By CHINEDU EKWUNO (JP)
Fundamental human rights can be described as those things such as right to life, right to dignity of human being, right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing, right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression which the government must uphold and respect.
It also includes right to freedom of press, right to freedom of movement within a country, right to freedom from discrimination on account of religion, ethnic group, language or culture as well as right to peaceful assembly and association. This concept originated from the religions and cultures of the world and is reflected in many legal system.
These fundamental human rights have been recognized and entrenched in several constitutions which Nigeria had passed example 1951 and 1954-59. Constitutions, from which the independence constitution was drawn. It is instructive to note that the 1960, 1963, 1979 and 1999 Constitutions of Nigeria made provision for fundamental human rights.
For instance, chapter 3 of 1960 constitution, made provision for the right to private and family life, right to compensation for compulsory acquisition of property as well as rights to freedom from slavery and forced labour and other fundamental human rights.
It further made provision for the enforcement of these rights. The 1963 constitution made a slight deviation from the provision of 1960 constitution while the 1979 and 1999 Constitution made a tremendous improvement on the previous constitution by its recognition of certain economic, cultural and social rights.
Prior to present Buhari administration there had been many human rights abuses in Nigeria and these abuses had necessitated nationalist struggle and frequent change of government especially through military coups. For instance, the colonial bureaucracy was to all intents and purposes a despotic one because it did not consider itself accountable to the people.
Moreover, in pursuit of efficiency which the colonial masters advocate, they introduced the formalized labour contract in place of the institution of slavery (remember the predominance of the then daily wage earners especially in Public Works Department).
Worse still, in pursuit of efficiency as envisaged by Lugard, justice and fairness had no place. The despotic tendency of colonial bureaucracy of Lugard was however criticized by Lagos weekly Record of 1st – 22nd February, 1919.
The period after independence witnessed outbreak of tribal politics and gross violation of human rights such as sporadic killing, indiscriminate detentions and adductions without regard to the constitution especially in Western Region. The tribal politics affected Dr. M.L Okpara because on 26th October, 1964 he was barred from entering into and campaigning in Ogbomosho, the home town of Chief Ladoke Akintola. This incidence was described by Dr. Okpara as a violation of his right and denial of his freedom of movement.
Another fundamental human right abuse can be seen from the promulgation of Decree No. 2 of 1984 which was back dated to 31st December, 1983 when Major General Muhammadu Buhari truncated our nascent democracy and seized government by force.
The decree was a replica of Decree No. 24 of 1967 which gave the Army and Police arbitrary powers to detain any citizen that was deemed a threat to public peace or would in any way form an unlawful assembly.
Other decrees which violate human right in Nigeria were State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree of 1970, Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Decree of 1970 as well as Decree No. 4 promulgated on the 9th February, 1984 but back dated on the 31st December, 1983.
The 1970 decrees restricted the right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing, and right to life if convicted while the 1984 decree violates the freedom to press, freedom of speech, the right to learn and the right to information.
The Decree No. 2 and 4 as well as other obnoxious decrees promulgated by the Buhari military junta were designed to intimidate and subdue Nigerians. Under Decree No. 2 of 1984 there were arbitrary arrest of social and irrepressible critics especially Gani Fawehinmi and Tai Slarin (both of them are now of blessed memory). Under Decree No. 4 of 1984, many journalists were detained and jailed by the same military junta.
Prominent amongst them were Messrs Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of the Guardian Newspaper. Under the Recovery of Public Property Decree many second republic politicians and their proxies like Chief Jim Nwobodo, Prof. Godwin Odenigwe, Chief Milford Okilo, Mr. Victor Masi, etc were jailed. The Economic Sabotage Decree also sent some Nigerians including Fela Anikula-Kuti to prison.
The climax of the whole draconian decrees was Decree No. 20 (Prohibition of Hard Drugs) of the 1984 which sent Bartholomew Owoh and two others to grave by Buhari military junta amidst pleas from all works of life to the government to spare their lives. The passionate pleas were sequel to the fact that they were suspected to have committed the offence before the pronouncement of the said Decree No. 20 of 1984.
The Buhari military regime even used the Nigeria Security Organization (NS0) outfit to oppress and torture people between the periods 1984 to August, 1985. The same oppression and suppression of people are happening now under the watch of Muhammadu Buhari in his capacity as the President of Nigeria.
Many people have been killed and incarcerated especially the Moslem Shiites and their leader EL-ZAK Zaki as well as IPOB members and their leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. In fact, the then Buhari Military regime was so rigid and insensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people, and this culminated to his overthrow in August 27, 1985.
Subsequent upon the takeover of government by General Ibrahim Babangida Decree No. 4 and other draconian decrees were abrogated. He also freed political detainees. His human rights posture appeared to be better than his predecessor.
Nevertheless, he retained Decree No. 2 which gave Inspector General of Police the power to detain any person suspected as security risk. Consequently, Buhari was held incommunicado for a very long time. This is vendetta which colonel Sambo Dasuki (Retd.)Is suffering for being part and parcel of Babangida regime.
More so, the Gen. Sanni Abacha human right record is nothing to write home about because he consolidated the obnoxious Decree No. 2 of his predecessors. Even Obasanjo did not hesitate to invoke the military instinct in him before he dealt with people of Zakibiam and Odi, we will also not forget in a hurry that soldiers seized and destroyed thousands of copies of newspapers during Jonathan administration.
It is also relevant to mention again that since Muhammadu Buhari emerged as President of Nigeria the tenets of fundamental human right have been grossly abused. Worse still, the rule of law in respect of court bail granted to suspects has been ignored with impunity.
Ekwuno writes from Obosi. 08063730644