IS THE ECONOMIC RECESSION A VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS?

This Article was written by Mr. Kayode Majekodunmi. Kayode holds a Master of Laws Degree from the University of Notre Dame, in the United States and has been a human rights lawyer working with an NGO that deals with issues of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

For the past couple of months, the uniform cry you hear from almost everyone in the country is that times are hard. The prices of commodities have doubled from their initial prices in just a few months. Everything is affected; even eggs are not left behind in these upsurge. What is worse is that salaries have not increased to match said inflation, instead they are slashed and in some cases a lot of workers have been laid off. Policies of government seem to be making things harder and worse for Nigerians. When one thinks about it, one can’t help but wonder what our government is doing about it and when all of these will come to an end. Does the government realise that it has an obligation towards the citizenry, to make our lives easier and not difficult? Are our human rights not being trampled upon with this economic recession?

One set of rights that the Universal Declaration of Human rights recognises, which our government does not pay attention to are economic, social and cultural rights. These sets of rights obligates government to fulfil the rights of the citizens to health, education, housing, adequate standard of living, science and culture. Are these rights being fulfilled? How many of us enjoy the best education, healthcare, good standard of living and housing? We are all aware that to enjoy even the most basic of these, one will be left out of pocket providing them privately. How many Nigerians can afford to pay a premium to live comfortably when it is becoming challenging for some to even feed their families?

 This article is an attempt to understand if the present economic recession is a violation of human rights. Even if there is a likelihood of not getting a direct answer to the question posed above, we must not be deterred from exploring the mystery between human economic needs and human rights in a world of inequality and global economic imbalance. We can also trace the issue at stake here through the perspective of addressing recession as a human rights issue, especially considering the recession’s toll on the weakest rights-holders in the world, those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder.

 It was due to a realization that economic and social rights are an integral part of human rights, that the United Nations adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966, which Nigeria is a party to. In the case of Nigeria, the campaign for the establishment of a welfare state was brought to the forefront when the nation witnessed an oil boom in the 1970s.

 In Nigeria, the inclusion of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution was a manifestation of the intention of Nigeria to the ideals of Socio-Economic rights. The provisions of the Fundamental Objectives chapter of the Constitution include socio-economic rights such as the right to security and welfare, right to political participation, right to education, right to health, right to environment, right to secure adequate means of livelihood including suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled and other vulnerable people. In order to guarantee national prosperity, the state is obligated to promote a planned and balanced economic development and harness the resources of the nation.

 As good as the above provisions are, they are non-justiciable, i.e. they are not enforceable in the court. Their enforcement is at the discretion of the government. The drawback to the appropriation of these ‘dreams’ or objectives by citizens as of right is found in the provision of Section 6(6) (c) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that the judicial powers of the Court: “shall not except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution;”

This provision of the Constitution makes the objectives non-justiciable. The Supreme Court took a giant step in giving life to this provision in the case of Attorney General of Ondo Vs. AG of the Federation and Others. Where the Supreme Court said the provisions would be enforceable if the National Assembly makes a law that breathes life to it. Based on this declaration by the Supreme Court in the instant case, the enactment of the Anti-Corruption Act gave life to fundamental principles and directive principles of state policy that the government should take steps to abolish corruption.

 How did we find ourselves in this recession? There have been different reasons attributed to how we got into the present recession. The following are some of the reasons:

  • Inability of the previous administration to save.
  • Pervasive Corruption of previous administrations.
  • Nigeria’s over-dependence on foreign products.
  • Economic policies of the present administration.
  • The delay and controversies of the 2016 budget.
  • The activities of militants and pipeline vandals.
  • The existence of wasteful and abuse-prone subsidies.
  • The different actions (or inactions) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in forestalling recession.

The irony of the present recession being experienced in Nigeria is the fact that the situation was as a result of government actions or inaction and it is affecting the people who are groaning under the strains of the dire straits of state of the economy. The economic impact of recession is felt so much by the common man and the most vulnerable in the society. Women, children and the young continue to bear the brunt of the economic downturn and there is presently nothing in sight which would indicate the government is ready to fight the telling effect of the economic hardship.

 With the entire above, one can safely say that the economic recession is a violation of the human rights of Nigerians. However, as with other socio economic rights in Nigeria, there are simply no avenues known by the law to take action against the government. One can only continue to hope and pray that the legislators will be up to the task of seeking redress by taking pragmatic steps to address the negative effects of the harsh economic condition on the masses.

The hands of the courts are tied as far as the implementation of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy are concerned. The executive seems to be struggling with what to do to chart a course out of this maze called recession we have found ourselves. It is now left to our legislators to act. We all have the duty to push our legislators to represent us properly and make laws that will alleviate the sufferings of all Nigerians.

Continue reading “IS THE ECONOMIC RECESSION A VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS?”

Living a Life of Fulfillment and Happiness

A couple of days ago, as I scrolled though my Facebook feed, I came across a video, which unlike other videos I see on Facebook, I watched a second time. It contained short interview clips with rich and famous celebrities like Lady Gaga, Cameron Diaz, Eric Clapton and many other celebrities whose names I can’t readily remember. The same question was asked, which was, “Did fame and riches bring you joy and happiness?” They all answered in the negative. They then went on to state that in spite of all they had acquired, like having lived in the best houses, locations, being with the most beautiful women in the world, having the most exotic holidays in different parts of the world- having the best that life could offer, they still did not have the satisfaction and joy they thought acquiring riches and fame would bring to them. I remember Lady Gaga saying that a lot of times, she did not feel authentic in doing the things she did; that she sometimes felt like a fraud in the midst of her fans. This is because what she reflected on the outside did not match how she felt on the inside. Cameron Diaz then said something like this: if anyone thinks that his or her happiness could be found in fame, then he or she would never be truly happy.

I am sure that a lot of us can relate very much with these celebrities, especially yours truly. For example, many singles on attaining a certain age and level of maturity, will decide that it was time to be married and start a family. At the point of making that decision, that seemed like the only thing that would bring happiness and fulfillment to them. They would then go ahead and make plans towards achieving this goal. After this must have been achieved, this person feels the fulfillment he/she expected from achieving this goal and if I might add, momentary happiness that he/she believed would come upon achieving this goal. After some time, this person gets tired of staying within the fulfillment of this goal and starts to set his mind on the next and the next goal to be fulfilled. These could range from building a home for himself and his family, providing some level of security for them (insurance, health etc), buying a car, starting a business to add to what has been the current income of the family; and the list goes on and on depending on who it applies to.

We find that upon achieving a goal or in some cases graduating from the need to achieve a particular goal (i.e. when you used to expect to achieve something and then for some reason you find yourself at a level where that goal seemed too small or became irrelevant), we still keep on setting new goals. I think all of these makes us human and each level we find ourselves in depends on our level of maturity, which varies from person to person. Our actions are based on human instincts that we were born with, which include; the need to be better, improve and be different from who we previously were i.e. evolve.

According Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, as humans we have to attain a level of achievement before moving on to the next one- from physiological needs, to safety, to love/belonging, self-esteem and lastly to self- actualization. I would say that it is while in the process of attaining the next level of achievement on the hierarchy, that one feels the dissatisfaction with their current level of achievement. At this point, one feels restless, tired or lethargic, which might bring about unhappiness, fear of the unknown and in some cases depression, especially when action is not taken to move on to the next level. Some people become stuck and have no clue about how to move on to the next stage, some begin to strategise, make enquiries, and ask questions, do research into the next level, pray, as well as do all that can be done not to remain stuck, in order to achieve that next stage; whilst some others who already have a plan, simply wait for things to fall into place.

At every stage of life that we find ourselves, we should ask if moving to the next stage is worth sacrificing our happiness for and losing track of who we truly are. When we know who we truly are, we will be able to overcome the stress, discontent and unhappiness that might result pre or during the time of our efforts to move on to the next level. We therefore have to look on the inside of us for true happiness and not outward.

We should learn to bask in the fulfillment and joy of every stage of life that we find ourselves in and be content with and find happiness right where we are. As we grow through each stage of life, maintaining the level of contentment and happiness we have had through the journey would make us find real joy when we finally get to the peak of self-actualization.