Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana SAN has challenged Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Africa to lead the battle against corruption in each of their countries as majority of African governments are wallowing in grand corruption and impunity to the detriment of the development of the continent.
Mr. Falana made the remarks when he delivered a keynote statement entitled “How to strengthen African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and NGOs to combat Corruption in Africa” at the African NGO Forum held in Banjul, The Gambia last week.
He noted that: “despite initial pessimism about its potential and relevance, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has over the years contributed significantly to the development of human rights law through its expansive case-law and jurisprudence. In some respects, such as those involving economic and social rights, the commission’s jurisprudence has been ground-breaking, leading to some effective remedies for victims of violations of human and peoples’ rights.”
He described the case of SERAC v Nigeria on the devastation of the environment and communities in Ogoniland in Nigeria as “the most prominent of the commission’s ‘jurisprudence’ on article 21”. In its ruling the commission found that Nigeria had violated its charter-based obligations to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill these rights. It stated further that these obligations ‘universally apply to all rights and entail a combination of negative and positive duties; and that ‘there is no right in the African Charter that cannot be made effective.”
“The commission also ruled that Nigeria had an obligation to respect the free use of resources of people, individually or collectively, for ‘the purpose of rights-related needs’, and that Nigeria should ensure adequate compensation for victims of violations.”
Mr. Falana said that despite its impressive jurisprudence, the Commission has not directly considered the effects of corruption on the effective realization of any of the human and peoples’ rights guaranteed by the African Charter. He however blamed NGOs and other representatives of victims of human rights violations caused by corruption appearing before the commission for the lack of attention to the effects of corruption on the African people.
In view of lack of capacity of the Commission to enforce its recommendations Mr. Falana advised African NGOs to take advantage of the relevant provisions of national constitutions and international human rights instruments to fight the menace of corruption. Apart from requesting the government to provide information on public affairs under the Freedom of Information legislations NGOs “should encourage citizens to submit petitions pertaining to corruption and impunity to the police and other law enforcement agencies. If the petitions are ignored NGOs should not hesitate to approach other judicial fora for redress.”
Mr. Falana further enjoined the African NGOs to emulate a Nigerian based NGO, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), which has obtained court orders to compel the Nigerian government to educate every Nigerian child, publish the names of looters, account for the loot recovered since 1999, account for the money spent on water and electricity. He commended SERAP for exposing the World Bank which had made false claims in respect of the Abacha loot. In a bid to shield some public officers from prosecution for corruption the Bank had falsely claimed that the recovered loot of $500 million was spent on some projects. As SERAP could not locate the projects it has petitioned the Board of the Bank.
While acknowledging that African NGOs have done reasonably well in promoting civil and political rights, Mr. Falana said that such rights have remained a tantalizing reality to the majority of our people. He therefore urged African NGOs to shift attention and focus to the promotion and defence of socioeconomic rights which are enshrined in the constitutions of African countries and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
According to him “This only way to seriously wage the battle against the menace of corruption in Africa is to mobilize the masses who are the principal victims of corruption to demand accountability from the governments.”
Mr. Falana regretted that the heads of States of 52 African countries were at Beijing, China last month to beg for a $60 billion loan for the so-called infrastructural development of Africa for the next years. He said the loan is totally unnecessary if the African leaders are prepared “to halt the annual illicit financial flow of $100 billion from Africa.
To stop the leaders from further exposing Africa to ridicule, Mr. Falana urged African NGOs “to link up with progressive political parties, trade unions and mass organisations. Otherwise, the ongoing substitution of European colonialism for Chinese imperialism by African rulers will continue.”
Mr. Falana charged African NGOs to challenge the narrative on corruption by rejecting the dubious western propaganda peddled by the Transparency International which has continued to paint Africa as the most corrupt continent on earth. He asked why Transparency International has deliberately refused to classify Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States and France as corrupt when the bulk of the billions of dollars stolen from Africa by corrupt rulers has been traced to banks and other financial institutions in these countries.
Not only that, Mr. Falana said that “the western media and Transparency International have failed to join the campaign for the repatriation of the looted wealth of the African people. According to him, “if the western countries do not warehouse such loot, corruption by criminally minded politically exposed persons will be greatly reduced.”
Mr. Falana equally charged African NGOs to be mindful of the fact that “the human rights that we celebrate and glorify are limited to civil and political rights which have become the exclusive preserve of the members of the comprador bourgeois class and their allies who constitute an infinitesimal minority of the African population. Since our national constitutions have guaranteed equality before the law is guaranteed let us resolve to extend human rights to the masses and other economically disadvantaged people by consciously promoting socioeconomic rights including rights to health, education, development and popular control over the natural resources of our countries which are guaranteed by articles 16, 17, 21, 22 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which have been ratified by the member states of the African Union.”