BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
Exactly when President Muhammadu Buhari jumped into his ever busy Presidential Jet (Air Force 1), the State department of the strongest nation in the world the United States of America, issued damning and extensively damaging assessment of Human Rights violations by President Buhari.
Well, as the information trickled in, the President jetted off to London where he said at one time, he has gone to see his doctor and at another, that he is taking short rest.
Infact of all the news coverage of the latest medical tour of London by Buhari, that version written by Bloomberg.com appeared better as it pointed out the coincidence of the trip with commencement of a Nationwide medical doctors strike in Nigeria over agitation for improved working conditions.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari will travel to London for a “routine” medical check-up two days before the country’s doctors go on strike over unpaid salaries, the foreign media stated.
It continued as follows: “Buhari, 78, is set to leave the country Tuesday after meeting the nation’s security chiefs, spokesman Femi Adesina said in an emailed statement Monday. The trip will last until the second week of April. It’s Buhari’s first medical trip abroad since the pandemic, which stripped much of Africa’s elite of the option of flying to the U.K., France or India to see a doctor.
“While Buhari consults with doctors in London, millions in Africa’s most populous country will be left without access to medical treatment from April 1, when doctors will stop going to work. They’re complaining about the non-payment of medical interns for months and demanding an upward review of hazard allowances and Covid-19 care incentives, according to a statement issued by the National Association of Resident Doctors on March 29.
The foreign newspaper reports also that Nigerians have for decades suffered from an inadequately funded health-care system, squalid clinics and hospitals, and poorly paid and overworked health care workers who frequently move abroad for employment.
It then went to statistical evidence and said that there are at least 8,178 medical doctors of Nigerian origin working in the U.K., according to data on the U.K. General Medical Council website, a more 50% increase from 2015. The exodus has worsened health care in a country that has one doctor for every 5,000 people, according to the Nigeria Medical Association.
The above media reportage shows only one thing about the President-: “I don’t care even if Nigerian hospitals should close down. I have gone to UK to get myself the best medical attention that Nigerian public money can buy”.
The President who said he wanted to spend few days, refused to hand over the rein of government to his slavishly loyal Vice- Professor Yemi Osinbanjo. In effect, the President literally ran away to cool off in UK at a time of troubles- industrial unrest, insecurity and organised crimes including the bombings of the Federal prisons in Owerri in Imo state.
His noisy and nosy media minder Mr. Garba Shehu said there was no need to hand over for the time being to the Vice President because in his words, the President is internet savvy and so can rule Nigeria via Internet even from his medical vacation. Few days later, confusion took centre stage. Soon after Owerri was bombed for three hours without any response by the armed security forces, the Vice President was visiting Owerri on a private invitatiin to commission some few meters of roads constructed in Owerri. Same time, the IGP then Alhaji Adamu Mohammed who had barely ordered investigation into the security incidence in Owerri but had already drawn a conclusion that members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) were the ones that bombed Owerri prison and police facilities unchallenged for a whole of three hours. The then IGP also visited Owerri and he met the Vice President at the Owerri Airport. Few minutes later, a press statement from the police affairs minister announced that the IGP has been dismissed and an acting IGP Usman Baba Alkali, a Moslem northerner too has been appointed. This happened even as the then IGP was addressing police operatives in Owerri about the attacks penultimate night. He could barely finished discussing with the operatives when radio news filtered in that he was effectively disgraced out of office. This was the same man who reached retirement age of 60 but lobbied for tenure extension which was granted reportedly by Muhammadu Buhari for three months. He had spent about two months extra before his public disgrace of a dismissal came to the open. All these happened whilst Nigeria effectively had no President on ground and nobody amongst the citizens know exactly where he is in London.
Nigerians from the diaspora community vexed by the failure of President Buhari to fix the local health infrastructures, demonstrated at the Abuja House in Central London to demand that the President leaves London and return to Nigeria. The Nigerian London embassy also hired their own demonstrators who said they were there to pray for the President. As I write the demonstration to force Buhari out of London is going on but till now there is no logical certainty regarding the scientific whereabouts of President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, here in Nigeria, the report from the United States of America painted graphic photo of a nation whose political leadership is constituted of persons that are heartless, wicked, insensitive, irresponsible and determined to undermine Constitutional democracy.
The United States 2020 Human Rights report on Nigeria touched emphatically on all areas of political governance and institutions. No area of governance was left untreated including the three arms of government.
The report says significant human rights abuses included: unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by the government, terrorists, and criminal groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and terrorist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by government and nonstate actors; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing and torture of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; severe restrictions on religious freedom; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; inadequate investigation and accountability for violence against women; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.
It says too that on October 20, members of the security forces enforced curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse protesters, who had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to protest abusive practices by the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end. Amnesty International reported 10 persons died during the event, but the government disputed Amnesty’s report, and no other organization was able to verify the claim. The government reported two deaths connected to the event. One body from the toll gate showed signs of blunt force trauma. A second body from another location in Lagos State had bullet wounds. The government acknowledged that soldiers armed with live ammunition were present at the Lekki Toll Gate. At year’s end the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution continued to hear testimony and investigate the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate.
The report says the Nigerian constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A 2017 law defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The law prescribes offenses and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commits torture or aids, abets, or by act or omission is an accessory to torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek civil damages. A 2015 law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the legislation compliant with the 2015 law for the legislation to apply beyond the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and federal agencies. Two-thirds of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, and Rivers) had adopted compliant legislation.
Police remained susceptible to corruption, faced allegations of human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, and torture of suspects, it reports.
In response to nationwide protests against police brutality, the government on October 11 abolished SARS units. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command. The army had a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights abuses brought by civilians, and a standing general court-martial in Maiduguri. The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Nigerian Bar Association to receive and investigate complaints, although their capacity and ability to investigate complaints outside major population centers remained limited. The court-martial in Maiduguri convicted soldiers for rape, murder, and abduction of civilians. Many credible accusations of abuses remained uninvestigated. The military continued its efforts to train personnel to apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law in operational settings.
Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to torture, overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison employees reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.
Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison employees sometimes stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates sometimes relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison employees, police, and other security force
On DENIAL OF FAIR PUBLIC TRIAL: The report says although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. There are no continuing education requirements for attorneys, and police officers were often assigned to serve as prosecutors. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition the salaries of court officials were low, and officials often lacked proper equipment and training.
There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed, and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Many citizens encountered long delays.
The report indicted the judiciary for corruption saying that the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, at times exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The constitution and the annual appropriation acts stipulate the National Assembly and the judiciary be paid directly from the federation account as statutory transfers before other budgetary expenditures are made, in order to maintain autonomy and separation of powers. Federal and state governments, however, often undermined the judiciary by withholding funding and manipulating appointments. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights abuse, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.
On widespread corruption, it says, although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous allegations of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) holds broad authorities to prosecute most forms of corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) writ extends only to financial and economic crimes. During the year there was a high-profile investigation involving the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu. In July authorities arrested Magu and charged him with embezzlement. Magu was suspended as acting EFCC chairman. The ICPC led a raid in August 2019 that resulted in the arrest of 37 federal road safety officers and five civilian employees on charges of extortion. As of December 2019, the EFCC had secured 890 convictions, a record during the year. Through court-martial, the military convicted and fired a major general in connection with the 2019 reported theft of 400 million naira (more than one million dollars) in cash.
The bulk of ICPC and EFCC anticorruption efforts remained focused on low- and mid-level government officials. In 2019 both organizations started investigations into, and brought indictments against, various active and former high-level government officials. Many of the corruption cases, particularly the high-profile ones, remained pending before the court due to administrative or procedural delays.
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights at times
On Freedom of Speech, it says the constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, There were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression Authorities in the north at times restricted free speech by labeling it blasphemy.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats intimidation, arrest, detention, and sometimes violence.
“At times civilian leaders instructed security forces to harass journalists covering sensitive topics such as human right abuses, electoral malpractices, high-level public corruption, and the government’s war against terrorism.”
On Violence and Harassment: Security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including the DSS and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government. Moreover, army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who provided or were perceived to have provided, information to journalists or NGOS on misconduct by the military On at least six occasions, journalists were charged With treason, economic sabotage, or fraud when uncovering corruption or public protests,
Numerous journalists were killed, detained, abducted, or arrested during the year
On January 21, Alex Ogbu, a reporter for the RegentAfrica Times magazine and website, was Shot and killed in a cross fire while covering an IMN protest in Abuja.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.
The report showcased the bleak future that democracy has in Nigeria should these set of uncommitted democrats who behave like dictators are allowed to continue to abuse the fundamental Human Rights of the citizenry.
Ironically, the President is not on ground and has not directly responded to this globally reputable report card on his administration.
The report shows clearly that corruption has become ever pervasive and insecurity has become troubling.
Anti- Corruption and Security were the two key deliverables that Muhammadu Buhari and his Political Party APC, promised Nigerians.
But six years down the line as President and as the Party in control of the National Assembly, the Internal Security of Nigeria has virtually collapsed with the unfettered operations of terrorists, armed herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers all over the Country.
Sadly, the National Assembly and the Judiciary have all being captured by executive and Nigerians seems hopeless.
With an absentee and ruthlessly incompetent President, it will take a miracle if Nigeria does not collapse before 2023. The ball is in our court as citizens to arrest the ugly development.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs@www. theingerianinsidernews.com, www.huriwanigeria.com.