​A fter the collapse of the iron curtains of Eastern Europe and Balkanization of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics( USSR), Liberal Democracy became the only globally accepted political dress code.

This whirlwind of democracy crossed over to other continents and crushed most political settings not premised on the ethos of liberal democracy. Strongmen on the saddle of most less developed countries of Latin and South America, Asia, and Africa were ousted through popular uprising or elections they most time grudgingly supervised.

In his well-celebrated book titled: “The End of History And The Last Man” American Foreign Policy expert Francis Fukuyama postulated that liberal democracy represents the highest form of political arrangement in the history of humankind. This scholar and a horde of others arrived at the conclusion because of the multifaceted advantages concomitant in the concept of democracy. One of such innumerable positive attributes of a liberal democracy is the existence of freedom and liberty for the led.

Liberties in a democracy encompass a gamut of uncountable rights that are fully guaranteed by global, regional, sub-regional protocols, and individual States constitutions. Some of those protocols are the 1948 Geneva Convention on people’s rights, African Union(AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) people’s rights charters. Similarly, chapter four of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended) paraded assorted rights citizens of Nigeria have. These rights are clustered into natural and social rights. Natural rights are those divinely bestowed to humanity while social rights are those accorded to citizens through sound reasoning and understanding of what people need to fulfill their life’s dreams and live a happy life.

Experts in the field of human rights and related fields have ran commentaries on the importance of human rights in a democracy.

Some scholars opined that when people are free they tent to be creative and productive. It’s now an acceptable standard that any political system that don’t permit their citizens to enjoy these rights and liberties is not a living democracy.

At this juncture it is imperative we pause and walk through a few definitions of human rights by some organizations. But before then, it must be borne in mind that there is no universal walking definition of Human Rights despite uncountable conferences organized by international governmental and non governmental organization. For the purpose of today’s discourse, let us look at the following definitions:

(1) Equality and Human Right Commission(EHRC) opined that “Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security”. EHRC stretched further and offered additional explanations thus: “These basic rights are based on values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence”.

(2) United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) postulated that “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible”.

These two definitions encapsulated all the nitty gritty of what is Human Rights. They unambiguously posited that these right are all-inclusive and that race, political persuasions and religion can’t hinder anyone from enjoying those rights. However, there are instances where such rights can be restricted due to some natural disasters or wars.

From 1st October 1960 to date the military have dominated the political space. Nigeria Armed Forces overthrew all but one democratic government in Nigeria. Once they successfully topple a democratically elected government the constitution becomes their first victim. And since Rights are enshrined in the Constitution and not their decrees, setting aside the constitution automatically extinguish rights of citizens. Some harshest amongst them even promulgate decrees, forbidding expression of opinions and proscribing of labour unions and other organizations that advocate for activities they adjudge inimical to their whims and caprices.

Nigeria ruling juntas do convert the entire landmarks of the country to a parade ground where commanders issue orders to the troops. A few courageous ones that challenge their dictatorial dispositions tested the bitter pills of their brutality. From 1984-1985 we witnessed jailing of journalists under decree “Decree 2”. Within the same period, citizens were subjected to various inhuman treatment by the military like flogging and confinement to sewage as a form of public humiliation. From August 1985 to 1993 labour unions were proscribed and their leaders sent to jail.

Lest we forget, instances cited herein are just a few of the egregious repression that characterized the period under review. If one wants to record human rights violations during the military in Nigeria history he must be ready for a book that will have more than a dozen volumes.

Again one reality must be clearly understood, all the military regimes were involved in gross human rights violations. Unfortunately for Nigeria, the junta that abandoned their constitutional duties of defending the territorial integrity of the country and provision of internal security were not benevolent dictators like some of their counterparts in Latin and Southern America. More to this, they are chronic kleptocrats that pillaged the public treasury to financially aggrandize themselves, cronies and their immediate families. Their primitive financial brigandry converted a prosperous and promising nation into a basket case.

On May 29th, 1999 a combination of local and foreign factors forced the last Nigerian military junta to surrender power to a democratically elected government. Some of them returned to their barracks while others terminated their careers and retired home to enjoy their loot. That marked the beginning of the Fourth Republic that is now in its eighteen uninterrupted years.

From May 1999 to May 2015 there has been some improvement with respect to rights and liberties of Nigerians by the civilian authorities.

Some said that was possible because of existence of a constitution which devoted pages that conspicuously enumerated rights of citizens. Others believe that civilian leaders that emerged after the most brutal military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha are people that were once victims of human rights abuses and are not ready to make others pass through the same ordeals.

It will amount to overt exhibition of dishonesty to say human rights were fully observed when Presidents Olusagun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan ruled Nigeria.

There were large and small scale human rights violations especially during Presidents Obasanjo and Yar’Adua’s era. During Obasanjo’s tenure, villages of Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State were crushed and flattened by Nigeria military on reprisal missions.

When Yar’Adua was president there was a clash between Nigeria Armed forces and members of Sheik Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf was extrajudicially annihilated after the military handed him over to the police handcuffed. The killing of Sheik Yusuf militarized the group and turned them to a terror group known as “Boko Haram” today. Aside from these grand cases, there were many other violations that were not officially reported by the victims or the media.

There was another form of human rights violations during President Obasanjo’s era which is subjecting judicial pronouncements to executive interpretations. The era witnessed open unconventional attempt to bar a sitting Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from contesting the 2007 presidential election. The regime submitted a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and they too turned same to the Independent National Electoral Commission, a so-called list of corrupt politicians that the electoral umpire must stop from contesting public offices. After wasting candidates and aspirants’ time, the Supreme Court ruled against that decision. The long legal battle that peaked at the Supreme Court affected the electoral fortunes of these candidates.

On May 29th, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari took over the mantle of leadership after his March 28th, 2015 unprecedented electoral victory. Within 18 months of his tenure, little but important gains made on liberties of citizenry suffered some unfortunate setbacks. President Buhari resuscitated his dictatorial character he exhibited between December 31st, 1983 to August 27th, 1985. Despite his sundry assurances to Nigerians during electioneering campaigns that he is politically “born-again.”

For the first time since the advent of this Republic, we started seeing brutal Department of State Service operations and manhandling of political opponents under the pretext of his so-called “war against corruption.” People were arrested and held for long in EFCC dungeons without court authorization. Where they managed to take suspects to the courts, they apply for injunctions to keep suspects with them pending when they will be through with their investigations. To divert attention from their illegalities, they subject suspects to public trials in the media. Sad enough, they have perfected a way of blackmailing those counseling them to persecute their war on corruption in tandem with the laid down procedures enshrined in the constitution.

Still under President Buhari the menace of disobeying court orders is the order of the day. He demonstrated that in his first media chat in 2015. In that chat he was asked why is his government not willing to respect bail orders granted to former National Security Adviser Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB. On Dasuki, President Muhammadu Buhari said, ” why should we release him when there are millions in IDPs camps?” And on Kanu, he said he has a U.K. Passport and they don’t know how he came to Nigeria. With the manner he reacted , it is clear that President Buhari considers accused persons guilty even without a court verdict. This is in sharp contradiction of the natural justice cliche that an accused remains innocent until found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

By far the most gruesome human rights violation of President Buhari’s regime was killing of a large number of members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria Shias in December, 2015 by the military. After killing and demolishing their worship centre known as “Hussainiya,” they proceeded to the house of their spiritual leader Shiek Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and killed his sons, brutalized him and took him and his wife captive. To hide the scale of their heinous and unprofessional misconduct, the perpetrators of the mass killings in conjunction with Kaduna State Government transported people they illegally terminated their lives to Kaduna in the night and conducted a mass burial for them.

To cover up their atrocities against Shias, Kaduna State Government formed a committee of inquiry to look at what transpired on December 12th and 13th, 2015 in Zaria. The committee recommended prosecution of soldiers that used disproportionate and unaccountable force on Shias in Zaria. The committee also recorded Kaduna State’s admittance, that they indeed buried over 300 Shias the army killed in Zaria in a mass grave in Kaduna. So many global bodies have condemned the excessive use of force by Nigeria Army and directed that those behind it must face the wrath of the law.

Sheik Zakzaky and his wife were captured by Nigeria Army like enemy combatants in a war and whisked away. The Sheik and his wife instituted a fundamental human right case in an Abuja High Court challenging their unjust detention without trial by Nigerian authorities. On 2nd December 2016 Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled that the Sheik and wife be released, and a house provided to them, he further held that a fifty million Naira compensation be paid to the Sheik and his family, and a 24/7security cover be given to them. In his wisdom the Abuja High Court Judge gave the government a maximum of forty five days to comply with his orders. The deadline expired on January 16, 2017, without government obeying the court decision even though they were properly served.

While Nigerians were lamenting the Federal government’s disrespect for the court ruling that ordered that Sheik Zakzaky and his wife be set free, Dailytrust newspaper report of January 19th, 2017 reported their discussion with an unnamed official of the Presidency saying; Sheik’s wife is not under detention. That she is only keeping the Sheik company. The same official said Sheik Zakzaky’s case is not only legal but has Security implications. This was the first time Sheik Zakzaky’s captors are talking since Justice Kolawole’s judgment in December of 2016

Apart from events of December 13th and 14th 2015, Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) was proscribed by Kaduna State Government under Governor Nasir Ahmed El-rufai. Their schools were destroyed and looted by sponsored vandals. Houses of IMN members were destroyed and looted in broad daylight. To make things worse, Governor El-rufa’i banned their religious rites processions and peaceful protests demanding the release of their leader and other brothers and sisters of the movement in various police cells across Nigeria.

During the 2016 ARBA’EEN symbolic trek in Kano. Peacefully processionist were assaulted and killed by Nigeria police. To avoid too much blood shed, leaders of the procession offered prayers to those that loss their lives and made it back to their homes. In Jos headquarters of Plateau state, their members were molested and arrested. It was so shameful that even minors as low as four years were detained simply because they are Shias.

For now IMN brothers and sisters are the highest victims of human rights abuses by governments in Nigeria. This is not forgetting groups like the Biafra protesters that were mercilessly killed while peacefully demonstrating. Federal Government of Nigeria security institutions like the Police, DSS, and the Army have become agents of human rights violations and brutalization of Nigerians. And hardly will a day end without report rights violations in Nigeria.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and countries like the United States and United Kingdom have expressed concerns over gross human rights violations perpetrated by the current regime. The U.S government encouraged the Nigerian authorities to respect the ruling of a high court judge, and try soldiers that a Kaduna State Commission of inquiry discovered that they acted unprofessionally. The U.S. also condemned killings of people peacefully trekking to fulfill their religious obligations in Kano in 2016.

The fourth estate of the realm are also having some rough movements under President Buhari. Some days ago the publisher of the New York based Saharareporters was attacked by a fellow on the streets of Lagos, the police then moved in to arresting him accompanied by his assailants, when he was summoned to the office of the Commissioner of Police during his ordeal, the commissioner curiously pulled out a petition and ordered to be driven to the state Criminal Investigation Department where they sought to detain him with dangerous criminals, after public backlash forced their hands, they released and told him to show up at their station the next day, they, however, failed to formally charge him with any crime. A few days later a lawyer connected with the Chief of Army Staff claimed they had barred him from traveling back to the U.S.

Just yesterday January 19th, 2017 police raided the office of Premium Times and whisked away from their editor in chief. The arrest of Premium Times boss is not unconnected with their relentless reporting on earlier disclosure made by SaharaReporters of the Chief of Army’s properties in Dubai and other critical reportage that some top brass of Nigeria Army felt uncomfortable with regarding Nigerian troop welfare on the frontline with Boko Haram.

One is not sure that we have seen the end of this attempt to censor pressmen in Nigeria. I doubt whether the government will not restrict access to internet and block some social media platforms in Nigeria, in due course. No democracy strives when societal watch dogs and whistle blowers are barred from performing their constitutionally guaranteed duties.

The 2016 human rights monitor and many more reports suggests that under President Buhari Nigeria had slumped from the group of “fairly free” nations to “unfree nation”. Their reports expressly blamed governments for astronomical increase in violation of rights of Nigerians.


Having come this far, what are concomitant negativities associated with rights violations in our body polity? What are the lethal dangers violation of rights of citizens in a democracy?

Rights violations especially by governments as demonstrated by President Buhari has the capability of making citizens lose faith in the country’s democracy. And once people believe that they are not being led by the constitution but by sentimental desires of their leaders, so many temptations creep into their minds. One of such temptations is resort to self help or jungle justice.

The second negative impact of violation of rights of citizens is lost of interest in holding government account through assessing their programmes and policies . It’s a reality found in developed and less developed countries that once pressure is not put on government, governments consciously refused to be faithful to social contracts entered with the citizenry. That of Nigeria is a worst case scenario because of the low political consciousness and institutional fragility.

The third consequence is the possibility of complete overthrow of the regime and the political system by either the military or through popular revolutions. We saw during the Arab Springs in North Africa and some parts of Middle East. There is a limit to which people can accept brazen abuse of powers through sundry ways by their government. Should any of such things happen in Nigeria, the country’s entire democratic project will be terminated and achievements made lost.

The fourth repercussion is at the economic realm. Foreign investors do business in political climes where the rule of law is an uncompromising dictum. These they do because when there are trade disputes, legal mechanism laid down will solve the problem without much ado. Now that Nigeria government have demonstrated their unwillingness to respect the judicial system, many foreign companies have withdrawn their monies from Nigeria. Local businesses operating in conjunction with foreign firms are also encountering multidimensional bottlenecks due to fear of their partners on lack of respect of the judicial pronouncement by governments. That has made hundreds of local and multinational corporations close shop.

Fifth is the security implications of human rights violations. Nigeria Armed Forces and other agencies charged with securing this country procure their arms and other arsenals from other countries. Some of these developed countries take cognizance of human rights situation of countries before selling arms to them. Just recently, the U.S turned down request from Nigerian government to procure some helicopters to combat Boko Haram in North-East. The U.S denial was premised on an amnesty international’s report that Nigeria Army violated rights of citizens while prosecuting their war against Boko Haram terrorists. This has shown that there is a synergy between respect for human rights of citizens and business . President Buhari’s violation of rights and disobedience to courts decision might widen the scope of advanced nations action against Nigeria.


After enumerating some of the lethal implications of human rights violations, its poignant to ask the greatest question of all times; where do we go from here? What is to be done, is yet another quintessential question related to our discourse. There is need for allied actions from Nigerians, other countries, and international governmental and non governmental organizations.

Hundreds of Rights Advocacy must wake up from their slumber, roll off their sleeves and wear their struggle canvas and head straight to the trenches. They must accept the fact that it’s no longer at ease with Nigerians. Most of them relaxed their activities because of little progress made from 1999 to May 2015. But it is now an irrefutable realism that President Buhari is no respecter of law and judicial pronouncements.

Citizens should individually or collectively embark on peaceful protests in all the cities and semi urban enclaves of the country. The protests or civil disobedience must go non-stop until Federal Government of Nigeria and State Governors retract from their dictatorial antics. No matter the quantum of their stubbornness when the country is made ungovernable they will accept the incontrovertible realism that people are Supreme in a democracy.

Similarly, the judiciary has a big role to play in breaking this bottleneck. Thus far they have demonstrated courage in the face of intimidation and disrespect to their decisions. They should step up by charging every government official that disrespected their orders of contempt. This will be useful sooner or later because human rights crimes don’t have a statute of limitation, redress can be sought at any time. We are quite aware that some category of people that are neck deep in trampling of rights have immunity. However, the Constitution doesn’t give a lifetime protection from prosecution. At some point- maximum eight years their immunity they have expires. Therefore they can be summoned to account for actions taken while they were in government.

The National Assembly and State Houses of Assemblies must get involved because they are the true representative of the masses. They must always come out and condemn and when necessary pass a motion against the President or the Governors when they realize that actions of the executives are contradicting the country’s 1999 constitution. In recent times, there have been cases one thought they would wade into, e.g. Refusal of President Buhari to obey bail orders of accused persons like Dasuki and Nnamdi Kalu. Members of House of Representatives and Senators should sanction state institutions that are being used to trample on rights of Nigerians.

International governmental and nongovernmental organizations like UNHCR, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, European Union, African Union and Economic Community of West African States should increase their vigilance of developments in Nigeria. During the military eras, these organizations supported local rights advocacy groups, but when Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 most of them ceased their financial and technical supports. There can’t be any better time to reconnect than now.

Dominant global players like the United States, Germany, France, and Canada also have a significant role to play in checkmating this unacceptable drift from constitutionality to whimsicalities by Nigerian leaders. They should exert their pressure through official and otherwise channels on Nigeria authorities. Incidentally, these powerful global actors are the major string pullers in most of the world’s governmental bodies. They shouldn’t hesitate in slamming smart sanctions on leaders found wanting, the sanction should include their immediate family members and close political associates.

Hope little narrations here have walked us through a gamut of issues bordering infringement of rights in Nigeria. Suggestions advanced looks Herculean, but the sacrifices are vital to sustaining Nigeria’s democracy and freedom and liberty of over one hundred and seventy million Nigerians.

John Danfulani

Chairman Centrum Initiative For Development And Fundamental Rights Advocacy(CEDRA)

Presented on 20th January 2017 in UNEC Main Hall.