Sunday, 26 March 2017 11:29

Futile scapegoating of Amnesty International - Idowu Akinlotan

ABUJA, the federal capital, swarms with all sorts of idle nongovernmental organisations and self-appointed civil society groups, many of them mendicant and available for hire, and others almost wholly dependent on one ill-motivated sponsor or the other. 

Of all the causes deserving of attention in Nigeria, it is shocking that any group would preoccupy itself with the objective of driving Amnesty International (AI), a global human rights watchdog, away from Nigeria on the excuse that it maligns the reputation of Nigerian law enforcement and security organisations. That is precisely what the group, Global Peace and Rescue Initiative (GOPRI), did last week when it invaded the premises of Amnesty in Abuja and gave its workers 24 hours to quit Nigeria.

GOPRI’s Executive Director, Melvin Ejeh, explains its unctuous mission this way: “If in the next 24 hours, AI does not shut down its operations in Nigeria and leave the country, the organisation as well as other Nigerians would begin a five-day #Occupy Amnesty International# protest…

Let us warn at this point that there will be no interval of respite if AI fails to leave Nigeria at the end of the five days as we will activate other more profound options to make the organisation leave Nigeria. We therefore use this opportunity to call on Nigerians to join the movement to get this evil out of our land before it plunges us into real war.” 

There is no significant record of GOPRI’s involvement in worthy causes, let alone the vital and indispensable cause of supporting and promoting democracy. Yet it hopes to attract the attention and support of Nigerians in laying siege to Amnesty offices in Abuja. No one will lend his capital to that asinine undertaking.

Amnesty International often takes the government of Nigeria to task on its poor human rights record, either as perpetrated by the police in regular law enforcement activities or by the military in their battle against insurgency in the Northeast. 

With facts and figures, and in reports after reports corroborated by Nigerians, many of them victims of torture and extrajudicial measures, Amnesty has consistently exposed the serial malfeasances of the security agencies. 

Instinctively, however, the security agencies always deny the reports, condemn the activities of Amnesty, and denounce their research methods. But in all the jousting between the two opposing groups, Amnesty has always been the more convincing.

Neither GOPRI nor any of Amnesty’s detractors, nor even the belaboured security agencies, have successfully refuted Amnesty’s findings. They may accuse it of being maliciously motivated, or of being sweeping in their conclusions, but no one has substantially found Amnesty guilty of fabrication or exaggeration. 

The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law has condemned GOPRI’s invasion of Amnesty’s Abuja office, and perhaps many more Nigerians will be deeply distressed by the invasion, but such attacks will continue as long as the government is insincere in promoting democracy and entrenching democratic principles. 

The police, for instance, seemed to connive at the GOPRI protest, and there are indications that security agencies had in the past colluded with nondescript civil society groups to wage media war against Amnesty.

Nigeria is not the only country to receive the critical attention of Amnesty. Some developed countries had at various times come under the human rights group’s censorious gaze. 

Rather than fritter away energy attempting to repudiate Amnesty’s findings, especially when their reports are substantiated by victimised Nigerians, Nigerian governments should more appropriately develop a framework for promoting and defending democratic principles and the rule of law.

 It is hard to see Nigeria successfully faulting Amnesty in anything when security agents openly brutalise citizens, extra-judicially murder or torture suspects, brazenly defy court judgements, and routinely abridge the people’s rights.

 The embarrassing conclusion is that the Nigerian government has no understanding of citizenship, not to talk of democracy, rule of law, and modern law enforcement practices.

The government has been unable to recognise these virtues and values. Until it overcomes that failing, a failing that is even more noticeable in the so-called change government led by the All Progressives Congress (APC), party leaders will be tilting at windmills to think by forcing Amnesty out of Nigeria, the country’s abysmally poor human rights records can be improved or erased from public glare. 

There will always be many misguided groups like GOPRI dedicated to maligning Amnesty and other pro-democracy and pro-human rights groups; Nigerians should resist them, and the government will do itself a world of good by not entertaining the illusion that the answer to its failings is to collude with or connive at unprincipled organisations whose objectives are anything but patriotic or noble.

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