By Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, National President, C.D.H.R
The challenge of the times has made it difficult for us to hold our meetings, and to implement our 2020 program. COVID-19 has created obstacles, but as the saying goes, challenges are meant to be overcome, as posterity would not accept excuses from our generation. Winning results, despite all odds is the priority.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC:
COVID-19 has exposed the disarray and incompetence in the ranks of the ruling class in Nigeria, even to distribute palliatives remains a task that they cannot carry out efficiently. They show favouritism in the process, they turn it into an opportunity for corrupt practices as usual and the scope of beneficiaries remains highly limited. They even use the process to demonstrate their disrespect for the rights of the masses as enforcing their ill thought out directives provided an opportunity for killing scores of Nigerians and brutalizing many more.
With their lack of compassion, they showed little regard not only for the right to life, but more massively for the rights of our people to our means for sustaining lives. They disrupted our means of livelihood without any semblance of striking a balance with what genuine management of the pandemic required.
The level of testing of those infected remains lower than standards attained by smaller, less endowed African countries. Even the Secretary to the Federal Government at some point, expressed shock as to how poor our health care delivery system is; yet we do not see on their part, any serious sense of being challenged to address this in the year 2020 Budget that they have revised.
It is thus clear to us, that just like we the Nigerian people have been on our own, with our nation drifting from one crisis to the other, unless something drastic is done, in the hands of the present crop of leadership in our country, this drift, tantamount to the heartless disregard for the rights of the vast majority of our people, will continue for hundreds of years to come.
On your behalf, we have affiliated CDHR to the Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB). This is because we are persuaded that the victims of misrule in Nigeria must wake up to fight for our right to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ensure that life in Nigeria after COVID-19 does not return to business as usual.
Part of the goals of ASCAB is to ensure that the present challenges confronting the majority of our people (the poor and lowliest), are addressed fundamentally, and that the system of governance in Nigeria is placed on a footing that can competently deal with natural disasters and pandemics that may occur in the future.
ASCAB appreciates that the ruling class in Nigeria may soon start to sack workers and cut wages and salaries using the pandemic as an excuse. One Senator Ndume has had the temerity to call for this on the floor of the Senate.
The Kaduna State Government is ready to implement cut in wages without any reference to the workers in Kaduna State. Other State Governors may be waiting to follow his example.
Health care providers like doctors, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory scientists are already threatening to embark on strikes, on account of their exposure to COVID-19 infection, under circumstances where they don’t have proper protective gears and their need for deserved hazard allowance, remains ignored.
There is a proposed law pending before the National Assembly (The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020) which if passed, will take away all the rights our people have fought for all these years. Under the Bill, any Nigerian citizen can be arrested on the street at any time, without a warrant, for being suspected to have Malaria, Typhoid, Yellow fever and AIDS, which are among the diseases defined as infectious diseases under the proposed law.
The home, business premises and vehicles of citizens may be taken over without warrant, searched and seized by health officers on the basis of no more than an unverified suspicion. Nigerian citizens can be compelled to subject themselves to tests and treatment whenever the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control, Health Officers and the Police appointed by the DG, in their sole discretion, deem fit.
Any failure by the Nigerian people to cooperate in this massive violation of our right to privacy and the dignity of our human person, is punishable by a jail term of six months and/or a fine of N100,000.00(One Hundred Thousand Naira). ASCAB submitted a memorandum to the National Assembly during the public hearing on the Bill held in Abuja on 10th of June, 2020.
I’m glad to let you know that our organization, the CDHR, is playing a leading role in the work of ASCAB. I ask that all Branches of the CDHR, and all Units nationwide, being now fully informed, should collaborate and in fact play a leading role in this historic struggle to ensure that our people, the Nigerian people, survive COVID-19 with our fundamental human rights intact, to protect jobs and living standards consistently along the way, and that beyond and after COVID-19, Nigeria is systematically reorganized in a way that the poorest in our midst, enjoy their right to decent housing, right to health care on the basis of need and not ability to pay, and the right to life and the means to sustain life.
ASCAB is indeed an alliance in which many civil society organizations are collaborating at the national level with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), other labour groups and informal sector workers. Please take this as a directive to replicate this collaboration, at the State and Local Government levels and indeed at the Town and Community levels, such that all critical stakeholders in Nigeria and all those who stand to benefit from the New Nigeria in the process of being born, on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis are mobilized to play their decisive role in this task that must be done.
JUNE 12, UNFINISHED BUSINESS AND REVOLUTION NOW:
You will recall the historic role played by the CDHR in the struggle against military dictatorship in the history of Nigeria, starting from the struggle against the Buhari/Idiagbon Dictatorship and the Ibrahim Babaginda/Abacha/Abdulsalam Abubakar Dictatorship. This is not the time to go into the details of what transpired, but it is sufficient to acknowledge that the Nigerian people as organized in CDHR, Campaign for Democracy and other groups, had nothing but our raw will, in confronting armed soldiers who forced their way into management of public affairs in our country unelected.
They turned out to be hypocrites and dishonourable persons, when their record was viewed side by side with their coup statements upon illegal seizure of power. The height of their infamy was the annulment of the free and fair elections held on June 12, 1993, that had the potential of uniting Nigeria on the mandate to bid farewell to poverty in Nigeria, and to champion the cause of reparations for all people of African descent, on account of the over four hundred years of enslavement of African people and seizure of our land by European predators.
The only discernible reason for the annulment was the commitment by the Babaginda clique to hold on to power for life. Despite the resort to ethnic divisions to break the ranks of the Nigerian people, we loudly proclaimed that enough was enough. The military was eventually sent back to the barracks by the victorious Nigerian people.
The battle was of course costly in lives, liberty and limbs for which we shall forever be grateful to our heroes, many of whom are now gone and yet a larger number still with us. I leave their names to you as you know or should know them all.
It must be recalled that following the death of Sani Abacha and the murder of Chief M.K.O Abiola, the mandate holder, we in the CDHR and Campaign for Democracy insisted on the holding of a Sovereign National Conference as the vehicle for the adoption of a brand new Constitution for our country, which will guarantee as a matter of judicially enforceable right, the socio-economic rights which Dr. Bala Usman and Dr. Segun Osoba had articulated 20 years earlier.
We canvassed for the boycott of the Abdulsalam’s Transition Program if he would not convey a Sovereign National Conference, but political opportunists who were latter-day entrants into the struggle against military dictatorship, described Abdulsalam in flowery language and embraced his transition program, when the corpse of Chief M.K.O Abiola had not gone cold.
At the end of the day, Nigeria was bequeathed with a Constitution, the Abdulsalam Abubakar 1999, which was and remains not better than the 1979 Constitution imposed by the Obasanjo dictatorship.
By and large, those political opportunists who have occupied various offices and have been recycling themselves for the past 21 years, have refused to address the question of making socio-economic rights justiceable in Nigeria. Many of them have become godfathers and have amassed wealth of unimaginable proportions.
They have monetized the electoral process and manipulated the system in a way that frustrates and keeps out the best that Nigeria has to offer. They have recently banned political parties with alternative view points on the ground that such parties have not been able to win positions in the elections that have been held and which, by and large have been rigged by them.
They believe they can continue to give pittance in their politics of inducement, distributed by their henchmen to the poor on election days. Their control of the media is a tool in their hands, in their commitment to continue to divide the Nigerian people, confuse some and distract the majority from the task of National and African redemption and the abolition of poverty from all nooks and crannies of Nigeria.
This is the machinery that brought the government of President Muhammadu Buhari into existence. It is a matter of record that General Buhari did not support the struggle for June 12 at the material time, he chose to work for Abacha then.
Similarly, Adams Oshiomhole, the present National Chairman of the A.P.C , as the Vice-President of the N.L.C during the June 12 era, was indifferent to the heroic struggles waged by Comrade Ovie Kokori on the Labour front as the leader of NUPENG (National Union for Petroleum and Gas Workers) for the realization of the June 12 mandate. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is today referred to as the “Leader” of the A.P.C.
Under the watch of these three persons, one of the leading lights and champions of June 12 in the North, Comrade Senator Shehu Sani was rigged out of Senate for being resolute and consistently committed.
It is with this same A.P.C machinery that they hope to foist themselves on Nigeria in 2023 and beyond. Meanwhile June 12 remains an unfinished business.
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?:
The issues that confront us as Nigerian people are basic: enjoyment in practice by all of us without exception, of the right to life and the means of sustaining life; the right to jobs/productive engagement, which guarantees the right to food; the right to health care on the basis of need, and not ability to pay, which means anybody that is sick deserves to be treated and made well, whether he or she has money or not; the right to decent and well ventilated housing, which is freedom from living on the streets as a destitute or in overcrowded slums in the cities, or living in huts without modern facilities in the rural areas. Others are the right to life and liberty which also guarantees freedom from arbitrary arrest and police brutality; the right to education that provides the opportunity to be equipped with skills to serve the nation e.t.c.
It needs to be said that where these rights are guaranteed as a matter of law, then the right to dignity of the human person of the lowliest Nigerian is also assured. Where these rights are secured, the anti-corruption fight would be readily embraced by the Nigerian people, as part of our task to protect our collective property and resources from embezzlement as these would be the source with which these rights would be provided.
Because the enjoyment of these rights in Nigeria have been long overdue, this is why the CDHR has also subscribed to a Coalition for Revolution in Nigeria (CORE), an offshoot of the REVOLUTION NOW Movement. The principal aim of the movement, is to realize the enjoyment of these rights, which our people eminently qualify for and have deserved for such a long time, such that we can say they should be realized NOW.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?:
I urge you to drop your anchor where you live, work or school, in the midst of those who stand to benefit from the New Nigeria we advocate. With your pedigree as a member of the CDHR, I urge you to play your role as you mobilize the victims to say Enough is Enough! Call your meetings, debate these issues, reach out to the allies ( Professional groups, Trade Unions, Student Unions, Traders, Artisans, Farmers etc) as a Coalition of the Willing.
We of the CDHR take the lead democratically because we are proud inheritors of a valiant legacy.
We cannot get tired now, we must not allow any confusion in our ranks, for as long as the situation remains terrible for the Nigerian people, the horizon can only be bright if we take action now. The spirit of what is right and proper that motivated worldwide protests against the killing of Mr. George Floyd in the U.S is not one that is alien to the Nigerian people.
WE SHALL DARE TO STRUGGLE, AND WE SHALL WIN!!!
- Dr. Osagie Obayuwana is the National President, Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR).