NO doubt the year 2020 is a leap year which means that we have a well packed year going by the deficit of twenty four hours in this calendar year. What this means is that whatever is worth doing at all, must be done very well without any waste of time. To gain comprehensive insight into the significance of the concept of human rights as the first step in doing this reflection, I visited a British government affiliated website to learn about how the People of Great Britain looks at Human Rights.
Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life.
They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security. These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.
These values are defined and protected by law. In Britain our human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. As a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), our job is to make Britain fairer. We’ve been speaking to children across the country asking them about human rights and receiving simple, honest and funny answers. The majority of schools we spoke to as part of this project belong to Unicef’s Rights Respecting Schools network. The website stated too that Human rights are relevant to all of us, not just those who face repression or mistreatment.
They protect you in many areas of your day-to-day life, including: your right to have and express your own opinions ;your right to an education; your right to a private and family life; your right not to be mistreated or wrongly punished by the state. They then asked-: Where do human rights come from? Here is the response. The idea that human beings should have a set of basic rights and freedoms has deep roots in Britain. They listed the landmark developments in Britain include: the Magna Carta of 1215; the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 and the Bill of Rights of 1689.
Also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights got elaborate mention as being fundamental to ending the atrocities of the Second World War because in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) made the protection of human rights an international priority. The United Nations was founded in 1945.
The United Nations allowed more than 50 Member States to contribute to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948. This was the first attempt to set out at a global level the fundamental rights and freedoms shared by all human beings. Writing about the formation of the European Convention on Human Rights we were informed by Great Britain that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights formed the basis for the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950. Also, we were told that British lawyers played a key role in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights, with Winston Churchill heavily involved. It protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe, including the UK. The United Kingdom has the Human Rights Act 1998. The Human Rights Act 1998 made the rights set out by the European Convention on Human Rights part of British domestic law just like how African charter on human and people’s rights and the UDHR are made chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution. The Human Rights Act means that courts in the United Kingdom can hear human rights cases.
Before it was passed, people had to take their complaints to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. In view of the demands of urgency and clinical implementation of programmes set out by individuals and corporate entities in the year of our Lord 2020 which is a leap year, it is the best way to begin by highlighting what need to form the fulcrum of Nigeria’s Human Rights agenda.
This is because the journey to infamy in the area of human rights in Nigeria got to an all-time low when even key officials of the Federal government made a heavy weather of the misconception that the Rule of law and respect for human rights are secondary to the protection of national security (whatever that means). The intriguing thing about this needless debate triggered by an address on the appropriate hierarchical order between Rule of law and national security is that it was made by the President of the Federal Republic and at the venue of the general meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). The solemnity surrounding the venue whereby this controversial debate was ignited and the high status of the originator of the debate was huge enough to tell any wise human rights observer in Nigeria that we are in for a long haul. Understandably, the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association did not disappoint Nigerians by immediately pushing back on the misconception in the statement by President Muhammadu Buhari on the place of national security vis-à-vis the rule of law and respect for human rights.
The Nigerian Bar Association is known to have rejected President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment that national security takes precedence over the rule of law.
The President had made the comment while declaring open the 58th Annual General Conference of the NBA. The conference, culminated in the inauguration of NBA’s current President, Mr. Paul Usoro, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and other newly elected national officers of the association.
Usoro, who became the 29th President of the association, took over from Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), who with his team had piloted the affairs of the association for two years. In its communiqué, which it issued at the end of the conference, the association said it rejected Buhari’s comment, insisting that the rule of law was central to democracy.
It added that national security must be managed within the parameters of the rule of law. The President’s comment had attracted condemnations by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and other prominent Nigerians. The NBA communiqué, signed by its immediate past President and General Secretary, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), and Mr. Abiola Olagunju, demanded that the government and the citizenry must always obey court order in compliance with the principle of the rule of law. The communiqué read in part, “The conference completely rejects the presidential statement subordinating the rule of law to national security. The NBA restates that the rule of law is central to a democracy and any national security concerns by the government must be managed within the perimeters and parameters of the rule of law. “As a corollary, conference frowns upon the present growing trend whereby government decides on which court orders to obey.
“The court has exclusive duty under a democratic dispensation to interpret the Constitution and other laws, and government and the citizenry must comply with court orders at all times until set aside.” The communiqué also addressed various topical national issues bordering on the economy and the judiciary.
While calling for a budgetary arrangement that allows for funds to be directly allocated to the judiciary at federal and state levels in order to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, the association rejected the Federal Government’s Executive Order Six, which directs prosecuting and investigating agencies to take steps to ensure assets linked to pending criminal cases are temporarily forfeited.
Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and [email protected]