A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has wriiten President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to take concrete measures to address and mitigate the negative effects of the economic recession and crisis on the poorest and most marginalised across the country.
The letter dated September 2, 2016 and signed by its senior staff counsel, Timothy Adewale, expressed concern that the economic crisis is having disproportionate impacts on the rights of the poorest and most marginalised, who are the most vulnerable because they already suffer from years of corruption, underdevelopment and abuse of power.
The organisation asked President Buhari to “Urgently provide the socially and economically vulnerable with social protection programs and safety-nets to protect them from severe poverty and deprivation”, and “immediately drop the proposed 10 per cent tax on phone calls, text messages, data and more, as this would disproportionately affect the socially and economically vulnerable and push them deeper into poverty and deprivation.”
The organisation also asked the President to “Urgently propose legislation and constitutional amendment that would end the practice of budgeting billions of naira as ‘security votes’ for the federal government and the 36 state governments, as the diversion of the funds has continued to undermine the ability of the government to provide essential goods and services across the country.”
The letter read in part: “Increased poverty and the hunger that it brings will threaten the right to life and health of many socially and economically vulnerable, including women and children. These groups of people are bearing the brunt and feeling the impacts of the economic crisis on their standards of living, their jobs and their homes.
“Your government has a binding obligation to ensure that all its policies to address the economic crisis are consistent with standards of human rights law. At the same time, the role of your government is to act as the guarantor of human rights of millions of impoverished Nigerians, including economic and social rights. Economic recession cannot be used as excuse for failing to fulfil these rightsz
“We urge President Buhari to immediately provide economic stimulus packages that are focused on limiting the worst human consequences of the crisis, and give priority attention to the most vulnerable and marginalised in the distribution of resources.
“Buhari should put pressure on the National Assembly to cut its budget and spending, which in 2016 alone is N115 billion. The sum of N150 billion each was allocated to the National Assembly in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 while N115 billion was allocated in 2015. These huge budget allocations cannot be justified and must stop.”
“Buhari should immediately cut the sum of N103.47million budgeted for foodstuff and catering materials in the Presidential Villa, and put pressure on the 36 state governments (including the Ondo State government which budgeted N103.2million for feeding and entertainment of the state governor in 2016 and the Cross River State government which budgeted the sum of N1.4billion for entertainment and hospitality for the governor), to cut these outrageous budget allocations and use the funds for social services and to pay workers’ salaries.
“The economic recession is devastating lives and livelihoods across the country, and quickly translating into rising unemployment among Nigerian youths, hunger and powerlessness. Exacerbated by the failure of many state governments to pay workers’ salaries timely, this situation has pushed millions of Nigerians deeper into poverty. Yet, there are no social protection and human rights-based responses to the economic crisis.
“SERAP is also concerned that the economic recession threatens the full range of human rights, particularly economic and social rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living and the rights to health, housing, food and education.
“SERAP believes that the economic crisis is a human rights concern not only because of the serious consequences on human rights, but also because of the underlying structural causes of the crisis which relate directly to unfettered pursuit of self-interest and failures of successive governments to respect, protect and fulfill economic and social rights.
“Under international human rights law, your government is responsible for creating the conditions in which Nigerians and other people living in the country can effectively exercise the full range of their human rights, including economic and social rights. These rights set out the basic minimum standards against which the actions (and failures to act) of your government can be judged.
“SERAP believes that the economic crisis in the country is a threat to human rights, but also an opportunity to prioritise compliance with human rights obligations, particularly those related to economic and social rights, as well as to fast-track prosecution of corruption cases and recovery of stolen assets.
“Despite the human rights dimensions of the crisis, the language of human rights is still largely absent from the diagnoses or prescriptions proposed by your government. There has been little analysis of either the causes or the consequences of the economic crisis in human rights terms. The duty to respect is essentially a duty to “do no harm.” Thus, your government must work diligently to avoid and mitigate any negative impacts of the crisis on the poorest and most marginalised groups, whose rights are being violated.”