President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria

On the Occasion of the First Nigeria Human Rights Summit

At the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja,

31st October – 3″ November, 2001



As I was perusing the letter from the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige SAN inviting me to this landmark event, a phrase therein particularly captured my attention. “.…. the first ever Nigeria Human Rights Summit aimed at evolving an integrated and systematic national strategy to help in articulating the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria.” My mind was agitated.


could not reconcile the absence of an integrated and systematic national strategy for protection of human rights with the historical fact that Nigeria was the first country in Africa to entrench the internationally recognised human rights norms in its 1960 Constitution.


Nigeria’s constitutional evolution and development over time have substantially improved upon the 1960 Constitutional provisions on Human Rights. The most remarkable been the ‘1979 Constitution which incorporated most of the landmark human rights norms formulated over the years by various international fora. 


The present 1999 Constitution contains human rights provisions which are in pari

matera with 1979 and 1989 Constitutions. These are essentially right to life, right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing, right to privacy, right to family life, right to freedom of thought, right to freedom of conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression and the press etc. (see Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution).


These letters of our constitution is more or less an affirmation or an elaboration of the proclamation in 1786 by the American people that “it is self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”


It is trite to submit that for a decade now the protection of Human Rights has remained a major agenda in International fora. In other words the campaign for the enthronement of human rights has been globalised and enforcement of its infractions internationalised. Examples abound in Burundi, Kosovo, Somali, etc.


In our present effort to correct the ills of the military sojourn in our polity, I am delighted that the summit is taking place at this time. Indeed the timing is most auspicious. I salute the conveners of this summit particularly the indefatigable cicero, a very senior member of the bar and an outstanding Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Bola Ige – the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation for the insight that informed the hosting of this summit.


At the same time the judiciary should strive to sustain the retraining programme for judicial officers as well as ensure that only individuals with commendable strength of character are appointed to the bench. Sound character is key to an active and forthright bench. Afterall, Lord Denning had admonished that a bad judge is worst than a bad law.


According to the Law Lord, a good judge will still courageously relying on his professional tools dispense justice out of a bad law whereas a bad judge will manipulatively dispense injustice out of a good law.


Your Excellencies, distinguished jurists, eminent scholars, gentlemen and ladies before I take my exit, may I request this summit not to fail to address two reoccurring issues of human right infractions in our country. Firstly, is it not yet time that our legal system should evolve a reward/compensation for victims of crime and human rights violations? Presently, the perpetrator of crime against individual is only sent to prison at the instance of the State without any recompense to the victim. Is it that sufficient in the true sense of social justice ? I hope, Hon Justice Oputa panel will provide the basis for this.


Secondly, is selective justice not an affront to universal concept of promotion and protection of human rights? Recently, a certain Safiya Hussaini Tungur-Tudu was sentenced to death by stoning by a Sokoto Let me quickly, remind this summit that in rubbing minds to evolve a national integrated and systematic strategy on promotion and protection of human rights they must not loose sight of the importance of a result driven practical approach that will enhance the enthronement of human rights regime in Nigeria. They must come out with a workable recommendations on how to overhaul our administration of justice system to guarantee fairness, speed and equality.


I recall that sometime ago, Hon. Justice Mohammed Bello CJN (as he then was) remarked thus: “.. the success or failure in the advancement and enforcement of human rights norms in any country depends squarely on two institutions, namely the courts of law and the courts of public opinion. The former adjudicate on human rights cases. The latter sensitize citizens about their rights, educate them

about their violations and inform them that they can get appropriate remedy in the courts of law”. With the advent of participatory democracy, based on rule of law and constitutionalism, I believe that the various legislative houses both at the state and federal level should complement the role of the courts and the media in promptly condemning infractions of human rights as well as initiating legislative reforms where desirable.


State Sharia Court on grounds of adultery. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not an opinion on the merit or demerit of Sharia court system. However, I am worried by the selective punishment of the woman-adulteress and selective acquittal of the male-adulterer for want of evidence by the presiding judge. I believe this is a test case for human right projection with a human face.


My dear distinguished audience, I urge you to please reflect on the vexed issue of inalienable right to life as constitutionally guaranteed against the odds of burden of proof and weight of evidence vis-à-vis the plight of Safiya in the course of your deliberations at this First Nigeria Human Rights Summit.


I thank you.