As Nigeria joins the global community to mark the 2020 Nelson Mandela Day, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) enjoins government, Private Enterprises and Civil Society organizations to do more in ensuring equality and social justice for everyone in all spheres of life especially at this critical time of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission, Tony Ojukwu Esq, gave this charge in Abuja over the weekend on the commemoration of the Nelson Mandela day. He said Nigerians should make renewed commitment to uphold the legacies left behind by the human Rights defender and freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela who worked throughout his lifetime for the promotion and protection of human rights. He described Mandela as an advocate of reconciliation and gender equality who continuously fought for the rights of the minorities and vulnerable groups including promotion of social justice and eradication of poverty.
The human rights CEO stated the need for both the government and the private sector to push for economic and social empowerment of the less privileged Nigerians now that the COVID-19 is ravaging the economy, making life unbearable for the ordinary Nigerian. He said direct action is needed more than ever before, to achieve impactful and lasting changes in inequality and social injustice. According to him, this could be done through direct investment and commitment to enforce diversity by ensuring bold action in creating opportunity at all levels across all the sectors of the society.
Although he commended the government for the N-Power programme and the initiative to provide job opportunities in all the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria, Ojukwu emphasized fairness and adherence to the principle of social justice in providing such opportunities which according to him will go a long way to eradicate poverty especially among the people in the rural areas.
He further urged the government to use the opportunity of this commemoration to reaffirm its commitment in doing more in the area of custodial center reforms by promoting humane condition of the custodial centers, creating awareness about prisoners being a continuous part of the society and the value of work of the custodial officers as a social service of particular importance.
Ojukwu recalled that the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rule for Treatment of Prisoners which is today known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, is to honour the legacy of the man who spent 27 years in harsh prison conditions. He noted that the COVID-19 has been instrumental to the release of some prisoners so as to decongest the prison in order to avoid overcrowding which can trigger the rapid spread of the disease, “there is still more to be done to drastically reduce the number of awaiting trial inmates whose number outweighs the number of convicted prisoners in our country”. “This goes to tell that the services in our prisons are overstretched thus posing a question of compliance with the Mandela Rules to which Nigeria is a signatory” he added.
He therefore called for evidence led investigation and policing to reduce detention for investigations and encourage non-custodial investigation methods, accelerated hearing of awaiting trial cases, non-custodian sentencing for petty crimes, adequate provision of vehicles to convey prisoners to court, reasonable bail conditions to enable prompt intervention for bailing suspects etc. as ways of addressing prison congestion thereby providing humane environment in the Nigerian prisons.
Nelson Mandela international day is celebrated annually on the 18th of July in honour of Nelson Mandela. It reminds us that everyone has the ability to change the world for the better and we can do the same to reduce inequality and promote social justice in Nigeria.