Human Rights Defenders in Nigeria have called on the Executive and Legislatures to work together in order to institute laws that will protect them as they continue their activism for human rights.
During a stakeholder meeting to consolidate its presence and bring about access to protection organised by the Human Rights Defenders Network of Nigeria, the human rights defenders said that currently there is no law in Nigeria that protects them, despite the passage of the United Nations declaration on human rights defenders in 1998.
Mr. Jude Ohanele, a human rights defender and Executive Director of Development Dynamics, said at the meeting that the government has a huge role to play in ensuring that all human rights defenders are protected.
He said Nigeria is not doing enough to protect human rights defenders. Ohanele said the country has failed over the years because the government hasn’t been quite intentional about doing that.
“For instance, there is no human rights defenders’ law in Nigeria even after the passage of the United Nations declaration on human rights defenders in 1998, which is 25 years and more today, but we don’t have any human rights defenders’ law in Nigeria yet”, he said.
The human rights defender said it is expected that the National Assembly and the Executive should be able to come together and work with Civil society to come up with a bill on the defence of human rights in the country and pass it into law.
“That is the first step that the Nigerian government can put forward to say that these are the clear positions for the protection of human rights, and we now move into real action of making sure that those who are working day and night to protect right across the country, they are working for the objectives of government, and they should receive all the support and encouragement that they need.
“The call on the new government is to pick it up and work on this because it is very important that we protect the rights of our people and make sure that nobody in this country has their rights violated without recourse and redress; it is unacceptable”, he added.
Francis Ndegwa, the Regional and Outreach Officer, Africa, at Protection International, described the network as a shield for human rights defenders, which enables them to continue their work without fear of reprisal.
“If the work I am doing for you puts me in a position where I need defence, who defends me as a defender? That is the question the network answers,” Ndegwa stated.
Ndegwa, however, said there are significant improvements in human rights institutions across Africa, which he said are a result of the strengthening of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
Dorothy Amah, Deputy Director, Legal, who represented the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, assured that the Commission will continue to provide coverage and support for human rights defenders.
“Part of our general mandate is to receive and investigate complaints of human rights violations, including those involving human rights defenders,” Amah said.
She further highlighted the Commission’s efforts to enhance its capacity and expand the number of human rights defenders.
During her welcome address, the Managing Partner of Partnership for Justice, Itoro Eze-Anaba, said Human Rights defenders are known for speaking for the voiceless, for taking a stand against tyranny and oppression, and for their commitment to eradicating violations of human rights in Nigeria and holding to account those who violate these rights.
She said the launch of the Network represents not just an idea realised but a vision embraced. “It signifies the coming together of individuals and organisations from all corners of our nation, each driven by the belief that every person, regardless of their background and circumstances, deserves to live a life free from discrimination, oppression, and injustice.
“Our National network is not just an organisation; it is a movement, a testament to the power of unity in diversity. It is a promise to uphold the principles of equality, fairness, and justice for all.
“It is a declaration that we, as defenders of human rights, will work tirelessly to hold those in power accountable and to protect the vulnerable and marginalised.
It is a declaration that, as HRDs, we stand committed to protecting the protectors of human rights in Nigeria”, Eze-Anaba added.