The Role Of Non-Governmental Organization In The Promotion And Protection Of Human Rights In Nigeria

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The Role Of Non-Governmental Organization In The Promotion And Protection Of Human Rights In Nigeria


Civil society, represented by non-governmental organizations, has become an important factor in world society. Of particular relevance are groups concerned with development, human rights and the environment. They increasingly influence and even shape international politics. Although concern for human rights dates back to antiquity, through the various stages of socio-economic formations up to the modern era, and there are many international human rights instruments to which many nations across the globe are signatories, it is lamentable that all over the world egregious human rights violations have not abated. This is because of lack of fidelity to human rights goals by governments and the virtual failure of executive agencies established to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights. This study therefore examines the imperative need for NGOs in human rights protection. The paper also provides historical sketch of human rights NGOs and highlights their challenges. It concludes by charting an agenda to surmount the challenges with a view that human rights NGOs in Nigeria will be able to optimally fill the gap created by the failure of executive agencies.


Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background To The Study

The increasing number and participation of NGOs in both domestic and international policy making in recent times has made it imperative to define them and differentiate them from international organisations and other non-state actors. In fact, the multitude of NGOs and the variety of causes and concerns that they promote have even made it more complicated to define them. Attempts aimed at providing a definition ended up describing them through their various activities and involvements. Some have hitherto argued that it is often better to define NGOs by describing their roles and function in the society. But this argument is flawed because the role and function of NGOs is neither defined in any statute book of international law nor set out in any official document; moreover, most NGOs arrogate roles to themselves based on their interests and concerns. Unlike international organisations which are focused and defined by their articles of agreement or the charters that constitute them, NGOs are primarily individual initiatives that are not essentially constituted in law, but which in response to their proliferation and undeniable input in the society, the law has come to conceptualize and accommodate them as a social imperative which cannot be overlooked. In international law, recent scholarship has focused on the legal personality of NGOs and the consideration that is uppermost is their official recognition as actors in many international treaties and conventions. The EU convention on the recognition of their legal personality constituted a remarkable effort to facilitate the work of International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) at the regional level and also represents a subtle acknowledgment of NGOs’ contribution to state, interstate and regional policy making and this partnership has continued to expand on all fronts.

The term ‘NGOs’ is a modern term used in describing age old charitable and community organisations which have been in existence in history, but which today have taken various shapes and dimensions that they are no longer just charitable organisations. Apparently then, the concept of NGOs may be said to be a modern phenomenon. The term NGO is a privative concept in the sense that they exercise some privity by their non-alignment with any national government in respect of their foundation, establishment and activities. By ascribing ‘non- governmental’ to the organisations, it merely designates them as groups not affiliated to any government or not under the influence of the government, and nothing more. But NGOs as we understand them mean much more than that. This explains why the NGOs themselves are not very supportive of that acronym. In most cases, they prefer to be referred to as civil society groups or civil rights movement. Perhaps the reason for that term NGO was an attempt to differentiate them from states which are the official actors in the Westphalia system of international legal system, and thus cleverly make them ineligible partners or actors in the international law making. On the difficulty of giving a` comprehensive definition of NGOs, an author comments, “the NGO- sector has been described as extremely diverse, heterogeneous and populated with hugely varied goals, structure and motivations. It is therefore not an easy task to find a common definition of the term ‘non-governmental organisation.”4 Given therefore the variety of NGOs’ activities and interests, the same author chooses to identify them by the common characteristics which they share, namely:

1) NGOs are not created to generate personal profit. Although they may have paid employees and engage in revenue-generating activities they do not distribute profits or surpluses to members or management; 2) NGOs are voluntary. This means that they are formed voluntarily and that there is usually an element of voluntary participation in the organisation; 3) NGOs are distinguished from informal or ad hoc groups by having some degree of formal or institutional existence. Usually, NGOs have formal statutes or other governing document setting out their mission, objectives and scope. They are accountable to their members and donors; 4) NGOs are independent, in particular of government and other public authorities and of political parties or commercial organisations; 5) NGOs are not self-serving in aims and related values. Their aim is to act in the public arena at large, on concerns and issues related to the well-being of people, specific groups of people or society as a whole. They are not pursuing the commercial or professional interests of their members.5

These may be regarded as the major features of NGOs wherever they exist. These characteristics have also formed the criteria for their official recognition in many regimes like the UN and EU. In contrast to International organisation which are the result of agreement among states, NGOs are generally formed on the initiative of private individuals, in most cases subject to and governed by the domestic law of the place under which it was born. Although these features help to form a conceptual frame of the NGOs, a few scholars have also given definition of the NGOs. Olz following the Encyclopedia of Public International Law, defines NGOs as “private organisation (association, federation,, union, groups) not established by a government or by an international agreement capable of playing a role in international affairs by virtue of their activities and whose members enjoy independent voting rights.”6 This definition follows two approaches: it first of all identifies NGOs by what they are not, which is already expressed in their name, ‘non-governmental’. Thus, in that case it does not convey any new message. Secondly, it merely describes the geographical expanse of their roles, herein making them actors in international politics. But it needs to be observed that this says too much of the basic ideas about NGOs as not all NGOs are engaged in international affairs. Another definition given by Antiphas who adopts the definition given by the national policy on NGOs in Tanzania, regards NGOs as “a voluntary organisation which is autonomous, non-political, organized for the purpose of enhancing the legitimate economic, social, and/or cultural development or lobbying or advocating on issues of public interest or interest of groups of individuals or organisation.”7

In these definitions, we could see some re-occurring concepts, namely the idea of voluntary association, autonomy, and public interest which could be social, economic, or cultural or political. Basic to all NGOs is that they have a mission for which they mobilize support, influence governments, raise funds, educate the public, dedicate resources or represent its members. As a result of the broad interest of NGOs, they may be categorised borrowing the terminology of the World Bank, into Operational and Advocacy NGOs. While the former tends to be more involved in development projects and its implementation, the latter focuses on defending and promoting policies, practices and causes in the interest of the public. Oxfam, MSF, ICRC belong to the first group; while Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Green Peace, and Environmental NGOs, belong to the latter. This is not to say that there are no occasions of overlapping interests and identities among them. Sometimes, a distinction is made between international NGOs and merely national or domestic NGOs. As the name implies, to be considered an international NGO, the group must demonstrate a transnational scope of activities, should cover where possible a substantial number of countries in different regions of the world and shall be international in structure.8

The importance of human rights promotion and protection is now well recognised and formalized.2 The existence and proliferation of municipal and international legal instruments on human rights are eloquent testimony of the importance and relevance of human rights. These rights which have gained universal acceptance are said to be inherent, inalienable and imprescriptible.3 At the international, regional4 and domestic levels, apart from standard setting, concrete mechanisms have been designed and constructed to ensure optimal realization of these rights. The establishment of legal frameworks and erection of institutional infrastructure at domestic level for the promotion and protection of human rights is particularly important because states remain primarily responsible in international law for ensuring protection of human rights within their jurisdictions.5

On the relevance of national institutions in human rights promotion and protection, Antonio A.C. Trindade6 has rightly observed that:

Today, progress in the international protection of human rights depends largely on national measures of implementation. International protection requires national measures to implement human rights treaties and to strengthen national institutions linked to the full observance of human rights and rule of law. International and domestic jurisdictions complement each other in the constant struggle against manifestation of arbitrary power.7
Nigeria, in apparent acknowledgement of, and fidelity to, its international obligation has established seemingly solid institutional infrastructure towards the promotion and protection of human rights.1 Regrettably, the institutional infrastructure – the various governmental and quasi-governmental bodies established to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria suffer functional limitations.2 Being controlled, either directly or indirectly by the government, through funding, composition of membership, and provision of operational guidelines among others, it is evident that the efficiency of these bodies will be compromised and undermined by governmental interference.3 Where government or any of its agencies is accused of human rights violation, victims may not have any meaningful redress as the institutional mechanisms may be hamstrung in playing an impartial role.

The functional limitations of the institutional mechanisms; that is, the executive agencies for human rights protection, provide unique justification for, and the imperative need to, look up to non-governmental organizations to help in the project of human rights promotion and protection. NGOs play an increasingly important role in world politics as well as human rights issues. Thus, it has been asserted that they “are increasingly becoming an important force, in part because of claims that they are efficient and effective”, and are “innovative, flexible, independent and responsive to the problems of poor people at the grass-roots level”.4 The existence of human rights NGOs is part of what has been described as a “tumultuous amplification of the number and ambit of institutions consecrated to ensure compliance with international legal obligations and settlement of disputes arising therefrom.”5

1.2 Statement Of The Problem

The nature and the extent of social construction both in the domestic and international scene in contemporary times have apparently transcended the powers of state actors, who traditionally were dictators of change. This development has been attributed to the increasing wave of globalisation that is affecting every aspect of international life. The principles of globalisation have therefore challenged the notion of state sovereignty in their monopoly of legislating and introducing policies that engender change. In an increasingly globalised world, the international society appears stuck in its traditional system of response that undermines social change in the global context. In this vein, Wood states, “What is clear is that globalisation creates problems which require some degree of coordination, cooperation, or regulation beyond nation-state.”2 The presence of non-state actors notably the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs’) in the scene constitutes an important normative force with regard to the evolving face of the global society. In the words of Mathews, “NGOs’ reach behind other states borders, force governments to consider domestic public opinion….At the same time cross border NGO networks offer citizens groups unprecedented channels of influence.”3 It is also said that NGOs increasingly formulate global standards of corporate behaviour.

This study in recognition of the challenges of globalisation in the contemporary governance of the international community, attempts to evolve the theoretical framework that makes the increasing participation of NGOs in global affairs an imperative. Thus far, it seeks also to assess the impact of NGOs in the trans-national global construction. The primary objective of this work is to examine the role of non-governmental organization in the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria.

1.3 Research Objectives

The primary objective of this work is to examine the role of non-governmental organization in the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria. Specifically, the study seeks to;

  1. Assess the role that NGOs play in promoting and protecting human rights
  2. Determine the extent of impact of NGOs in promoting and protecting human rights
  3. Identify the challenges and problems NGOs face in promoting and protecting human rights
  4. To determine the way forward in the promotion and protection of human rights by NGOs in Nigeria

1.4 Research Questions

  1. What is the role that NGOs play in promoting and protecting human rights?
  2. What is the extent of impact of NGOs in promoting and protecting human rights?
  3. What are the challenges and problems NGOs face in promoting and protecting human rights?
  4. What is the way forward in the promotion and protection of human rights by NGOs in Nigeria?

1.5 Significance Of The Study

The present work seeks to analyze the extent to which the problems and obstacles that manifest themselves can be remedied or overcome through the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The need for such an approach is considered necessary judging by the fact that attempts to promote human rights and democracy in Africa as a whole and Nigeria in particular in the 1990s are informed by motives that stand in direct opposition to efforts that aim to, and have the efficacy to effectively promote and protect human rights, such as those by human rights NGOs. The role of NGOs is therefore crucial in providing the missing link to rights promotion and protection at the national level. The findings of this study will therefore inform policy frameworks and decision making.

Chapter Five

5.0 Conclusion And Recommendation

5.1 Conclusion

Human rights NGOs play a significant role in enhancing the cause of human rights. Regrettably, as demonstrated in this paper, human rights NGOs in Nigeria are hamstrung by a number of formidable impediments which have disrupted, degraded, and gravely undermined their effectiveness. Given the current realities of evident infidelity of government to human rights goals and the virtual failure of executive agencies, it is not only desirable but imperative that human rights NGOs must strive to overcome the challenges confronting them in order to rekindle hope in their capacity, commitment and transparency to play a positive, constructive and transformational role in human rights protection in Nigeria. It is significant to continually bear in mind that for human rights to be effective, they have to go beyond the normative, textual essence and become a part of the legal culture of a given society.6 Accordingly, in order to optimize their relevance, it is imperative that they strive to explore strategies aimed not only at overcoming their present limitations but raising the bar of their engagement with human rights promotion and protection in Nigeria.

It is in so doing that human rights will be fully operational and not merely inspirational or remain a goal which is only morally or politically” desirable”.7

5.2 Recommendation

The suggested measures are as follows:

  1. That the Directorate of Military and Civil Relations sought to be upgraded to the status of a department should employ’ civilians and from time to time partner with Human Rights Organizations. It should also take and hear complaints of Human Rights Violations from civilians. An enhanced civil? Military relationship is in the interest of both the Military and the Civil society. In the United States of America for example, the Cordial and harmonious relationship between the civil society and the military accounts for why the civilians to protest in support of the military44.
  2. The same department should not only be created in the other forces of the military but also the police. The police should be trained in Civil law and intelligence gathering.
  3. The National assembly should amend the Armed forces and the Police Acts and make it a serious offence for any of the forces to refuse to appear in court when sued for Human Rights breach or tom refuse to obey Court Orders.
  4. It should also be an offence to operate in the civil society without putting on the Name Tag.
  5. Fast tract the process of translating the constitution into the Major
  6. languages and eventually into smaller languages. This will Go a long way in spreading awareness.
  7. The criminal Justice System is overhauled. The prisons should be
  8. Decongested and The police cells be reconstructed into being only
  9. Detention cells not punishment cells.
  10. The office of the Attorney General be separated from that of the
  11. Commissioner of Justice and the said office of the attorney General be made elective. This will fast tract enforcement of Judgment.
  12. The family of the innocent victims killed by the security agencies in the course of championing human right non-governmental activities to be compensated adequately.

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