THE SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE RIGHT TO DIGNITY OF THE PERSON

Advances in information communication technology and the advent of the social media has brought about the discovery of numerous things it can achieve and its capacity to disseminate information which can reach millions of people all over the world in record time. We are now exposed to so much knowledge and information that it is a wonder how the human brain can assimilate such amount of knowledge, without exploding.

I have known and participated in social media for a couple of years, although the days of sending and receiving emails in business centers precede that. When I started my sojourn into the world of social media, it was with the excitement and caution of a child learning to walk for the first time. I was not sure of what to expect or what I would stumble upon and trust me I stumbled into a lot of stuff, from the good, to the bad and to the ugly.

These days, social media has become bigger with so many websites and blogs created and many are still being created on a daily basis, each tailored to cater for the needs of different kinds of people all over the world. Right now we have the most popular social media sites being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkdin and recently Snap-chat and a host of other sites including online-dating sites are also available and tailored to suit the needs and fantasies of various persons.

Nigeria is not left behind in this social media trend; as a matter of fact one can comfortably say because of her population, Nigeria has the highest number of social media users in Africa. The recently concluded Big Brother Africa reality show saw millions of Nigerians interacting on social media, supporting their preferred housemates (#teamEfe #teamBisola, #Bossnation) and casting their respective votes for them. Social media has also brought good popularity to some people who otherwise would be unknown and their respective talents hidden, e.g. Toke Makinwa and a host of others including Bobrisky! 😀

On social media, people post photos, videos of themselves and other people carrying out all kinds of activities; from the normal to the outrageous. We have seen it all! Last year (2016) can easily be said to have witnessed the largest social media boom since its arrival. We all love the Internet because it has made life much easier and the world smaller than it used to be. I sometimes wonder how we survived before the Internet and social media. Funny thing is, even back then I didn’t think life was boring, as we had our own limited activities which kept us occupied i.e. ten- ten, hopscotch, hopping from house to house visiting etc.

As much as we love social media and all the good things it offers, we shouldn’t forget the bad and ugly things it brings as well. We have seen where some people post videos of themselves or other persons committing crimes and all sorts of abuses or atrocities against others. What most people don’t realise is that doing this sometimes constitutes a violation of the right to dignity of person(s), which is fundamental to all other rights. It can arguably be said that most human rights are derived from human dignity, as it is the core of human rights law. This is why it is a fundamental right enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution; Section 34(1) states that:

“Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and      accordingly –

(a) no person shall be subject … to inhuman or degrading treatment”

Dignity is defined as:

“An individual or group’s sense of self-respect and self-worth, physical and psychological integrity and empowerment.”

 Inhuman or degrading treatment happens when someone is treated in a way that is both humiliating and debasing, making them feel less than their worth. It is even worse when a person is debased and then photos or videos of the act splashed all over social media. When one is stripped of their dignity; which makes the core of the person’s existence, it is very difficult to get the person back to the place of self worth. This is why this is a fundamental right which international, regional and local laws recognise and places as important.

In the process of sharing information and/or getting likes or traffic to their sites, some social media sites/blogs post photos or videos that can be said to humiliate the subject of the story. It’s worse when such a person is an innocent party like a child who isn’t aware of the events at hand. One is then left to wonder if exposing a victim of abuse in a degrading way is of any use to him/her. I might also add that neither does it add to the evidence against the perpetrator. All that happens is the dignity of the person whose picture or video has been publicly displayed is violated. There have been many videos and photos of children being molested, girls being raped and assaulted, men being beaten and stripped naked for crimes they were alleged to have committed and said videos posted on social media. These do not in any way make the situation better or justify said acts. Instead it causes further trauma to the person(s) who were abused and makes our society indifferent to human dignity and respect for sanctity of the person.

We might ask why will the citizens respect human dignity when even the law enforcement agencies don’t? The same law enforcement agents who are meant to protect these rights carry out a lot of disrespectful acts against citizens. We have seen a number of cases where they strip alleged suspects and beat them up for offences committed against them, for which the law has clearly provided processes of arrest, charge and prosecution of suspects. I will answer that by saying we have the power to call the law enforcement agents and military to order, by reporting and not emulating them. As a matter of fact there have been several cases of errant officers/soldiers being disciplined for assault and battery of civilians. This means their leadership realizes it is wrong and that there are consequences for such actions. We still have a long way to go, but if we as citizens show our abhorrence for wrongs done to us, by those constitutionally mandated to protect us, rather than following them, then the leaders will think twice before doing such. This applies to every aspect of governance and not just concerning dignity of human person.

Our lives, bodies and wellbeing are important and should be treated as such. It is a different case if one willingly bares themselves; at least it was done willingly. In any case no one will put himself out there in a debased or humiliated state, unless it’s a specific cry for help. We all need to exercise control before we post anything on social media, especially when it has negative effects on the bodily integrity of another person. We need to sit back, think and ask these questions before we post stuff on social media (not exhaustive):

  1. Is this post useful or fair to the victim i.e. will this help the victim access the needed help?
  2. Is it going to get the perpetrator apprehended to face justice?
  3. Is it just to gain popularity or traffic to the blog?
  4. Will it enlighten, educate or inform the audience or is it just for entertainment?
  5. If tables were turned will you like to be the one in that picture or video?

Have a blessed week and enjoy the rest of your day!

 

NB: Article was first published on Bellanaija.com as a features article. 

Please leave your questions and comments.

Dignity of the Human Person

file1101277665895Hello folks! Its been a while right? I have been battling with Internet issues that somehow got in the way of putting up posts on the blog. However it seems today things are looking up again. I pray that we will one day finally overcome Internet issues in this country. Amen.

So after thinking of what to talk about today, I remembered another issue that frequently occurs in this country which gets me really upset and sad: lack of respect for the dignity of the human person. Nigeria is signatory to many international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, The Convention Against Torture and other related instruments, which clearly state that no one should be subjected to torture, cruel or degrading treatment, and we all have the right to dignity of our persons as humans. In spite of our country’s international and domestic commitment to respect these rights and others, we still find a lot of cases of violations, with little or no intervention from our government. Section 34 of the Constitution of Nigeria states that:

Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly:
1. No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Let me just briefly define some of the terms I have mentioned above like, Cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and dignity of the human person.

Cruel is defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as “disposed to inflict pain and suffering: devoid of human feelings”. Not having human feelings that are expected of normal human beings in the face of pain and suffering of another person is cruel. Cruelty is starker when the person inflicting the pain and suffering does it with no feelings of pity or sympathy for the victim who is the subject of the cruel act, but instead does it with indifference and even pleasure.

Inhuman” is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as “lacking pity, kindness or mercy: not worthy of or conforming to the needs of human beings” This definition connotes the suffering which no human should reasonably be made to go through or endure and which no human should inflict on another.

Degrading is “to lower in grade, rank or status: to lower to an inferior or less effective level. Treating a person in a degrading way, when looked at in the context of the definition is putting a person in a position or situation which is lower than that of other humans, in order to humiliate them. Almost as one would treat animals that one does not care about. I must say at this point that nowadays, even animals have rights as animal rights activists now abound :).

Dignity” in this context according the Merriam Webster dictionary means “the quality or state of being worthy, honoured or esteemed.”Dignity of the human person in my view would therefore mean treating a person with respect, as being worthy, treating a human body in a honourable way, in a manner that gives high esteem to the person.

Just last week a friend sent me a link to read. When I checked it, the caption was something like this: “woman caught cheating on her dead husband”. That got me really puzzled. When I scrolled down I was appalled when I saw pictures of a naked man and woman who were being paraded on a street by a mob. Then I decided to go ahead and read the story. I was even more appalled by the story, which read that the woman’s husband had died a few days ago and she was caught having sex with her lover before the deceased husband was buried. I had to take a pause and ask myself why what she did was classified as cheating. Is it actually possible to “cheat” on a dead person, who no longer has the ability to feel, think or even get angry that he has been cheated on? If the answer is “No”, then why mete out a demeaning punishment like that on the widow? Even if the man was still alive, could such degrading treatment be justified?

Usually, it is expected according to tradition in most parts of the country that a widow should mourn her husband for a few months or a year after he has passed on. She is also not expected to have any relationship with a man during that period, out of respect for her deceased husband. However, if a widow decides not to do so, for reasons best known to her, should she then be subjected to such demeaning and degrading treatment of walking around the village naked and asked to sit on the bare ground with her lover in that state? All of this was done, according to the perpetrators of the degrading treatment, to supposedly “cleanse” the village, for their immoral acts. I am a little bit satisfied that she was not asked to do this alone, as it happens in some other cases, where only the woman gets singled out for punishment for adultery; as in this case her “partner in crime” was also included in the punishment. However there is no justification for treating anyone in that manner. We have laws that govern all our dealings in the society and the rule of law must be upheld in all situations. Otherwise we would not be different from animals in the jungle.

What puzzled me most were comments that came after the post: so many people lauded the punishment, heaping insults on the woman, saying: “it serves her right”. I then wondered what our country was turning into. If in this day and age, people still applaud barbaric acts committed against fellow humans, all in the name of justice. Then I ask this question: in this case, justice for whom?, especially since the husband was dead.

The horrible “ALUU four” incident that occurred about a year ago readily comes to mind. Four young men, who were university undergraduates, were killed by a mob in the most barbaric manner, over an unfounded allegation that they were robbers: they were tortured, cruelly treated, degraded and eventually killed. This sort of mob justice keeps being a recurring decimal in our country and it is time for us to stop it. We have to stand up against injustices that we see happening around us on a daily basis, we should condemn in strong terms all acts of torture, cruel and degrading treatment and extrajudicial forms of justice, instead of supporting them. Who knows if tomorrow it would happen to us or very close to home? Only then would we realize that these are menaces that should be stamped out completely from our society regardless of our traditional beliefs.

Have a wonderful weekend!