Amnesty International Country Director Osai Ojigo IDEAS Radio Episode 44

IDEAS Radio 30 Aug 2019

Guest: Amnesty International Country Director Osai Ojigo

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, we’ve just been shadow boxing before we start the Public Square.  Rotimi Sankore throwing punches! So, this Public Square …

Rotimi Sankore: The promo sounded too exciting!

Ayo Obe: Then you should be excited!

AgO: We are indeed excited.  Public Square, we do this from 4 pm till 6 pm.  First Ayo Obe is here with the IDEAS segment. And Ayo Obe, on the side-lines of the NBA conference held us hostage for the last one week, the lawyers in Victoria Island, but …

RS: Not you Ayo, the conference.

AO: I know!  I’m not guilty m’lud.  Not guilty!

AgO: And they will be here.  And someone asked whether they’re going to be having the NBA extended conference here, because it was so good they wanted an extra day,  and they will have the extra day at the Public Square.  

But make welcome Osai Ojigo who is the Country Director Amnesty International for Nigeria.  Thank you very much for coming on the Public Square.

RS: And one of the …

Osai Ojigo: Thank you for having me.

RS: And one of the thousands of participants.

OO: Tens of thousands!

RS: Well, …

AO: At the …?

RS: At the NBA Conference.

AgO: So you see, we weren’t wrong calling it a siege!

RS: Yes!  In fact I don’t think VI …

AO: In fact …

RS: I don’t think Victoria Island has ever seen so many lawyers before, honestly!

AO: Really?  I know that my … one of my junior colleagues went to the Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association yesterday.  But anyway, I want to … not quite put that aside … but to welcome listeners to the IDEAS segment, because the issues that we deal with on IDEAS are Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, and for that reason it’s actually very good that we have Osai here because, rather than us being the ones who are demanding … particularly Accountability and looking at whether people are behaving with Integrity and Ethics, and the question of whether they are helping or harming our Democracy, I have somebody who, as the Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, is actually one of those whose job it is to be asking agencies of government whether they are living up to the IDEAS.  So welcome Osai to the IDEAS segment of the Public Square.

OO: Thank you very much.

AO: And as I said, Amnesty has been putting the question, and I wonder, given the immense powers that rest in the hands of any government, but particularly the federal government, the state governments, the security agencies, whether you think that they have properly accounted for the power that lies in their hands in regard … and you can give some examples of areas  where you think they did (if you have any) and areas where you know that they didn’t, or you think that they didn’t.

OO: Thank you so much for having me on the show today.  It’s really a great opportunity as always, to share about our work, but most importantly to use the   platform for a call for Accountability. So our work in Nigeria dates back to the mid 1960s, of course with the Civil War, and then military rule, down to present day Nigeria.  And we’ve always called the government to be mindful of its international obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Of recent, and if we were to look at the efforts the government has put in place, in terms of what they do right, the Nigerian government is very good at passing laws, signing treaties, and so that’s one thing you can give Nigeria a plus for.  But then, in implementation, is a different ball game entirely. And if we are to look at how the government has handled the insurgency that has battled Nigeria in the last ten years, there’s been a lot of mistakes and a lot of mishaps, and a lot of opportunities for them to make redress in terms of the harms that have been occurring in that region. Boko Haram as we know, as an insurgent group has created this situation whereby there’s a crisis and breakdown of complete law and order.  And in pushing back that insurgency the Nigerian military has also been involved in some of the atrocities that have happened in the last ten years in that region. One of the calls we made since 2015 is for the government to look at the crisis holistically. What are the violations that have been committed by Boko Haram against the populace? And what are the violations, the human rights violations that have also occurred on the side of the security forces who have been sent to take charge of the situation and address the injustices going on in that region.  So, like I said, mistakes have happened, but then, burying our head in the sand and saying: “Oh, all the crimes have been committed by Boko Haram and nothing has been committed by the military”, will not solve or address the injustices that have been committed by both sides, and which the people themselves have asked government to give them answers to.  

Today for example, is the Day of the Disappeared.  It’s a day the United Nations remember those who have been forcibly disappeared, people who security agents, or with the consent of security agents were taken from their homes  and till date we don’t know whether they are alive or they are dead we don’t know whether they are in detention, which detention places? And if you look at the North East quite a number of people have disappeared, and there are no records of them or what could have happened to them: all their relatives know is that they were taken and they never came back.  Then the government set up the Presidential panel to investigate allegations of violations against the military, and whether they’ve complied with their rules of conduct as well as international law. Till date, when the Commission submitted its panel … the panel submitted its recommendations and its report in 2018, we’re yet to find out what is the content. So, if a government says they are accountable, then it means that you spent a lot of money, spent a lot of time – over six weeks – to go round the country, the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, to investigate, to check.  A lot of Nigerians a lot of people, institutions presented memorandum before the panel. Amnesty International also presented memorandum. And then, over a year since the panel submitted its report, it’s still secret, nobody has access to it. So then, how do we then hold our government Accountable for the resources it has expended and for the many stories and families that came out as a result of this call to genuinely believe that something is going to happen.

AO: OK, thanks … thank you.  I notice that you mentioned international treaties  and obligations. But we have also the Nigerian Constitution by which our government is actually supposed to guarantee certain rights to us, and these include the right to life, right to liberty, right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, and so on and so forth.  Does Amnesty International, because it’s an international body, not look also at the Nigerian Constitution and the government’s obligations under that, or is it all about international treaties, because as you said, Nigeria is very good at signing, but implementation is another thing?

OO: We look at the whole system of laws: national, international and including regional as well.  And in many of our reports, we always contextualise to the situation in the various countries as well.  And Nigeria has for many years been a champion of human rights within the region. It also domesticated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Nigerian Constitution is quite clear also in terms of the fundamental human rights obligations that are contained therein.

AO: Yeah.  I just … because as I said, we find that Amnesty International is often – especially the Nigeria office – is often in the firing line because it calls for Accountability on the part of the … particularly the Nigerian Army.  And I wonder, because – apart from the Nigerian Army which tends to have a somewhat combative response – I often find a lot of people, ordinary citizens … assume … on the basis that they assume that they could never get caught up in these events, what they want is for the insurgency to stop (and if I can add to that, banditry, kidnapping and so on) and for that, they feel that the police should not, and the security agencies shouldn’t handle these people with kid gloves.  And I wonder if you have something that you can say about whether such short term resp … feelings have an effect, or whether … or tell me … let me not answer the question for you.

OO: Yes, it’s people many times misunderstand our role or our calls.  Because there’s often security concerns on one side, and then the fact that the security forces, whether it’s the Police or the Military are actually getting the bad guys.  But we’re looking at the practices. Oftentimes, in their quest to find the guilty, or the … or those suspected of committing the crimes, they do what they generally do in …  even in normal circumstances: someone has committed a crime, they go and raid the entire area.

AO: Now what effect does that have in terms … I mean, does it … I mean it may be tough on the people who are raided, but does it deal with the problem?  That’s really …

OO: Which is the challenge.  So you raid, and you still cannot find those who have actually perpetrated the crime.  There’s a lot of profiling and stereotyping, so you find that young men and boys are often their targets.  So it doesn’t matter whether you are genuinely suspected of being Boko Haram, as long as you are young and you are male, you are a suspect.  And so it means that you create an atmosphere where people don’t trust the security agencies because it doesn’t matter what I tell you I do or who I am: you’ve labelled all of us in the same gamut, and in the process make it very difficult for people to speak up, even when they hear about incidents in their community.  So it’s this kind of violent response in terms of their fight against the insurgency that has led to these massive abuses that we’ve seen on their side.

To be fair to the authorities, in the last few years – I will say three or four years – because of a lot of clamouring from groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, they’ve taken  steps to review some of their practices and to have human rights training for soldiers on the field. But the biggest issue now, is about holding those who are responsible to account. Because we’ve asked: If you’ve found people guilty, you’ve investigated, where are they?  Have they been handed over to the civil authority to face the crimes? We seem to see a sort of cover up in terms of the officers who have been responsible and the commanders who have led some of the violations that have occurred. And you can’t tell us that you are fixing things and yet nobody is being punished for it.  So in that quest, you’ve created another opportunity for those who are not happy with the system to also take up arms. And the general insecurity we are seeing in the country is because people do not just trust the security forces to keep them safe, and that they will be fair, and that those who have committed these crimes will be held to account.  And instead the cycle of violence continues.

AO: So when you talk about a holistic … about the need for government to have a holistic approach, what do you mean in those terms?

OO: It means the complete cycle of justice.  If a complaint is made, it means someone has committed a wrong, it’s investigated, you find the person who has committed that wrong, you go through the trial process , if found wanting, punish, face the punishment and let everyone see.  The trials have to be public for example, and the punishment that is, that the person is sentenced to, the person has to observe it. But when the system is shrouded in secrecy and nobody knows whether their complaints would ever see the light of day, then it becomes impossible to sustain.

AO: Ok, so I guess that the essence of your position is transparency…

OO: Transparency

AO: … encourages Accountability.

And I want to now, look at something which is not quite on the same line as the issue of insurgency and security issues, but which also goes to other issues about Accountability, Integrity and so on.  Because the other day I was at one of what we call in Lagos ‘informal settlements’ and the … these are people who are often subject to forced evictions. And I wonder whether … because I know that Amnesty had been very much concerned with forced evictions, and just before we close, I wonder if you can tell me whether there has been any result from Amnesty’s demands on behalf of those who have been subject to forced evictions, or whether we are still waiting for the government to take care of its victims?

OO: We’re still waiting.  If we look at Lagos State, in 2017 we released the report   “Lagos the Mega City” looking at informal settlements and waterfront communities.  There’s … there are three Lagos State High Court judgments calling on the Lagos State Government to review the evictions that occurred in Otodo Gbame, Ilubirin communities, calling on them to resettle the people because they were forced evictions.  One thing that we have always made clear: evictions can be legal provided adequate notice is provided, there’s an alternative and all possible avenues have been considered before the eviction takes place. But that has not happened in Lagos State and we see that it’s a movement of the poor in order to create luxury apartments and luxury developments in the waterfront areas. 

AO: Well, I know that we have at least 42 such informal settlements around Lagos, and I dare say that the people end up moving from one to another.

But I have to close my IDEAS segment here, as I want to really thank you Osai, for giving us some insight on behalf of … on … as a representative of Amnesty International, and perhaps explaining a little bit about … of course, Boko Haram doesn’t answer when you accuse them of crimes …  so I dare say that it always looks as if you’re in contest …

OO: Yes.

AO: … contestation with the Nigerian Army, but it goes with the territory.  So I want to thank you very much for coming, and thank listeners for hearing us on the IDEAS segment.

And I hand it right back Aghogho and Rotimi who were silent throughout.

OO: Thank you very much too.

RS: Ayo I thought the IDEAS segment, you should get … we will have an hour and a half with Osai and the General Secretary of the NBA when he arrives, so I thought it was just best to let you get in as much …

AO: Thank you

RS: … questions as you can.  Thank you.

AgO: Alright, so we’ll take a quick break.  Of course you can catch up with Ayo Obe on or tweet as well @Naijama

RS: @NaijaMA, not Nigeria ma

AgO: @Naijama and @ideasradiong.  We’ll take a quick break. When we come back Public Square continues.  Osai Ojigo is still here with us, please don’t go anywhere. 

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