Human Rights Watch Tasks Tinubu on Media Freedom, Security
By Adedapo Adesanya
Human Rights Watch has tasked Nigeria’s incoming President, Mr Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to ensure that human rights and media freedom are central to all his policies both at home and abroad.
The rights body on Thursday outlined key human rights priorities for the new administration and urged the new administration to prioritize improvements in five key areas.
They are: to promote civilian protection in conflict areas; respect and protect media freedom and the right to free expression; bolster the social safety net to tackle entrenched poverty and inequality; protect and promote the rights of internally displaced people; and adopt a foreign policy that centres human rights.
“Tinubu is set to take the reins at a time of deep uncertainty about the nation’s affairs, including worsening poverty and inequality, high levels of insecurity, and recurrent violations of civil and political rights,” said Mr Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Once in office, the president-elect should focus on these critical issues and try to reverse course on significant human rights backsliding.”
Mr Tinubu, who was declared winner of the February 2023 presidential elections, is to be inaugurated on May 29 for a four-year term. The elections were marred with irregularities, including violence at the polls and an inability to upload election results from polling units in real-time.
The inauguration occurs amid petitions challenging Mr Tinubu’s victory at the Court of Appeal, which functions as the presidential election tribunal.
In his campaign manifesto, Mr Tinubu emphasized “security of life and property” as a top priority for his administration. He stated that part of his strategy to achieve this is to “first pull most Nigerians out of poverty and provide the basic needs for a decent life and social justice for all, irrespective of region, tribe, and religion.”
Human Rights Watch urged President-elect Tinubu, once in office, to act on his campaign promises to tackle critical levels of insecurity, ensure civilian protection and accountability for rights abuses, protect Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, and prioritize efforts towards the realization of an adequate standard of living for all.
“The incoming administration should also support constitutional democracies, especially in West Africa, and stand up for fundamental rights and democratic freedoms in its foreign policy considerations,” it said in a statement.
It noted that Nigeria has failed to ensure economic and social rights for everyone, including the right to an adequate standard of living.
“According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 133 million people live in multidimensional poverty, experiencing high levels of deprivation in areas including sanitation, health care, food, and housing. Inequality has also reached extreme levels as the gap between the rich and the poor widens alarmingly.
“However, the country lacks a functioning social security system to protect against economic shocks and income insecurity throughout people’s lives, including during common life events such as old age, unemployment, sickness or giving birth, and caring for dependents.
“In the Northwest, gangs commonly called “bandits” carry out widespread killings, kidnappings, sexual violence, and looting. In the Northeast, the conflict between the Islamist armed group Boko Haram, its breakaway factions, and the Nigerian security forces has killed an estimated 350,000 civilians and created a humanitarian crisis that includes the displacement of more than 2 million civilians within Nigeria and over 280,000 to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In the Southeast, anti-government groups clamouring for secession kill and maim people to enforce their sit-at-home order requiring people to stay home to shut down all public places, including businesses and schools.
“Security forces responding to the insecurity and in other instances across the country are implicated in gross human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, and extrajudicial killings. Security forces also use excessive force to suppress citizens’ rights to protest, while the authorities have repeatedly failed to hold officers responsible for abuses to account.
“Government actions also indicate significant regression on the right to free expression and media freedom. These include an eight-month ban on Twitter in 2021, efforts to introduce a social media bill aimed at criminalizing government critics, arrests and detentions of critics and journalists, and sanctions on media outlets for critical reporting,” the group noted.
“Tinubu promised to address the cycle of violence, injustices, and endemic poverty that millions of Nigerians face daily.
“The incoming president should put his words into action by taking steps to improve human rights and ensuring that his administration shows the utmost regard for the rule of law and democratic principles,” Mr Ewing added.
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SERAP Demands Missing $2.1bn, N3.1trn Subsidy Payments Probe
By Adedapo Adesanya
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to probe the allegations that $2.1 billion and N3.1 trillion in public funds of oil revenues and budgeted as fuel subsidy payments are missing and unaccounted for between 2016 and 2019, as documented by the Auditor-General of the Federation.
SERAP, in the first letter to the new president, charged him to “name and shame anyone suspected to be responsible for the alleged widespread and systemic corruption in the use of oil revenues and the management of public funds budgeted as fuel subsidy and to ensure their effective prosecution as well as the full recovery of any proceeds of crime.”
SERAP also asked him “to promptly, thoroughly, independently, transparently and effectively probe all fuel subsidy paid by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999, and to use any recovered proceeds of crime as palliatives to address the impact of any subsidy removal on poor Nigerians.”
In the letter dated June 3, 2023, and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “There is a legitimate public interest in ensuring justice and accountability for these serious allegations,” noting that “There will be no economic growth or sustainability without accountability for these human rights crimes.”
SERAP said: “Your government should urgently act to follow due process of law in any policy to remove fuel subsidy, ensure that suspected perpetrators of these crimes against Nigerians are brought to justice, and full recovery of any missing public funds.”
SERAP also said, “Arbitrarily removing fuel subsidy without addressing outstanding accountability issues in the alleged mismanagement of oil revenues and fuel subsidy payments would amount to punishing poverty and further impoverishing the poor while letting high-profile officials and non-state actors get away with their crimes,” adding that, “Any removal of fuel subsidy should not be used as a ploy to keep the poor in poverty while those who allegedly stole oil revenues and fuel subsidy payments keep their ill-gotten wealth.”
SERAP informed Mr Tinubu that, “Under Section 16(1) of the Constitution, your government has a responsibility to ‘secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.’ Section 16(2) further provides that, ‘the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.’
“The UN Convention against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, to which Nigeria is a state party, obligate your government to effectively prevent and investigate the plundering of the country’s wealth and natural resources and hold public officials and non-state actors to account for any violations.
“Specifically, article 26 of the UN Convention requires your government to ensure ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions’ including criminal and non-criminal sanctions, in cases of grand corruption.
“Article 26 complements the more general requirement of article 30, paragraph 1, that sanctions must take into account the gravity of the corruption allegations.”
Governor Akeredolu Not Dead–Ondo Commissioner
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Ondo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, has refuted reports that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has died.
In a statement on Saturday, the Commissioner described the news as fake, though confirming that Mr Akeredolu was truly indisposed.
She said despite the Governor’s state of health, he has been discharging his constitutional duties and has also been delegating some of his functions to others who are competent to discharge them.
She advised members of the public, particularly citizens of the southwest state, to disregard the rumours of the Governor’s death.
“We have been inundated with calls and messages concerning the state of health of the Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. We had chosen to ignore this wicked fabrication until it appeared that certain persons sought to draw political mileage from the disinformation.
“Though the Governor has been indisposed, he has been attending to state matters and delegating functions to functionaries of the government when necessary.
“We enjoin the members of the public to ignore the rumour. Aketi is very much alive,” Mrs Ademola-Olateju said in the statement.
Meanwhile, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Governor, Mr Richard Olatunde, has released a short video showing Mr Akeredolu watching the FA Cup final played at Wembley Stadium in England between Manchester United and Manchester City on Saturday.
The Governor watched the football game won by the blue side of the city on a large television screen.
FCFA Tasks Nigeria to Adopt Sweden’s Tobacco Harm Reduction Model
By Dipo Olowookere
Nigeria has been advised to adopt the model used by Sweden to achieve Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR), which helped the European nation to reduce smoking rates, thereby promoting a healthier future.
Sweden is moving closer to becoming a smoke-free society, as over the past 15 years, smoking rates have plummeted from 15 per cent to 5.6 per cent, making it the lowest rate in Europe.
This has also put the country 17 years ahead of the European Union’s target, affirming the effectiveness of the Swedish way of making reduced risks alternative products to smoking widely accessible, acceptable and affordable.
Nigeria can also achieve this feat if necessary steps are taken to work toward this, the Foundation for Consumer Freedom Advancement (FCFA) submitted.
While joining others to celebrate World Vape Day 2023 on May 30, the group said it was fully behind the fight to combat smoking charging African leaders to adopt the Swedish model to save millions of lives across the continent to transform public health outcomes and reduce the staggering toll of tobacco-related diseases.
Nigeria continues to face the devastating consequences of smoking-related diseases. The World Health Organisation, in 2022, reported that nearly 30,000 lives were lost in Nigeria due to this.
According to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction, 4.1 per cent of the adult population in Nigeria are current smokers, representing approximately 4.5 million individuals.
The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction reports that while 7.9 per cent of men in Nigeria are current smokers, only 0.3 per cent of women smoke.
These figures underscore the urgent need for the Nigerian government to prioritize THR and learn from the Swedish model, FCFA said, attributing the success of adopting a smokeless oral tobacco product called Snus and promoting diverse alternatives to traditional cigarettes.
The organisation Sweden offered a range of reduced-risk alternatives such as e-cigarettes or vaping products and nicotine pouches, noting that these alternatives are made readily available in convenience stores, supermarkets, and tobacco stores, simplifying the transition process for smokers.
FCFA has called on the Nigerian government to prioritise Tobacco Harm Reduction, stating that through education, regulation and provision of safer alternatives, Nigeria can empower its citizens to make informed choices and transition from traditional combustible tobacco products.
The group promised to partner with “stakeholders in Nigeria to promote Tobacco Harm Reduction initiatives and work towards a smoke-free future.”
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