The following are groups that assist in protecting human rights of citizens:
1. Civil Society Organizations
Every democratic country needs a strong and organized civil society to be able to maintain the principles upon which democracy stands. These civil society organizations are made up of persons with similar interests and burdens, who come together to pursue their purpose independent of government. They are like associations or clubs which people can belong to just like private citizens.
The civil society organizations are of different types. Some have political interests like improving governance, while others are economic and human rights organizations. Their main interest is to improve the lives of people and governance. They fight to promote some causes which they don’t directly benefit from. Some of them protect the human rights and can even go to court to fight for someone whose rights have been denied. They pursue collective goals. Some Civil Society Organizations fight poverty while others provide free legal assistance to some members of society like widows and other less privileged persons.
Examples of civil society organizations in Nigeria are:
1. Civil Liberties Organization (CLO)
2. Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR)
3. Constitutional Rights Project (CRP)
4. Nigerian Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (NCHRD)
5. Women’s Consortium of Nigeria (WOCOM)
6. Amnesty International (based in London)
7. Transparency International based in Germany
8. Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF)
2. Trade Unions
A trade union is an organized association that protects the welfare of its members. It serves as a link between the workers and their employers and also between the workers and the government.
The trade unions can offer useful suggestions to government and also act as watchdog over government policies. For instance, when the government wanted to increase the pump-price of fuel, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) threatened to go on strike.
The Trade Unions protect the interest of their members. In Nigeria, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) is always going on strike to demand for promotion, payment of salaries and other rights of her members.
There are many trade unions in Nigeria, but all of them are under one body known as Nigeria Labour Congress. It is the parent body that can officially represent the interest of all the workers with the government.
3. Student Unions
This is an association of students, especially in the higher institutions in Nigeria. For instance, we hear of students unions in the universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, etc. These students unions are formed to protect the interests of their members, and to influence the policies of both their institutions and government. The students union is a strong group headed by officials called the students union government (SUG).
The students union government can call out the students for a demonstration, boycott of classes and sometimes even locking the school lecturers out of the school, to protest any government or school policy that is not favourable to them. For instance, arbitrary increase in school fees or poor hostel conditions can make the SUG to react.
4. Ethnic Associations
Ethnic associations are formed to create the consciousness or awareness of belonging to one ethnic group. They are formed on the basis of strong traditional ties or origin, Members of ethnic associations are brought together by birth. They are not like the trade unions that come together because of their jobs, but are people who have been able to trace their origin to one source, especially ethnic origin, one family or tribe.
Ethnic associations try to protect the rights of its members. In Nigeria, ethnic associations have often clashed with government when they feel that people from their tribe or ethnic origin are being unjustly treated. Many of these ethnic associations in Nigeria have worked very hard in protecting the human rights of its members and upholding the rule of law. It is important to note that some of them have made their people to be loyal to them more than to the federal government.
5. Legal Aids Council (LAC)
The Legal Aid Council was established to provide legal aid to people who are poor, oppressed, unemployed and who cannot afford the cost of hiring a lawyer to defend them.
It was established through Legal Aid Decree No. 56 of 1976, which they hoped will be promulgated but did not take off. It has not been officially established and amended as Legal Aid Act Cap. 205, laws of the Federal Government of Nigeria 1990.
The Legal Aid Council is now a government department of parastatal of government and has an office in the 36 states of the federation and an office in Abuja, apart from the headquaters. The council is under the administration of a Director-General.
Functions Of LAC
1. They implement the state policy of guaranteed legal aid. This is to ensure that a lawyer represents someone who cannot afford to hire one.
2. Legal assistance speeds up the proceedings in court. A lot of time is saved because legal representatives do not need any explanation on what is going on in court.
3. The Legal Aids Council keeps a record of persons who deliver state guaranteed legal aid.
4. The Legal Aid council ensures that their clients get the fairest judgement possible.