It is a pedestrian information that the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria on Tuesday July 11, 2023, as part of programmes lined up to mark the 20th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol, an essential instrument for the advancement of women’s rights on the African continent, expressed its commitment to uphold the principles enshrined in the protocol, which recognises gender equality and the empowerment of women in Africa for sustainable development.
Also known as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Maputo Protocol was adopted in Maputo, Mozambique by the Heads of States and Government of the African Union on July 11, 2003, to promote and protect the rights of women in Africa. The protocol offers protection from discrimination, gender-based violence, harmful practices, armed conflicts, disabilities, and distress among others, and guarantees women in Africa the right to dignity, integrity and security of person, equality in marriage and before the law, political participation, social welfare and economic empowerment, inheritance, sustainable development, and health and reproductive rights.
Despite being subscribing to membership of such organisations, it is obvious that back home, her leaders ‘enjoy’ protracted unwillingness to imbibe nation-building attitudes preached by the international organisations aimed at ensuring that citizens of member nations gain adequate security and economic prosperity.
This particular negative reputation on the part of successive administration in Nigeria becomes even more critical when one remembers that prior to 2017, when the Federal Government during one of the federal executive council meeting presided over by former President Muhammadu Buhari decided to stop Nigeria’s membership of 90 international organisations, as a result of a backlog of $120m in membership dues and other financial commitments.
Some of these organisations include Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Permanent Court of Arbitration, United Nations Organisation, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation among others.
More evidently, while innocent taxpayers’ money in Nigeria are continually ‘wasted’ in payment of heavy annual dues to these organisations with claims by the leaders that the nation’s membership of the organisations is predicated on promoting productive collaboration and enhancement of synergy that disallows powerful nations and figures from dominating and influencing weaker nations, it’s believed that the inabilities of these global instruments such as the Maputo Protocol to protect vulnerable Nigerians is not primarily a weakness on its part. It’s largely a function of lack of political will on the part of the leaders to domesticate and enforce such directives. Similar legislations exist but are neither implemented nor enforced by relevant authorities in the country.
For example on May 25, 2015, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition bill. This is after the Senate had on May 5, 2015, passed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 into law.
Among other provisions, the law prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices. It prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices. The VAPP provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls. This is a happy ending for a 14-year advocacy and passed through the three assemblies of the National Assembly.
With regards to criminal justice administration of a child, it was documented that the first attempt geared towards child protection in Nigeria, was in 1943, when the Children and Young Persons’ Act was promulgated for application in any part of the Protectorate of Nigeria on the order of the governor-in-council. Rather, it was limited in scope as it merely regulates the criminal proceedings involving a child.
What about the Child Rights Act enacted in 2003 and shares similar virtues and attributes with Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly, a declaration made by the world governing body on November 20, 1959 of which Nigeria is equally a signatory?
Also, examining the Child Right Act divided into 24 parts and 11 schedules, with various parts addressing broadly rights and responsibilities, protection and welfare of children, duties and responsibilities of government, institutions for children, as well as other miscellaneous matters, can we say that the law has been truly implemented in the country in terms of content?
The most painful part is that while the CRA stipulates compulsory basic education for all Nigerian children irrespective of tribe, sex, religion or creed, over 10.5 million Nigerian children, going by reports, are presently out of school. This is further exacerbated by the nation’s culture of underfunding education; a practice that administrations from 1999 till date will share in its guilt. Both the federal and state governments in Nigeria have never complied with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation budgetary recommendation on education despite its membership.
For me, the ‘spirit’ behind these declarations like Maputo Protocol, CRA and Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly, among others is clear. Vulnerable Nigerians particularly children are not only innocent, but the most treasured possessions on earth. We have a job to protect and nurture these kids to be strong and independent. The laws can help in this regard.