Jos Law Week: Human Rights and Activities of Security Agencies in Nigeria

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Court
Court

Let me state categorically without praise singing that the entire bar, and everyone associated with the Nigerian Bar Association, Jos Branch simply outdid themselves.

First, hosting a ‘law week’ like many branches nationwide at a time the legal profession is receiving bashing from left, right and centre. At a time when clearly it is one law for the rich, another for the poor, when politicians have painfully robbed off their dirt regalia on the noble profession.

Infact as I was about to deliver my lead paper titled, An Appraisal of Laws of Human Rights and Activities of Security Agencies in Nigeria, the Supreme Court delivered final judgment on the Imo Guber case four years after Uzodima had been declared Governor, weeks into his second term and them also said that the appeal was “frivolous and…also slammed lead counsel the sum of N40M”.

My quick thoughts, if the case was frivolous why waste that amount of time? Well the debate as laid down between the bar, bench and the public on whether public opinion, technicalities and the truth should guide judgments is still on the floor for us to decide.

On the Plateau, the debate as to structure and no structure, court validated victory versus the people’s votes is a long way from being settled, and may never be settled.

So, again, kudos to the bar in Jos, under the leadership of Izang Aware Esq, and his executive. My friend and brother Prof. Chris Kwaja did justice to the keynote as the entire week explored Law and Policy: A Chequered Odyssey.

It was an opportunity for me to really look at the NBA Prayer, asking myself if Nigerian lawyers believed in it, or in fact prayed it. Story for another day!

My lead paper critically assessed the state of human rights laws and their implementation in Nigeria, with a specific focus on the activities of security agencies. The paper explored the legal framework governing human rights, examining the extent to which existing laws align with international standards. Additionally, it evaluated the practical implementation of these laws, shedding light on challenges and areas for improvement. By scrutinizing the intersection of human rights and security operations, the paper sought to contribute to the ongoing discourse on safeguarding individual liberties while maintaining national security.

In conclusion, my lead paper sought to contribute to the ongoing discourse on human rights and security in Nigeria. By critically appraising existing laws, analyzing their implementation, and proposing recommendations for improvement, it aimed to foster a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities in balancing individual freedoms with national security imperatives

I reminded my learned friends that Nigeria, as a democratic nation, ordinarily upholds the principles of human rights, enshrining them in its constitution and various legal instruments. However, the effective enforcement of these rights, especially in the context of security operations, remains a subject of concern.

My aim was not to teach them, or us, but top remained them that

The Legal Framework of Human Rights in Nigeria had not changed but needed to improve especially in terms of practicality.

We must never forget that—

Nigeria’s commitment to human rights is embedded in its constitution, where fundamental rights and freedoms are explicitly outlined.
Constitutional provisions reflect the recognition of the inherent dignity of every person and the need to safeguard their rights.
Nigeria is a signatory to various international human rights treaties and conventions, demonstrating a commitment to adhering to global standards.
These international agreements serve as a framework for shaping domestic laws and policies to align with universally accepted human rights norms

But that sadly we are still consciously by acts of omission or commission guilt of

1. Extrajudicial Killings:

2. Arbitrary Arrests:

3. Excessive Use of Force

4. Operations like Python Dance, Crocodile Smile

5. Security Responses in the North-East

6. Treatment of Detainees:

7. Harassment of Journalists and Activists/Lawyers

I gave several examples underscoring the need for thorough investigations, accountability mechanisms, and systemic reforms to ensure that security agencies operate within the bounds of the law and respect human rights principles. Addressing these challenges is critical for fostering a society where security is maintained without compromising the fundamental rights of individuals.

While, I equally dwelt on Implementation Challenges: insisting that despite the robust legal framework, Nigeria faces challenges in the practical implementation of human rights laws. I was not oblivious of the Context of Security Challenges that we face as a nation, multifaceted security challenges, including insurgency, terrorism, communal conflicts, and criminal activities. And that balancing the imperative of national security with the protection of individual rights posed a complex and ongoing challenge.

Yes, security agencies play a pivotal role in safeguarding the nation’s security and maintaining public order. However, this role must be delicately balanced with the protection of individual rights and liberties. Striking this equilibrium is crucial for fostering a just and democratic society. Here, I delved into the nuanced aspects of security agencies’ responsibilities and the imperative to preserve individual rights.

The fact cannot be changed that swift and effective responses to security challenges are essential to maintain stability and ensure the well-being of citizens. While preserving national security, security agencies must operate within the confines of the rule of law. The rule of law serves as a foundational principle that ensures that security measures are proportionate, lawful, and respectful of human rights.

Security agencies must navigate this delicate balance to prevent overreach and undue infringement on citizens’ freedoms. Fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and dignity, must be upheld even in the face of security challenges. Security agencies are duty-bound to ensure that their actions do not violate the constitutional rights of individuals, as tough as this may be.

It is pertinent that to maintain public trust, security agencies must operate with transparency and be accountable for their actions. Establishing mechanisms for oversight, investigation of complaints, and accountability ensures that rights violations are promptly addressed. Security agencies must adhere to due process, ensuring that individuals are treated fairly and afforded legal protections. Arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial actions, and the use of excessive force should be strictly avoided.

Adequate training for security personnel is paramount to ensure a nuanced understanding of human rights principles. Professionalism in handling security operations contributes to minimizing the risk of rights violations.

Engaging with the public through clear communication about security measures fosters understanding. Public education on citizens’ rights and the rationale behind security actions promotes a cooperative relationship. Collaborative efforts with civil society organizations contribute to accountability and transparency. Civil society can serve as a watchdog, advocating for human rights and ensuring that security agencies operate within legal boundaries.

Periodic evaluation of security policies and practices is necessary to adapt to evolving threats while safeguarding human rights. Continuous improvement ensures that security agencies remain effective and rights-conscious.

I recommended legislative amendments, enhanced training for security personnel, and improved accountability mechanisms to bridge the gap between legal provisions and practical implementation. I let our learned silks know that Public Perception, Media Influence and Communication Strategies were paramount as first, media shapes public opinion, and secondly public understanding of the delicate balance between rights and security must be applied.

Finally, let me thank the fantastic quartet of discussants to the paper, Messrs Yakubu Taddy, Steve Aluko and Gad Peter Shamaki, the Human Rights Committee of the Branch, FIDA Plateau state, the law week committee, The Plateau Multi-Door CourtHouse, The Chief Judge of Plateau state, Hon. Justice David G. Mann who was seated throughout the entire presentation. With these efforts and more, let me say—May Nigeria win!

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