HUMAN RIGHTS FROM THE TOP DOWN IN NIGERIA
Raymond Onwualo is taking on the ultimate human rights challenge: the Nigerian military.
In a country where 70 percent of the total prison population has never been convicted of an offense, where 7,000 have died from brutal conditions in government detention and where another 1,200 have received “extrajudicial executions” at the hands of national security forces, Raymond Onwualo has taken it upon himself to make a difference.
A young stockbroker from the Nigerian capital of Abuja, Onwualo ordered a United for Human Rights Education Package in 2014. From a close study of it, he learned that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is applicable anywhere in the world and that its principles extend to the core of life itself.
“I found out that human rights are very much words we all love as human beings,” he says.
While the freedoms behind those words are ostensibly protected by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, Onwualo says these aren’t trickling down into real life. “The articles of the constitution are powerful, excellent policies, but the implementation of that constitution is not what we see on the ground,” he says.
Concluding that education was the best remedy, Onwualo formed his own United for Human Rights (UHR) chapter in Abuja, with a membership of 50 and a core group of six activists, who immediately began distributing UHR booklets to shops, locals and students.
“I am looking forward to being a human rights ambassador. I have passion for it. My team has passion for it. We are doing our best to pass this information to as many people as fast as we can.”
Though he estimates he has reached approximately 2,000 people through booklet distribution, Onwualo says this isn’t enough. He wants human rights education mandatory from the top to the bottom of the Nigerian social and political structure.
Accordingly, he and his team began reaching out to institution after institution, starting with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defense to get the ball rolling at the national level.
Two weeks after sending their letters, Onwualo and his team were invited to meet with the Chief of Civil Military Affairs Major General Rogers Ibe Nicholas on behalf of the Chief of Army Staff himself, the head of the Nigerian military.
Onwualo’s timing couldn’t have been better. After Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent visit to the US for United Nations meetings—during which he vowed to improve the Nigerian military’s human rights record—Ministry of Defense officials were all ears, even more so because mere days before the meeting, the newly-created Nigerian Department of Civil Military Affairs had commissioned an even newer Human Rights Desk, in need of civilian partners and educational resources.
During the meeting, Major General Nicholas asked Onwualo and his team to assist them in shaping their Civil Military Affairs office from the civilian perspective, reporting observed military human rights abuses directly to the office, and developing a United for Human Rights training plan for the entire Nigerian military. On an immediate basis, Onwualo presented the office with 500 copies of the United for Human Rights booklets, which they gratefully accepted. He is currently developing the requested training plan, after which he will meet again with the office to discuss its implementation.
“I have learned a lot,” says Onwualo, about his work with United for Human Rights thus far.
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