By Abdul-Azeez Suleiman
Article 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”; that is, no individual, regardless of circumstances, is to be deprived of their liberty or exiled from their country without having first committed an actual criminal offense.
This and many other treaties and conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory, in addition to the provisions contained in Article 4 ofthe operational federal constitution focus on protecting individuals’ freedom from unreasonable detention, as opposed to protecting personal safety.
It presupposes that if one is arrested, the Human Rights Act provides that has the right to:
Be told in a language you understands why he has been arrested and what charges he faces.
Be taken to court promptly, be released on bail (temporary release while the court process continues), subject to certain conditions and have a trial within a reasonable time or go to court to challenge his detention if he thinks it is unlawful, and be compensated if he has been unlawfully detained.
Arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention in this context, are the arrest or detention of an individual in a case in which there is no likelihood or evidence that they committed a crime against legal statute, or in which there has been no proper due process of law or order.
There are sufficient safeguards in both the Nigerian laws and international law against arbitrarily depriving an individual of their liberty.
Article 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”; that is, no individual, regardless of circumstances, is to be deprived of their liberty or exiled from their country without having first committed an actual criminal offense against a legal statute, and the government cannot deprive an individual of their liberty without proper due process of law.
As well, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifies the protection from arbitrary arrest and detention by the Article 9.
All these safeguards notwithstanding, for the past four or more weeks the Nigerian secret police have been holding incommunicado, about 26 Bureau de change operators without arraignment before a competent court of law.
According to family sources and legal representation, the detainees are yet to be notified of the offense for which they are held and have been denied access to lawyers and medical officers.
Virtually these BDC operators for all intents and purposes, are given no explanation as to why they are being arrested. And in this context, the detainees are held incommunicado and their whereabouts concealed from their families, associates, the public population and open trial courts.
Many of them are also said to suffer physical or psychological torture due to the uncertainty surrounding their prolonged detention.
Though this may not be an isolated case of rights infringement, the lessons drawn from their experiences are clear: we cannot wait until other such issues arise to investigate challenges to human rights, raise questions, and hold governments accountable.
Beyond citing the case of the estranged BDC operators therefore, Nigerian governments across board need to to be reminded of their obligation to protect key values like democracy and human rights, and this should be transparent, equitable, and accountable.
Upholding these values is critical to establishing the public trust and the social cooperation that will be required to combat the current pervasive insecurity being felt in most parts of the country and to move forward in the future.
Otherwise, the current tend will not only lead to ineffective security responses, but could further fuel anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies in the country.
In the midst of the rapidly spreading cases of rights abuse in the country, moving to save democracy should be the number one priority of the general public, international organizations, the business community, and civil society groups.
This is because at the same time, the situation is having serious consequences for democracy, equality, and actions that are taken by governments today will have long-term impact.
*Suleiman, a Journalist and Civil Rights Activist writes from Abuja.
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