Curbing Nigerians’ craze for foreign petitions

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Earlier this year, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)  said it was lodging a complaint against Nigeria and President Muhammadu Buhari at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Hague, the Netherlands, alleging systematic annihilation of pro-Biafra agitators in Nigeria.

The group, in a statement by its National Director of Information, Comrade Edeson Samuel, appealed to the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), the United States of America (USA), the G8 Nations and International Human Rights Organisations to intervene and save “Biafrans.”

MASSOB claimed that the “atrocious acts of the Nigerian Government” led to the killings, unlawful arrests, abductions, torture and detention of hundreds of innocent Biafra agitators, including Nnamdi Kanu.

In October last year, another group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) tabled a petition before the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking the prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, to “promptly investigate reports that Nigerian authorities, military and some politicians have used and are using thugs, soldiers and security agents to intimidate, harass, attack and kill peaceful #EndSARS protesters in several parts of Nigeria, including Abuja, Lagos, Edo, Osun, Plateau, and Kano states.”

SERAP urged Mrs Bensouda to push for those suspected to be responsible…or complicit “in the crimes,” to be tried by the ICC.

The group said its resort to the ICC was because if found out that the Nigerian authorities over the years have been unwilling and/or unable to prosecute suspected perpetrators of killers of protesters, “which in turn has promoted a culture of impunity and emboldened” them and their accomplices.

“Without accountability for these serious human rights crimes against peaceful protesters, the victims will continue to be denied access to justice, and impunity of perpetrators will remain widespread and the result will continue to be a vicious cycle of violence against Nigerians,” SERAP said.

MASSOP and SERAP are only two recent examples of many instances where local groups have reached out to foreign entities in their quest for redress for perceived right violations in the country.

The practice is, however, not limited to groups as instances abound where individuals have acted in a similar manner.

Recently, Prof Banji Akintoye, renowned historian (who leads a group, Ilana Omo Oodua); agitator for Yoruba nation Sunday Igboho and 49 others filed a 27-page petition before the ICC, accusing the Buhari administration of genocide against their people.

The petition submitted to the ICC by their counsel Aderemilekun Omojola, named Buhari, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, former Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai and former Inspectors-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and Muhammed Adamu as respondents.

Equally named respondents were Comptroller General of Customs, Hammid Alli; Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba; Chief of Army Staff, Farouk Yahaya; former Chief of Air Force, Sadiq Abubakar; former Commandant-General of NSCDC, Ahmed Abubakar Audi; Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Services, Mohammed Babandede; and the Current Commandant-General of NSCDC, Abdulahi Gana Muhammadu.

The petitioners accused the respondents of committing genocidal offences, including the alleged killing of members of the petitioners’ group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group, conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part.

Similarly, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, the Most Reverend Matthew Kukah, chose to take his case before the United States’ Congress.

In a virtual presentation to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, DC, Reverend Kukah alleged, among others, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria by armed extremist groups in the northern part of the country.

He accused President Buhari of being sectional in his approach to governance and deliberately appointing more people of his ethnicity and faith into political offices.

The presidency denied the allegations on July 18, and accused the cleric of spreading falsehood with the intent to discredit the administration.

Such quests for redress at international fora were also made to sub-regional bodies like the African Union and the Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court).  A recent example is the suit by former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (retired), who complained of being unjustly detained by the state.

The ECOWAS Court determined the case in his favour and ordered the Nigerian Government to release him from the unlawful incarceration.

How frequent are such complaints?

The frequency with which Nigerians resort to foreign entities for right protection and redress for perceived rights violation, among others is reflected in a recent report by the ICC, in which it claimed to have received 131 petitions from Nigeria within a year.

It added that most of the complaints brought pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute, in relation to the situation in Nigeria, revolved around alleged Rome Statute crimes committed in the Middle Belt, the Niger Delta, and in the context of armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces, including the crimes against humanity — murder and persecution, and multiple war crimes.

Why do Nigerians resort to foreign jurisdictions?

The preponderance of opinion is that most Nigerians resort to foreign entities for succour in the face of rights violation and abuses because of their belief in the inability of the Nigerian State and its institutions to act swiftly and offer the necessary healing balm.

Revd Kukah alluded to this reality when, in his presentation to the US Congress, he claimed that the entire country was invaded by armed bandits and kidnappers, among others, who attacked communities at will, but, “the government seems to be either helpless or uninterested in dealing decisively with these people.”

In Nigeria, court orders and decisions are hardly obeyed by government institutions, particularly security agencies. Even when rights enforcement suits are successfully prosecuted and damages awarded, enforcement becomes another challenge.

Under the existing legal framework in Nigeria, monetary judgments or awards against the government or its agencies are only executable with the consent of the Attorney-General (either at the federal or state levels), thereby subjecting the fate of victims of rights violation to the whims and caprices of the same government. And, in most cases, the Attorneys-General hardly grant such consents.

There is also the problem of delay in the court process, which still exists despite the attempt by the existing rules guiding fundamental rights proceedings – the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement) Procedure Rules (FREPR) 2009 – to ensure swift determination of rights enforcement-related cases.

In his presentation at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) on “Proceedings under the FREPR (2009),” Justice Abdu Aboki of the Supreme Court dwelt on the many positive provisions in the FREPR, which he noted were directed at ensuring prompt redress in rights enforcement cases.

Justice Aboki noted that the general thrust and policy of the FREPR (2009) included: “to ensure speedy and expeditious dispensation of justice in human rights cases, to ensure the simplification and liberalisation of human rights procedural rules  and to eliminate all inordinate delays and technicalities which hitherto bedevilled the enforcement of the fundamental rights of litigants.”

He added that the FREPR (2009) is also intended “to give human rights cases overriding precedence and priority over all daily business of the court, to guarantee increased and unlimited access to court for litigants seeking to enforce their fundamental rights, to ensure that the court expansively construe the provisions of the Constitution and other human rights provisions and to ensure that the rights of the populace are not whittled down in any way.”

Objectives of the FREPR 2009

What is regarded as the objectives of the FREPR 2009 are contained in Paragraph 3(a) – (g) of the preamble to the rules.

For instance, in paragraph 3(a) it states that human rights instruments, including the Constitution (particularly Chapter 4) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights “shall be expansively and purposely interpreted and applied, with a view to advancing and realising the rights and freedoms contained in them and affording the protections intended by them.”

Paragraph 3(b) provides that, for the purpose of advancing, but never for the purpose of restricting an applicant’s rights, courts with jurisdiction over human rights cases “shall respect municipal, regional and international bills of rights.”

Paragraph 3(d) provides that courts with jurisdiction over human rights cases “shall proactively pursue enhanced access to justice for all classes of litigants, especially the poor, the illiterate, the uninformed, the vulnerable, the incarcerated, and the unrepresented,” while Paragraph 3(e) provides that courts with jurisdiction over human rights cases “shall encourage and welcome public interest litigation.”

Paragraph 3(g) provides that courts dealing human rights cases should give priority “in deserving cases” to those suits, relative to other cases, and “where there is any question as to the liberty of the applicant or any other person, the case shall be treated as an emergency.”

Why the practice is growing

Law experts are of the view that the practice of resorting to foreign fora for redress and assistance could be because of the perceived obstacles that exist in the country, particularly in the face of what Kukah referred to as “weak structures, and institutions.”

Commenting on the government’s handling of the Igboho case, Femi Falana (SAN) argued that it was imperative that the government and its agencies learn to play by the rules to avert the attendant embarrassment to the nation’s image in the international arena.

Other lawyers, including Daniel Makolo and Tunde Falola attributed this practice among Nigerians to their frustration with the Nigerian system.

Frustrated at home

Makolo argued that Nigerians who take their cases before international bodies and more powerful nations are doing so out of their frustration with the state of affairs at home, “where both the Legislature and Judiciary have become puppets of the Executive under President Buhari, whose legendary human rights abuses in Nigeria has no equal in the country’s history.”

The Abuja-based lawyer observed that the current administration appears selective in its approach to addressing the security problems, which account for why “the various rights groups are asking the UK, USA, Germany etc to intervene, while many victims of the oppressive system are also earnestly asking the Almighty God, who is the creator of the world, to intervene as justice and justice administration have taken flight out of the Nigerian Judiciary.”

“Local courts have become more timid and now resort to delivering timorous judgments, the National Assembly on the other hand, has become a rubber-stamp for the presidency, against international norms and aspirations.

“I pray that more international legal bodies should rise to the occasion before night falls on our beloved country. Nigeria is heading on a voyage of no return. What is happening in Nigeria today is unimaginably wrongful and extremely dangerous,” Makolo said.

Falola also contended that the resort to foreign platforms to complain against perceived injustice in Nigeria “is a reflection of frustration, anger and bitterness in the land, orchestrated by the unwillingness of the political class to listen to the yearning and aspirations of the citizenry on matters that touch on their survival as a people under a common destiny.”

He ruled out the possibility that the practice could have been occasioned by ignorance, noting that majority of the groups and people involved are prominent members of the elitist class.

“These are people, who are well informed and have good aspirations for their country. It is the inability of the political class to work out practical solutions to the numerous challenges facing the nation that prompted these eminent Nigerians to shift their campaign to international fora.

“The recent invasion of the house of leading Yoruba agitators by the agent of the state is a typical example of reckless human rights violations in Nigeria, which has assumed a dangerous dimension. If you look at all these, it appears the government of the day is not ready to make necessary amendments to improve on its human rights records.

“Given this scenario, escalating the campaign for the protection of citizens’ rights at the international level becomes inevitable, hence the recent increase in campaign against the country by some Nigerians cannot be questioned,” Falola said

The cost to Nigeria’s image

Commentators agree that this emerging practice comes with its dent for the international image of the country. And, as noted by Falola, “there is no doubt about the fact this campaign has direct negative effects on our nation and the citizenry by extension.”

Another lawyer, Mark Areku, argued that the practice lowers the estimation of the country in the eyes of the international community as being unable to protect the rights of its citizens and guarantee the opportunity for redress where violation occurs.

“Look at what has just happened in the United States, where a Senator has moved a motion that certain aircraft should not be sold to Nigeria because of gross human rights violation. It also does not help the image of our Judiciary, as it portrays it as an ineffective institution. Those in charge of the nation’s affairs should always consider the impact of their actions on the image of the country globally,” Areku said.

How to reverse the trend?

The call is on the government and its agencies to work on ways to reverse the trend by establishing and empowering institutions with the responsibility to aid the protection of citizens’ rights and provide prompt and adequate redress where violation occurs.

According to Falana, “unless we respect the rights of our people and the human rights of people in our country, we are going to be embarrassed continuously.”

Falola said: “It is high time our leaders turned a new leaf in their day-to- day running of affairs in our nation. Let the principle of justice and fairness be their watchword, the respect for the sanctity of the rights of every citizen should be their priority.

“Every ethnic group in Nigeria should feel the sense of justice and on no account should appointments in government institutions, parastatals and agencies be on ethnic consideration. Once a minimal level of equal treatment of citizens, regardless of where they came from, is achieved, the issue will be a thing of the past.”

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