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Despite contradictory evidence, Buhari hails his govt’s human rights records at UN General Assembly

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NIGERIAN President Muhammadu Buhari, in an address during the General Debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 24, hailed his administration’s human rights records, despite documented evidence of state-supervised crackdown on free speech and dissent in Nigeria under his watch.

“Nigeria has been steadfast in safeguarding human rights, including the advancement of women, the protection of children, the protection of the rights of people living with disabilities, the treatment of migrants, refugees, returnees and displaced persons as well as the promotion of fundamental freedoms through all legitimate means,” Buhari said in the address he delivered a day after Nigeria’s main opposition party the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) urged the UN General Assembly to question him over his administration’s role in the escalation of rights violations, terrorism, electoral malpractices, corruption, economic difficulties and division along ethnic lines witnessed in Nigeria since he came into office in 2015.

Buhari, in his address, condemned all forms of hate crimes, including racism and xenophobia, and went ahead to demand ‘justice, fairness and equity in respect of the Palestinian people.’

According to him, “Nigeria remains unwavering in its commitment to ensuring the advancement of human rights within its shores and beyond” despite “a vicious decade-long onslaught by terrorists against Nigerians.”

In apparent reference to the Amnesty International (AI) and other global bodies which have published reports detailing rights abuses by Nigerian authorities, Buhari observed that his administration’s commitment to human rights was “quite contrary to unwholesome reports by some who hardly verify what they state against us.”

* Evidence contradicts Buhari’s claims 

Buhari’s claim that Nigeria has been steadfast in safeguarding human rights is not backed by evidence.

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Recent actions taken by his administration contradict the claim that Nigeria, under Buhari’s government, is a champion of human rights.

In what came to be known as the ‘Lekki Toll Gate Massacre,’ troops of the Nigerian Army, on October 21, 2020, at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, opened fire on unarmed youths who were engaged in a peaceful protest against Police brutality during the #EndSARS protests.

The Lekki Toll Gate incident was just one of several instances where the government unleashed security agents on defenceless citizens with deadly effect.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that law enforcement agents killed 18 persons while enforcing the first phase of the lockdown ordered by the Nigerian government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 from March 30 to April 13, 2020.

Security agencies were also mobilised to clamp down on the nationwide ‘Revolution Now’ protests against insecurity and corruption.

Leader of the protests and Publisher of Sahara Reporters Omoyele Sowore was detained for several months and charged to court for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Buhari government.

In a move that amounted to suppression of free speech, the Nigerian government, on June 5, placed an indefinite ban on Twitter, restricting it from operating in the country after the social media platform deleted tweets made by Buhari.

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Three months after, the ban is yet to be lifted despite widespread condemnation by Nigerians and members of the international community.

Nigerian authorities, under Buhari’s administration, have continued to push for the enactment of laws that would allow government to monitor and regulate the social media – a move which is being resisted by Nigerians who fear that the government is intent on suppressing free speech.

The ICIR had reported that under Buhari’s watch, Nigeria has continued to slide on the Freedom in the World ranking, an annual global report on political rights and civil liberties published by Freedom House.

Freedom in the World ranks countries according to scores from an assessment of the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in each country. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings.

Although Nigeria has over time been ranked as ‘Partly Free’ in different annual reports of Freedom in the World, the country’s scores for political rights and civil liberties have been dropping in recent years.

In the latest ranking, Freedom in the World 2021, Nigeria scored 45 points out of 100, giving the country a partly free status.

The 45 points scored by Nigeria in 2021 represents a drop from 47 points recorded by the country in the 2020 Freedom in the World report. Going by the Freedom in the World methodology, a drop in points means a decline in the level of political rights and civil liberties enjoyed by citizens of the concerned country.

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* PDP ambushes Buhari with petition to UN General Assembly

A day before his scheduled address before the UN General Assembly, the PDP had petitioned the global body, asking it to hold Buhari to account for “the killing of innocent and unarmed protesters in various parts of Nigeria by security forces under his command, particularly the killing of youths during the EndSARS protest in 2020.”

The PDP, which disclosed the petition in a statement issued by its spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan on September 23, equally called on the UN General Assembly to interrogate Buhari over the erosion of the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech, hounding of the opposition and dissenting voices, clampdown on the media and suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.

According to the PDP, principles which the General Assembly stands for, such as sanctity of human life, respect for human rights, justice and rule of law, credible elections, democratic governance promotion of peace, accountability in governance and economic development, among others, “have all been violated by the Buhari administration.”

The opposition party also drew the General Assembly’s attention to reports by credible international organisations such as the United States Department of State and Amnesty International on cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, widespread extrajudicial killings, sudden disappearances of dissenting voices and disregard to rule of law under Buhari’s watch.

Accusing the Buhari administration of “brazen disobedience to court orders, use of security forces to suppress citizens, media gagging, and systemic injustices,” the PDP further insisted that the UN General Assembly should question Buhari over the failures and alleged compromises of the nation’s security coordination under his administration, which it said had led to ‘unabating mass killings, kidnapping, banditry, arson and marauding of communities’ across the country.

It observed that the situation had degenerated to the extent that Nigeria now ranked as the third country with the highest level of terrorism after Iran and Afghanistan.

Nigerian officials have been reluctant to name some alleged sponsors of terrorism activities in the country who the government has said it intends to prosecute.

Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami on September 22 in New York noted that it was not yet time to disclose the identities of the alleged sponsors. Malami suggested that such disclosure would undermine ongoing investigations.

But, in apparent reaction to the development, the PDP in its petition asked the UN General Assembly ‘to take on’ Buhari over his administration’s alleged provision of official cover for sponsors of terrorism in Nigeria, including those recently communicated to it by the United Arab Emirate (UAE).

The PDP also urged the UN General Assembly to ask Buhari why he failed to take action concerning “a serving minister who was openly indicted as an apologist of terrorism.”

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