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Tasking Nigerian government agencies to improve performance – Part 2 13 Nov 2019
Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu
The second part of this series, which I started in the October edition of this publication, highlighting some important government agencies in Nigeria will continue in this edition. Many government agencies have not delivered on their constitutional responsibilities and their failure to perform has adversely affected Nigeria’s socioeconomic development.
This article spotlights four agencies that are very important to the advancement of the country. I think we should delve into whether or not the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Police Service Commission (PSC), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have lived up to their statutory mandates. In fact, I will propose NBC and NCC should be merged.
National Human Rights Commission
This commission was created by the NHRC Act of 1995, which was amended in 2010. It was established to promote and protect the human rights of Nigerians as guaranteed by the constitution. The Act, as amended, gives NHRC quasi-judicial powers to investigate and enforce its decisions. The commission’s mandate involves monitoring human rights activities and assisting the victims of human rights violations.
Can we honestly say the NHRC has delivered on its mandate? You be the judge. The country is known for having a poor record on human rights. Military and other law enforcement bodies are aggressive – and sometimes they are violent – towards citizens. Yet, they hardly ever get punished for it. Government officials treat the people with absolute disregard and they get away with it.
In Nigeria, landlords are cruel towards their tenants without facing any consequences. So-called masters treat their domestic staff like they are not human beings. They do all this for one reason: the violators understand the victims do not know their basic rights. Even if they do, the victims lack access to justice. What is even more baffling is the absence of a detailed complaint process on the commission’s website. How then are citizens expected to make complaints?
These states of affairs are partly an indictment on the commission that is saddled with the responsibility of promoting and protecting human rights in the country. We cannot become a society of people with dignity if we continue to let those who violate human rights go unpunished.
The government’s inability to provide basic amenities for the people is also a human rights violation. Till date, no president, governor or highly-placed government official has been prosecuted for failing to provide basic amenities for the people. This might be because either no one has ever petitioned them, or they were petitioned but the NHRC lacked the will to investigate them.
One of the most important investigations on human rights violations in Nigeria was the Oputa Panel set up in 1999 to investigate human rights violations during the period of military rule from 1984 to 1999. It could have been a turning point for the country with regard to getting justice for the oppressed. But sadly, none of the panel’s recommendations was ever implemented by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
In Canada, aside from the Canada Human Rights Commission, there are subnational commissions like the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The Alberta Human Rights Act established the Human Rights Commission to carry out functions under the Act. The Act is a legislation that protects Albertans from discrimination. The commission has two mandates. First, to foster equality; and, second, to reduce discrimination. The incident must happen in Alberta for the complaint to be filed to the commission.
The enactment of the Human Rights Act in the respective provinces in Canada has helped in improving the country’s human rights record over the years. To be more effective in protecting human rights in Nigeria, it will be appropriate for the subnational governments in the country to enact their own human rights protection legislations, which will establish various bodies to enforce the legislations. As it is now, it is obvious that the NHRC is ineffective.
One of the ways the Alberta Human Rights Commission has executed its mandate is through the Human Rights Education and Multicultural Fund. The Fund provides support for educational programmes and services that promote equality. The commission also uses awards to promote human rights. The awards are a way to recognise and celebrate Albertans who have worked to advance human rights and promote diversity in the province.
The NHRC can take a cue from the Canadian commission. The citizens need to know they have a commission that has their back.
Police Services Commission
The Police Service Commission (PSC) was established by the PSC Act of 2001. Among other things, it is saddled with the responsibility of recruiting police officers, other than the Inspector General of Police (IGP), meting out disciplinary actions to erring police officers. The PSC is also responsible for the promotion of officers within the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the remuneration and allowances of members of the force, and the efficient performance of the police.
In my opinion, the PSC is the most inefficient and ineffective agency in the Nigerian federation. To be clear, the leadership of the commission, past and current, is not entirely responsible for the state of affairs. The biggest culprit is the way the PSC is structured. The PSC, as currently constituted, is set up to fail. How can a commission in Abuja be responsible for the recruitment of police officers, their promotion as well as taking disciplinary measures on all the officers nation-wide? I consider it a harebrained idea.
The PSC is considered a civilian oversight body of the police. In a bizarre turn of events, the PSC is currently embroiled in a recruitment crisis with the NPF. Last month, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the NPF and the IGP, Mohammed Adamu, to discontinue the recruitment exercise of 10,000 constables embarked upon by the IGP in what the PSC alleges is a usurpation of its powers.
In developed societies, security is a major issue. For this reason, police forces are placed under municipalities who are able to coordinate their affairs more effectively. Each municipal police department has a police board, which is an equivalent of the Nigerian PSC. Except that in our case, the PSC oversees the whole country’s police force, which is also a centralised system. The mandate of the police boards in developed societies is to own and operate the independent municipal police departments, ensuring that political interference is minimized.
The boards select and evaluate the Chief Constables and sometimes other senior officers. This system ensures the respective police departments are efficient and complaints from the citizens are handled promptly.
In recent times, we have seen campaigns by citizens clamouring for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Nigeria because of the brutality of many SARS officers who carry out their jobs without recourse to the rule of law. But despite the outcry by citizens, not much reform has happened.
Nevertheless, we must continue to demand for a reform of the PSC, Nigerian police and the security of all Nigerians.
National Broadcasting Commission and Nigerian Communications Commission
I have decided to lump these two agencies together because they should, under an ideal situation, operate as a single commission. In Canada, The Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) regulates both the broadcasting and the communication industries. The Broadcasting Act declares that the Canadian broadcasting system must encourage the development of Canadian expression by providing a wide range of programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity. It also ensures support for the linguistic duality and multicultural nature of Canadian society.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was set up by NBC Decree 38 of 1992. It was later amended by Decree 55 of 1999. Its mandate is to, amongst other things, regulate the broadcasting industry in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is the independent national regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry. Its mandate is to create an enabling environment for competition among operators in the industry. NCC’s mandate also entails ensuring the provision of efficient telecommunications services throughout the country.
Without a doubt, these two commissions have not lived up to the expectations of their constitutional responsibilities. The NBC is responsible for content regulation as well as the promotion of Nigeria’s culture through broadcasting. The NBC’s mandate of regulating the broadcasting industry is very important given that the broadcast media can affect the people’s thinking and behaviour to a remarkable extent, for good or ill.
The NBC needs to wake up to its responsibilities, by using its office to promote the Nigerian culture and ensuring that broadcast contents are able to foster unity in the country. The country is divided and the NBC needs to use its powers to promote unity. Broadcast contents can be used to increase indigenous language programming, which can also foster unity, especially in a multicultural country like Nigeria. The NCC on its part needs to work harder towards consumer protection, quality of service and closing the digital divide in the country.
Given the imperative to reduce the cost of governance and to achieve better efficiency, the NBC and the NCC should be merged. Moreover, we are in the digital age where the functions of NBC and the entities it regulates can be driven and optimised by connectivity and big data. So, we can have one commission to regulate the internet, broadcasting, and communications.