How Oby Ezekwesili’s Birmingham Speech In 1998 Might Have Been Prophetic on Corruption and Insecurity in Nigeria

Filed under: National Issues |



Got a chance to see this speech presented by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili as far back as 1998 but reading through, you’d think she only just presented this speech this morning, especially as it relates to Nigeria’s current challenges. Enjoy the speech below.


The singular act of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fifty years ago without a dissenting voice, and the subsequent plethora of other Human Rights conventions and treaties in the past decades evidence the level of recognition that the global community has given to the “universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated ” rights of persons, irrespective of “race, sex, language or religion”. Far and beyond the rethorics, the world has in-fact witnessed the burgeoning of international, national, inter-governmental and non-governmental initiatives that uphold Human Rights. “The People”, being the focal point of these developments have however often watched from the sidelines as the international community acts out its credo of ‘It’s the economy, Stupid” while speaking the rather comedic language of the freedom agitator. When I say “The People”, I need state that my emphasis is on the citizens of political structures and systems which by their very nature do not guarantee human rights nor attach any significance to the rule of law. Clearly, most ill-defined systems and structures, lacking the necessary accountability and transparent mechanisms that ensure adequate and effective protection of the rights of individuals are symptomatic of the so called developing or perhaps, emerging economies. These countries or “economies” if you would, have shown commitment to the globalization of economies and earned the endorsement and behind- closed- door applause of their economic superiors, while showing utter contempt for the human rights of their people.

Globalization and human rights

It is precisely, the same argument that supports today’s trend toward globalization, (i.e., the rather concerted move toward having the entire globe become one large market economy, irrespective of the levels of sophistication of the political, economic or social systems of countries), that also underpins the formulation of human rights violation as an international crime. Globalization has revealed that the greatly vaunted ideals of state or national sovereignty can stand the vagaries of external variables. If so, the impetus for the internationalization of crimes against humanity is tacitly acknowledged, albeit, by default. If economic relationships can be conducted in a manner that defies borders, it stands to reason that the violation of the human rights of the same people for which globalization is directed, should also be a crime without borders. For proponents of absolute universal interpretation of the rights of people, the growth of civil and political rights must proceed in tandem with economic, social and cultural development. The Copenhagen Declaration of 1995, states succinctly ” …the conviction that social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among our nations. In turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security or in the absence of respect for ALL human rights and fundamental freedoms. This essential interdependence was recognized 50 years ago in the Charter of the United Nations and has since grown ever stronger”.

The power of globalization explains what amounts to at least a cosmetic verbalization of commitment to human rights even by the worst violators. It is also the leit motif for the new wave of silent diplomacy that relegates issues of human rights to the back burners of foreign policy that is mercantile-focused through the misguided and disingenuous theory that increased trade will ultimately lead to increased rights. My country, Nigeria, Indonesia, China are proofs that the cosmetic or real increase in the foreign reserve of a nation does not bequeath its citizens the protection of their inalienable rights against the excesses of abusive governments. The crux of the matter therefore is the need to evolve a mechanism that protects The People from the culture of impunity, safe from the chicanery of the promoters of unbridled economic expansion deeply seethed in colossal erosion of fundamental values. And safe from the double standard of international politics that considers the human rights of people in the so called developing countries secondary to annual increase in world trade and investment plus the corruption that underpins it.

Corruption is a major cause of poverty

The issue of the current unhealthy relationship between economic development and human rights violation is even more reprehensible when the linkage between abusive regimes and corruption is appreciated. The basic and common credential of governments that violate human rights of people is massive corruption. When the devastating impact of corruption on economies and The People is appreciated, the political will to denote corruption, as a crime against humanity may become the catalyst for a paradgmic change in the emphasis of material over people. A noxious and corrupt government which somehow manages to pursue the kind of economic programs touted as recipes for development, is not only a danger to its citizenry, but also ultimately poses a danger to the global market place. Corruption whether in its national or international form is unarguably a major reason for pernicious poverty in developing countries. This state of poverty in turn has weakened The People, in the exercise of rights and choices. However, it strengthens the hand of corrupt leaders to continue in the flagrant mis-use of public resources for personal benefits, engaging weapons of co-optation or repression to retain their hold as the case may be. The danger that corruption poses to the global market place is epitomized by the fact that its modus operandi are antithetical to the principles of level playing field, competition and efficiency on which globalization par excellence is predicated. The massive flow of corruption proceeds; whether laundered drug proceeds or stolen scarce resources of poor countries to the developed economies in my view portends the greatest danger to global peace and security. This can only be effectively addressed through the recognition of grand corruption as not only a violation of the economic rights of the citizens who suffer its consequences, but also as an international crime.

Global peace and security

In formulating human rights violation as an international crime, the world would redeem itself from its current ominous role either as acquiescing spectator or inadvertently active participant in the flagrant abuse by states which are unwilling to observe or enforce the principles of civil. political, economic and social rights of their citizens. When individuals, states or groups commit in a ‘systematic and large scale basis’ crimes against humanity in the form of murder, extermination, ‘disappearances’, rape, enforced prostitution and other sexual abuse, arbitrary deportation and forcible transfers of population, arbitrary imprisonment, enslavement, persecution on political, racial, or religious grounds and other inhumane act (read CORRUPTION)’, the world no longer has a justification for aloofness. The idea that we can have global peace while paying no attention to perpetration of these heinous acts is in reality, morally repugnant. There is no gainsaying the fact that justice and the rule of law are the foundations of peace and security. The effects of the acts that constitute crime against humanity on victims are of coordinate gravity as the effects of acts of terrorism and narcotic trafficking on their victims. I hold the strong view that the common denominator of these crimes far and beyond the basic physical and mental elements, is the moral core of our humanity: the equality of human beings whether as citizens of developed countries (who are less likely to face human rights violation) or the more likely victims in developing countries.

The People from developing countries who constitute the pool of victims of human rights violation need to see that words like “commitment to democracy and good governance, human rights, transparency and accountability” reflect a REAL commitment to global fairness, justice and equity. They look to a world that applies sanctions on those responsible for the violation of human rights, a world that recognizes the need to demand accountability for grievous crimes especially in my view, the crime of Corruption, which is at the root of human rights violation. The fact is that the necessity to combat the crime of corruption represents a common ground for both victims of its effects: The People and the global economy. Its formulation as an international crime can become the catalyst that propels the relocation of The People from the present fringes to their rightful center-place in the scheme of events.

The strategic economic interest of developed countries which currently drives global action need be no longer defined using such impersonal macro-economic criteria that leave a huge number of the global population bereft of the guarantee that their inalienable rights will continue to remain concretely, inalienable. When perpetrators of impunity begin to receive appropriate sanctions for their actions, the deterrent it engenders will define the right framework for global development that is truly People-defined. As the governments of the most powerful nations in the world gather to discuss international crime, one notices as usual an agenda that narrowly looks at the issue as far as it affects global commerce. Interestingly however, the subject lends itself to no other primary conclusion than the need to galvanize action toward developing effective international frameworks for the combat of crimes against humanity and that is exactly where it meets The People. The pain is that it had to take the threat to global economy for these grievous acts long endured by The People to finally receive prime attention.

Oby Ezekwesili is a Member of Board of Transparency International. She delivered this paper at The People’s Summit Birmingham, UK May 15,1998 | The Formulation of Human Rights Violates an International Crime