FREEDOM AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN AFRICAN COUNTRIES: NIGERIA AS A CASE STUDY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Concepts of Freedom And Human Rights
Situation of Freedom and Human Rights in Nigeria Since the Democratic Dispensation
Nigeria and Its International and Regional Commitments
The term "human rights" refers to those rights that are considered universal to humanity, regardless of citizenship, residency status, ethnicity, gender, or other considerations.
The fundamental rights that humans have by the fact of being human, and that are neither created nor can be abrogated by any government. Supported by several international conventions and treaties (such as the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human rights in 1948), these include cultural, economic, and political rights, such as right to life, liberty, education and equality before law, and right of association, belief, free speech, information, religion, movement, and nationality. Promulgation of these rights is not binding on any country, but they serve as a standard of concern for people and form the basis of many modern national constitutions. Although they were defined first by the Scottish philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) as absolute moral claims or entitlements to life, liberty, and property, the best-known expression of human rights is in the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 which proclaims that "All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity."
The idea of human rights has been tackled in a number of ways in recent times, both in the course of diplomatic and political encounters across the globe. Human rights are commonly understood as “inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere). These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national and international law.1 the doctrine of human rights in international practice, within international law, global and regional institutions, in the policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations, has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world.2
Stated in article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states;
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.3
Against this background, we can justifiably agree with Funmi Olonisakin who argues that the whole idea of human rights is based on the need to maintain freedom and justice among human beings with the expectation that ultimately peace and harmony can be achieved among peoples.4
Following from this, it is clear that a democratic nation like Nigeria has or should have as one of its objectives the protection of its citizens’ rights and ensure their freedom under the rule of law. For men who are granted political power will insist that liberty and equality are inevitable corollaries of democratic systems.5 But sadly enough, these are not given serious attention except theoretically. If every state is known by the rights it maintains, then we cannot sink in silence and watch ourselves being swept away by the hurricane of human rights abuse in Nigeria. Hence, it becomes imperative for us to interrogate the reality of the Nigeria case which stirs us in the face.6
THE NATURE OF THE NIGERIA CRISIS
Trade and Slavery
In order to assess the complex problem of freedom and human rights, it is important to examine the nature and dynamics of the Nigeria state. However, we cannot adequately speak of the emergence of Nigeria without allusion to the issues of trade and slave. It is on record that early Euro-American contact with Africans was first necessitated by trade, even though some westerners came to Africa under the auspices of missionary activities and personal exploitation in either case, these people had contact with Africans. At first a better system of trade was in vogue- Africans traded with the Euro-Americans in terms of valuable commodities such as gold, ivory etc. in exchange for tobacco, whisky, and clothing among others. The end of this era saw the beginning of slavery.7
The Emergence of Nigeria
Nigeria was created by the British colonialism bringing together its diverse peoples and regions in an artificial political entity. It was not unusual that the nationalism that became a political factor in Nigeria during the interwar period derived both from an older political particularism and broad pan-Africanism rather than from any sense of a common Nigerian nationality. Its goal initially was not self-determination, but rather increased participation in the governmental process on a regional level. Inconsistencies in British policy reinforced cleavages based on regional animosities by attempting simultaneously to preserve the indigenous cultures of each area and to introduce modern technology and Western political and social concepts. In the north, appeals to Islamic legitimacy upheld the rule of the emirs, so that nationalist sentiments there were decidedly anti-Western. Modern nationalists in the south, whose thinking was shaped by European ideas, opposed indirect rule, which had entrenched what was considered to be an anachronistic ruling class in power and shut out the Westernized elite.8
The ideological inspiration for southern nationalists came from a variety of sources, including prominent American-based activists such as Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois. Nigerian students abroad joined those from other colonies in pan-African groups, such as the West African Students Union, founded in London in 1925. Early nationalists tended to ignore Nigeria as the focus of patriotism; rather, the common denominator was based on a newly assertive ethnic consciousness, particularly Yoruba and Igbo. Despite their acceptance of European and North American influences, the nationalists were critical of colonialism for its failure to appreciate the antiquity of indigenous cultures. They wanted self-government, charging that only colonial rule prevented the unshackling of progressive forces in Africa.
Political opposition to colonial rule often assumed religious dimensions. Independent Christian churches had emerged at the end of the nineteenth century because many European missionaries were racist and blocked the advancement of a Nigerian clergy. European interpretations of Christian orthodoxy also refused to allow the incorporation of local customs and practices, even though the various mission denominations themselves interpreted Christianity very differently. It was acceptable for the established missions to differ, but most Europeans were surprised and shocked that Nigerians would develop new denominations independent of European control. Christianity long had experienced "protestant" schisms; the emergence of independent Christian churches in Nigeria was another phase of this history. The pulpits of the independent congregations provided one of the few available avenues for the free expression of attitudes critical of colonial rule.9
In the 1920s’ there were several types of associations that were ostensibly non-political. One group consisted of professional and business associations, such as the Nigerian Union of Teachers, which provided trained leadership for political groups; the Nigerian Law Association, which brought together lawyers, many of whom had been educated in Britain, and the Nigerian Produce Traders Association, led by Obafemi Awolowo Ethnic and kinship organizations that often took form of a tribal union also emerged in the 1920s. These organizations were primarily urban phenomena that arose after large numbers of rural migrants moved to the cities. Alienated by the anonymity of the urban environment and drawn together by ties to their ethnic homelands – as well as by the need for mutual aid – the new city dwellers formed local clubs that later expanded into federations covering whole regions. By the mind – 1940’s, the major ethnic groups had formed such associations as the Igbo federal union and Egbe Omo Oduduwa (Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa), a Yoruba cultural movement, in which Awolowo played a leading role.
A third type of organization that was more pointedly political was the youth or student group which became the vehicle of intellectuals and professionals. They were the most politically conscious segment of the population and stood in the vanguard of the nationalist movement. Newspapers, some of which were published before World War I, provided coverage of nationalist views.10
Conclusively, every society must have a conception of how it is related to other societies and how it is to conduct itself toward them. It lives with them in the same world, except for the very special case of isolation of a society from al the rest as it were during primitive ages. It must formulate certain ideals and principles for guiding its policies toward other peoples. A human being has rights only if she/he is to be other than ‘a’ human being, the person must in addition become an “other” human being. Then “the other” can treat him as their fellow human being. Undeniably, human rights are natural, in born and inalienable. They have a history and are acquired. They are increased and developed. Human rights have a universal common basis in human thought and community. They are differently interpreted, and their recognition and practice depend on the development of a common understanding of rights and freedoms.11
T. Machan, Human Rights Reaffirmed, (Harare: Mambo Press, 1984), p.7.
T. Obiora, The Fantasy of Human Rights, (Enugu: CIDJAP Publishers, 1993), p.311.
F. Olonisakin, “Changing the Perspective of Human Rights in Africa” in Sola A., and Adamu S., (eds.), Africa in the Post-Cold War International System, (London: Cassel Printers, 1998), p.109.
H. Kask, A Grammar of Politics, (London: Union Brothers, 1970), p.89
G. Kieh, “Reconstructing a Collapsed State: the Nigeria Experience”, in Segun J. et al (eds.), State Reconstruction in West Africa, (Lagos: Rights House, 20011), p.219.
G. E. Boley, Nigeria: the Rise and Fall of the First Republic, (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1983), p.1.
G. E. Boley, Nigeria: the Rise and Fall of the First Republic.
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