SERAP calls for legal framework for human rights

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By Adenike Ayodele
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has advocated the establishment of a legal framework that recognises and respects human rights.

The group also called for the review of the Official Secrets Act, Criminal Code Act and Cybercrime Act free in line with international human rights standards and agreements.

Dr Bunmi Afinowi, a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, said this at the presentation of a report titled: “State of Civic Space in Nigeria.”
Afinowi, presented and launched the report on behalf of SERAP, on Tuesday in Lagos.

The lecturer equally called for the strengthening of the independence of regulatory bodies such as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) to ensure impartial regulation and promote self-regulation within the media.

According to her, the recent decision of the Federal High Court on the powers of the NBC was a step in the right direction.

Afinowi also said the government should ensure a diverse representation in the NBC, the NPC, including journalist unions, civil society and academia.

She said: “The judiciary has a role to play in this regard by ensuring that it upholds the rule of law and safeguards fundamental human rights as recognised and enshrined in the constitution.

“Bodies like the National Human Rights Commission, the Nigeria Union of Journalists and relevant civil society groups must ensure prompt and thorough investigations into the attacks on journalists and hold perpetrators accountable.

“There is also a need for professional bodies and civil society groups to encourage coalitions and ensure adequate funding, capacity building and technical support for civil society organisations working on media freedom and human rights issues.

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“Federal and state governments should be tolerant of criticisms and perceived critical views expressed by Nigerians,” she said.

The lawyer also said the Nigerian government should prevail on law enforcement agencies to refrain from arbitrary arrests and frivolous charges based on exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

She also urged the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to push for the immediate amendment of the Cybercrimes Act and other repressive legislation to bring the laws in line with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended).

In a welcome address, Mrs Funmi Falana (SAN), who was represented her husband, Femi Falana (SAN), remarked that democracy was not just about voting but also entailed the right of the people to determine how they want to be governed as provided by the law.

Falana added that the law was provided for the people to express their minds when they were not being governed properly without fear of being detained, harassed or subjected to any restrictions.

She listed all laws and conventions to which Nigeria was a signatory and which recognised freedom of expression and assembly.

According to her: “In spite of these laws and conventions, people are still being harassed while police detain journalists indiscriminately.

“The government also failed to pay damages imposed by the court and some judges are afraid to make declarations on public interest litigations while hiding under locus standi.

“The idea of locus standi is no longer applicable in our laws on public interest matters.”

Mr Simon Shingu, the representative of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, in his keynote address, said the promotion and protection of civic space were regarded as special prerequisite for increasing growth, good governance, rule of law and sustainable development.

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He said: “As we gather here today, we are reminded of the fundamentals principles of our democracy which are freedom of association, assembly and expression.

“These rights are not just enshrined in our constitution but are the bedrock of our striving democracy.

“With a vibrant civic space, we can hold our leaders accountable but without a vibrant one, we can not address the pressing issues facing our nation.

“We cannot also fulfill the aspirations of our people but amidst these challenges, there is hope as we have seen the resilience of Nigerians and the encouragement of various activists.”

Akin Rotimi Jnr, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, in his keynote address, said that no amount of introspection on the civil space could be described as too much or too little.

Rotimi said that civil society could be improved in numerous ways and one aspect to address was inclusivity and diversity in broader society.

He noted that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) must ensure that their structures, leadership and key decision making reflected the diversity of the communities they served.

He said: “Organisation advocating for women should ensure that women engage in leadership positions.

“CSOs should also be very intentional about building successors generations of civil society actors that will be able to take it to the higher heights we all desire.

“CSOs must also look for ways to counter threats in order to attain full autonomy and also the worrisome issue of proliferation of organisation that taint the reputation of of actions needs to be checked.

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“CSOs should also involve in advocacy campaigns to raise the awareness of their work and the need for freedom to operate.” (NAN)

Edited by Chinyere Joel-Nwokeoma

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