For the National Assembly delegation to the just concluded 135th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in Geneva Switzerland, the international fora was another opportunity to rally more international support for the country's efforts to urgently and effectively tackle the present economic recession and the humanitarian crisis largely precipitated by the Boko Haram insurgents in the North East region of the country.
Leading a delegation consisting members from the Senate and House of Representatives to the conference, Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, spared no efforts in all his engagements in highlighting the challenges and seeking solutions through mutual collaboration and cooperation. Apart from his vociferous debate which focused largely on making the world appreciate the enormity of the humanitarian crisis in the northeast, he also held series of bilateral meetings to garner the support of powerful nations for Nigeria's diversification drive. Added to this was the interactive session he had with Nigerians living in Switzerland and neigbouring European countries where he argued that their scholarship, expertise and international connections are needed back home to steady the ship of state, boost investment, create employment and above all, make life more meaningful for the people.
In his lead debate on the theme, "Human Rights Abuses as Precursors of Conflict: Parliaments as Early Responders" Saraki told the world parliamentarians that the 8th National Assembly would continue to deliver on its legislative mandate, prioritise the welfare, interest and general well-being of Nigerians, enact legislations to support the policies and programmes of the executive aimed at surmounting the present economic recession and the humanitarian crisis bedeviling the North-East Region.
"There are available laws addressing most of the human-rights related issues, the major problems are centered around non-implementation, poor oversight and lack of enforcement of these laws. We must however demonstrate courage, make sacrifices, be accountable, and stand up for the people we represent. We must speak out loudly when our laws are not obeyed and work in synergy with the other arms of government to ensure that human rights violation wherever it occurs is condemned and addressed," Saraki said.
He added: "The National Assembly of Nigeria will continue to be a people-centered institution, where the interest and welfare of every Nigerian is paramount. As duly elected representatives of the Nigerian people, we will continue to work closely with every stakeholder in the arduous task of building a prosperous, secured and egalitarian society, where everyone will have a sense of belonging. It is on this note that I wish to encourage this discourse and also throw the weight of the National Assembly of Nigeria behind the efforts of the IPU in ensuring early response on the part of Parliaments in checking human rights abuses in order to avoid needless conflict," he said.
He contended further that the National Assembly is working to reposition the Nigerian economy to effectively meet the challenges of the 21st Century on human development, economic and social rights as well as to reposition the Nigerian economy to effectively meet the challenges of the 21st Century, "by creating a business environment that would create more jobs and opportunities for the youth, promote and sustain domestic entrepreneurs and facilitate the economic inclusiveness and participation of all segments of society so that the overall standard of living and socio-economic wellbeing of all Nigerians will be raised. Specifically, since the beginning of the year, we are working to fast-track over 40 priority bills recommended by the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER)," he stated.
The Senate President insisted that it is key for the world parliamentarians to see the issue of human rights as a global problem "because it is only by working together and in synergy that we can truly agree on a resolve. The IPU is right by linking the pervasive lack of respect for human dignity as a source of conflict worldwide. Democracy cannot flourish in the midst of human rights abuses. These are often compounded by poor governance, resulting in injustice, whether real or perceived, national or global.
"For example... "Conflict in the North-East region of Nigeria as a result of Boko Haram activities, have directly affected over 4.5 million families. More than 1 million people in the North East region are in danger of extreme malnutrition and have become internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their own country. According to UNICEF, 130 children die everyday as a result of lack of food. The UN estimates that about 7 million people need assistance especially food of which over 250,000 are under age 5", he said.
The Senate President insisted that Parliamentarians are the guardians of human rights as they work for the well-being of the people they represent and therefore, they must continue to develop legislative frameworks to ensure that various human right instruments are respected, implemented and properly over-sighted.
"In Nigeria, our legislative agenda emphasized human right issues relating to peace and security, sexual harassment, workers welfare, violence against women and children, amongst others. To address these catastrophic realities, we have passed the Child Rights Act 2003 and the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015. In March 2016, we allocated N10bn to IDPs in the North East in recognition of the dire situation. Parliamentarians agreed on a personal-allocation of an individual contribution to alleviate the plight of IDPs. We have passed the North East Commission Act to ensure accountability and efficient structures for managing the nation’s humanitarian situation and providing special care for our IDPs," he stated.
The National Assembly delegation also utilizèd the opportunity to hold bilateral talks with other national delegates where they canvassed economic cooperation, mutual understanding, showcased investment opportunities in the country and called for their support in tackling the humanitarian crisis of starvation, child malnutrition and homelessness of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Some of the countries that had bilateral meetings with the Nigerian delegation at the sidelines of the IPU included Germany, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. The Nigerian delegation also held a meeting with delegations from West Africa made up of Niger, Togo, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, where the Senate President underscored the need for West African parliamentarians to unite and forge a common front in order to have a stronger voice in their dealings at the local and international level.
The delegation also met with Nigerians in Diaspora at the instance of the Senate President, to make them appreciate the successes and challenges in Nigeria and the role they can play to advance the national cause. On the purpose of the interactive session, Saraki said, "We find that it has become very necessary to interact and share ideas with Nigerians here because a lot of people are not well informed of what the responsibilities of the National Assembly are and some of the work we have been doing, both regarding passing new legislation that would improve the lives of Nigerians and to also give them a picture of the economy which today is a topic of great concern to all Nigerians both in and outside the country - particularly those in the Diaspora. We want to really send a message across that the recession is a phase that we are passing through and hopefully, I am confident that very soon we will come out of it. But to come out of it we have to take certain steps. The steps that we hope to take in collaboration with the executive and the prospects ahead of us as a country - both for them in the Diaspora and the role they can play in working together with government to move the country forward," he said.
One message that rang clear from the Nigerian delegation to the 135th IPU Assembly in Geneva, is that the legislative arm of government is ever poised to utilize its constitutional mandate for the peace, socio-economic and political advancement of the country.
Onogu is Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President