said that at least 1,269 people have been killed by rampaging herdsmen right inside Prof. Angwe’s home state of Benue. Said the report: “Out of the 23 local government areas in the state, the rampaging herdsmen have invaded and occupied 14 and may invade the remaining nine unless urgent measures are taken to curb the menace, authorities said. “The invasion of Ogbadibo, Agatu and Apa local government areas in Benue South Senatorial District are, however, believed to be the most brutal. On February 29, for instance, the herdsmen invaded several Agatu villages and farm settlements in broad daylight, gunning down children, women, men and the elderly. At the time the gunshots subsided, over 500 villagers were reportedly massacred and over 7000 were displaced in 10 villages including Aila, Okokolo, Akwu, Adagbo, Odugbehon and Odejo”. It is the same scenario in Kaduna South, Nassarawa, Niger, Enugu, Ekiti, Delta, Edo, etc. People are killed, raped, spoiled, and consigned to refugee camps, while their ancestral homes and farmlands are occupied. Yet, the NHRC fiddles.
Food items and supplies meant for Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram insurgency have been allegedly stolen by government officials (incidentally in APC States), while starvation, preventable/curable diseases ravage the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs. But for the outcry by international humanitarian agencies and recently the protests by the dehumanised IDPs, Nigerians would not have known about the rot because the NHRC has been busy politicking.
The Chibok girls have been in captivity for years now. Shouldn’t the NHRC have been at the forefront as intermediaries and possibly, part of the negotiation to free the girls? But, how could that be when the Commission is more interested in reviewing Supreme Court judgments to indict opposition party supporters and possibly procure favour from the present administration?
Just recently, the Governor of Imo State unilaterally cut the salaries of civil servants in Imo State against the terms of their employment. There have been jailbreaks across the country, obviously due to hunger and inhuman conditions. Beyond rhetoric, what has the NHRC done about this? Your guess is as good as mine- nothing that we know of.
The people of Bakassi displaced for over a decade now by the ceding of their Local Government to Cameroon have been living under inhuman conditions. Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State even wept profusely over their scandalous conditions when he recently visited. What has the NHRC done to protect their rights? One can go on and on. But the bottom line is that the NHRC has performed far below expectation. If anyone has doubted that it cuts a despicable image of an incompetent, busy-doing-nothing entity, this recent report must have cleared it.
As the Election Report can show, Angwe, in a clear desperate quest for a renewal of his almost elapsed tenure, is leading the Commission to dance to the gallery, and dancing naked. Making public a January 2015 report in August 2016 (when those it supposedly indicted are no longer in power) paints the picture of a Commission lacking in courage despite its constitutionally guaranteed independence. The NHRC should wake up and smell the coffee. It should stop fiddling while Rome burns.
Ubeh writes from Otukpo, Benue State