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"Rethinking human rights in an African context"
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"Rethinking human rights in an African context"

Musa Temidayo

The concept of human rights has been one of the most debated issues throughout the world in the last half of this century, writes Musa Temidayo, 24, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Nigeria, but that concept can compete with culture and circumstances. 

“Problem is, these days human rights come in more flavors than coffee or soft drinks. Would you like the Asian, Islamic, indigenous, economic, European, or U.S. version? And how would you like your human rights served: with sanctions, regime change, corporate window dressing, or good old-fashioned moral suasion?” – Richard Falk

So I was in a Human Rights class, and my lecturer, one who got his degrees from a western university, is full of life when talking to us. He knows so well how practical human right works over there and the paradox of it over here in Nigeria.

The lecture goes on and it got to a point the lecturer cited an example of how the students got paid when a school in the West did some construction work on campus and the noise produced from the construction sites breached the “noise-free” clause which the school promised the students. Every student including me laughed and was almost falling off our armless chairs.

A parallel comparison with the Nigerian society is that ‘nobody’ is concerned or even seems affected, every individual goes about trying to find how to survive the day. Even when affected, there is not much you can do. In my country, the school authority does not even see a noise-less environment as a right in the learning environment. Motor cars blares horn as if it is a sin if they do not press it. On zebra lanes, motor cars blares horn for you to walk fast! If a lecturer walks late to the class or misses a period, only in a few rare cases will the lecturer apologise or send prior notice. And even when they do, they are not doing such because they know it is your right, but to appeal to their own self conscience.

On the street of Lagos, once I was harassed by the police who claimed to be my friend because I was walking with my shoulders too raised high, also for having more than two mobile phones, for walking with both hands in my pocket, for carrying a laptop, and was escorted to the cell for not having an identification card!

In the traditional culture, talking at the same time with your parents is not African. You try that, a traditional parent will massage your face with a slap. For reasons which need not detain us here some of the rights important in the West are of no interest and no value to most Africans. For instance, freedom of speech and freedom of the press do not mean much for a largely illiterate rural community completely absorbed in the daily rigours of the struggle for survival. You dare not assert your right of expression where elders are or when it is not needed of you to say a word. Parents punish their children and you dare not think of calling the police.

In the family circle, you cannot just think of suing your kinsmen or family member to settle a dispute or claim right to something, you will be tagged the black sheep of the family.  In some local circles, they know the bad guys, the drug dealers among them, the one who ran away when the police came chasing or the one wanted by the police. Only in deeply serious cases do the  rural people point them out because they would not want to be responsible for sending another man’s wife, brother, child or relative to prison.

The question is that there seems to be a clash between traditional culture, enforcement and realisation of certain human rights. And if these rights can be enforced, the question of culture must be addressed. “…many of us believe that cultural settings of our forefathers were shaped by their society, what they saw, and their expose to knowledge…our thinking is highly influenced by the enormity of knowledge we are exposed to and there are no reasons for us to be confined in the ‘ancient’ cultures, or pretend we love certain parts of them that in actual sense, we find extremely barbaric and irritating.” – Stephen Oyedemi

As a way of concluding, there is a need to put more emphasis on the realisation of human rights in Africa, but not in the way we usually approach such matters by giving more unrealisable rights to the powerless and appealing to the powerful to make concessions to them. What is the need of rights that you have but do not have means to realise? One cannot say you truly possess these rights. “I cannot help thinking that Africa is where the critical issues in human rights will be fought out and where the idea will finally be consummated or betrayed.” – Claude Ake

photo credit: art makes me smile via photopin cc

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About me: I am from Nigeria, currently studying International Relations at Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife Osun state. I’m also the Editor-in- Chief for the department. I love travelling and singing, and have  interest in Management and Developmental Issues.

Aside from studying, I work as as the Chairman of my department’s magazine. I want to be a Manager-Human Resource & Conflict Management, and also hope to serve in the Nigerian foreign service.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response.
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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