Introduction To The Ogoni Bill Of Rights By Leesi Ebenezer Mitee
What is a bill of rights? FindLaw Legal Dictionary defines a bill of rights as “a summary of fundamental rights and privileges guaranteed to a people against violation by the government.” The Ogoni Bill of Rights is the historic right to self-determination document that the Ogoni people presented to the Nigerian government in 1990. The right to self-determination is clearly enshrined in Article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which states thus:
“1. All peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.
2. Colonized or oppressed peoples shall have the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination by resorting to any means recognized by the international community.
3. All peoples shall have the right to the assistance of the State Parties to the present Charter in their liberation struggle against foreign domination, be it political, economic or cultural.”
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights made in 1981 by member States of Organisation of African Unity (which was renamed African Union on Tuesday, 9 July 2002) was ratified and adopted as part of Nigerian law by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 1983. The Charter came into force in Nigeria upon the commencement of the enabling Act.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) explains its role with regard to the operation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as follows:
“The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (also known as the Banjul Charter) is an international human rights instrument that is intended to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms in the African continent. Oversight and interpretation of the Charter is the task of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which was set up in 1987 and is now headquartered in Banjul, Gambia. A protocol to the Charter was subsequently adopted in 1998 whereby an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was to be created. The protocol came into effect on 25 January 2005.”
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is the definitive instrument for exercise of peoples’ rights, including the right to self-determination, in Nigeria. It goes far beyond the traditional fundamental rights in the Nigerian Constitution. Consequently, the Ogoni people can enforce their natural or inalienable right to self-determination by taking their case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
It should be noted that the Ogoni right to self-determination relates to the use of their economic and natural resources for their welfare, as opposed to the criminal and unconscionable exploitation of their resources since the discovery of commercial quantities of oil and gas in Ogoniland in 1958. This right is inherent in true federalism, an example of which is the United States of America. It does not involve the clamour for a separate state (country) from Nigeria, as misunderstood by many people. This is the letter and spirit of the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the full text of which can be accessed via the link below.