ONE common feature of developing countries, including Nigeria, is the absence of a peaceful atmosphere necessary for growth and development. The lack of peace, or, at best, fragile peace, in some cases, is, worsened by a weak justice system and lack of strong institutions in many societies. Societies short of peace, justice and strong institutions provide the perfect ground for chaos, violence, maltreatment, corruption, state terror and injustice.
Indeed, a society where peace, justice and strong institutions are hard to come by is a veritable ground for anarchy, corruption and violence. This leads to recrimination and alienation among the populace.
It is in pursuit of the development of societies where peace, justice and strong institutions prevail that the United Nations makes it number 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for transforming the world by 2030. According to the UN, "Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels."
Among the institutions entrusted with ensuring a just and peaceful society in countries the world over are the police and judiciary. However, according to the UN, these two critical institutions are tainted by corruption.
The UN report states inter alia:
"Among the institutions most affected by corruption are the judiciary and police. Corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost some US $1.26 trillion for developing countries per year; this amount of money could be used to lift those who are living on less than $1.25 a day above $1.25 for at least six years. The rate of children leaving primary school in conflict affected countries reached 50 per cent in 2011, which accounts to 28.5 million children, showing the impact of unstable societies on one of the major goals of the post 2015 agenda: education. The rule of law and development have a significant interrelation and are mutually reinforcing, making it essential for sustainable development at the national and international level."
In Nigeria, public opinion and statistics support the UN's view of the police and judiciary. An April 2015 report by NOIPolls rates the Nigeria Police Force as the most corrupt agency in Nigeria. It found that among other factors, Nigerians cite “weak public institutions (24 percent), poor pay incentive (6 percent), ineffective anti-corruption agencies (5 percent), absence of key Anti-Corruption tools (2 percent) as “responsible for the prevalence of corruption” in their country. The report also cites “findings from a survey conducted by the CLEEN Foundation in collaboration with the McArthur Foundation [which] revealed the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), alongside the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) as the most corrupt of federal government agencies in the country in 2013.” The NOIPolls report also reveals that:
“…regardless of gender, age and geo-political zones, majority of Nigerians (63 percent) claimed they have experienced cases of corruption, either in the form of bribery, illegal business practices, irregular payments etc.”
According to a USAID report, Reducing Corruption in the Judiciary, "some corruption is found in the judiciary especially of all countries–rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian. And corruption is found in all legal systems whether state based or non-state, formal or informal, applying civil law, common law, religious law, or customary law. The complete eradication of all corrupt acts is not a realistic goal. Rather, the goal should be a judicial system that adheres to high standards of independence and impartiality, Integrity, accountability and transparency."
The police and judiciary, however, are just two agencies that occasionally come under scrutiny or where officials are accused of receiving bribes. The Nigerian military has also been accused of gross human rights abuse. No doubt the country's military is saddled with maintaining peace in troubled zones across the country like the South East where the agitation for the Sovereign State of Biafra has gained currency in the last three years, the Niger Delta region where militants threaten Nigeria's oil production and the North East where Boko Haram is waging an insurgency. This must pose enormous challenges. Nevertheless, some civil society organizations (CSOs) and international organizations like Transparency International have alleged on several occasions that the military in Nigeria often trample on the rights of people they are in the field to protect.
There is also the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which activities also attract scrutiny. Just like the police and judges, some INEC officials have been accused of corruption, partisanship and generally poor performance in the course of their work. A report by the Vanguard newspaper of February 8, 2018 states that:
"Two officials of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mr. Nwosu Christian, and Tijani Bashiru, were, yesterday, picked up and whisked away by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, after proceedings at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos. The two INEC officials were arrested after attending their trial over alleged N10264 million received from former Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, during 2015 elections."
Given the shortcoming or perceived shortfall in service delivery of some government departments like the police, judiciary and the military, not a few civil society organizations have sprung up in Nigeria over the years to help monitor and report on their activities.
A list of CSOs by Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room shows that most of the 63 published CSOs, from their names, are concerned with issues of peace, justice and development which strengthens institutions.
CSOs involved in promoting peace, justice and strong institutions
Some of the vibrant CSOs involved in promoting peace, justice and strong institutions in Nigeria are as follows:
1. Advocates for Human Rights and Justice Development
2. Agents of Communication and Development (A-CODE)
3. Alliance for Credible Elections
4. Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD)
5. Centre for Democracy and Development
6. Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD)
7. Citizen's Advocacy for Good Governance
8. Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights
9. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
10. Community Life Project, Community Rights Project (CRP)
11. Development Dynamics
12. Election Monitor
13. Empowering Women For Excellence Initiative
14. Enough is Enough Nigeria
15. Equity Advocates
16. Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Initiative
17. Forward Africa
18. Gender on the Balance
19. Human Rights, Justice and Peace Foundation
20. Human Rights Monitor, Kaduna
21. Initiative for Total Development and Empowerment
22. Inspire Nigerian Youths
23. Justice & Peace (JDPC) /Caritas Nigeria
24. Majesty Community Rural Development Foundation,
25. Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
26. Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDEMUBOG)
27. Nigeria for Change International
28. Partners for Electoral Reform
29. Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC)
30. Reclaim Naija
31. Responsible Citizens and Human Development Initiative (RECHI)
32. Spaces For Change (S4C)
33. Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN)
34. Transition Monitoring Group (TMG)
35. Youth Alert Nigeria
36. Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
CSOs as watchdogs
The CSOs in Nigeria act as watchdogs and town criers, pointing out shortcomings within the system with a view to either drawing attention of the authorities to act and change things, or effect change themselves. Some of them also organize conferences where issues of national importance are discussed, and training programmes for government agencies. They also participate in elections as observers.
One of the CSOs contributing to achieving the goal of a peaceful, just and strong Nigeria is the Initiative for Peace and Comfort (IPC). Dr. Comfort Onifade, Executive Director of IPC said that the organization aims to achieve a world where people can be free from hunger and poverty. It aims for homes devoid of violence, where peace would reign and every member will enjoy love, a world where women have their pride of place, not the wretched of the earth, and a world where the girl-child reaches her full potential.
In realization of its goal, IPC has established Peace Lovers' Clubs in some schools in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Some of the schools include Glorified Group of Schools, Abeokuta, Exponent Nursery and Primary School, Abeokuta. IPC has also collaborated with different CSOs to advocate for peace. It partnered with Stephanie Peace-building and Development Foundation (SPADEV) and West Africa Network for Peace-building Nigeria (WANEP-Nigeria) on Peace Day celebration and Peace Tree Planting at Egba Comprehensive High School, Abeokuta. It also collaborated with the Gender Development Initiative (GENDI) on a sensitization visit to Mosunmore Village, near Kobape, Abeokuta on the Dangers of Cultism for over 100 youths and teenagers.
It also partnered with the Advocate Reconciliation Group to visit prisoners at the Nigerian Prisons Service Ibara, Abeokuta as part of its “Worry” Alleviation Programme.
When they are not organizing conferences or visiting troubled spots, some CSOs are holding government accountable to the people they lead.
In respect to peace, justice and strong institutions, for instance, they allege that the Nigerian government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari has been infringing on people's rights. Specifically, they accuse the police and EFCC, of detaining people arbitrarily, ignoring court orders or refusing to release suspects freed by the court; using the apparatus of state to intimidate groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) seeking for self determination for the Igbo race and of killing members of the Shiite Movement in Zaria.
The International Centre for Not for Profit Law in a January 2018 report with the title, Civil Freedom Monitor: Nigeria writes:
"The victory of Buhari and the APC (All Progressives Congress) in 2015 was attributed to his pledge to prosecute the war against Boko Haram effectively and to fight corruption. The fulfilment of both of these pledges and heavy-handed responses to largely peaceful protests, have left the government exposed to allegations of human rights abuses, however. The government has rejected these charges, insisting that it is upholding the rule of law while the army also rejects accusations of abuses and is publicly questioning the bona fides of those raising such concerns.
"Protests by those supporting the leader of the (Indigenous) Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) have, in some instances, also been met with violent crackdowns. There is a complaint at the International Criminal Court about such crackdowns. Similarly, in response to what has been widely described as a violent massacre of Shiites in Kaduna, the Kaduna State Government has established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate. The Shiites, who have named 705 persons they believe are dead or missing because of the massacre, have insisted on the production of their missing leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, before they will appear before the Commission. There have also been efforts to break up protests by the #BringBackOurGirls movement, which demands the government exert its maximum capacity to free the nearly 280 school girls that Boko Haram took captive in 2014, and threats to break up nationwide protests against the country's poor economic situation, bad governance and corruption. The Federal Government has, at least in some cases, however, deployed the police to protect--rather than thwart--protests."
The police was also accused of sealing up the office of the Peace Corp in 2016 despite an existing court order on the Nigerian government. The court order had instructed the government to fulfil its constitutional role of paying workers salary as at when due. It has since been charged to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) in 2016.
SERAP argued that "non-payment of workers' salaries by several state governments in Nigeria has made life impossible to live for the workers and their families," who have suffered “severe deprivation, mental and physical health challenges" due to delayed payment of their salaries. SERAP also recently asked the United Nations to declare the killer herdsmen a terrorist organization as their grazing activities have, over the years, led to clashes and bloodshed between them and farmers, resulting in countless deaths across the country.
Timothy Adewale, SERAP's Deputy Director, in a statement, expressed worry over the wanton killings by herdsmen which he said “have uprooted families, destroyed communities' socio-economic activities, and taken away their livelihoods and common heritage." Such attacks, he points out, “undermine the very purposes and principles of the UN Charter" which if not urgently combated, may rise to the level of threat to international peace and security.
The CSO therefore wants the UN to “treat the atrocities by herdsmen as terrorist acts, in line with the UN Security Council resolution 2349 (2017), which addresses Boko Haram's presence in the Lake Chad Basin and calls on all states to combat all forms and manifestations of terrorism.” According to SERAP, declaring attacks by herdsmen as terrorist acts would enable the authorities to seriously address the threats posed by herdsmen and combat the crimes against humanity being committed against Nigerians.
The concern is not restricted to security challenges. In mid March 2018, a CSO known as the Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ) led by Adeniyi Sulaiman, wrote a letter to the National Assembly informing it of its plan to picket some telecommunication firms, pay television firms or operators for habitually failing to redeem promo offers to their customers. In the press release, the group warned that its members were expected to stage series of rallies and protest marches across the country to sensitize the public on the need to preserve and secure their rights for quality service. Sulaiman's letter reads in part:
“We have written and fine-tuned our petitions to the National Assembly, the Presidency, the ministers responsible for supervising the activities of these companies and organizations. After that, we have mobilized our members to be on standby as we will also stage peaceful rallies in the premises of the affected ministries, which would last for a year terminating on October 1, 2019 based on our engagement diary and timetable. We are also engaging the National Assembly with a view to ensure that they do the needful by siding with Nigerian masses in this struggle and that they must respect and act on the petitions that we have written to them.”
Sulaiman listed the grouse of his group to include unsolicited messaging, over billing subscribers for terminated calls, acts he considered unacceptable, and said the situation would no longer be condoned.
He further disclosed groups to partner with the Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice in the planned protest marches and rallies. They include Apata Ayeraye Socio-political Volunteer Group, De Mainstream Independent Campaign Group, Centre for Constitutional Rights and Counter-Corruption Crusade, the Conscience Mainstream, African Masses Voices for Survival and the Christian Youth for the Peoples Rights and Development.
Another advocacy group, Access to Justice, recently urged Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, to declare a state of emergency in the country's justice system. At a press conference in Lagos, Adenike Aiyedun, Deputy Director, Access to Justice, said the state of the judiciary in Nigeria today, leaves much to be desired and that the country needs a judiciary that will better serve the citizens. He said:
“Without an iota of doubt, Nigerians want to see more judicial reforms executed, with more speed and urgency. We need more traction and more resolve applied in the fight to transform the delivery of justice in Nigeria. Our concern is that the current speed and pace of reforms is neither strong nor vibrant enough and it is not creating the kind of momentum or impetus that Nigerians are eager to see.”
Aiyedun pressed for a three-phase reform plan to be implemented in the short, medium and long-term to focus on reducing court delays, tackling corruption and initiating institutional reforms.
On court delays, the group urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to act and save the nation from embarrassment:
“These 'no-shows' have huge costs implications on everyone – litigants, lawyers and witnesses (some of who may have travelled long distances to be in court). They also cause terrible delays in the hearing of cases, thereby creating frustrations for many court users, congestion of dockets and diminish public confidence in the administration of justice.”
Access to Justice also wants to see judges' vacation period reviewed and an end to the practice of transferring judges from one jurisdiction to another before the judges conclude the cases. “Judges' transfers take a huge toll on the time for completing cases, and entail many cases starting afresh even where they may have been pending in court for many years, and are nearing completion,” Aiyedun said.
As regards corruption and fostering transparency in the judiciary, Aiyedun urged for a review and strengthening of the NJC's Judicial Discipline Regulations 2014 and a system of financial disclosure reporting system whereby extrajudicial payments to judges are self-reported and financial disclosure reports are submitted by judges. The purpose of the review, Aiyedun said, is to “enable the NJC act on anonymous complaints, protect whistle blowers, and collaborate with official anti-corruption agencies to investigate allegations of corruption.” She points out that “corruption is a problem in lower courts across the country, and many states do not have credible or effective systems for fighting corruption within their respective jurisdictions:
“The NJC should immediately direct heads of courts in State and Federal jurisdictions to establish effective disciplinary regulations or guidelines applicable to both lower court 'judges' and court staff, and increase efforts to stamp out corruption from the lower courts. Access to Justice recently concluded an empirical research which shows that the disciplinary system for fighting corruption in lower courts, particularly in Lagos State, is extremely weak.”
The group also canvassed for the judiciary to strengthen the procedures for appointing judges as well as build a consensus around a vision statement:
"The judiciary should bring stakeholders together to develop a strategic reforms' framework and plan immediately. The plan will represent the judiciary's vision of how the judiciary should be restructured.”
The Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL), is another CSO working hard to promote peace, justice and strong institutions in Nigeria. Anyakwee Nsirimovu, Executive Director of IHRHL said that the organization established in 1988, focuses on structural human rights education, conflict resolution, conflict prevention, research, public interest advocacy and documentation in Nigeria. The CSO which is based in Port Harcourt has been particularly involved in peace-building and conflict resolution in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
Nsirimovu, Executive Director of IHRHL believes that the main conflict driver in the Niger Delta region is the violation of human rights and that the majority of the people in the Niger Delta do not have access to legal assistance, despite the fact that their rights are often grossly violated. Ignorance and illiteracy also contribute to the problem. “People, especially those in rural areas, are unaware of their legal rights and have little understanding of the fact that the law can be used to serve and protect their legitimate interests. IHRHL tries to raise awareness and promote a peaceful way of conflict resolution, while at the same time working on conflict prevention,” Nsirimovu said.
Due to the rising instability and violence in the region, IHRHL decided to add the 'Conflict Transformation Strategies Unit' to its regular programme. This unit works through a variety of approaches, such as conflict management, conflict prevention and peace-building, with the overall objective of transforming the existing conflict in the Niger Delta into sustainable peace by transforming the situation from the bottom-up. As part of this programme, IHRHL organizes inter-community consultations between grassroots groups in order to forge new alliances and strengthen the existing foundations for peace. IHRHL also works on education in schools to counter secret cult activities, as well as introduce alternatives to violence.
The work of IHRHL is backed by the likes of MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, Swedish NGO, Cordaid, Open Society Institute for West Africa, and Oxfam GB.
Another CSO in Nigeria involved in peace-building and conflict resolution is the Justice for All Programme. It provides succour to rape victims by ensuring that they receive good but confidential treatment in a hospital. The organization believes that CSOs have the potential to be an important driver of pro-poor change in Nigeria's justice sector and its focus is to "demonstrate the benefits of a bottom-up approach in delivering local justice services."
Some other CSOs partner or seek to work with government institutions to improve democracy in the country. Since the return to democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999, not a few CSOs have participated in elections as observers. Ahead the 2015 elections, NigeriaElections.org, had released a list of 89 organizations to monitor the elections. They include groups like CLEEN, Society for Equity, Justice and Peace, Citizens Right and Leadership Awareness Initiative.
ociety for Equity, Justice and Peace has been embarking on positive evangelism within Nigeria. It also monitors the abuse of human rights in all facets of human life and offers assistance/aids to victims, report and or publish same.
In addition, it monitors and observes elections in Nigeria and reports same. It liaises and relates with other organizations with similar objectives to promote equity, justice and peace.
On its part, the Centre for Democracy and Development, another of the accredited 2015 observer team, serves as “the ultimate catalyst in the transformation of the West African sub-region into an integrated economically vibrant and democratically governed community that assures holistic security to the population and is capable of permanent peaceful conflict management.”
In the course of their work, some CSOs grapple with challenges ranging from insecurity to threat to life and intimidation from security or government agents displeased with their work. The latter is mostly true of works independently carried out. Generally, the militancy in the Niger Delta, Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria and political thugs across the country are threats the CSOs have had to grapple with.
However, in spite the challenges, the CSOs remain undaunted in their resolve to use their various organizations as platforms for the enthronement of a humane Nigerian society where peace, justice and the rule of law takes pre-eminence over and above the rule of man.