President Goodluck Jonathan
By Ken Ukaoha
Few years ago, 53 Heads of States gathered in Libya and agreed to ratify and accede to all OAU and AU treaties by July of the year 2010.
Relying on Article 4.1(b) of the Rules of Procedures of the Assembly of Heads of States, these African leaders further called on the different organs of the African Union to assist with advocacy and sensitisation of African Governments “to monitor the implementation of policies and decisions of the Union as well as ensure compliance by all Member States”.
Indeed, the African Union has come a long way towards political and economic integration of the African continent. Such integration has majorly been facilitated through 14 legal instruments and policy frameworks which commit member states to certain responsibilities and obligations aimed at galvanising good governance and poverty reduction.
These instruments include: (i) African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in Africa; (ii) African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; (iii) African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; (iv) African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption; (v) African Youth Charter, (vi) Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa;
(vii) Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Pan-African Parliament; (viii) Revised African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; and, (ix) The Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community.
The others are the four policy frameworks which include: (i) Abuja Call for Accelerated Action Towards Universal Access to HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Services by 2010; (ii) African Health Strategy 2007-2015; (iii) Maputo Plan of Action for Implementing the Continental Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and Rights Policy Framework 2007-2010; and, (iv) NEPAD Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Plan (CAADP).
Of these key Standards and Treaties, it is commendable to note that Nigeria, one of the strongest, influential and most populous nations has assumed leadership role by ratifying all. The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance was the last in the series of ratification.
However, in terms of implementation, while many may have looked up to Nigeria with great expectation to lead the way, it is rather disappointing that most of the ratified instruments still lie on the shelves of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) without being implemented.
Some are already forgotten. Regrettably, in many cases, the practices in Nigeria differ widely from the commitments under the ratified AU instruments and frameworks. More sadly is that some of instruments of ratification of these frameworks cannot easily be located within the Justice Ministry or the National Parliament wherein they ought to be traditionally domiciled.
Contacts have similarly shown that only few officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who piloted these integration arrangements seem to know the existence, the concept and undertakings of these essential frameworks for African unity.
For the sake of emphasis, it is unfortunate to note that despite the ratification of the continental instruments and a commitment to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the disease of corruption has rather become more institutionalised especially among public officers.
While the Justice sector helplessly groans at the near docility in the operations of anti-corruption Agencies the epidemic continues to spread and distort the entire fabrics of socio-economic development.
On Agriculture, despite ratifying the Convention on Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (2003) and signing CAADP, Nigeria’s implementation of the standards contained in these African instruments remains weak as food security and sustainable conservation of nature undertake an uphill task.
Environmental degradation has continued unabated while Nigeria’s vegetation is depleted by human activities with government coming up with fewer actions. The menace of land grabbing, land degradation, desertification and deforestation are on the increase while the Convention itself is yet to be popularised by government.
The outcome is that Nigeria continues to be one of the world’s highest food importing nations, with rice, wheat, sugar and fish respectively accounting to N356billion, N635billion, N217billion, and N97billion annually.
Regarding the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the African Youth Charter; the rights and welfare of the Nigerian child still demands a lot of attention. Although the Child’s Rights Act has been enacted by the Federal Government, it is yet to be domesticated in many States of the country.
Education (free) for children still comes with different kinds of unaffordable fees attached thereto, creating hindrances to poor children’s access to education. For this purpose, over 7 million estimated children are out of school, thereby increasing child marriages, child labour and child trafficking.
The long neglect of the Nigerian youth has resulted in increased unemployment and restiveness, and further led to escalating proportions of drug abuse, vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, political thuggery, insecurity and other vices.
Whereas Nigeria ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), with similar contents enshrined the nation’s Constitution, coupled with the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; the country still ranks high on human rights violation, abuses, intimidations, arbitrary arrests without prosecution, litany of non-tariff barriers impeding intra-African freedom of movement with regard to goods and services.
Interestingly, a National Gender Policy has been formulated to promote a 35 per cent affirmative action for women; however, available statistics show for instance that out of the 109 Senators in the National Assembly, only nine are women, and out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives only 27 are women, while out of the 990 members of the State Houses of Assembly, only 54 are women - depicting a gross under-representation (5 per cent) of women in important decision and law-making positions in Nigeria.
All forms of discrimination and violence against women are still prevalent, promoted by traditional, religious and cultural practices, including harmful practices like female genital mutilation and underage marriage, etc. Most women are barred by culture from owning land, their right to inheritance is still hampered, and their access to credit, land and training is still very limited notwithstanding their contribution to all agricultural value chains; and notwithstanding Nigeria’s commitments to the AU standards.
Concerning the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Pan-African Parliament and the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community; while the economy of the African continent is still marred by boundaries and demarcations which impede economic integration, Nigeria appears to be one of the culprits.
For instance, regional economic integration initiatives within the ECOWAS sub-region are stifled by non compliance with the free movement of persons and right of residence and establishment as further provided for by the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of persons, goods and services and the Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
Economic integration is further hampered by absence of a common customs union, common market, common external tariff, and lack of commitment to harmonisation of economic policies such as competition, investment, etc.
Although Nigeria has continued to canvass for unity within the EPA negotiations with the European Union, and has continued to insist/negotiate for a pro-development agreement under the umbrella of ECOWAS, perhaps, the right option would have been to calibrate a continental rather than the current balkanisation of Africa into 5 artificial RECs. It is further expected that the Nigerian Parliamentarians as part of the African Parliament should have piloted this campaign.
Implementation of the four policy frameworks (Abuja Call for Accelerated Action Towards Universal Access to HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Services by 2010, African Health Strategy 2007-2015, Maputo Plan of Action for Implementing the Continental Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and Rights Policy Framework 2007-2010, and NEPAD Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Plan (CAADP) is, like the other instruments not cheering.
For the health sector, yearly national budget benchmark of 15 per cent stipulated by the AU framework is never met and implementation of health sector strategies and programmes both at primary, secondary and tertiary levels is quite low.
For the Maputo declaration of 10 per cent of annual budget devotion to the agricultural sector, Nigeria’s current budget 2012 is at an abysmal less than 2 per cent allocation. The design of policies and interventions are never favorable to small scale farmers who produce 90 per cent of Nigeria’s food as they do not have access to affordable credit, improved seedlings, simple mechanised farm machineries, processing machineries, etc. Quality of expenditure has also been a major problem in agric budget allocations in Nigeria.
Public awareness on these AU legal instruments and frameworks is abysmally low from all indications. Interactions show that more than 90 per cent of the Nigerian citizens are not aware of the obligations/commitments made by successive governments to these various tools and frameworks.
The concepts, contents and the connotations appear veiled even to the elites. Efforts to popularise these instruments have been lacking, and at best, poor. Of a truth, the Nigerian Non State Actors (NSAs) have not been effective in disseminating information on or popularising these instruments in accordance with the declaration of the Union.
Little wonder the neglect by government and the consequent negative implications on human rights and civil liberties which are rather obeyed selectively or in breach by governments. If Africa must bounce back to the strength of unity just like configurations such as Europe, there is need for concerted efforts by civil society to bring back the State of the Union subject on the front burner of national discourse.
Indeed, poor attention by a country like Nigeria can only paint a gloomy picture for Africa’s unity. Very worrisome is the laisser-faire culture and attitude of the nation’s officials to signed agreements involving Nigeria.
On trade agreements for instance, it has been discovered that Nigeria has a reputation of signing several international agreements, but does not have the reputation of keeping faith with the provisions of such agreements. For this reason, most of the agreements cannot even be found within the government chambers. This same scenario applies within the context of implementing ECOWAS Treaty and Protocols.
In all of these, however, the role of the Parliament comes to question. The Parliament ratified the AU legal instruments in the first place. Section 12 of the Nigerian Constitution (1999) grants the Parliament sacrosanct autonomy with regard to responsibility of ratifying all international agreements and instruments before they can assume the force of law.
This has been applied with the 14 instruments. But of essential note is that Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution go further to also empower the Parliament with oversight function on all activities of government, which in this case includes ensuring the implementation of the relevant legal instruments and policy frameworks.
This further presupposes that the Parliament must therefore on regular basis check up with the government’s compliance with Nigeria’s international commitments and obligations. Unfortunately, this is missing.
The implication of this passive approach is the gradual erosion of the objectives of the founding fathers of Africa and the principles of African Unity. Integration and cohesion is fast disappearing while the African Union’s strategic plan of “building an integrated Africa, a prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena” is running the risk of being totally forgotten.
We need Africa today, more than ever; and citizens of Africa must therefore rise up to continuously demand from their leaders the unity and cohesion of our different peoples.
To ensure that Africa keeps faith with the vision of her founding fathers, a country like Nigeria must awake to realities with its ‘giant’ position and in practical terms, promote compliance with AU commitments and obligations.
The new foreign policy direction of President Jonathan’s administration provides a rare opportunity for the country to regain her respectable place within the comity of African nations. Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry having led the process of negotiations that resulted in these key instruments has a sacred role to play in making this happen.
Indeed, it is the responsibility of the Federal Executive Council to re-access the State of the African Union and challenge all MDAs towards unwavering compliance with AU instruments.
* Ukaoha, President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) wrote in from Abuja