The recent release of human rights report in Nigeria by the United States may have already set the tone for next week’s meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and his counterpart, Donald Trump, in Washington DC next week. The uncomplimentary verdict of the report places a burden on Buhari to come up with a trump card for Trump that will mitigate the grim focus on human rights violations that have been raised. And for a President pervasively pilloried at home and increasingly demeaned by foreign media, this will certainly be a tall order. A look at some of the highlights of the report offers a picture that raises red flag for foreign investors and global partners.
In the executive summary, the 48-page document captioned, ‘Nigeria 2017 Human Rights Report,’ made unpalatable conclusions around various strands of liberties including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, assembly, fair hearing, rule of law, and economic rights concerning corruption, among others. Giving a broad view of its content, it says: “The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labor.” The question is, what will be President Buhari’s response to this sweeping opening statement contained on page one? Which of those submissions can Buhari convincingly repudiate? It is possible the US may have exaggerated the issues but is our President able to provide alternative facts contrary to what informed the State Department’s verdicts? Maybe an examination of some details of the submissions may help understand the enormity of the grave verdict on Nigeria’s human rights (and governance) records under the Buhari administration. Sadly, the report represents a roll back on some of the democratic gains made under previous administrations.
On crime, insecurity and terrorism, the report says: “In its response to Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks, and at times in response to crime and insecurity in general, security service personnel perpetrated extrajudicial killings and engaged in torture, sexual exploitation and abuse, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees, use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property. The country also suffered from ethnic, regional, and religious violence. There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public. In August the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. As of November the panel had not issued a report.” Which of these submissions are factually disputable? In the face of recent comments by former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. TY Danjuma, that the military forces are in collusion with criminal gangs engaged in mindless killings across the country, what will Buhari tell Trump? In the light of the carnage inflicted on a Benue community by soldiers on reprisal mission recently, can Buhari safely say the Americans are wrong?
While acknowledging that “the government took steps to investigate alleged abuses,” the report noted that “fewer steps” were taken “to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.” Perhaps, the report of the investigation by the Army into the gross allegations raised by Danjuma will recommend measures that will address the concerns raised by Washington. But can Buhari use a report that has not been made public talkless of being implemented to counter his antecedence of inaction regarding previous investigations? Incidentally, the US cites several examples of this unpleasant attitude of the Buhari administration in the past- on Shittes in Kaduna, on IPOB in the East, and even on Police brutality in general. It states for example: “In September the military reportedly clashed with supporters of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, a secessionist group, in Abia State during military exercises. These clashes allegedly resulted in injuries to some protestors and the death of at least one police officer. Human rights groups expressed concern regarding the response and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) urged the military to respect its rules of engagement and stated it would investigate allegations of human rights abuses. As of November the government had not adequately investigated or held police or military personnel accountable for extrajudicial killings of supporters of IPOB movement in 2016. Amnesty International (AI) reported that security forces killed at least 150 IPOB members or supporters and arbitrarily arrested hundreds from August 2015 to August 2016. The Nigerian Army (NA) reportedly investigated the incidents as part of a broader Board of Inquiry (BOI), but its full report was not made public. There have been no reports of discipline or prosecution of police or military personnel.” While citing the case of the Kaduna mayhem involving the Shittes, the US report said “as of November there were no reports of the federal government further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and subsequent mass burial of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and other civilians by NA forces in Zaria, Kaduna State. As of November, however, there was no indication that authorities had held any members of the NA accountable for the events in Zaria. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. In December 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered their immediate and unconditional release but gave authorities 45 days to carry it out, reasoning that the government needed that time to provide the couple with a dwelling to replace the one destroyed following the 2015 Zaria incidents. As of November the federal government had not complied with this order and Zakzaky and his spouse remained in detention. As of November more than 200 imprisoned IMN members awaited trial on charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide.” Incidentally, the Police have recently been accused of breaching the rights to peaceful assembly in its use of excessive force against Shiites who were recently protesting the continued detention of Zakzaky in Abuja. Only this week, the Police also used excessive force, including teargasing members of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group advocating peacefully for the return of the Chibok girls. What about journalists that have been variously harassed and detained illegally in the recent past? The examples are copious. What will Buhari tell Trump in the face of all these? Luckily, the conversation could focus on investment opportunities in Nigeria. But unfortunately, the world has taken note of the fact that most Nigerian youths are lazy. Good luck to Buhari.