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The United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process of checking on human rights situations in the world and the effort put to protect and promote human rights by respective member States, gets more diplomatic as it progresses. It is nonetheless quite unclear if the diplomacy helps in universal protection and promotion of human rights for all.

My experience at the 17th session of the UPR was incredible. It revealed to me that the civil society should engaged more in this process to improve on their advocacy at the grassroots. I caution though, that the UPR process should not only be regarded to influence the grassroots advocacy but vice versa. I realized that there is a symbiotic connection of grassroots advocacy and the UPR process. Indeed, States always want to appear as representing their country’s values and national interests at the international community. Isn’t this the politics?

For a secularly religious State like Nigeria, reporting on human rights issues of Nigeria at an international forum such as the UPR was a delicate endeavor. The federal government seemed very sensitive to this delicacy, thus threaded carefully on certain human rights issues that were raised at the last UPR session, during its review. Two important issues that were not addressed adequately were; death penalty and rights of homosexuals.

The politics- Death Penalty

Death penalty was a very contentious issue during the UPR session and Nigeria was very adamant on keeping death penalty within its statutes. It claimed that this is what the people of Nigeria want. As a Nigerian, I know how heated the debates on death penalty can get within the populace. Ordinary Nigerians would carry out extra-judicial executions themselves. Incidences that come to mind are; the popular ALUU 4 and the killing of two young boys in Badagry- Lagos state.

It is useful to know that majority of the offences for which death penalty is imposed bordered around certain topical moral issues like: Terrorism, Robbery and quite surprisingly religion and sex!

According to the Sharia law, the religious crime that may be punishable by death is called Apotasy. In states applying Sharia law, the practice of some religions may be considered juju and punished by death, but it is not clear to what extent simple conversion may be punished by death. Conversion to Judaism or Christianity is explicitly permitted. Experts state that apostasy (leaving the religion) is punishable by death in Nigeria, but the situation may have changed since those reports. No laws permitting the execution of apostates. What happens to the traditional values? Ifa, Ogun, Osun, Orunmila and Esu?

Rape, adultery and homosexuality in men are all sexual offences that attract death penalty by the Sharia law. These offenses are punishable by death by stoning only if committed by married persons.

Other offenses for which death penalty is imposed include, treason, kidnapping and aggravated murder. These are enforced through the Federal and state criminal penal codes.

The politics- Homosexuality

By now, it is not new information that homosexuality is criminal offence (up to 14 years imprisonment) in Nigeria by virtue of the section 217 of the criminal code and that it is punishable by death by stoning in 12 states of the federation where Sharia law is enforced.

Criminalizing homosexuality appeared to many citizens of Nigeria to be very recent, meanwhile it has been in the country’s penal code since the colonial period. This ignorance also reflected in the Bill to prohibit same-sex marriages in a country where marriage can only be contracted between one man and one woman. And if going by costmary law, it can only be contracted among persons of the opposite sex.

Issues of homosexuality- the act and homosexuals and their rights: struggles with the very religious mind-set of Nigerians. For instances, the federal criminal code that criminalizes homosexuality, did criminalize the act (sex), which in theory implies that it is “okay” to nurture homosexual feelings in Nigeria but a crime to express it. Thus, encouraging the culture of silence on sexuality discussions- same ways the discussion on the use of contraceptives for child control was tabooed and for the most part still is.

In general, sexuality discussions do not enjoy good audience in Nigeria. This also have had serious impact in the ways reproductive health and rights issues are tackled- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for instance. Every effort to implement a progressive comprehensive sexuality education within school curricula hits a brick wall. No wonder what the country has is called “Family life education” (you can figure what the content will be) and advocacy on the right to abortion and access to good reproductive health care by women and girls seem an unrealized dream.

Musing:

Given my experience at several UN events, similar to the UPR process, the outcome of the review of the human rights situation in Nigeria was expected. This is not to out rightly rule out the relevance of these kinds of UN activity but to remark that the diplomacy is being monopolized and not in favor of civil society advocacy.

While indeed, there is no consensus in Nigeria on death penalty, it appeared that the federal government is more scared that a progressive position on death penalty might threaten to divide the nation or cause a civil war. This presumption is owed to the fact that death penalty is mostly prescribed by Sharia law- if Nigeria heed to the abolition of death penalty, it will ignite a negative reaction from conservative Muslims.

Nigeria was very quick to reject all of the recommendations asking her to protect and promote the rights of people who identify as homosexual in the country. This was of course expected. My wonders are; besides the unanimous religious intolerance to homosexuality, is the federal government also scared that this might cause another terror sect: Homo Haram– in protest against the rights of homosexuals? Might the country experience a division when human rights for all is constitutionalized?

Can politics be politics and religion be religion in Nigeria? It is extremely infuriating how religion influences the manner a secular State is being governed in the most non-discretized way.


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