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By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi –

It is a pedestrian information that the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria (NHRC), on Tuesday July 11, 2023, as part of programmes lined up to mark the 20th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol, an essential instrument for the advancement of women’s rights on the African continent, expressed its commitment to upholding the principles enshrined in the Protocol, which recognizes gender equality and the empowerment of women in Africa for sustainable development.

Also known as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Maputo Protocol was adopted in Maputo, Mozambique by the Heads of States and Government of the African Union on the 11th of July 2003, to promote and protect the rights of women in Africa. The Protocol offers protection from discrimination, gender-based violence, harmful practices, armed conflicts, disabilities, and distress amongst others, and guarantees women in Africa the right to dignity, integrity and security of person, equality in marriage and before the law, political participation, social welfare and economic empowerment, inheritance, sustainable development, and health and reproductive rights.

Indeed, while this piece acknowledges and appreciates NHRC call on all stakeholders, including the government, development partners, civil society organisations, the private sector, and urged the Legislature to domesticate the Protocol to ensure its effective implementation to eliminate man-made obstacles faced by women in the country, I will on the other hand essentially interrogates the wisdom behind Nigeria membership of such organizations when it is obvious that back home (in Nigeria), her leaders ‘enjoy’ protracted unwillingness to imbibe nation building attitudes preached by these international organizations and aimed at seeing citizens of member nations gain adequate security and economic prosperity.

This particular negative reputation on the part of successive administration in Nigeria becomes even more critical when one remembers that prior to 2017, when the federal government during one of the federal executive council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari decided to stop Nigeria’s membership of 90 international organisations, as a result of a backlog of $120 million in membership dues and other financial commitments, the nation reportedly belonged to about 310 international organizations.

Some of these organization include; Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Permanent Court of Arbitration, United Nations Organization (HNO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) ,among others.

More evidently, while innocent taxpayers money in Nigeria are continually ‘wasted’ in payment of heavy annual dues to these organizations with verge  claims by Nigeria’s handlers that the nation’s membership of the organization is predicated on promoting productive collaboration and enhancement of synergy that disallows powerful nations and figures from dominating and influencing weaker nations, this piece intrinsically believed and still believes that the inabilities of these global instruments such as the Maputo Protocol to protect vulnerable Nigerians is not primarily a weakness on its  part but largely a function of lack of political will on the part of Nigerian leaders to domesticate,  operationalize and enforce such directives.

The reason for the above line of argument is signposted on the fact that here in Nigeria, similar legislations exist but are neither implimented nor enforced by relevant authorities in the country.

On the 25th of May 2015, for example, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill into law. This is after the Senate had on May 5 2015, passed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 into law.

Among other provisions, the law prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices. It prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices. The VAPP provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls. This is a happy ending for a 14 year advocacy and passed through the three regimes of the National Assembly.

The law also prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attack, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, indecent exposure among others. It also intends to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence, and punishment of offenders.

This legislation notwithstanding, Vulnerable Nigerians such as  widows -those who lost their husbands by death and has not remarried  are scattered across the country with their children , majority of them are daily confronted by by various degrees of reproach and   socieoeconmic shames  without any intervention or succour from the state or Federal Governments.

Away from VAPP to attempts to protect the child and young people in Nigeria. 

A report has it that the issue of child protection was nonexistent in Nigeria for a long time and that during colonial rule; the welfare of the Nigerian child was not particularly a major concern to the colonial master, noting that there was however, the Criminal Code Act which regulates penalties for offences committed by citizens including children. Also, the Prison Ordinance of 1917 makes provision for the separation of children of below fourteen years from adult prisoners.

With regards to criminal justice administration of a child, it was documented that the first attempt geared towards child protection in Nigeria, was in 1943, when the Children and Young Persons’ Act (CYPA) was promulgated for application in any part of the Protectorate of Nigeria on the order of the Governor-in-council. The said Children and Young Persons Act, said a report was not an elaborate and far from an all-encompassing law for the protection of child rights. Rather, it was limited in scope as it merely regulates the criminal proceedings involving a child.

What about the Child Rights Act enacted in 2003 and shares similar virtues and attributes with Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly, a declaration made by the world governing body on the 20 November 1959 of which Nigeria is equally a signatory?

Will it be fair to state that the Act which incorporated all the rights and responsibilities of children, and consolidates all laws relating to children into one single piece of legislation, as well as specify the duties and obligations of government, parents and other authorities, organisations and bodies in relation, is truly achieving its goals? Again, looking at the Child Right Act which was divided into twenty-four parts and eleven schedules, with various parts addressing broadly rights and responsibilities, protection and welfare of children, duties and responsibilities of government, institutions for children, as well as other miscellaneous matters, can we say in all honesty that the law has been truly implemented in the country in terms of content?

While answers to the above questions are awaited from the government quarters, the most painful of this narrative is the fact that while the Child Right Act stipulates compulsory basic education for all Nigerian children irrespective of tribe, sex, religion or creed, over 10.5 million Nigerian children, going by reports are presently out of school, the highest in the world. They are out of school not because they are unwilling to acquire education but because they lack the means as majority of them are children of the poor and vulnerable Nigerians who cannot afford to pay their school fees. This is further exacerbated by the nation’s culture of underfunding of the education sector in the country-a sin that administration in the country from 1999 till date will share in its guilt as none can boast of clean hands. Both Federal and State governments in Nigeria have never complied with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) budgetary recommendation on education despite its membership.

For me, the ‘spirit’ behind these declarations like Maputo Protocol, Child Right Act and Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly, among others is clear. Vulnurable Nigerians particularly children are not only innocent, but the most treasured possessions on earth that are loved by one and all, and as grown-ups, we have the job to protect and nurture these kids to be strong and independent. The laws could be of great assistance.

But like the generality of Nigerians of goodwill, this piece on the final note must not fail to ask; what the Federal and state governments in Nigeria doing to sincerely save and serve the poor and vulnerable Nigerians who are the real victims of the effect of poor leadership provisions?

The answer to this particular poser is in the womb of time!

Good Bless Nigeria!

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; [email protected] /08032725374.

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