The Executive Secretary,
Nigerian National Human Rights Commission,
No.19, Aguiyi Ironsi Street, Maitama,
P.M.B. 444, Garki-Abuja, Nigeria
Four years ago, a little girl, Darasimi Adeleke was born under the most phenomenal of circumstances in a hospital in the UK. Her mother, Remi Adeleke, had a medically complicated child birth but due to the competent and effective medical care that she received, both mother and daughter survived the ordeal. Four years later, little Darasimi is in the process of suing an Abuja hospital for mishandling the birth of her baby brother during which her mom, Remi, and little brother, Jimi, died on the 22nd of April 2015.
Remi Adeleke has become one of an estimated 52,900 women and Jimi one of 250,000 new born babies who die annually in Nigeria as a result of poor health services and lack of adequate health care in Nigeria.
Remi lost her life because a private specialist hospital located in our federal capital could not offer the most basic of services such as blood transfusion. The birth of Jimi was medically uncomplicated like his sister’s; it was supposed to be a straight forward birth.
While little Darasimi heads to court with her father to sue the hospital, I, Remi’s brother headed to the Human Rights Commission to seek the help of the Commission in seeking systemic remedies such as making findings and recommendations on the minimal standards that should govern not only the so called private specialist hospital in question but also applicable to all hospitals in general when it comes to child births.
Afterall, this is a question of right to adequate health care, this is about right to dignity and ultimately, it is about right to life, all guaranteed in Nigeria’s Constitution and for which your Commission has been constituted to promote, protect and monitor.
It was a traumatic experience for me to visit your national office in Abuja on the 27th of April where in your complaints room, I felt powerless and invisible. There were four employees of the Commission packed in a small room and who had little interest in serving your clients – the public. There were three different complainants, including myself, in the room. We were offered no privacy in recounting our individual traumatic stories. Your colleagues consulted us simultaneously and in cases where some of the complainants broke down in narrating their ordeal, rather than offer comfort, your colleagues coldly requested them to keep quiet. While a lady sobbed her way through her complaint, one of your colleagues attending to her happily played with the infant of another colleague. A complainant was sent on her way to make photocopies of the complaint petition she had been made to draft. Your colleagues walked in and out, laughing and sharing food and disrupting the whole process of consultation. The unprofessionalism on display was very painful to watch. In simple terms, we were robbed of our dignity.
I sought help in seeking systemic redress but your employees told me to go and hire a lawyer to sue the hospital. What if I could not afford one? Their lack of understanding of the mandate of the Commission was evident. In that little space where we were made to narrate our complaints, in that space where we were already vulnerable, the undignified way with which you treated us made us invisible. In that little space, your employees extinguish the last hope for justice vulnerable Nigerians have.
I headed a department at the South African Human Rights Commission and in 2014; I hosted a senior delegation for the Nigerian Commission who visited the South African Commission. In my interactions with that delegation, I marvelled at how extensive the powers of the Nigerian Commission are in investigation and enforcement as guaranteed in the enabling law of the National Human Rights Commission Act, 2010. I was impressed at the amount of financial resources we were told that the government had allocated to the Commission. On that day in South Africa, I felt proud to be Nigerian. I wished I rather worked for the Nigerian Commission. I looked forward to visiting your office as a colleague. Little did I know that slightly over a year later, I would visit as a victim and as a complainant, and I could hardly believe that the Nigerian Commission with so much resources, so much legislative powers, would be another institution that could also rob Nigerians of their rights – the right to dignity and the right to privacy. I expected more and I left helpless and hopeless. It is a crying shame.
Sirs, kindly train your employees who receive complaints at your office and serve as the interface between members of the public and the Commission on how to treat members of the public with dignity.
Train them on what your role is and the powers you have, including what you can achieve.
Please allocate office space within your very large offices and let each complainant have the dignity of narrating their complaint in a private room with no more than one or two of your employees present and no other complainants.
Sirs, train them on the importance of professionalism, train them on the importance of empathy and sympathy and ask them not to offer personal opinions and judgments on people’s life choices.
These are but minimum considerations that should justify why you have been rated an A status National Human Rights Commission. The mediocrity that governs public institutions in Nigeria should not be found in an institution like yours. But perhaps you can take solace in the fact that in your sister institution, the Public Complaints Commission, their professional incompetency can hardly be salvaged from their inevitable death throes of irrelevance to the average Nigerian.
Those other complainants were silenced. I felt their silence too. They may have no opportunity to speak again but I speak on their behalf.
I refuse to be silenced and will ensure that my complaint lodged with you is addressed with the level of competence and execution of powers that every Nigerian should expect from the Commission.
My sister, Remi Adeleke, and little nephew, Jimi, should not die in vain. We have a collective responsibility in making sure that little Darasimi will grow up knowing that the entire Nigerian system did not fail her when her mother died. Women need not die or lose their babies in child birth in 2015. It is the job of the Commission, along with a number of several other institutions to prevent unnecessary maternal mortality and uphold the human rights of all Nigerians.
CC: The Chairperson of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission.
Fola Adeleke is with the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.