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.

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