THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ON DECEMBER 10TH, 2016 HELD AT THE HIGH COURT FOYER, LAGOS
SPEECH BY ABUBAKAR BALARABE MAHMOUD, SAN PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION TO MARK THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY ON DECEMBER 10TH, 2016 HELD AT THE HIGH COURT FOYER, LAGOS
Eminent leaders, Civil Society Representatives, the Media, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
On behalf of the Nigerian Bar Association, I welcome you al to this momentous event, which we are using not only to mark The International Human Right Day, but also to address some human right related issues in Nigerian.
Human Rights Day Is observed every year on December 10th. it commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a day on which the international community reaffirms its faith in the principles enunciated in the universal declaration of human right. This year, Human Right Day calls on everyone to stand up for someone’s rights.
The day is celebrated by organizing events and programmes to discuss human rights issues. This is done through seminars, conferences, workshops, rallies, human rights events, marches and addresses. For some people, the events of December 10th have become an annual ritual that must be observed. For others, it is a distraction that must be accommodated by virtue of our membership of the international community.
For the Nigerian bar association, this day offers us and the country a unique opportunity for sober reflection on the emerging and Worrisome trends of human rights abuse in today’s world: Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be widespread in all parts of the globe. Extremists, militants and insurgents continue to maim, kill and subject people to horrific violence. Extra-judicial killings are on the increase. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey o out fears. Human values are under attack.
We strongly believe the it is time we re-affirmed our common humanity. The time to do this is now. It begins with each and every one of us stepping forward to defend the rights of the defenceless persons with disability, women, children, a minority group, internally displaced persons or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence.
The Nigerian Bar Association is committed to the defence and protection of the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens as guaranteed in the Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria, 1999. Permit me to use this opportunity to make a few comments about the fundamental right of life. The NBA is deeply worried about the huge loss of lives and property as a result of insurgency, armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, extra judicial executions and other rights violations.
On the 31st of October, 2016 I inaugurated the NBA North East and Niger Delta Task Forces in fulfilment of my promise to the Bar and the Nigerian People when I was inaugurated as the 28th President of the NBA to inter alia address the humanitarian issues in the two regions as a result of insurgent and militant activities. The work of the task force will begin to come to limelight early next year.
I decided to comment on the right to life because the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (as amended) guarantees the right to life and provides very clear constitutional basis, when someone’s right to life can be abridged. Even in those circumstances, very clear safeguards are provided. The right to life is therefore fundamental and inalienable to the human person. Yet is seems we have lost the value foe life in Nigerian. It appears human life on longer has meaning.
On a daily basis we are regaled with bizarre statistics of the number of persons who have lost their lives in questionable circumstances. In addition to loss of lives due to factors listed above, the lives of Nigerians are wasted on account of ethnic, communal and religious conflicts, and the government seems to be helpless of incapable to deal with the situation to the satisfaction of Nigerians. This sordid development is unacceptable. The 1999 constitution provides that the security, protection of lives and property is the primary duty of government.
The NBA hereby calls on the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfil this fundamental constitutional responsibility by providing adequate security measures to secure the lives and property of Nigerians.
We acknowledge that our security agencies have been engaged in difficult insurgency and militancy operations. We support out military and operations. We support our military and other security agencies who day and night toil to make sure that we remain safe, but we will continue to urge them to do more in protecting our lives and property. In doing so we demand that they observe the rules of engagement in their operations and not to engage in indiscrimination, extra judicial execution of persons who are mere suspects, no matter the circumstances. They must endeavour to give unarmed civilian suspects their due rights.
RULE OF LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS
An independent, effective and efficient legal profession is a key component in the promotion of the rule of law and protection of human rights. Without the rule of law and a justice system that ensures equality of all before the law, human rights become illusory. As articulated in the universal Declaration of human rights: “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.
This means that to enable innocent citizens to fully enjoy their rights and liberties as guaranteed by the constitution, they must be protected by a very good justice system. It follows that lawyers have a crucial role to play in ensuring that human rights are effectively protected and defended. The United Nations Basic Principles on the role of lawyers extensively refer to international human rights norms in their preamble and further provide that “lawyers, in protecting the rights of their clients and in promoting the cause of justice, shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law.”
A number of international human rights treaties, principles and guidelines specify the indispensable role of lawyers in the promotion and protection of human rights. The NBA therefore has an obligation to ensure that, as a fundamental objective, we promote and uphold the rule of law and protect human rights of the people.
In view of the forgoing, permit me to use this opportunity to mention the case of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife Malama Zeenat Ibraheem. As you may be aware, since the religious crisis broke out in 2015, they have been detention on the orders of the Security Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria. However, some time ago their lawyer approached the federal high court Abuja to demand for their lawyer approached the Federal High Court Abuja to demand for their release months after they were arrested and detained without being charged to court. Their lawyer asked the court to declare that their arrest and continued detention, without being charged to court, violated their fundamental rights. After hearing from the lawyers the Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, December 2nd, 2016 ordered the unconditional release of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife. The court held that their continued detention was an illegal, arbitrary act. But unfortunately, the Federal Government of Nigeria has refused to release them as ordered by the court thereby disobeying the order of the court. As at the time of writing this speech, we are not aware that an appeal has been filed against the judgment of the court. This apparent disobedience of a court order is a sad commentary on the readiness of federal government agencies to comply with the principles of rule of law and respect human rights.
The NBA is deeply concerned about the continued disobedience of court order by the Federal Government. This disobedience is not only unacceptable to the Nigerian bar association, but is antithetical to the principles of rule of law and due process. We there demand the immediate and unconditional release of sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, his wife and other detainees whose release has been ordered by the courts.
In the same vein, we call on the membership and leadership of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria to stop using highly incisive and extremist rhetoric and language that are capable of fomenting civil unrest and precipitating religious crisis in Nigeria. Nigeria is a nation governed by law and constitutional democracy. The IMN members must respect constituted authorities as a matter of obligation and pay obeisance to the Government of Nigeria. While we believe in religious ecumenism and freedom of religion, the NBA shall always defend the sovereignty of Nigeria. We also call for peaceful co-existence, love and harmony among Nigerians.
The NBA shall continue to be active and proactive in promoting the rule of law and protecting the human rights of innocent citizens most especially the indigent, women who are victims of domestic violence and other social oppression, children who are in conflict with the law and in need of care and affection. We strongly believe that the voice of the Bar must be heard, loud and clear, in not only representing the interest of our members, but also in promoting the rule of law and protection of human rights in the public interest. Consequently, the NBA hereby launch is National Pro-bono Service Scheme (NPSS) to assist indigent Nigerians in their pursuit for justice.
The Scheme is to further boost and compliment the human rights Desks of the various branches of NBA which until now provide basic free legal services to indigent accused persons. The Pro-bono Scheme is to give impetus to the already existing human rights desks by making the services rendered by the lawyers free of charge thereby making legal representation/address to justice easier.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, today’s clarion call as a Human Rights Day is on everyone to stand up for someone’s rights. So I ask, will you stand up for someone’s right from today? As for the NBA we shall not only stand for someone’s rights today; the NBA shall stand for everyone’s rights always.
Thank you for your audience and God bless.
ABUBARKAR BALARABE MAHMOUD, SAN
PRESIDENT, NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
DECEMBER 10TH, 2016.