The United States Country Report on Human Rights Practices in 2017 for Nigeria, released last week, was uncomplimentary in many senses. It spoke of worsening abuses of the rights of Nigerians. The 48-page report summarily said civilian authorities and the political leadership have failed to effectively bring under control armed state and non-state actors accused of perpetrating human rights abuses.
In its Executive Summary the report said, “The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements; looting and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labour.”
The contents of this report follow a template drawn by the US Congress which has indicators of human rights abuses. It is in this regard that issues that run contrary to Nigeria’s cultural values are categorized among the rights issues. Among such are obnoxious same-sex and sexual orientation parameters included among the rights of citizens which it said are abused in Nigeria. Issues seen by Westerners as early and forced marriages also have a different cultural outlook here. Besides these, many other elements of abuse contained in the report align with complaints by Nigerians and by other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), especially Human Rights Watch.
The report was unsparing of the death-dealing Boko Haram, chastising them for subjecting “many abducted women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages and rape.” the US report also said, “The national police, army and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody.”
The report speaks to the failure of the country’s counter-terrorism strategies in curtailing the capacity of Boko Haram to continue to take vulnerable Nigerian youths and women captive. It also speaks to the fact that those in the top hierarchy of Nigeria’s security architecture, who are charged with the task of regulating the activities of their men, are not living up to expectations.
Apparently, our security agencies and the police especially, seem to lack the capacity to tackle insecurity or are overwhelmed by the multiplicity of the country’s security challenges to the point that they no longer follow the laid down procedures for investigation and prosecution of those accused of criminal offences. The use of torture and other forms of brutality as means of extracting confessions from suspects is widespread. So also, are extrajudicial killings that are carried out by security agents on the excuse that the Police Force Order 237 permits them to waste the lives of those who resist arrest. This mentality is crude and falls short of police operations in this digital age where intelligence gathering is gradually being simplified by emerging technology.
The US Human Rights Report on Nigeria has been resisted by the police and government officials. However, we call on our security agencies to accept the facts contained in the report and put in place mechanisms to adjust their operations to the acceptable standards of global best practices instead of arguing against the evidence-based report. Our security agencies must respect the rights of Nigerians to life and human dignity.