“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (first preamble)


This paper will discuss the advisory services and technical assistance programme in the field of human rights available in the United Nations Centre for Human Rights/Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).[1] It will also discuss in detail the major components of the programme of advisory services and technical assistance in the field of human rights. It will examine in brief the situation of human rights in Nigeria from 1995 to 1998, at the peak of the regime of General Sani Abacha, the Head of State and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (November 1993 – June 1998), from the perspective of the UN alone. The sudden death of General Abacha in June 1998 brought to power another military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who eventually handed over power on 29 May 1999 to an elected President, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), thereby ending a 15-year continuous rule of Nigeria by the military.

Operational definition

The Chambers 20th Century Dictionary defines human rights as “the right each human being has to personal freedom, justice, etc”. The Hutchinson Encyclopedia (1999 edition) defines human rights as civil and political rights of the individual in relation to the state. These two definitions are simplistic. They do not include the concept of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development. They also do not mention the international character of the term. In this regard, human Rights could be defined operationally as the fundamental, inherent and inalienable civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights of the human person to personal freedom, life, justice, good health, food, etc which must be protected and promoted, and should never be infringed, by the government or state; and it is the concern of the international community, in order to live happily as a united family, to ensure that the human person, no matter his/her race, sex, language or religion enjoys and realizes these rights.

Human rights is a term that gained currency after the 2nd World war, at the inception of the United Nations that the “inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”[2] and that the human family should “achieve in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Article 1 paragraph 3 of the Charter states that the purpose of the United Nations is, inter-alia, to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion[3] This is a clear expression of the founding fathers that never again will the world be engulfed in a scourge of war with devastating consequences as that of the 2nd World War. There has been a universal conviction that effective international protection of human rights is the main prerequisite for international peace and security.

The United Nations Charter, therefore, is the forerunner of the International Bill of Rights, which is at the core of the United Nations action to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Bill consists of three instruments: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966); and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (1966). These three documents define human rights and fundamental freedoms. They have become the basis of over 2000 other human rights conventions, protocols, declarations, decisions and resolutions. Each of the covenants elaborates upon some of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The covenants, which are international legal instruments, are the most binding of all the existing human rights instruments. “By ratifying and acceding to them, member-states accept all obligations contained there-in. State parties voluntarily bind themselves, just like any other internationally binding legal instruments and treaties, to bring national legislation, policy and practice into line with their existing international legal obligations”. By becoming a party to the covenant, states become accountable to their “citizens, other State parties to the same instrument and to the international community at large by solemnly committing themselves to respect and ensure the rights and freedoms found in these documents”.[4] Member-states to these instruments are required to submit periodic reports to their respective treaty monitoring bodies on the steps that they have taken to guarantee the protection, promotion and realization of these rights, as well as on the progress made towards this end.

Nigeria, which ratified the two covenants in 1993, at the tail end of the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (August 1985 – August 1993), a few days to handing over power to an appointed interim government of Chief Shonekan (August 1993 – November 1993), became a state-party in 1994. Indeed the covenants were ratified on the eve of the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, Austria in June 1993. It is noteworthy to state at this point that the Government of General Babangida had all along boasted that it would be the last military regime in Nigeria. Since the covenant, particularly the provisions of civil and political rights, condemns military governance and calls for “good governance and democracy”, it will not then be out of place to assume that General Babangida deliberately acceded to the covenants, on the eve of the World Conference on Human Rights in order to give credence to the human rights records of his regime and to lay the framework for other successive regimes. It was probably the ratification that, amongst others, led to the focus of attention on Nigeria by the United Nations and the international community, thereby setting the pace for the wide criticism of Nigeria for its poor human rights record. This statement does not presuppose that the magnitude of infringement under the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha was not grave enough to attract international criticism, particularly from the United Nations Organization, with or without the ratification of the covenants. What is certain, however, is that although all the previous governments, including that of General Babangida , did infringe on human rights, but the pattern was not as grievous and systematic as that of the regime of General Sani Abacha. The pattern of violations of human rights under General Abacha will be discussed later.

It is noteworthy to inform that apart from the two covenants, Nigeria, out of 25 human rights treaties, has also ratified 13 and signed 1. These include the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It has signed, but not yet ratified, the International Convention Against Torture (CAT).

In order to proceed further, it is pertinent to draw a distinction between the two sets of rights- civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights. The Civil and Political Rights, at times referred to as the “positive rights” are generally regarded as those inviolable rights inherent in the human person. These rights, as enunciated in the covenant on civil and political rights, include the rights to: life, administration of justice, political participation, equal and universal suffrage; freedom from torture or cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment or punishment and freedom from being held guilty for any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also provides for freedom from all forms of slavery or slave-like treatment and servitude, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of movement, association, expression and assembly, and the right to recognition every where as a person before the law. Within these sets of rights, there exist the jus cogen or super norm of which no derogation is allowed. Any derogation according to Art. 4.3 of the ICCPR, must be communicated to all state parties through the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG): (i) of the provision from which it has derogated; (ii) of the reason it was actuated; and (iii) of the date it terminates such derogation. These include the right to life (Article 6), freedom from torture (Article 7) slavery and servitude (Article 8), imprisonment for inability to fulfil contractual obligations (Article 11), and freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 18). State parties, such as Nigeria, are enjoined to ensure that these rights are never violated.

On the other hand, economic, social and cultural rights are at times referred to as the “collective” or “second generation” or the “realizable” rights. These are the rights which ought to be realized by the human person as a result of the economic, social and cultural development of the state and on no account will the individual be deprived from the enjoyment and realization of these rights. These sets of rights include the right to education, health care, and clean and sound environment and to form and join trade, economic, cultural and social unions, as well as the right to participate in the cultural life of the community. The covenant also provides for freedom from want and poverty. State parties (such as Nigeria) and governments are enjoined to ensure that the human person enjoys and realizes these rights and that on no condition will the individual be deprived from the enjoyment and realization of these rights.

It is noteworthy to state at this point that the objective of this study is to apprise the new Federal Government of Nigeria of the existence of advisory services and technical assistance/co-operation programme in the field of human rights, including the voluntary funds for technical co-operation. The new regime has called on all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to assist the country resuscitate its dilapidated economic, political, judicial, social and cultural institutions/mechanisms. It is anticipated that this will enable the Government to consider the possibility of availing itself of the enormous and comprehensive assistance being offered by the United Nations OHCHR, and if possible contribute to the strengthening of the programme. Nigeria has neither requested for nor benefited from the advisory services and technical assistance programme in the field of human rights, except on fellowships.

The subsequent sections will discuss

1 Overview of the human rights situation in Nigeria from 1995 to 1998 and the response of the United Nations.

2. The reaction of the Abacha administration to the UN response

3. The major components of the human rights advisory services and technical assistance programmes and what Nigeria should request.

4. Assessment and conclusions.

Overview of the Human Rights Situation in Nigeria from 1995 to May 1998 and the Response of the United Nations

The human rights situation in Nigeria from 1995 to 1998 could be best described as appalling. A Special Military Tribunal (SMT) tried many persons in 1995 and 1997 on allegations of coup plotting. Some of the alleged coup plotters were sentenced to death and some received various jail terms ranging from 5 to 25 years. Those sentenced to death included Gen. Oladapo Diya, the second in command in the administration, Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa and Brig. Gen. Gwadabe. The death sentences the SMT passed on Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, the first Nigerian military Head of State to voluntarily hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government, and his deputy Gen. Shehu Musa Yaradua, who later died in prison in 1998 under suspicious circumstances, were later commuted to a jail term of over 20 years. It is significant to note that Gen. Obasanjo later described the whole episode as “trumped-up charges”. The list also included prominent names like Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, a human rights activist and Mrs. Chris Anyanwu, a journalist.[5] Prior to this time, the administration had continued to keep Chief Moshood Abiola, the aclaimed winner of the 1993 general election, in prison without trial.[6] Trade and Student Unions were proscribed and their leaders imprisoned without trial for demonstrating against the annulment of the June 12 1993 election.[7] Some bankers and business persons were convicted and given long term imprisonment ranging from 5 to 25 years by a special tribunal for their inability to fulfil contractual obligations, contrary to the non-derogatory Art. 11 of the ICCPR. Scores of newspapers and magazines were proscribed for publishing what the administration described as “inciting news items” and some of their editors sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.[8] Within this period, Chief Ken Saro Wiwa and eight Ogoni activists, accused of the murder of prominent Ogoni leaders, were tried by a Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal and sentenced to death.[9] Despite mass appeal by various statesmen, such as President Mandela and Bill Clinton, as well as the United Nations through the Secretary-General, for the commutation of the death sentence, Chief Ken Saro Wiwa and the eight Ogoni activists were hanged in 1995 on the eve of a Commonwealth meeting of Heads of States and Governments in Auckland, New Zealand. The uproar generated by what the UK Prime Minister, John Major, described as “Judicial murder”, led to the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth.

All these human rights violations were reported to be contrary to the tenets of the covenant on civil and political rights, which Nigeria willingly ratified in 1993 and became a state party in 1994. For example Article 6 of the covenant talked about inherent right to life and that “penalty can only be carried out in pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court” and that anyone “sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence”.[10] The death sentence passed on the “Ogoni 9” was not by a “competent court” but by a special military tribunal and they were executed immediately after the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), the highest decision making organ, upheld the decision of the special military tribunal, without having granted them the “right to seek pardon or commutation” of the sentence. It was argued that the speed in which the execution took place did not give the convicts enough time to appeal. Again the competent final appellate body in Nigeria was the Supreme Court and not the PRC. Moreover, state parties to the ICCPR were not informed of the derogation as provided in Art.4.2. The detention without trial of Chief Abiola was reported to contradict Article 9 paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Covenant that provides for any person detained to be brought promptly before a judge for “trial…. or to a release”. Chief Abiola was detained, at times in solitary confinement for over 4 years without trial. So also were the other journalists, trade and student union activists detained for over three years without trial. This is contrary to Article 19 that provides for freedom of expression and to hold opinion without interference. A Shiite Muslim religious leader; Mr. Zak Zakky was detained without conviction for holding what the administration described as “views capable of causing religious crisis in Nigeria”. This again is in contradiction of the non-derogatory Art.15 of ICCPR. Instead numerous decrees were promulgated or existing ones used as the legal basis to justify the violations. Some of the decrees are: decrees No. 2 of 1984 (detention without trial) and No 14 of 1994 (ousting the jurisdiction of courts to issue habeas corpus.

In the light of the above violations, in February 1995 at the 51st session of the Commission on Human Rights, an European Union (EU) draft resolution L.100 was tabled against Nigeria but was defeated with the help of the African Group by a roll call vote of 17 in favour, 21 against and 15 abstentions. The draft resolution expressed deep concern at the violation of human rights in Nigeria. It called on the administration to ensure the observance of all human rights by “restoring habeas corpus, releasing all political prisoners, restoring freedom of the press, lifting arbitrarily imposed travel restrictions and ensuring full respect for the rights of trade unionist”, as well as to take all measures to restore democracy “without delay”.

In December 1995, following the mass outcry over the hanging of Chief Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni activists, a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 50/199 of 22 December 1995 was adopted by 98 votes in favour, 12 against and 42 abstentions. The resolution condemned the “arbitrary execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and his associates”. The resolution called on the administration to abide by the international covenant on civil and political rights “in which Nigeria willingly ratified”. It exhorted the administration to ensure the observance of all human rights, “by releasing all political prisoners, trade union leaders, human rights advocates and journalists….., guaranteeing freedom of the press and ensuring respect for the rights of individuals…” . To ensure the adherence to this resolution, a fact-finding mission of the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) was sent to Nigeria to “enter into dialogue with the Government of Gen. Sani Abacha”. It should be noted that this was the first ever human rights resolution adopted on Nigeria.

Following the visit to Nigeria, the mission submitted its report (no. A/50/960 of 28 May 1996) to the United Nations General Assembly. The report[11] (a) called on the Government of Nigeria to repeal the “Civil Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Act of 18 March 1997 so that such offences are tried by the ordinary criminal court”; (b) recommended, inter-alia, that the Government of Nigeria should consider establishing a panel of eminent jurists, nominated by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, to establish the modalities to determine who and to what extent financial relief could be accorded to the dependants of the families of the deceased; (c). called for the suspension of all trials pending under the Civil Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Act and, recommended the immediate release from detention of other Ogoni activists currently facing trial under the Act; (d) called on the government to release all persons detained under decree 2 of 1984 and lift restrictions on the right to freedom of expression of the press and to release journalists, and refrain from harassing the media; and (e) advised the government to designate a review committee headed by a senior judge of the superior court to examine the decrees promulgated by the military government, [to] identify and recommend the repeal of such of those decrees thereof that encroach on the human rights provisions of the constitution or otherwise hinder the supremacy of the rule of law. The reaction of the administration to the recommendation of the mission is discussed in the preceding section.

This General Assembly resolution was followed in 1996 by a successful Commission on Human Rights resolution 1996/79 of 23 April 1996 titled the situation of human rights in Nigeria. The resolution requested the two existing human rights thematic mechanisms, namely the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye (Senegalese) and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr Param Cumaraswamy (Malaysian) to visit Nigeria and submit a joint report on the situation of human rights in Nigeria in respect of their thematic functions. The visit did not take place for many reasons which could be summarized as fundamental disagreement between the two parties (Nigerian Government, on the one hand and the international community, as represented by the Rapporteurs and the Centre of Human Rights, on the other hand) on the terms of reference of the two Rapportuers.[12] The Nigeria government disagreed that the Rapportuers (mechanisms) should visit Chief Abiola and some of the coup plotters in prison, whilst the Rapportuers and the Centre for Human Rights, on the other hand insisted that their terms of reference of the mechanisms included “an unhindered access to any person or place”. The implications of the disagreement and subsequent cancellation of the visit are that: (i) it was viewed by the international community that the Abacha administration had a hidden agenda and, as such, was not ready to co-operate with the UN mechanisms; (ii) it made the ex-situ report on Nigeria very critical of the country’s human rights situation and thus was willingly accepted by the Commission; (iii) it permitted the UN the opportunity to send signals to the administration of Gen. Abacha and to other countries of the need to respect UN mechanisms and decisions; and (iv) it led to the appointment of a country special rapportuer on Nigeria to monitor human rights situations in the country. The difference between a thematic Rapporteur and a country Rapporteur is that while the mandate of the former is on specific issues and themes worldwide, the latter’s mandate is wide, holistic in a country and can report on any issue that infringes on all the human rights of the citizens of the concerned state.

The ex-situ joint report of the Rapporteurs (no. E/CN.4/1997/62/Add.1 of 24 March 1997) which was forwarded to the 54th session of the Commission on Human Rights in March-April 1997, as expected, was very critical of the Abacha regime. The report amongst others informed that: (a) the rule of law in Nigeria was on the verge of collapse, if it had not already collapsed; (b) Judicial independence in Nigeria could only be realized if there was political will in the military Government to infuse constitutionalism into the machinery of government to respect the rule of law and to return the country to a democratic state; (c) the judges of the ordinary courts were poorly paid in sharp contrast to what applied to their colleagues in special and military tribunals; (d) there existed a flagrant executive disobedience of court orders to the extent that judges had simply stopped issuing orders on the military Government or its agencies because they would never be obeyed; (e) the administration either ignored court proceedings or orders or promulgated decrees nullifying a judgement and called the action “the rudest affront to the independence of judges and the rule of law in Nigeria”; (f) at times some Judges summoned courage to criticize the blatant and flagrant abuse of judicial proceedings and orders by the administration. Three examples were given to buttress the frustration of some of the high court judges to the flagrant disobedience of court proceedings and order as: (1) the case of Attorney-General of the Federation v. Nigerian Bar Association in 1992Justice A.F Adeyinka said: “The conduct of the Attorney General and of the Federal Government of Nigeria in disobeying the court orders is reprehensible”. He said the action is “destroying the basis in which lawyers can defend the rights of Nigerian citizens, which the Government is now seeking to protect by this action…..If citizens whose rights the Federal Government now seeks to protect follow the Government’s bad example and refuse to obey court orders, it will lead not only to the disruption of the due administration of justice …..but also, to chaos, anarchy and the ultimate dismemberment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. (II) The case of Ibrahim v. Emein, Justice Muhammad, sitting in the Court of Appeal in February 1996, said “…since the executive arm of the government refuses to comply with court orders, I am afraid that arm is promoting anarchy and executive indiscipline capable of wrecking the organic framework of the society”. (III) The statement of Justice James Oduneye, sitting in the High Court in February 1996, apparently frustrated when his court order granting an interim injunction restraining the Inspector-General of Police, the Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice from arresting or detaining Chief Akinmaghe was disobeyed: “I don’t like my orders being flouted, no matter who is involved…. If the orders of the court cannot be complied with, the court itself should be scrapped and let us live in a country of anarchy and chaos”.

It was not surprising that consequently, the Commission adopted resolution no. 1997/53 of 15 April 1997 and appointed a Special Country Rapporteur, Mr Soli Jehangir Sorabjee (Indian), with a mandate, to inter-alia “undertake an investigative mission to Nigeria” and also to “establish direct contacts with the authorities and the people of Nigeria ……and to report to the General Assembly and to the Commission”. The resolution also called on the Nigerian authorities to ensure “the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including by respecting the right to life, by releasing all political prisoners including those detained in connection with the 1993 presidential elections………and repeal all relevant decrees which oust the jurisdiction of the courts and to ensure that the court orders are promptly and fully implemented”. It also called on the authorities to “abide by its freely undertaken obligations under the International Covenants on Human Rights and other Human Rights instruments”.

The visit again did not take place according to what the Special Rapporteur described in his ex-situ report (E/CN.4/1998/62) as the inability “to secure approval from the Nigerian authorities”[13] and as expected, the report was very critical of the Abacha regime and so was the resolution of the 1998 session of the Human Rights Commission. The report informed inter-alia: (a) “that there are no constitutional guarantees for the protection of human rights in Nigeria. While decree 107 (suspension and modification) restores the 1979 constitution, other decrees suspend the application of its human rights provisions”. Example was given of an ouster clause which excludes the jurisdiction of courts, and the decree 114 of 1993, which suspends and dissolves political parties; (b) that Abacha’s transition to civil rule programme was being staged managed to the extent that all the five political parties were compelled by the administration to nominate Gen. Abacha as their sole Presidential candidate: and (c) that many Nigerians such as Obasanjo, Diya, that were tried by flawed judicial process, and those detained under decree 2 such as Chief Abiola etc, should be released immediately.

The resolution (1998/64 of 21 April 1998) of this 54th session of the Commission on Human Rights amongst others expressed deep concern: “at the continuing grave violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Nigeria…and failure to respect due process of law”; that a number of military persons were being tried in camera in connection with a coup attempt “by the same flawed judicial process which led to the arbitrary execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa; and that the Nigerian authorities have refused a visit by the Special Rapporteur”. The resolution went on to call on the Nigerian Government to inter-alia : repeal all decrees which oust the jurisdiction of the court; take concrete steps to restore democracy; to “abide by its freely undertaken obligations under the International Covenant on Human Rights”; and co-operate fully with the Commission on Human Rights and “its mechanisms, including the request of the Special Rapporteur to visit Nigeria”.

The Reaction of the Abacha Administration to the UN Response

Reacting to the defeated 1995 draft resolution L.100, the leader of the Nigerian delegation emphasized that the problems in Nigeria were political “and only Nigerians could resolve it”. He stated that the Government had established in 1994 a National Constitutional conference in this regard and that Federal Military government will implement the outcome of the Conference. Talking about selectivity, the leader of he Nigerian delegation (apparently referring to the UK) recalled that the major sponsors of the resolution (L.100), at a time had “restricted the freedom of movement and expression of its citizens” and that the Commission then did not deem it fit to table a resolution on the country. Prior to this statement, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria had earlier informed the Commission that Nigeria had ratified all major international instruments and that the Government was committed to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. He said that Nigeria had one of the freest press in the world and added “although the Government will not tolerate attempts calculated to destroy the corporate existence of the country”. It is however noteworthy to ask, that if Nigeria has “one of the freest press in the world”, why the proscription of some newspapers, why the arrest and detention of journalists that the draft resolution L.100 called for their release? Probably, Government action was intended to “protect the corporate existence of the country” which later became a sing-song employed by officials of State to justify the actions of Government.

It was probably to compensate the delegation for defeating an EU sponsored draft resolution L.100, that President Abacha, who dissolved his cabinet a few weeks before the 1995 Commission on Human Rights, appointed the leader of the delegation, Chief Tom Ikimi to the position of Foreign Minister. Prior to this appointment, Chief Ikimi was the Special Adviser (Political) to the Head of State. The implication of the defeat of resolution L.100 was the subsequent belief by the administration that the country was immune from international scrutiny and that the new Foreign Minister had a magic wand to persuade his counterparts in favour of Nigeria. With this feeling of immunity, impunity crept in, culminating into the arrest and detention of suspected coup plotters, the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the banning of many more newspapers.

In October 1995, in reaction to international pressures, particularly that of the UN, the Abacha regime quickly established the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) through Decree No. 22 of 6 October 1995.[14] Although the actions and activities of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission was not totally in accordance with the 1991 United Nations Paris Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights,[15] its establishment was a bold step in the right direction. National institutions, according to the Paris Principle, shall be vested inter-alia with:

(a)   a competence to protect and promote human rights (b) a broad mandate as possible which shall be clearly set forth in a constitutional or legislative text, specifying its composition and its sphere of competence; (c) a composition that guarantees the independence of the institution and as such should “ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civil society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights”; (d) enough guarantee of adequate funding and infrastructure, which is suited to the smooth conduct of its activities; and (e) could have access to those deprived of their liberty.

On the competence of the NHRC to protect and promote human rights, it is difficult to assess but the fact is that by law it did not have the authority to prosecute violators, thus limiting its competence. On the issue of mandate, the decree listed a broad mandate such as to deal with “all matters relating to human rights, monitors and investigates all alleged cases of violations in Nigeria, assist victims seek redress and remedies, etc”. On the issue of adequate resources for the NHRC, it is on record that the institution was deliberately starved of funds by the Abacha administration in order to minimize its efficiency. Hence, Mr. Sorabjee recommended that “the NHRC should be adequately resourced and its independence respected by government”. It is significant that Dr Tabiu, the Executive Secretary of the Commission had identified one of the problems of the Commission as lack of adequate funding. On the issue of composition and pluralist representation of the social forces involved in the promotion and protection of human rights, the NHRC, is composed of 3 representatives of human rights NGOs, two legal practitioners (qualified experts) and 3 representatives of government (from Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Internal Affairs), in line with the principle. Nonetheless, this seemingly pluralistic representation appears to be a faux since these representatives were appointed by the government and not elected by their respective unions. On the issue of access to persons deprived of their liberty, it is on record that the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission never visited any of the “VIP” political detainees, such as Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Abiola. A visit to a VIP prisoner under the administration of Gen. Abacha required the approval of the Presidency. Indeed, the decree in all fairness is in conformity with the Paris Principles only on paper. Hence the activities of the NHRC, were respectively described by two prominent Nigerian pro-democracy activists, Chief Gani Fawheimi, and Olisa Agbakoba as “driven by the government and its officials” and a “toothless bulldog set up to serve the interest of its master”.

On the report of the thematic rapporteurs on Nigeria in 1997, the leader of the Nigerian delegation insisted that they were no political prisoners/detainees in Nigeria. He said that all those detained were found guilty of a criminal offence or the other in conformity with Nigerian law. In reaction to the recommendations of the UNSG fact-finding mission, in an interim reply attached to the United Nations General Assembly,[16] the Government of Gen. Abacha promised to favorably consider some of the recommendations. It stated that “Decree No. 14 of 1994 which ousts the jurisdiction of courts to issue the writ of habeas corpus to persons detained under Decree No. 2 of 1984, as amended, will be repealed”. It also stated that “decree no.2 of 1984, as amended, which presently permits the detention of persons suspected of engaging in acts prejudicial to State security without trial and for an indefinite period will be amended to allow for the periodic review of each case by a body comprising the Chief of General Staff, the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation at an interval of three months”. This was not in accordance with the recommendation of the mission, which specifically requested for a senior judge of a superior court to review the decrees and recommend its immediate repeal or abrogation. The interim reply of the government went as far as explaining the importance of having some of the decrees and special tribunals in the Nigerian legal system. It argued that the “constitution of special tribunals has been established in Nigerian law since colonial times…and that special tribunals have been constituted for specific offences such as armed robbery, drug trafficking and illegal bankruptcy”. The reply argued that the special tribunals which was set up as late as 1981 and 1986 prior to the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha “were in conformity with the procedures envisaged in the Act; investigation committees were established prior to the decision to constitute a tribunal” and as such would not be repealed or abrogated. This hard line position could be as a result of the thinking of the administration: (i) that the United Nations had no right to interfere unnecessarily in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, such as Nigeria; (ii) that the UN was being manipulated by the Western countries, particularly the USA and as such, its decisions were laced with double standard, partiality and selectivity; and most importantly (iii) that to perpetuate the government of Abacha or at least to survive itself, it must not be or seen to be vulnerable to the demands of the United Nations and the international community.

In line with this hard line position, the Foreign Minister of Nigeria/leader of the delegation to the 1998 Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Chief Tom Ikimi insisted that neither the international community nor the Commission would “tell Nigeria how best to live together as one”. He stated that the citizens of Nigeria were happy with the regime of General Sani Abacha and would want him to transform to a civilian president. In an apparent fit of anger, he wondered who “elected the Queen of England” and why should Abacha under go the rigours of election “after all the political parties, representing all Nigerians, have nominated him as their sole presidential candidate”. He sued the Commission to be devoid of selectivity, double standard and partiality.[17] Instead of addressing the report of Mr. Sorabjee, the Nigerian delegation went on to castigate his integrity. The delegation opined that the ex-situ report was written for the Special Rapporteur while he (Sorabjee) was “busy cooling off in India”. A member of the Nigerian delegation, in the floor of the Commission, insisted that he knew and saw the persons that drafted the ex-situ report for the Rapportuer.

Major Components of the Advisory Services and Technical Assistance Programme and What Nigeria Should Request

The programme of advisory services and technical assistance is funded from the United Nations regular budget and from the UN Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation (VFTC) in the field of Human Rights. Countries are expected to contribute voluntarily to the Fund. A five-member Board of Trustees (BOT/VFTC) manages the Fund. Some specific projects could be funded by any UN agencies. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) have financed or collaborated with the OHCHR to initiate and administer some specific projects.[18]

In 1998 the total expenditure for technical cooperation was estimated at US$7.2 million of which US$1.2 million was financed from the regular budget and about US$6 million was financed from the VFTC. The total contribution to the VFTC in 1998 was $10.9. In 1998 alone, a total of about 49 projects were executed of which 31 were at national level, 8 at the regional and the rest at global level. Amongst the most interesting projects reviewed in 1998 for execution, in conjunction with the Organization of African Unity (OAU), at the regional level, at the cost of US$235,074, was the “Regional Training in Human Rights for Heads of Military Academies in Africa”.[19] This project is particularly interesting for the following reasons: (i) that traditional military training in Africa, in most cases, included some courses in International Humanitarian Law, mainly the 4 Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Protocols, without much emphasis on International Human Rights Laws which also apply in situation of armed conflict; and (ii) that the military in Africa, in particular, in Nigeria, are being used to quell civil unrest and as such should be grounded in human rights law which apply mainly in civil policing duties, maintenance of order and public safety under state of emergency and assignment to international peace-keeping operations. See in the final pages the statistics of funding and expenditures prepared by the OHCHR

Programme Components

In discussing this section, we will look at each of the major programme components developed by the OHCHR and compare them, where necessary, with recommendations of treaty monitoring bodies, human rights experts and rapportuers on Nigeria with a view to ascertaining which component will be suitable for the new administration. In this regard, the approach of this section will be exactly the same approach (issue-area) adopted by the Information Paper prepared by the Activities and Programmes Branch of the OHCHR. These components are listed below.

National Action Plans (NAPs)

This programme component is aimed at assisting states in preparing their NAPs as recommended in Part 11, paragraph 71 of the VDPA that each “State should consider the desirability of drawing up a national action plan identifying steps whereby states would improve the promotion and protection of human rights”. Under this programme component therefore, the OHCHR will provide expert assistance in the drafting and implementation of NAPs. The OHCHR, prior to implementation may conduct a national needs assessments for “human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and can make concrete recommendations, based upon international human rights standards, for institutional, legal, educational and other measures in the short, medium and long-terms”.[20] At the level of implementation, the OHCHR will avail the state concerned of “expert legal assistance, institutional support, training and information activities, and may at the request of the Government, prepare a comprehensive country programme of assistance in the field of human rights”. Many countries including Egypt, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa have enjoyed similar assistance.

Nigeria, which has not prepared its NAP, urgently needs the assistance of OHCHR in drawing up its plans. The advantage of having a NAP in which the citizens and the members of the international community could easily see and identify with are numerous:

(a)   it will show the willingness of the authority to promote and protect all human rights; (b) it will enable a donor (state or NGO or private sectors) to know the area to assist; (c) it will enable the authority to know where and how to channel its resources in respect of protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens; (d) it will enable the administration, international community and civil society to keep an inventory of the authorities records; and most importantly (e) it will lead to restoration of confidence in the administration’s intentions to implement its human rights obligations.

In fact in the concluding observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the expert body that monitors the implementation of the covenant in its document of 13 May 1998 “urges the Nigerian Government to open-up to international organizations, UN organs and specialized agencies and to conduct constructive dialogues with them in openness and transparency as a necessary step towards the restoration of confidence in the regime’s intentions to implement its human rights obligations, including those under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”.[21]

Constitutional assistance

This is a programme component whereby the OHCHR “provides assistance for the inclusion of human rights norms in national constitution and can play a leading role in encouraging national consensus on the elements to be incorporated into those constitutions”.[22] According to the OHCHR, this could be done via the organization of conferences, provision of human rights experts, documents, and “support for public information campaigns to ensure the involvement of all sectors of society”.[23] Issues addressed are listed as “legislative drafting and constitutional law; the drafting of bills of rights; the provision of justiciable remedies at law; options for the allocation and separation of governmental powers; the independence of the judiciary; the role of the judiciary in overseeing the police and prison systems; states of emergency in constitutional law; incorporating economic, social and cultural rights into constitutional law; constitutional protection of national minorities and national human rights institutions…..; trade union freedoms; constitutional protection of human rights in the administration of justice; the legal status of international norms in domestic law; permissible limitations to and derogation from respect for human rights; the application of international norms by the courts; constitutional review by the judiciary; constitutional mechanisms for equality, non-discrimination and the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination; and constitutional provisions for political pluralism”.[24] Many East European countries including the Russian Federation have enjoyed this assistance.

Nigeria needs this assistance. All treaty monitoring bodies of which the country is a state party had on various occasions called on the government of Nigeria to make its legal system conform to the international human rights standards. For instance, the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the committee that monitors implementations of state parties to the Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 15 September 1993, in its concluding observation on Nigeria, “found that the national legislation, particularly Section 50, paragraph (d), subsection 21 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, did not fully meet the requirements of Article 4 of the Convention and that the provision of Article 5 of the Convention were not adequately implemented”.[25] It suggested that Nigeria’s national legislation be brought “into full compliance with the provisions of the Convention” particularly on Article 1 concerning the definition of racial discrimination; prohibition of racist organizations and “propaganda activities that promote and incite racial discrimination”. Similarly, the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its concluding observation on Nigeria’s periodic report of 30 October 1996 requested the government to “adopt the Children’s Decree, drafted in conformity with the principles of the provisions of the Convention” on the rights of Child. The draft decree was never promulgated. It also called for Nigeria’s “national legislation to be brought into conformity with the provisions of Articles 37, 39 and 40” concerning the abrogation of capital punishment to those below the age of 18. The Committee also recommended the abrogation of section 73 of the Nigerian Criminal Code and that “section 3 of the Children and Young Persons Law be reviewed as to its conformity with the Convention” and expressed concern at the “inadequacy of safeguards for children who are detained by legal authorities, the conditions of places of detention for children, including the lack of medical services”.[26] Again, in the concluding observation of the Human Rights Committee, the committee that monitors the implementation of civil and political rights noted that incommunicado detention constitutes violations of article 9 of the Covenant and that the establishment of special tribunals other than the law courts violates Article 6 and 14 of the Covenant. The committee went on to recommend that the Government of Nigeria should seek “the assistance of the Technical and Advisory Services of the United Nations Centre for Human Rights in this process”.[27]

National Institution

As stated above, Nigeria’s national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which was established in October 1995. The aims of this programme according to the OHCHR are: “to promote the concept of national institutions; to assist in the creation of effective institutions; to assist in the strengthening of existing institutions; and to foster cooperation between institutions”. The assistance may include “training of staff, advice on domestic implementation of international instruments, training and assistance in the drafting of reports to the United Nations treaty bodies, training and information on the effective investigation of human rights violations, training in conflict resolution, assistance in the establishment of cooperative relationships with appropriate partners, information in obtaining and managing resources, assistance in conducting reviews and evaluations, the provision of human rights fellowships to members and staff of national institutions” and the organization and provision of human rights education.[28] Assistance was provided for Slovakia in 1994 in this respect. The project ran for 2 years. Similar assistance has also been provided for Latvia, Uganda, Namibia, Russian Federation and South Africa at various times to the satisfaction of all these countries.

In 1996, in its concluding observations to the report on Nigeria’s implementation of the covenant on civil and political rights, the Human Rights Committee, while welcoming the establishment of NHRC, recommended that the “National Human Rights Commission (or other agency) take step to inform and educate the community about the rights and freedoms protected by the Covenant and the constitution and about the remedies available in case of violation of rights”. It suggested that the Government should seek advisory services and technical assistance of the OHCHR in this regard.[29] It is pertinent for the present Government to request for this programme component. Furthermore, the Special Rapportuer on Nigeria Mr. Sorabjee in his report (A/53/366) of 17 September 1998 called on the Government of Nigeria to adequately fund the NHRC and its independence respected. He urged the Government to strengthen the NHRC “by expansion of its powers and jurisdiction to cover all cases of violations of human rights, not withstanding the ouster clauses in the relevant decrees”. He appealed to the Government to guarantee the security of tenure of the Chairman and staff of the Commission so that the Commission would be encouraged to work closely with “NGOs in its activities to promote and protect human rights”.

Legislative reform assistance

There is a slight difference between this component and the component on constitutional assistance. While one deals solely with the constitution, this component deals mainly with penal codes, etc. We decided to separate the two components for the sake of clarity despite the risk of repetition and verbosity. The OHCHR under this programme, provides experts to assist states in reforming their legislature in order to be in conformity with international human rights standards, laws and instruments. The component according to the OHCHR includes “assistance with respect to penal codes, codes of criminal procedure, prison regulations, laws regarding minority protection, laws affecting freedom of expression, association and assembly, immigration and nationality laws, laws on judiciary and legal practice, security legislation, and, in general any law which might have an impact directly, or indirectly, on the realization of internationally protected rights”.[30]

Basically all treaty monitoring bodies to which Nigeria is a party, and reports of special rapportuers as well as that of the UNSG fact-finding mission, (already discussed above) have urged Nigeria to either repeal some existing laws or amend them to be in conformity with international human rights standards. For instance, the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1996 recommended the abrogation of section 73 of the Criminal Code and section 3 of the Children and Young Persons Law concerning deprivation of liberty and detention. The Human Rights Committee had also called on Nigeria to study the possibility of abolishing the death sentence or that such sentences must be passed with safe guards inherent in a fair trial in consonance with articles 14.1 and 6 of the covenant. The committee recommended that steps should be taken, particularly through education, “to overcome certain traditions and customs such as female genital mutilation and forced marriages, which are incompatible with the equality rights of women”. Furthermore, on the issue of violence against women, the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in its concluding observation on 7 July 1998 in New York, noted that Nigeria’s legal system did not have relevant laws on this issue and called on Nigeria to “introduce and enforce appropriate laws, Programmes and policies to confront all forms of violence against women”. It further recommended the “establishment of shelters for victims and the introduction of measures to ensure that women are protected from reprisal where they report their victimization”. It went on to recommend “educational courses of violations of the rights of women and children, as well as public awareness campaign with regard to these issues.”[31] Following the reply of the government delegation that the 43 persons publicly executed in Lagos on 22 July 1995 were found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced to death by a Lagos State Armed Robbery and Firearms Tribunal in conformity with Nigerian law, the Human Rights Committee recommended that Nigeria needs expert assistance to bring its laws to conform with the non-derogatory Article 6.2 of the convention and process of derogation. It is our view therefore that the new administration may benefit from this programme component, which had hitherto been enjoyed by the Russian Federation, South Africa, Brazil and Gabon. In fact, a field assessment mission was undertaken to China in 1999, at its request, to evaluate the human rights situation in order to “appreciate its technical assistance needs to strengthen national capacities to protect the rule of law, democracy and human rights”[32]

Administration of Justice: judges, lawyers, magistrates, prosecutors, military officials, police and prison officials

The OHCHR “provides training courses for judges, lawyers, prosecutors and penal institutions, as well as law enforcement officers”. The aim is to “familiarize participants with international standards for human rights in the administration of justice; facilitate examination of humane and effective techniques for the performance of penal and judicial functions in a democratic society; and teach trainer participants to include this information in their own training activities”. Courses offered include topics such as the arrest and pre-trial detention, the need for the military to subject itself to civil authority and be bound by the constitution, duties and guiding principles of ethical police conduct in democracies, the use of force and firearms in law enforcement, effective methods of legal and ethical interviewing, protection of the rights of women and human rights under the state of emergency.[33] In 1994 courses were organized for the police in Argentina, Brazil, Egypt and Palestine and for ONUMOZ CIVPOL in Mozambique.

Nigeria actually needs this component. Various United Nations human rights bodies, experts and rapportuers have on many occasions stressed this need. In their various reports to the Commission on Human Rights in April 1997 and 1998, Messrs. Cummaraswamy, Ndiaye and Sorabjee, while painting a gloomy picture of the administration of justice and law enforcement in Nigeria, urged the Nigerian authorities to seek advisory services and technical assistance of the OHCHR in this field. This will enable Nigeria “conform with the international human rights standards in the administration of justice”.[34]

It could be argued that the major reasons for Nigeria to seek assistance of this programme component are: (a) having been ruled by the military for so long, it is pertinent for the good functioning of the rule of law that members of the armed forces should be bound by the constitution and by other laws of the land that they may be trained in and committed in the principles of human rights while attending to their legitimate functions; (b) it is often heard in military circles that human right laws, as against international humanitarian laws (laws of war), are inconsistent with military training. This is not correct because international human rights laws also apply in some cases in war situation. It is yet to be seen that the duties of Nigerian soldiers are limited to waging wars. They could also include civil policing duties, the maintenance of law and order under a state of emergency and assignment to international peacekeeping operation, which they perform at the moment. This requires the knowledge and application of human rights standards and not international humanitarian law standards; and (c) it will assist the Nigerian judiciary that was emasculated by the military as mentioned above to re-educate itself on the importance of judiciary in a democratic system.

Electoral assistance

The OHCHR has published guidelines for the analysis of electoral laws and procedures and a handbook on human rights and elections. The main areas of assistance include “legal analysis and legislative assistance with regard to electoral laws and related legislation; expert analysis and recommendations concerning the prevailing human rights atmosphere and legal and institutional needs, with particular emphasis on certain human rights seen as prerequisites for free and fair elections….; support for civic education endeavours; training of public officials with key roles in elections, such as police, electoral officials, judiciary, political parties, the media and NGOs on the legal and human rights aspects of elections…”[35] Many countries such as Cambodia (1992), Romania (1990-1992), Malawi (1992-1993), Eritrea (1992), South Africa (1993), Albania (1991) and Lesotho (1991-1993) have all enjoyed these facilities. Another aim of this component is to ensure the consolidation of democracy, human rights and development. The OHCHR does this by informing the state concerned of the availability of other relevant follow-up action that will ensure an enduring democracy. For instance in the case of Romania, Malawi, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau and Cambodia, the OHCHR assisted with a 2-year follow-up report missions, electoral needs assessment and legal analysis.

The new administration may find it relevant to start training members of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), judiciary, police, local NGOs and political parties on the legal and human rights aspects of elections, in preparation for future elections and by-elections. This suggestion is apt for two main reasons: (i) the need to have a permanent mechanism created by the UN that will, for at least two years or more, coordinates all issues and bodies involved in election in order to ensure the consolidation of democracy, human rights and development; and (ii) such training might help in developing permanent mechanisms to combat election political thuggery, one of the excuses which the military had used to forcefully seize power in the past.

National Parliament

This programme component lays emphasis on direct training of parliamentarians on human rights issues so as to enable them understand and ratify human rights instruments for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The component provides information on national human rights legislation, parliamentary human rights committees, ratifications of and accessions to international human rights instruments, and, in general, the role of parliament in promoting human rights. This project has been organized in conjunction with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for Parliamentarians in Lithuania to the satisfaction of the government..

Nigeria may consider requesting for this assistance since most parliamentarians may not be versed in human rights issues. All international instruments by law in Nigeria have to be ratified by the Senate and lack of knowledge of some of these instruments, particularly in human rights might delay ratification and impede the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. To avoid the mistake of the past, especially were it has been exhaustively reported that forceful seizure of power by the military is usually under the excuse of the inability of civilians to govern, it is instructive that all relevant human rights instruments that abhor military rule should be ratified by the parliament in order to guarantee its existence. In this regard, it will not be out of place for the parliamentarians to understand the instruments being ratified and acceded to by them.

Treaty reporting and training of government officials

The OHCHR organizes training courses for states to help in the preparation of reports required under various international human rights treaties to which they are state parties. This is done in the form of seminars and workshops (national or regional) for state representatives as well as availing them of the opportunity to attend meetings of treaty monitoring bodies. Such assistance have been given to Morocco and South Africa. In 1994 a training course was organised in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for officials from francophone Africa.

Nigeria surely needs such assistance. The country’s initial report on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were returned by the Committee for not adopting the methodology and framework for treaty reporting. The Committee in 1998 requested the “Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to avail itself of the advisory services and technical assistance programme in the field of human rights” in order to train experts in treaty reporting. Similarly, Nigeria’s initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child forwarded to the OHCHR in 1994 for onward transmission to the Committee was returned to the authorities for re-writing. It took the Nigerian authorities two years to re-write the report which was presented to the Committee in March 1996 and defended before the Committee in October 1996. In fact it was said that the relevant ministries concerned had to solicit the assistance of various Nigerian and international experts from outside the Government to re-write the report at an exorbitant costs.

Information and documentation

This is aimed at building national capacity to utilize and manage human rights documents and information. Activities in this area according to the publication of Activities and Programmes Branch includes direct provision of documentation, translated where necessary into local languages; training in human rights information; and assistance in computerization of national and regional human rights offices, as well as assisting national libraries in acquiring human rights books and documentation. All publications are aimed at specific audiences , such as the police, judges and lawyers, prison personnel, the armed forces and teachers.

Nigeria needs this form of assistance. Calls have been made by many Nigerians, particularly the former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Bamaiyi for members of the Nigerian Armed Forces to be re-oriented to be able to subjugate themselves to civil authorities. In his handing over speech to the new Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Victor Malu, he warned that there still existed bad eggs in the military and that the government should “either weed them out or re-educate them for their new role”.[36]

Peacekeeping and training of international civil servants

This is aimed at educating members of UN peacekeeping operation and international civil servants on human rights component of their mission. As argued earlier, traditional military training lays emphasis on international humanitarian law (law of war), including the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 at the expense of international human rights laws. The classical difference between both is that while the former applies in situations of armed conflict the latter do apply in peace time. This is not always so. International human rights standards do, although limited, apply to armed conflict situations, even when the duty of a peacekeeper is not to wage war but to maintain and consolidate peace. This programme, according to the publication prepared by the Activities and Programmes Branch of the OHCHR, has provided various forms “of assistance to major Untied Nation’s missions in Cambodia, Eritrea, Mozambique, Haiti, South Africa, and the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Angola”. The assistance included the provision of “human rights information, legislative analysis, training and advisory services.”[37]

This programme will be very relevant to Nigeria given the peacekeeping role the Nigerian Armed forces and Police force have being playing in Liberia, Sierra Leone, former Yugoslavia, etc. Nigeria, given the statement of the new President Obasanjo in South Africa, that Nigeria will participate actively to restore peace in the Great Lakes region, there is the possibility that Nigeria’s peacekeeping role in Africa might increase and expand in the near future.[38]

Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and civil society

This programme, according to the OHCHR is aimed at strengthening civil society by supporting their country level projects. Such projects are usually in the field of human rights education and publications in languages of the target recipients. The country programmes involve components targeted to non-governmental human rights groups, market women, labor unions and other key actors in the civil society in order to strengthen their capacity to fulfil their legitimate and important role in generating a vigilant, continuous, informed and effective domestic demand for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It could be argued that the Nigerian NGOs contributed to the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. For Nigeria’s democracy to be enduring, it would be appropriate for the civilian government to request for this assistance.

Human rights education

This is aimed at developing and incorporating human rights curriculum in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. This activity is aimed at assisting in the building of human rights culture by encouraging the inclusion of human rights concepts in existing programme; assisting in the adaptation or modification of curricula where necessary; and providing instruction and assistance to those persons centrally involved in the human rights education. This is usually done by training the trainer via a training programme for teachers or by organizing seminars to sensitize the public, particularly educators on the need to incorporate human rights studies in the curricula of national institutions. The OHCHR can also provide specialized assistance in national curriculum development at the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. In 1994 the assistance was provided to Albania, by incorporating human rights concepts in civic education.

Nigeria will benefit from this programme for the chief reasons: (a) that having been under military dictatorship for about 30 years, out of 39 years of Nigeria’s independence, human rights education particularly at primary level, may gradually inculcate the culture of human rights in the citizenry; (b) that human rights education will help to consolidate democracy and discourage any forceful seizure of power by the military; and (c) that if incorporated in civic education at primary and secondary levels, like in the case of Albania, it will help the students to know not only their duties and responsibilities to the society but also their rights.

Human rights and the media

This is a programme designed to strengthen the role of the media in the protection and promotion of human rights by apprising media professionals to the content and scope of the international human rights to free expression and information. Seminars and training programmes by panel of experts with varied experience are held by the OHCHR for media practitioners on various courses on international human rights and the role of the media in promoting and protecting these rights. Nigeria may wish to request for this programme.

Human rights and resolution of conflict

This is aimed at providing participants with peaceful conflict resolution techniques and on the use of “legal, administrative and human rights institutions for the settlement of disputes”. The beneficiaries are both government officials and representatives of key actors in the civil society such as trade, and student union leaders, as well as NGOs. This is organized in the form of seminars and lectures as well as the provision of publications and relevant documentation. This programme may be very relevant to Nigeria. It will afford government officials that are directly involved in the promotion and protection of human rights, such as the judiciary, police, prison officials, etc and the key actors in civil society such the NGOs to be tutored on the need to peacefully resolve conflicts. Peaceful conflict resolution has always been a problem in Nigeria. Most inter ethnic clashes in Nigeria are never fully resolved because of lack of concrete and permanent conflict resolution mechanism within the system. Nigeria’s reliance on the law courts for redress might not be an end to the deep-rooted animosity witnessed amongst some ethnic groups in Nigeria that co-habit, such as the Itshekiri, Urhobo and Ijaws. Therefore, the OHCHR might assist the government to develop and structure a peaceful conflict resolution mechanism that could be useful in the resolution of ethnic conflicts wherever and whenever they arise.

Fellowship programme activities

This programme component has been in existence since 1955. This, like other programme components, is provided to countries on request. Under this programme, fellowships are awarded to candidates nominated by their governments, for studies in various aspects of human rights. It is usually organized in the form of a time-framed seminar at global, regional and sub-regional levels or scholarships to various institutions the world over. From available records, this is the only programme component Nigeria has requested and received in 1994 to train an official from the Ministry of Justice in legal drafting of human rights resolutions and declarations.

Assessment and Conclusions

It is our conclusion that the human rights situation in Nigeria within the period under consideration was very appalling and the role played by the United Nations to bring pressure on the government was completely in order, given the mandate of the United Nations. It is also our conclusion that Nigeria’s obligations under various human rights treaties, which it willingly ratified and acceded to, assisted the UN in focusing attention on the country. It is equally our conclusion that the Abacha administration did not react properly to these UN pressures. There is no doubt that all actions of the administration were geared towards succession bid of Gen. Abacha. Nonetheless, its hard line stance toward the UN and its mechanisms demonstrated: (a) that it inherently lacks understanding of the UN system in respect of the Nigeria’s obligations under various international human rights instruments of which it willingly ratified; (b) that President Obasanjo was right in his inaugural speech of 29 May 1999: “good men were shunned and kept away from government while those who should be kept away were drawn near”; (c) that foreign policy, although an extension of domestic policy, should be left in the hands of the experts and foreign service officials whose advice should be seriously considered by Government, particularly the Foreign Minister, before taking action or making pronouncements; (d) that all Nigeria’s international actions and behaviors were geared towards the self-succession bid of Gen. Abacha and as such, good advice and reasoning fell on deaf ears; and (e) that the United Nations is now turning out to be an effective instrument of the global community to rid the world of dictatorships. However, it does not follow that the UN has the machinery to physically remove a dictator from office, but with the resources at its disposal it can and has succeeded to bring acute and systematic violations of human rights to the fore of international attention. [Sadam Hussein (Iraq 1990 and 1998). Slobadan Milosevic (former Yugoslavia, 1998-1999), Mummer Ghadafi (Libya, 1986 and 1999) and apartheid South Africa].

Finally, it is our conclusion that Nigeria should request the advisory services and technical assistance from the OHCHR. In this regard, it is proper for Nigeria to carefully identify its human rights needs and request for assistance. We have in the body of this article attempted to identify what we regard as Nigeria’s real need for advisory services and technical assistance programme in the field of human rights. Alternatively, the present administration should first request a need assessment mission of the OHCHR in order to assist Nigeria to identify its human rights needs. Currently, the OHCHR is fielding, at the cost of US$50,000, a need assessment mission to China, at its request, to evaluate the human rights situation in that country. This will enable the assessors to appreciate the needs of the country to strengthen its national “capacities to protect the rule of law, democracy and human rights”. The present civilian government may wish to do the same.


[1]The OHCHR and the Centre for Human Rights were consolidated into a single office, called OHCHR on 15 September 1997.

[2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, first preamble.

[3] Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice, Article. 1 para. 3.

[4] UN Human Rights Fact Sheet No. 2, 5, 8 pages 14, 3.

[5] In 1995 over 36 persons, including Gen. Obasanjo, the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Shehu Musa Yaradua, were arrested and tried by a Special Military Tribunal (SMT) on allegation of coup plotting. About half of them were sentenced to death. The death sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment following mass appeal by various statesmen, including President Clinton, United Nations Secretary General (UNSG), etc. Again, in 1998, over 30 persons were also arrested on allegation of another coup plotting. They were tried by SMT and about 4 of them sentenced to death. Amongst those sentenced to death was the number 2 man in the administration, Gen. Oladipo Diya. It was said that Gen. Abacha died on the eve of the meeting of the PRC to be conveyed to decide the faith of these officers already sentenced to death.

[6] The Government of Gen. Abacha clamped Chief Moshood Abiola, a Nigerian multimillionaire who was acclaimed to have won the 1993 election into detention without trial. He later died in detention under suspicious circumstances in June 1998.

[7] Trade and Student Unions were proscribed and their leaders such as Kokori, the leader of PENGASAN were clamped into jail without trial for demonstrating against the annulment of the June 12 1993 election.

[8] Many newspapers and magazines, such as the News, Guardian, Concord, Tell were banned or proscribed and their respective editors sentenced to prison without trial.

[9] Nine Ogoni activists, including Ken. Saro-Wiwa, (a world acclaimed writer and a human rights activist/environmentalist) were sentenced to death and hanged on the eve of the Commonwealth Summit in Auckland in 1995.

[10] Covenant of Civil and Political Right (CCPR), part 111, Art.6 paras 2 and 4.

[11] See Report of the UNSG fact-finding mission to Nigeria, No. A/50/960 of 28 May 1996 (UN library, New York).

[12]See report No. E/CN.4/1997/62 Add.1 of 24 March 1997.

[13] E/CN.4/1998/62 titled: Report of the Special Rapportuer of the Situation of Human Rights in Nigeria, page 3.

[14]See official gazette of the Federal Government of Nigeria No. 28, vol.82 of 6 October 1995.

[15] Human Rights Fact Sheet No. 19, National Institution for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (published by the UN World campaign for Human Rights).

[16] Reply of the Federal Government of Nigeria to the report of the UNSG fact-finding mission to Nigeria (A/50/960 of 28 May 1996).

[17] Speech by the Nigerian Foreign Minister, Chief Tom Ikimi to the 1998 session of the Commission on Human Rights held in Geneva in March/April 1998. Also, the address by the Honourable Minister to the African Ambassadors at Intercontinental Hotel, Geneva during a working lunch. Also see speech by the Nigerian delegation in reaction to the report of Mr Sorabjee.

[18] Advisory Services and Technical Assistance Co-operation in the field of Human Rights, report of the UNSG to the 55th Session of the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/1999/99 of 5 February 1999) page 39.

[19] Ibid.

[20] See E/CN.4/1999/89 of 19 January 1995, page 10.

[21] E/C.12/Add.23 of 13 May 1998 (UN doc.) page 4.


[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] A/48/18 of 15/9/93 paras 306 – 329 (UN doc).

[26] CRC/C.15/Add.61 of 30/10/96, pages 5 -7 (UN doc).

[27] CCPR/C/79/Add.64 of 3/4/96, pages 1 -2; and CCPR/C/79/Add.65; A/51/40 of 24/7/99, paras 267 – 305 (UN doc).

[28] E/CN.4/1995/89 of 19/1/95 (UN doc).

[29] CCPR/C/79/Add.65 and A/51/40, page 5.

[30] Op cit., page 5

[31] CEDAW/C/1998/11/L.1/Add.6 (7/7/98).

[32] Op.cit, page 10.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Op.cit.

[35] Op.cit., p.4.

[36] Speech of Gen. Bamaiyi during his pulling out from the army, Nigerian Concord Newspaper of June 2, 1999.

[37] Op cit., pages 7 – 8.

[38] Speech by President Obasanjo in South Africa, Nigerian Vanguard Newspaper, June 17, 1999.

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