Buhari fails to keep his promise on human rights

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: Reuters

President Muhammad Buhari anti-corruption record appears to be rising, but his human rights record is sinking. And his presidency is beginning to appear more like the military dictatorship he denounced on the campaign grounds in 2015. Ajibola Amzat (Features Editor) and Joseph Onyekwere (Head of Judiciary Desk) report.

Before rounding off  his 2,562-word speech at Chatham House in the United Kingdom in February 2015, General Muhammadua Buhari (rtd.)  made a good effort to disabuse the mind of his London listeners about his reputation as a military dictator. Many of them had heard about the cruel and oppressive Buhari-Idiagbon regime. As a military head of state  between 1983 and 1985, Buhari’s human rights record was  considered dismal and shocking.

For those were the years of illegal detention, dehumanisation  and brutal violation of human rights of Nigerians. His Chatham House audience, like many Nigerians back home, believed that the time passage has not changed the General in a significant way.  In his speech, Buhari accepted responsibility for the wicked decisions of his government and expressed deep regret. He assured his audience  at the London forum that he is  a changed man, and not the same person who supervised the violation of human rights of Nigerians 30 years ago.

“Before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms…”, he said.  He repeated the promise at several campaign rallies ahead of the 2015 Election.But over two years into his presidency,  not much has changed about the temperament of President Buhari and his administrtaion. In fact, his human rights record in the last two years is rather looking  more like the record he denounced before his audience at Chatham House, even though his fight against corruption is yet to lose steam. 

The case in point is the illegal detention of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheik Ibraheem El-zakzaky and his wife, Hajia Zainab Elzakzaky.The couple were arrested in December 2015 after the supporters of the Shi’ite movement clashed with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai,  along Zaria road which led to the invasion of the cleric’s home by security forces . 

According to  Kaduna state authorities, 347  IMN members had been killed and secretly buried in a mass grave. The report of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up by the Kaduna state government indicted the  Nigerian military of unlawful killings.  Yet, nobody has answered questions about this gross violation of human rights till date, let alone get punished. 

As we speak,  El-Zakzaky and his wife  remain  in custody despite the court ruling against their detention. The court also awarded them reparation of N50million and directed the Federal Government to provide a temporary accommodation for the couple since it was established that the Nigerian Army and the Kaduna state government had destroyed their private residence in Zaria. 

For more than one year, Buhari government has refused to comply with this court order.Instead, official statement  from the Villa is  that the couple are put under “protective custody” until the government is able to build a house for them. In his tongue-in-cheek response to questions on Channels television six months ago, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed said: “… Nobody wants to accept El-Zakzaky as a neighbour. So, we have been unable to build the house. So, where do we release him to?”

El-Zakzaky is not the only prisoner of President Buhari. The former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, who has been granted bail by various courts also has been denied release.  Dasuki, a retired colonel,   is accused of mismanaging billions of dollars meant for purchase of arms. But the court has ruled that his offence is bailable.In 2015, he was admitted to bail by Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Abuja High Court, but the federal government  did not  obey the bail order. Buhari government also ignored the  bails granted at different times by Justice Peter Affen , Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf  and Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the FCT High Court.
In October 2016, the ECOWAS Court declared Dasuki’s detention illegal and  ordered for his  immediate release. The court ruled further  that Federal Government should pay him a sum of N15 million as damages. In addition, the court decided that the cost of litigation will be summed up and charged against the Nigerian government. Till date, the government has refused to comply with any of the order. Two weeks ago, the Nigerian authorities arrested Timothy Elombah, editor of a news website, Elombah.com on the allegation that he published an article that offended the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris. 

Though Elombah.com has been critical of Buhari administration,  Daniel Elombah,  the website’s chief executive, denied that news site had anything to do with the article for which the police arrested the editor. Now, Elombah and his family who were home for Christmas holiday are charged with cybercrime and banned  from travel. 

Committee to  Protect  Journalists, a global organisation protecting interest of journalists worldwide,  has called for the release of Elombah, but the call has fallen on deaf ears. Amnesty International in its 2016/2017 report has criticised Buhari administration for lack of accountability for serious human rights violations.  “No independent and impartial investigations into crimes committed by the military had taken place despite the President’s repeated promises,” the report stated. 

Human rights lawyers and activists who had previously expressed optimism for a better democratic government under Buhari are now retracting, saying not much has indeed changed about the past. Mr. Femi Falana (SAN)  described Buhari administration as the worst civilian rule in term of human rights violation. 

“We have never had it so bad under a civilian government, where a government will deliberately disobey court orders and authorise detention of citizens, not even under the military era.”During his regime as a military head of state, Buhari promulgated decrees through which many  political exposed persons and journalists were incarcerated.
His second reign as civilian president is the continuation of his 1984 regime, said a Lagos lawyer and human rights campaigner, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa.
“As I speak to you, this government does not respect the court orders and judgments made by the courts.”

According to Adegboruwa, Nigerians are now experiencing dictatorship under a civilian regime. “The government is unable to function in due process, which is why you see that there is a clampdown on judges in order to intimidate them.  Lawyers who defend accused persons are subjected to harassment, their monies are frozen, they are intimidated and their families are threatened.

“So you are even afraid to defend anybody that have been charged to court by this government because both lawyers and the accused person will end up in the same detention. So we have a total clampdown on citizens.  We are not in any government that respects human rights or due process at all.”
Civil society groups that had expressed high hope for Buhari government are also critical of Buhari’s human right records. 

Media&Civic Engagement Manager of Resources Centre for Human Rights, Armsfree Ajanaku expressed anger at the  Buhari administration for its disregard for human life.He said Buhari government lacks resolve to  prevent, or hold to account the terrorists-herdsmen constantly on a killing spree across the country.

“For us, if a right as foundational as the right to life would be so easily violated, it can be inferred that the state of the other fundamental human rights be nothing to cheer about.”Buhari’s failure to stop the attack by Fulani herdsmen and bring the killers among them to justice is considered one of his major failures since he came to power. Many Nigerians think the president is sympathetic to the group in spite of his hypocrisy. But civil society group has reminded the president of the oath he swore to defend all Nigerians. 

The constitution says security and welfare is the primary duty of government, said he executive director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) Adetokunbo Mumuni. He urged the government to take immediate action to curb the incessant killings across the country and to  obey orders of courts of competent jurisdiction.

“Any proper government must operate under the rule of law and democracy. Whenever a court of competent jurisdiction makes an order, the government as a matter of binding duty has to comply with that order.”With another election year around the corner, Buhari has a short time to walk his talk. Otherwise, he may have a hard time to convince his Chatham House audience in case he receives another invitation to speak. 

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