Human rights lawyer Femi Falana urges NBA to rise against illegal arrest and detention of Nigerians

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Updated: March 7, 2021

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has called on the Nigerian Bar Association to “do more to hold governments at all levels to account for violations of human rights and stop illegal arrests and detention of Nigerians by law enforcement and security agencies.”

Falana said this in a paper delivered yesterday at the induction of Mr. Fatai Adeyemi Abinjo as 37th President of the District 9110 of the Rotary Club, Ogba Lagos.

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According to Falana, “it is indisputable that Nigeria has largely enacted laws for the enforcement of the human rights of citizens and foreigners living in Nigeria. But due to the failure of lawyers and judges to hold the government accountable, the human rights of millions of poor Nigerians including civil, political, economic and social rights are violated with almost absolute impunity.”

Falana said, “It is high time the Nigerian Bar Association was reorganised to take its rightful place in the human rights community. Specifically, let all the branches of the NBA liaise and collaborate with the Chief Magistrates designated to conduct monthly inspections of police detention centres in each state of the federation. The 1st Vice President of the NBA who is in charge of human rights should mount additional pressure on the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to designate Judges to inspect the detention centres of other law enforcement agencies.”

Falana’s paper read in part: “Attorneys-General who frustrate the execution of judgments or who fail to prosecute all indictable offences should be sanctioned for gross misconduct by the Nigerian Bar Association.”
“The concepts of law and justice cannot have deep meaning, and even application, to the millions of our people who are merely existing at starvation level or even existing below that level. We have for long concentrated on so-called ‘Fundamental Rights’ as if these have equal meaning and application to all our people.”

“Most of the Rights entrenched in our Constitution are nothing more than empty words to millions of our peoples who are or whose children are suffering and, in some cases, dying of malnutrition and other preventable diseases associated with the poor.”

“Nigerian lawyers should get organized and reposition the Nigerian Bar Association to end illegal arrests and detention in Nigeria.”

“Without the implementation of the laws and enforcement of judgments on socioeconomic rights the political and civil rights being celebrated by Nigerian lawyers and judges will remain empty slogans.”

“To promote public interest litigation in the area of human rights the doctrine doctrine of locus standi has been abolished by the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009. The implication is that any concerned citizen or a group has the locus to file suits challenging the infringements of the human rights of persons who are in custody or other victims or who may not be able to seek legal redress in the appropriate courts.”

“Having ratified the Protocol of the Ecowas on the establishment of the Community Court of Justice and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, victims of human rights abuse may apply to the Ecowas Court to secure the enforcement of their human rights. The Nigerian Bar Association is called upon to join the coalition against impunity in demanding for a Declaration accepting the jurisdictional competence of the African Court on Human Rights in line with 34 (6) Of the Protocol for the Establishment of the Court.”

“The fundamental rights of every person to life, dignity of human person, personal liberty and fair hearing have been guaranteed by sections 33, 34, 35 and 36 the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 respectively. Similar rights have been protected by articles 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”

“Owing to the fact that Nigeria is a class society only the rich have the financial means to enforce these rights and others are violated. But since majority of poor and oppressed people are not in a position to enforce these basic rights due to poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and fear they are routinely violated by law enforcement officials. Even though the socioeconomic rights are enforceable in our municipal courts Nigerian lawyers are religiously committed to the defence of political and civil rights.”

“Such rights include access to education, right to health, national control of the economy, safe and healthy environment, pension, equitable working conditions, right to development etc guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.”

“Furthermore, some aspects of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy (which have been made non justiciable by the ruling class) have been enacted into law through the struggle waged by the trade unions and other oppressed people. But the ruling class has not hidden the fact that it is not committed to the actualization of the aforesaid welfare laws.”

“The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights ratified by Nigeria and enacted into law by the National Assembly has made socio-economic rights justiciable. To demonstrate further commitment to the observance of socio-economic rights the Nigeria has ratified the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, the Federal Government has failed to fulfill its obligations to the Nigerian people in line with the provisions of the aforesaid international human rights instruments.”

“In a country where hundreds of thousands are languishing in custody in dehumanizing conditions in prisons and other detention centres lawyers are only prepared to defend the human rights of the rich and politically exposed persons. A few months ago, I cautioned Nigerian lawyers against the dangerous dual criminal justice systems- one for the rich and one of the poor.”

“Because my warning was ignored the legal profession has been exposed to ridicule by some judges who are instigated by a few senior lawyers to confer permanent immunity on ex-governors whose constitutional immunity has expired by effluxion of time.”

“I am referring to the practice of rushing to the federal high court by highly placed lawyers to secure interim, interlocutory or perpetual injunctions to bar the anti graft agencies, the Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney-General of the Federation from arresting investigating and prosecuting some former governors and other politically exposed persons.”

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