Last week, the Global Rights, an international Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), marked its 40th year anniversary. HASSAN ZAGGI writes on the gains and challenges of the NGO since the past 40 years.
Recently, many issues relating to the abuse of human rights came up in Nigeria. A good example was the issue of alleged gross abuse of human rights by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigeria Police. It was however, fiercely resisted by Nigerians.
The questions thus are: Has Nigeria learnt any lesson over the years in terms of the respect of the rights of individuals? Are Nigerians aware of their rights and ready to protect them? Is the civic rights space shrinking or expanding? Is Nigeria on the right path in terms of the respect of the rights of its citizens or are we getting worst as a nation?
Speaking at the event marking the 40thanniversary of the NGO, last week in Abuja, a member of the board of the Global Rights, Julient Kego Ume-Onyido, insisted that despite the poor indices in both security, education and poverty, Nigeria is making considerable progress in terms of the human rights issues.
While responding to a question on whether Nigeria was making progress or not, she said: “On one hand, if we have to gage our development indices in terms of poverty, security and education, if you look at all of that, it will seems as if we are on the downward spiral because all the numbers that were being showed are in the negative, but on the other hand, Global Rights is all about the story of hope, the story of resilience, it’s a Nigerian success story and it is about the people.
“On that hand, it is really that we are on the right path, which is that we are beginning to have a conversation where the average citizen in Nigeria is now more aware of their rights and the responsibility of government so they can hold them accountable.
“We are not where we are supposed to be obviously, from today’s discussion, we are talking about the shrinking civic space and how to expand that, but as far as we are having this conversation, the fact that the demographic statistics is leaning more of the you, there is the space that has been opened up for them where it has been democratize both offline and online, people are beginning to more to realized that the real actor is the average citizen, it is not a group of people.”
Earlier, while giving a brief at a Colloquium to mark its 40th Anniversary, Executive Director, Global Rights Country Office, Ms Abiodun Baiyewu-Teru, disclosed that the organization was founded in Washington DC in 1998 with the name International Human Rights Law Group. It was, however, later changed to Global Right Partners for Justice in 2003 on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.
According to her: “The Organisation has stood for the equality and dignity of all human beings. We have worked in the most oppressive countries around the world, including Nigeria, working on issues of ensuring access to justice to remedy the dignity of a human person and ensuring the effective governance of our natural resources and human rights.
“Ensuring that citizens have a voice and their voices are amplified and that people are able to speak for themselves and stand to be citizens in their own country”.
She reiterated that Global Rights have worked at the grassroots to galvanise the activists and communities and to build essential bridges between citizens and governments for participatory governance.
“In the course of our 40 years, we have worked in more than 20 countries and broadly turn programme themes.
“In Nigeria we have worked for more than 20 years and our footprints have brought many organizations into Nigeria as well.”
Responding to a question on what the Global Rights have achieved since the past 40 years, the Executive Director said: “The first and most important thing that Global Rights has achieved in the past 40 years is its resilience, that, it has through the test of time and that it has left its footprints in all of the countries into which it went. Whether in Nigeria, Uganda, Burundi.
“We have led civil societies and incubated activists and we pushed them into the world and they are doing excellently well.
“I remember in when we went to Zamfara, there was no single human rights organization in Nigeria. We had to take public health community based organization, provide them with human training and natural resources and governance training and be able to successfully take them to the Senate and watch them speak for their own ground.
“We developed the first sexual violence response protocol that this country ever had and the entire compendium of that and we have been able to coordinate civil society activity for the Transition Motoring Group.
“We have been able to take messages down to the grassroots and create a community-based para- legal which also birth the Bauchi Human Rights network which had no active human rights organization apart from women in Nigeria which was not really a human rights organization at the time that Global Rights had gone into Bauchi state.
“We have gone into states like Kogi and Ebonyi states and have helped the government at the states and the federal levels to realize that they can work together in natural resource governance and form their own committees.
“I think our impact is well enough for us to sleep well at night.
Enumerating the challenges the NGO had faced over the years, she said: “Our victory has been about people and policy. Our challenges have also been about people and policies.
“That the people, particularly in government have still not embrace the fact that democracy is a situation whereby people are self governed and so the very people who have elected into office have a place at the table in decision making.
“That we have turned the idea of democracy into ballots and election and have not been able to get past that and we are working with different groups and in different sectors in our national life to ensure that we get past that.”
She further explained that: “Our country is a very difficult place to work that the repression on civil society is real. But other than that the people of Nigeria are also resilient and very hard working and will work to develop their own country if they have the right leadership weather in civil society or in government.
Speaking while responding to questions from journalists, the Chairman of the Global Rights Board, Chidi Odinkalu, warned that unless there is a dramatic change, considering the evidence on ground from the elections in Ekiti, Osun and the figures released from the primary elections conducted few days ago across the states of the country, the 2019 general election will be terrible.
He, however, blamed Nigerians for contributing in constraining the civic space which also makes politicians to profit from it.
According to him: “When we complain about civic space and how it is being constrained, we all are constraining our civic space. The only thing is that politicians profit from the facilitation. We are the enablers, however, of the constraining of our civic space.”
While expressing his fears about the 2019 elections, Prof. Odinkalu said: “It will be terrible on the basis of the evidence at the moment, unless we change.
“On the basis of Ekiti and Osun and the figures that have been produced from the primaries, the next year’s election don’t offer a lot of hope. That is my honest view.
“We have the opportunity to change it but we don’t have the massive will to do that.
“Look, everybody saw what happened in Osun and Ekiti, I will not talk much about that. But when people manufacture 2.9 million primary voters in Kano and 1.958 million in Kaduna and 1.92 million in Lagos and 700,000 in Owerri and 558,000 in Edo and all of us sit down and think that those are normal numbers and that is the normal way a democracy should behave, something is wrong.
“This is because these numbers are totally fictitious. Tell me if any of these numbers if real or close to real. None. But we still believe that the next year’s election will happen properly? It will definitely not. And then we are too afraid to say what we know to be the truth that you cannot have 1.9 million voters in a party primary showing up in Lagos in one day and Lagos will be normal. We cannot have 2.9 million voters showing up in Kano in one day and Kano will be normal.”