Adeyeye Eyitayo

In my family, if anyone becomes seriously ill, we know that we will lose him because we do not even have enough money for food so we cannot afford to use the hospital.
- 35 year old Nigerian Woman.

Nigeria is the most populous black nation with  population of over 200million,heterogeneous and multicultural society covering massive land space in the  Africa continent. Nigeria is equally endowed with natural resources and human capital  sufficient enough to cater for her population if adequately  and judiciously administered. However, the trend of poverty in Nigeria has steadily be on the increase like  wildfire. The dimension of poverty in Nigeria is such that is multifaceted and has permeated through the cycle of  people living within the poverty bracket.

In 2018, statistics from  World Data Lab  confirmed Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world, overtaking India on the world poverty radar, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country's population living on less than $1.90 a day.

The reality of life for the poor people in Nigeria  is worse than what can ever be imagined. It makes them less of human that could not even enjoy  basic necessities  of life guaranteed by the extant laws of Nigeria and the international community. More than half of the Nigerian population settle in the rural and underdeveloped areas where the quality of life is crude and native,due mainly to extreme lack of basic social amenities. The health care is very poor  compounded by the lack of access to potable water. Educational facilities are insufficient and dilapidated, access to land for agriculture is limited and where available, productivity is low due to poor technology and lack of input. Road network, communications facilities and markets are poorly developed. The list is endless and regrettably government policies have not been  channelled to reverse the  hydra-headed poverty mitigating  against the poor majority in Nigeria.

In effect, the  stroke of  poverty in Nigeria has shattered and battered the fundamental idea of Human Rights, reducing such rights to  "empty rights". Thus, the  notion  of human right has become mere illusion and figment of imagination existing only on paper and not in reality.

Meanwhile,  "Human Rights" are  basic and inherent rights of any human individual, giving access to undeniable necessities such as the right to live, the right to liberty, and the right to  freedom of expression. They are rights that makes life worth  living  for humans in the absence of which life is miserable and worthless.

Regrettably, despite  1999 Constitution's devotion of the whole of Chapter IV to human rights, (similar to the ones in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights UDHR) coupled with a mechanism for its enforcement, these rights remain elusive and meaningless to the poor masses, who remains  the majority in Nigeria.

Since time immemorial, issue of human rights abuses and violations prevails in the Nigerian societal structure. And while most of the world's community see Nigeria as a developing nation, much of the human rights cases still go unreported.

A cursory look at some of the basic Fundamental  Rights which have become illusory to the poor masses.

Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions, to receive, impart ideas and information without any let or hindrance. Same right is enshrined and recognized in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The government of Nigeria  has severally muzzled this right by clamping down on the masses who protest unpopular policies of government and labour unions who champion the rights of the poor are also subjected to censorship of their private telephones, series of arrests, detention and physical attacks. The prolonged detention of Mr Omoyele Sowore, a journalist and 2019 presidential candidate, by the Federal Government  of Nigeria is a clincher. Mr Sowore was detained for  by  the Department of  State Services (DSS), a specialised security agency under the direct control of the President of Nigeria for over hundred days despite several orders of court demanding his release. Eventually,  he was relunctantly released following serious condemnation from both national and international  community.

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person"
------.Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)  

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria also insulates this right in section 33.

Despite the importance attached to this right by international community and the domestic laws of Nigeria, this right is however largely unprotected, especially for the poor. Apart from the physical threat to life by acts of extrajudicial killings, the poor are also worst affected by deaths resulting from a chain of causal effects such as lack of adequate food and nutrition,especially  in the core north of Nigeria, lack of access to health, safe and portable water and adequate sanitation, housing and a healthy environment. It is sad to know that malaria kills more than 300,000 Nigerians  annually. 

The way the poor are marginalized on account of poverty, humiliated when seeking access to government services, and being denied access to information and participation are equally discriminatory of the poor. Needful to recall situations where the rich and people of influence command the attention of the police to achieve their personal interest.

In 2017, a poor man was reported to be relaxing on the balcony of his house somewhere around Agege Lagos state, with a towel tied around his waist, when the police on patrol reportedly picked him for 'illegal sitting' in front of his house. Despite protesting and claiming that he had not offended the law he was taken to the police station and detained, and what was written on the charge board at the police station against his name was 'illegal sitting'. That can only happen to the poor.

The UDHR in Article 25 provides for  adequate standard of living, which includes the right to health. The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health to the exclusion of nobody.The risk of getting infectious disease and sickness becomes more possible day by day due to intolerable living conditions and the crude standard of living, which add up to reduce life expectancy for the impoverished density. It is a popular saying that health is wealth.

The resulting effect of poverty in this regard is much more psychological. Effects of torture inflicted by poverty is that which makes an able bodied man/woman to wake up in the morning and not have the smallest clue as to how or where he is going to find a meal to eat the whole of that day, not to mention  day after. What can also be more torturing for a man or woman who is willing to work but finds him or herself a victim of frustratingly prolonged unemployment.

In conclusion, the deleterious  effect of poverty on human rights of the poor man in  Nigeria is inexpressible and can not be captured within the confines of any discourse. The poor hardly enjoy  human rights and neither can they afford to protect against or redress any violation by way of access to justice. Also, the narrative above clearly revealed that a human rights approach to poverty reduction has great prospects if all the rights can be enjoyed and enforced by the poor, because of their potency to make them escape the cycle of poverty.

In theory the Constitution of Nigeria in its preamble talks of promoting  good government and welfare of all persons based on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice. But in reality , one sees that it is the powerful, the rich and the dominant class that seem to have all the rights, while for the poor, the weak and the down-trodden,  it seems to be their right to suffer in silence, to be patient and wait for their reward in heaven.

Lack of equality before the law irrespective of social status weighs heavily against the poor, because each time we deflect from equality, we rob the poor of more comfort  than we add to the rich.

Adeyeye Eyitayo is a Law graduate  with irrepressible penchant for human rights.