Human rights violations worst under Buhari’s regime — CDHR scribe, Folarin

The National Secretary, Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Yinka Folarin, served as a member on many panels of enquiry in Ogun State, including the #EndSARS panel, whose recommendations have yet to be implemented. He speaks with DAUD OLATUNJI on sundry issues

What have been the contributions of the CDHR towards ensuring the protection of human rights in Nigeria?

The CDHR is a frontier and foremost membership-based human rights organisation in Nigeria formed over 33 years ago. The organisation has been at the vanguard of defending the rights of everyone guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We have been contributing to the protection of human rights in no small measure. We have our presence in 30 states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, with units spread across local governments and communities.

We equally have in place an efficient response system for processing complaints of human rights violations and violation-in-progress. We have been educating the masses on what human rights are and what they are not. We mediate where necessary, support victims of rights violations through prompt interventions, including free legal services, and materials in some cases and collaborate with allied organisations and relevant government agencies for human rights advancements and protection.

How can you assess the Buhari regime on the defence of human rights?

Respect for human rights under the Buhari regime has been a ruse. We have recorded the worst form of human rights violations since we returned to democracy in 1999 under the present regime, extrajudicial killings, indiscriminate loss of lives, unlawful detentions, disobedience to rule of law, lack of respect for constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, threat to press freedom. We can only commend the administration on some infrastructural development in road and rail.

You were a former Ogun Chairman of CDHR, what is the rate of human rights abuse in the state?

The rate of human rights in Ogun is obviously alarming, and calls for urgent rescue, just like in some other parts of Nigeria. The right to life of the citizen is under threat as freedom of movement is no longer guaranteed. The security of lives and property, which is supposedly the primary responsibility of the government, is being turned into individual responsibility. Although the government has put in place some combative mechanisms, they appeared not to be sufficient in addressing the challenges. The state-owned security outfits are under-equipped and underfunded, especially the ‘So-Safe Corps’ and ‘Amotekun.’  So, I would expect more seriousness through adequate support for the outfits. The government may not be seen to have shown adequate commitment to the protection of human rights in Ogun State, especially as it concerns the protection of people’s property and prevention of crimes arising from forcible occupation of landed property which could have been combated through setting up of an anti-land-grabbing joint taskforce as required by the law.

The 2023 elections in Nigeria have been fixed for next year despite the high level of insecurity; do you agree that the election should go on while the country is battling with insecurity?

Since all Nigerians have the right to participate in their democracy, disenfranchising the people or some regions on the ground of insecurity will amount to a deprivation of their universally-guaranteed human rights. I can only charge the President as the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces to scale up efforts in his obligation of securing all Nigerians. The government rode into power on many promises; one of which was reclaiming all territories under the demonic control of the terrorists. While we cannot shy away from the fact that some progress was recorded, it is crystal clear that the administration failed with the birth of more terrorist groups. However, in preparation for a free, fair, credible and acceptable 2023 general elections, the President and the service chiefs must ensure adequate security is provided to guarantee credible conduct. To do otherwise would amount to a failure of constitutional responsibilities.

It is believed that many human rights are easily bought over by politicians, where do you stand?

The belief that human rights bodies are easily bought by politicians to me may be far from the truth, and I see it as one of their strategic manipulative statements to discredit our constituency. I have read quite several reports indicating some civil society organisations in Nigeria engage in negative deals with politicians. I may equally not be right to fully discard such insinuation, but I can say emphatically that CDHR, a revolutionary organisation, HRGDS an organisation with UN-ECOSOC, and global compact status, which I belong to, have traceable records of selfless service and at no time has the organisation submitted itself to the will or wishes of any politician.

In your opinion, how has the Ogun State Government fared in terms of security and infrastructural development?

In terms of security and infrastructural development, I will say we haven’t done too badly but we are not giving the best it deserves. The masses are lamenting over the poor state of roads in major parts of the state. While the government can be commended for some visible commissioned projects, I am afraid of the quality of work done by their contractors whom I suspect were not thoroughly monitored as a result of Governor Dapo Abiodun’s unavailability.

You participated in the previous national elections, what were your observations and where did the masses get it wrong?

My observations about previous elections revealed there was a trust deficit between the electorate and the Independent National Electoral Commission. Votes in Nigeria weren’t counting until 2015. Before that period, politicians and political parties were often found manipulating the processes, and the elections were characterised by snatching of ballot boxes, electoral violence, voter apathy, burning of INEC offices, and extrajudicial killings, among others.

I must say the coming into force of the Electoral Act, 2022 and the demonstrated commitment of INEC towards the credible conduct of future polls shows clear advancements. It is no more a game as usual. The manipulation of decisions at the poll has been brought to the barest minimum through the use of technology and the present administration must be commended for that.

How are human rights organisations funded?

Human rights organisations mostly get funded through membership subscription fees, membership contributions, credible donations from philanthropists, international grants, and income from charity investments.

Recently the Speaker of the Ogun State House of Assembly was arrested and arraigned, what does it portend for the state’s image and Nigerian democracy?

The recent arrest of the Speaker of the Ogun State House of Assembly, though a very sad development, is perceived as political persecution in some quarters. However, it will be contemptuous to dabble into the details since the matter is in court and in line with one of the principles of human rights which presume everybody innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

You were a member of the panel of enquiry on abuse of human rights by police, what were your observations and views?

Yes, I was a member of the Ogun State Judicial Panel on Police Brutalities and Human Rights Violations by security agencies otherwise known as the EndSARS panel. I was appointed by the Governor alongside others who represented different clusters. We served for six months and discharged our duties, which were primarily to investigate human rights violations by the security personnel that served or are serving in Ogun State. We recommended compensations for victims, and punishments for the perpetrators, and offered/suggested the way forward and preventive measures to deter further violations. The panel was an expository one that left me with many questions on how some of us have been surviving the untamed, unimaginable and inhumane treatments from those paid to protect the citizens.

Some of the victims were tortured to death by the officers of the Nigeria Police Force on the allegations for which they were eventually exonerated by a court of law. Human lives appeared to be meaningless to our security personnel, especially the Nigeria Police. Torture and unlawful detentions were the tools employed for criminal investigation. We discovered that some police officers shockingly lacked the requisite knowledge of the law they rely on for criminal prosecution.

If the situation is not attended to now, we may be categorised as one of the states that have neither refused to speak up against human rights abuses perpetrated by security personnel nor learned anything from the EndSARS struggle.

The President has presented the budget, with education taking the largest chunk while subsidy removal was being touted, what do you think of this?

The 2023 budget presented would be historic if the National Assembly looks into it holistically. The President has claimed to be passionate about revitalising the educational system and posited that education must be a shared responsibility between the government and the people. The proposal of N470bn appeared to be a magnanimous one from the President but honestly cannot be enough to address the deficits in the tertiary educational sector, knowing full well that input determines our output.

To secure the future of the country, funding education must be on the front burner and subsidy on education is very important.

I had expected that a minimum sum of N1.5tn would be budgeted for education, but unfortunately, the government’s body language regarding educational growth has not changed on fuel subsidy removal. The government’s decision to remove fuel subsidies completely to me is a welcome development but the subsidy regime must be thoroughly probed by the coming administration. The Buhari-led government on subsidy probe has only been cosmetic with no traceable achievement. The budgeted sum for subsidy removal must be scrutinised by the National Assembly before the final passage.

Who should Nigerians vote for among the presidential candidates?

I will advise Nigerians to vote wisely for a competent candidate who has fundamental knowledge of the Nigerian situation, a candidate with a track record of integrity, tested and with a reasonable level of trust.

Can we eliminate vote buying in Nigeria, why and how can it be managed or stopped?

It is not impossible to eliminate vote buying if all critical actors, candidates, the electorate, observers, security agencies and INEC agree to do so. We in the civil society must equally step up our advocacy against such acts by sensitising members of the public on the need to always say no to vote trading.

Sodeeq Olaitan is a passionate blogger, and internet marketer.

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