Political and Administrative Contexts of Human Rights Violation in Nigeria
Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman
A PRESENTATION TO THE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS INVESTIGATION COMMISSION ON THE RESEARCH PROJECT ON THE POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE CONTEXTS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN NIGERIA.*
The study, produced by this research project, submitted to the Commission in February, 2000, finds that, the single most important of the tasks assigned to the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, chaired by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, is:
To recommend measures which may be taken, whether judicial, administrative, legislative or, institutional .to prevent or forestall future violation or abuses of human rights.
These recommendations, far more than what the Commission shall recommend on individual cases, can have profound significance for the security and welfare of the citizens of Nigeria, for years to come, and, presently, provide, useful inputs into the arduous task of the building and the consolidation of a genuinely democratic system of government in the country, well beyond the scope of whatever may, or, may not be done over the individual cases. This is because, the regular,
and assured, exercise of fundamental human rights by the citizens, is what actually makes a political system genuinely democratic. Without this, no matter how elaborately elections, and other provisions of the constitution, are upheld, there is no democracy, only constitutional rituals masquerading as democracy, which will keep a country like ours, backward and stagnant, under a psuedo-democratic regime, which will, sooner, or, later sink into disorder and,
violence, as we have experienced in the past, and as we can see happening in other parts of Africa and the world.
*Presented by the Abdullahi Simth Centre for Historical Research, Hanwa, Zaria, Nigeria, to the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission's Public Sitting on Tuesday, 2nd October, 2001, at Abuja, Nigeria.
This task is, therefore, the most weighty assignment given to the Commission, with potentially far-reaching consequences. But, it may be lost sight of, treated as a residual matter, or, largely subsumed, under the lurid details of the individual cases of human rights violations being investigated, which, naturally, arouse such intense human interest and widespread and sensational media attention. Of course, this task of making recommendations as to how to prevent human rights
violations in the future has to be grounded in the examination of the evidence of the individual cases. But, it also has to go well beyond these, or, it will end up dealing with the trees and not the forest.
The fact of the matter is that, human rights violations do not take place in a vacuum. This fact is widely recognised. The terms of reference of the Commission bring this out clearly when it states that the Commission is to:
|determine whether such abuses or violations were the product of deliberate state policy or the policy of any of its organs or institutions or whether they arose from abuses by state officials of their office or whether they are acts of any political organisations, liberation movements or other groups or individuals.|
But, what is not addressed here, and what is not usually addressed in most deliberations of human rights violations in this country, is the fact, at a deeper level of the matter, which is that, these state policies, these abuses of office by state officials, or, other acts by individuals, political organisations and other non-governmental organisations, are, themselves, products of particular processes in the economic, social, cultural, and
political systems of the country. They are not merely the results of actions, by particular official organs, as a result of decisions by individuals, or, groups, occupying official positions, arising merely from their individual desires, whims and caprices. All these official organs and non-governmental organisations engaged in the promotion of human rights, or, in their abuse and violations, are produced by and have their functions, powers, agendas and capabilities
determined by larger processes in the society, just as are the individuals constituting them. They are not just coming from nowhere and heading to nowhere. They are a part of a larger political and administrative context in the country which determines and shapes how human rights are conceived, defined, exercised, or, abused.
This is not to deny, in any way, the ethical, political and legal responsibilities which each organ, and each individual, carries on his, or, her shoulders, for any acts of omission, or, commission over the violation of the rights of any individual. It is merely to recognise the political reality that no serious deliberation on human rights in Nigeria, or, in any other country, can be carried out without a comprehension of the political and administrative contexts within
which these rights exists, and within which they are violated.
The attempt here is to propose a new perspective with which these political and administrative contexts can be grasped, in order to understand much more coherently the nature, pattern, and root causes of, human rights violations in Nigeria. Such an understanding is necessary if the Commission is to effectively use the evidence available to it and come up with sound recommendations as how to prevent, or, minimise, the violations of human rights in the future.
The study begins with an assessment of the existing perspectives on the political and administrative contexts of human rights violations in Nigeria, in the period 1966-1999, and attempts to bring out the limitations of these. It is these limitations, and their consequences which have made it necessary for this research project to concentrate on developing a new perspective, in order to grasp, much more closely, the actual realities of the nature and causes of human rights
violations in this country.
The shortcomings of these existing perspectives are partly rooted in a widespread miscomprehension of the Nigerian political experience in the period, 1960-1966, usually referred to as the First Republic. Although the period, 1960-1966, is not covered by the mandate of the Commission, what actually happened in that period on the political terrain in Nigeria, with regards to human rights, has to be addressed if we are to make sense of what happened later. The reality of
the politics of the First Republic, and the direction in which its political and administrative system was heading, has been largely covered up by the campaign of denigration and calumny launched against civilian politics and civilian politicians by successive military rulers and their apologists, since the overthrow of that first civilian regime in 1966. This campaign also involves a large section of the intelligentsia, in the media, in the universities, in the public
services, the private sector, and in the professions, who, while often loudly professing opposition to military rule, have, repeatedly, not been willing to give civilian democracy a chance. This seems to have been partly because, the political parties produce civilian politicians, who marginalize them on the actual terrain of electoral contest for and exercise of political power, and real opinion-leadership, irrespective of the educational levels and the sophistication of
these politicians, who this intelligentsia generally look down upon.
The campaign of delegitimising civilian politics and demonising civilian politicians, first came out most powerfully in the period, 15th January, 1966, to 29th July, 1966, when it was led by the government of Major-General J.T. Aguiyi-Ironsi and by some of the military governors of the regions. This campaign amounted to a purposeful assault on some of the major civilian political institutions, particularly the political parties. These, which, in spite of their own roles in
the abuses of human rights, were developing, because of the dynamics of the electoral contests, the capacity to entrench a relatively democratic framework within which the violations of human rights was going to be made more difficult. This development of Nigerian political parties was haphazard and difficult to see, but was going on at various levels when the military coup of 15th January, 1966, brutally and violently aborted it.
The assault on civilian political parties and on civilian politicians, some of whom had indeed used regional and tribal chauvinism vociferously, but who had to make compromises with one another for electoral alliance reasons, and, therefore, had to limit this, left the political arena open for regional and tribal chauvinist agitations and mobilisations, with much more virulence and with narrower horizons and which were not geared to the pragmatic imperatives of electoral
contests. These went to extremes, particularly in the light of the deep fears and suspicions aroused by the killings of 15th January, 1966. Some of these tribalist and regionalist agitators, were the same politicians who found themselves no longer restrained by these imperatives of electoral civilian politics. The military, and the members of the intelligentsia, from the media, the universities, the civil services and the professions, who never had the experience of the
constraints of electoral politics and of the politics of brinkmanship for the purpose of bargaining, came out to play very prominent roles on the political terrain of the country, adding to the virulence and the parochialism.
The study shows that the expansion in scale and intensity of the violation of human rights in Nigeria, particularly the right to life, liberty and property, in 1966, was a direct result of these changes in the political and administrative processes in the country, which changed the contexts in which human rights existed for most of its citizens.
It then shows that the regime which took over after the coup of 29th July, 1966, under the leadership of Lt-Colonel Yakubu Gowon, recognised the negative consequences of this assault on civilian politicians and reversed the policy by allowing many of the politicians to play leading roles in the military government, at the local government, state and federal levels.
The conduct of the civil war, particularly by the Federal Government, reflected the major role leading civilian politicians particularly Chief Obafemi Awolowo, serving as the Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council; Mallam Aminu Kano; Mr J.S.Tarka; Chief Anthony Enahoro; Alhaji Shehu Shagari; Mr S.G.Ikoku; and others, played, in formulating policies, including those on the treatment of the inhabitants of the areas captured by federal troops. While it cannot be denied
that warfare by its very nature violates most of the fundamental human rights of the civilian population, in the areas where the wars are fought, the Federal Government fought the civil war with a lot of restraint, largely arising from the political line which informed the conduct of the war, heavily influenced by these leading civilian politicians, operating at the highest levels of policy-making in the government. The Report of the International Observer Team of January,
1969, with members drawn from Canada, Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom, documented this, measured and restrained policy of the Federal Government, which has since being corroborated in other accounts of the Federal Government's conduct of the war.
The Oga Kwata-Kwata Perspective
The discourse on human rights in Nigeria is conducted with a number of perspectives, whose limitations has to be brought out clearly, if we are to move forward and come to recognise the nature of the contexts in which these rights are upheld, or, violated, and be able to formulate policies, strategies and programmes to prevent, or, at least to minimise, future violations. The most widely held perspective is the Oga Kwata-Kwata Perspective which sees human rights being
exercised, or, violated, depending on the characters of the individual, civilian, or, military rulers in power. This view is that when the rulers are good and God-fearing, human rights are generally upheld and when they are bad and evil, human rights are violated.
From this point of view, it is held that good rulers can be surrounded by bad lieutenants and advisers, who will repress and assault the persons and liberties of citizens and trample their rights to serve their own, or, what they regard, as the regime's interests. The Prime Minister (1960-1966), Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, is often seen as one of these well-meaning rulers whose lieutenants and advisers violated the citizen's fundamental human rights, without necessarily
getting any orders to do so from him. The first two military Heads of State, Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi and General Yakubu Gowon, are also often viewed as essentially well-meaning persons, who had no particular desire to oppress the citizens, but whose lieutenants and advisers, took advantage of their weaknesses to do so.
This perspectives on the contexts of human rights violations in Nigeria, places all the emphasis on the personality and character of the Head of State as the key element which defines the context. It found its most extreme expression over the human rights violations in the period 1993-1998, and it is widely propagated and believed that all these violations are due to the contexts created and essentially defined by, what is said to be, the evil and bad character of the then
Head of State, General Sani Abacha. An earlier version was widely propagated to explain the context of the human rights violations in the period 1984-1985, almost entirely in terms of the stern and uncompromising characters of the then Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, and the then Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, Major-General Tunde Idiagbon.
In fact, the perspective of viewing the contexts of the operation of human rights in Nigeria largely in terms of the character and conduct of the Head of State and his immediate lieutenants, was significantly advanced with the justifications given for the coup that overthrew the Buhari regime. But, even before that coup, the perception of the context, as an attribute of the character and conduct of the Head of State was already well established in Nigerian political
discourse. But the 1985 coup that brought General Ibrahim Babangida, to the power and the campaign of the regime he led over human rights, in contrast with his predecessors, virtually entrenched this view in the Nigerian media, generally increasing the obsessive attention paid to the role of the Head of State on almost every aspect of the affairs of the nation.
In his maiden broadcast as the new Head of State, on Tuesday, 27th August, 1985, General Babangida articulated the framework for this perspective in a systematic and explicit fashion, justifying his accession to power and placing the issue of human rights more firmly on the national agenda, linking it to the conduct of the overthrown Head of State, Major- General Buhari.
General Babangida gave the violations of human rights pride of place, raising it as the first problem the new regime will tackle to reverse what has been characterised as the abuses by the trio of Generals Buhari and Idiagbon and the head of the N.S.O, Alhaji Lawal Rafindadi.
This maiden broadcast of General Babangida strengthened the underlying framework of this perspective which views the context of human rights in Nigeria largely in terms of the character and conduct of the Head of State and his top lieutenants While the human rights violations in the period 1979-1983, during the Second Republic were blamed on the National Party of Nigeria stalwarts, like Alhaji Umaru Dikko, and the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Adewusi, the President
himself, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, was not largely held responsible. But, under the military regime which came afterwards, Generals Buhari and Idiagbon, were seen as constituting the major factors responsible for creating the political and administrative contexts in which human rights were violated in Nigeria in the period 1st January, 1984, to 27th August, 1985.
The Military Rule Perspective
The second perspective with which this context is viewed, gives prime importance to military rule. It is perceived that military rule is, by its very nature, a dictatorship and dictatorships rule by repression and intimidation, which means the violation of human rights, starting from the very act of overthrowing an elected government and ruling without the consent of the governed. There are cogent legal grounds for this view, even if it is rather simplistic and stays on the
surface of the matter.
The military not only seizes power without the consent of the governed, but also overthrows the existing constitutional order, which not only provides for the citizens of Nigeria to elect their government. They also subordinate and subject the fundamental human rights provisions in the constitutions to their own decrees. While the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. I. of 1966, did not suspend Chapter III, containing the fundamental human rights provisions
of the 1963 Constitution, some of the subsequent decrees made on the basis of this decree suspended, or, clearly violated these provisions. Therefore, military rule clearly by itself constitutes a denial of human rights.
But, much as the perspective which views the military/civilian dichotomy as what defined the context within which human rights were exercised, or, violated in Nigeria, one finds solid grounds in the legal promulgations made to legitimise military rule, the evidence available indicates that the issue goes beyond that. For, the political reality has been that, much as military rule by its very nature constitutes a fundamental violation of human rights, the violations of the
specific rights of individual and communities have not been the same under all military regimes and can even be said to have had some worse aspects under some civilian regimes. And, moreover, it was a military regime, in 1985 which first made the promotion of human rights one of its cardinal programmes, as pointed out above.
The Other Perspectives
A third perspective on the contexts of human rights violations in Nigeria sees it as essentially defined by attempts by successive civilian and military rulers in Nigeria, from the northern parts of the country, to impose "Northern Domination" on the people of other parts of the country, using what is said to be the northern predominance in questionable census returns and in the personell of the military, police and other security forces. According to this
perspective, successive Heads of State and Heads of Government of Nigeria, starting with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa right through to General Abdusalami Abubakar, have attained office largely because of this northern predominance in voting strength, or, in the military and law-enforcement agencies, and they have to violate human rights in order to maintain this "Northern Domination".
A fourth perspective on the contexts of human rights violations in Nigeria views them in terms of the low level of education, training, equipment, the corruption and the generally poor orientation of the law enforcement agencies and the corruption and other gross shortcomings of the Nigerian judiciary, at all levels. According to this perspective, it has not been primarily the nature of the top leadership of the country, military rule, or, "Northern Domination",
which defines the context, but it is the capacities of the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, whose shortcomings define the operational parameters within which any laws, policies or instructions are understood and implemented.
The New Perspective
This study accepts that there are, indeed, some empirical grounds for viewing the political and administrative contexts of human rights violations in Nigeria with these different perspectives. But, its contention is that they provide a limited explanatory framework which curtails our ability to formulate measures with which to forestall, prevent, or, at least minimise, human rights violations in Nigeria in the future. They are limited because they are not based on an
appreciation of the large, civilian, non-governmental, structures, institutions and processes, which define the political status and political capacities of the citizens in their relationship with one another and with the organs of the state.
For example, the fact that civilian political parties, and civilian political pressure groups, and organisations, engaged in democratic electoral contest for power on a regular basis are an essential requirement for the creation of the political and administrative contexts in which human rights violations are minimised, is not recognised within the explanatory framework of these perspectives. The existence of these and the democratic electoral contests some of them engage in
for power, at various levels, cannot be sustained without an electoral commission, a civil service, a judiciary and law-enforcement agencies, which by the very existence of these contesting political parties, and political pressure groups, have to develop some capacity to operate within, and respect, the rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution, and also the human rights provisions enacted by these.
For, if the electoral commission, the civil service, the judiciary, and the law-enforcement agencies become partisans of the party, or, parties, in power, such that they do not allow a minimum of political space for free and fair electoral contest, the system will break down and some authoritarian civilian, or, military dictatorship will take over and the political parties will be abolished, or, reduced to appendages of the government.
The proposition here is that, it is these civilian structures and processes which ensure democratic, civilian political contests through regular elections, and by various other means, create and shape the necessary public service organs to uphold the rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution which are a pre-requisite for upholding and promoting human rights and preventing, or, at least minimising their abuse. In Nigeria, the delegitimising of civilian politics
and the assault on it from 15th January, 1966, truncated the development of such civilian political structures and activities and of the essential public service organs required to provide for relatively free and fair elections and to uphold human rights.
This democratic electoral contest by civilian political parties, involving various types of civilian political pressure groups, not only generates and sustains widespread popular awareness and exercise of, human rights, but also provides the organisation and administrative means for ensuring that they are upheld against rival political parties and groups and state organs and institutions. This democratic electoral contest, no matter its shortcomings, as we had in the First
Republic, generates political processes which have two distinct dimensions which appear to be contradictory, but in the long-term are resolved, one way, or, another.
This process is made up of, the operations of parties and political pressure groups who, overtly and covertly, use ethnic, regional and religious sectionalism as means for mobilising votes to win elections. But, even for these types of parties and political groupings, the need for electoral alliances, in order to win power, even at the most local of levels, makes it necessary, to also mobilise, and ally, on a broader, territorial, or, national basis. The significance of this
is that, ethnic, regional and religious political moblilisation in a genuinely free and democratic multi-party system, which has relatively free and fair elections, has its own dynamics. In addition to the dynamics arising from these political imperatives, there are the dynamics arising from the segmented nature of these so-called "primordial" and religious groups which are themselves made up of "primordial" sub-groups constituting them. What happens
is that electoral politics, even from the choice of candidates, throws up these internal divisions and provides a basis for broader territorial, and, national electoral alliances, which cut across the larger "primordial" groups. The need for electoral and post-electoral alliances to attain power, or, to be able to mount a credible challenge to those who have attained it, reinforces all these.
If we look at the politics of the First Republic from this perspective, we can see that, the simplistic view that it was brought down by bitter ethnic and regional rivalries is misleading. These were undoubtedly prominent factors in weakening the fabric of civil society and its ability to resist a military coup, but the First Republic, was actually brought down by a tiny group of about one hundred military officers and men, who used these noisy campaigns of ethnic and
regional rivalries, and the worsening levels of corruption, to justify their hatred for civilian politics and the leading civilians politicians in power.
A close study of the Nigerian experience in the years 1966-1970 reveals that even in circumstances of violent conflict and warfare the human rights of the majority of the citizens are better protected when civilian political activity and civilian politicians and their political organisations are active and influential participants in the running of the government of a country. Human rights exist and are exercised, or, violated, within definite
political and administrative contexts. The most important dimension of this contexts are the organisation, the institutions, the networks and links of civil society and the capacity of these to contest with one another and to control the state organs.
Here, civil society is conceived in it is broad, and proper, sense to mean all the citizens of the country and their organisations and activities outside state and governmental structures, including, particularly the political parties, the trade unions, the professional, business, artisan, women, youth, students, pensioners, community, and religious associations. Civil society, goes far beyond the groupings of a few intellectuals, lawyers and journalists, which the
media is enforcing on the rest of us as "civil society," perhaps because most of them rely entirely on it in their human rights campaign.
The organs of the state, including the judiciary, the police and the military are, by themselves, incapable of protecting human rights unless the democratic civilian structures and processes exists, which exercise political hegemony and control over them to ensure that they protect these rights, and call them to account when they fail in this, one of their primary constitutional responsibilities.
The intense and exclusive focus on the operations of state organs in understanding and improving human rights situation in Nigeria is much too narrow and shallow an approach. The focus has to be on, the civilian political parties, political movements, and pressure groups contesting for power in the course of which these have to ensure that the organs of state are subordinated to them and abide by the rule of law and the constitution, in a non-partisan way.
It has to be recognised that civilian political parties, and civilian political pressure groups, and organisations, engaged in democratic electoral contest for power on a regular basis, are an essential requirement for the creation of the political and administrative contexts in which human rights violations are minimised. The existence of these and the democratic electoral contests some of them engage in for power, at various levels, cannot be sustained without an electoral
commission, a civil service, a judiciary and law-enforcement agencies, which by the very existence of these contesting political parties, and political pressure groups, have to develop some capacity to operate within, and respect, the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution, and also the human rights provisions enacted by these.
For, if the electoral commission, the civil service, the judiciary, and the law-enforcement agencies become partisans of the party, or, parties, in power, such that they do not allow a minimum of political space for free and fair electoral contest, the system will break down and some authoritarian civilian, or, military dictatorship will take over and the political parties will be abolished, or, reduced to appendages of the government
This study's conclusion is that, it is these democratic political parties, political movements and other civilian structures and processes which ensure democratic, civilian political contests through regular elections, and by various other means, create and shape the necessary public service organs to uphold the rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution which are a pre-requisite for upholding and promoting human rights and preventing, or, at least minimising their
abuse In Nigeria, the delegitimising of civilian politics and the assault on it from 15th January, 1966, truncated the development of such civilian political structures and activities and of the essential public service organs required to provide for relatively free and fair elections and to uphold human rights
This democratic electoral contest by civilian political parties, involving various types of civilian political pressure groups, not only generates and sustains widespread popular awareness and exercise of, human rights, but also provides the organisation and administrative means for ensuring that they are upheld against rival political parties and groups and against state organs and institutions.
This experience of Nigeria during the Civil War, 1967-1970, has practically demonstrated that even during such periods of armed conflict, the active role of civilian political organisations, and networks can go a long way to mitigate and limit the violations of human rights. It is, therefore, the building up and consolidation of these democratic, civilian political parties and other structures and processes that all the citizens Nigeria genuinely, and not just verbally,
committed to democracy and the rule of law should give the highest priority to in order to create the political and administrative contexts in which human rights violations in the country can be brought to an end, or, at least, substantially minimised.