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Human rights and resistance

During its 48 years of independence, Nigerians have been subjected to a series of brutal military regimes and inept civilian governments with militaristic tendencies. So it is not surprising that the country has managed to build up a pretty dismal human rights record, which continues today. Summary detentions of journalists and media outlets; routine torture by police; horrendous prison conditions; sharia law in some parts of the north (which targets the poor); the use and abuse of children as domestic servants… the list goes on. But alongside the repression, violence and human rights abuses, there exists an often-forgotten opposition, with groups of activists who have been vocal in their condemnation. On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December, Nigerian trade unionist Owei Lakemfa recalled some of those Nigerians who have stood up against tyranny over the past 60 years:

‘Under colonialism, we were lucky to have nationalists of courage and conviction like Mokwugo Okoye, Raji Abdallah, Osita Agwuna, Aminu Kano, Michael Imoudu and Bello Ijumu, who stood up against the British colonialists. They demanded freedom or death.

‘Tai Solarin was a school teacher who had the willpower to stand up against dictatorship. Gani Fawehinmi believed in the collective rights of Nigerians. Like Solarin he was constantly in and out of detention. Olisa Agbakoba was a young lawyer who, on 15 October 1987, co-founded the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO). Chima Ubani was a 1990s symbol of patriotic youths. Expelled from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the authorities could not stop his graduation. Tony Engurube is virtually unknown. But he was one of the most passionate nationalists in our history. He began the mobilization of Niger Delta youths against oppression from the 1970s.

‘Ken Saro-Wiwa, like Engurube, mobilized Niger Delta youths – particularly the Ogonis – against exploitation by oil companies. He paid with his life. Bagauda Kaltho was a young, fearless journalist who used his profession to crusade against military dictatorship. Agents of the Abacha regime kidnapped and murdered him. Ngozi Iwere helped mobilize and galvanize the students’ movement of the 1980s, turning the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) into the effective anti-dictatorship fighting force it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

‘There is Dr BekoRansome-Kuti, who became so consumed in the fight against military dictatorship and for basic democratic rights that the Manchester-trained medical doctor gave up his thirty-year medical practice to fight full time for the rights of Nigerians.’

And, I would add, Fela, who fought against the same through his music. And of course Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, who fought against colonialism, traditional and military dictatorship. Mrs Margaret Ekpo was a campaigner and women’s rights activist. I would also add the thousands of Nigerian women who have fought against colonialism, traditional leaders, repressive dictators and corrupt leadership. From the market women of Abeokuta, who alongside Funmilayo Ransome Kuti fought against colonial and traditional leaders; to the women of Aba [Igbo], who like their sisters in Abeokuta rose up in protest against colonial taxes and the imposition of Warrant Chiefs by the British; and the women of the Niger Delta – Itsekiri, Ijaw, Ilaje, Ogoni, Ikwerre, Egi – who have all stood up against the oil multinationals and the brutality of the army, navy and para-military forces.

We should remember them.

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