Apr 29, 2018

Sensitizing People About Their Rights – Whose Responsibility Is It? | Judy-Vallery Imasuen

A sight that is so common among Nigerians is that of not knowing what their rights are. The idea of “fundamental rights” has been so romanticized by the populace that it is common to hear citizens vaguely bring almost any matter under it. Therefore it is possible to hear a person who has been denied their salary or is facing an eviction say that “their fundamental right has been or is being breached.”

Due to lack of sensitization, people are unable to distinguish between a fundamental right, as provided for in Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), and other rights that are safeguarded by the law and contracts. They do not categorize rights the way it is done in the legal sector. Most times the general perception is one of recognizing that there is a problem that needs sorting out.

What this shows is that Nigerians are not adequately sensitized about what the law is and how it affects them. Some do not seem to appreciate the importance of contractual terms and conditions stated in letters addressed to them. They do not see the importance of seeking clarification on terms they do not understand before signing documents until it is too late.

They are not aware of the existence of institutions that can help them. In addition to this, their distrust in the efficiency of institutions such as the police force is preventing them from getting the help they need. With this, the unfortunate cycle of injustice continues everyday.

While there are some people who are aware that their rights are being breached or are about to be breached, they do not know the correct institution to go to in order to have their issues addressed.

For example, in Lagos State there exists the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team established with the aim of eradicating sexual and gender-based violence. It is common for domestic violence victims to run to a human rights organization first instead of immediately reporting the matter to the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team.

Although domestic violence may lead to a violation of one’s fundamental right to life and right to dignity of human person as provided for in Sections 33 and 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) respectively, an organization such as the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team would be better able to handle such matters effectively.

Various rights groups have sprung up to address the problems of the masses and render assistance to them whenever they can. However, what the people do not realize is that some of their problems could be easily addressed by filing a complaint at the nearest police station without having to tolerate the injustice done to them.

The question then is, who is responsible for sensitizing the people? Sensitization campaigns are not the responsibility of only a few. It is the responsibility of all stakeholders who are dedicated to seeing that justice is done, such as lawyers and rights groups. This is because they are in a position that enables them to know about the law and explain it using simple terms.

Now that we have been able to establish who bears the responsibility of sensitizing the masses about their rights, the next question is how best could we carry out sensitization campaigns? A good way of tackling this would be to follow the practices of copywriters in the marketing sector.

In simple terms, a copywriter writes advertisements that encourage people to take a particular action such as purchasing an item or signing up to a course. Before a copywriter writes an advert, they take time to analyze their target audience to determine where they can be found, their habits, interests and common problems or “pain points”. They know what medium their audience reacts to best. Taking this medium into consideration, they craft relatable words that capture the attention of their audience and achieve their primary aim of selling.

A similar technique can also be employed in the legal sector to facilitate an effective sensitization campaign by bringing the law to the masses using media that they can easily relate with. 

For a sensitization campaign to be effective, it has to take into consideration the people it is meant for. The campaign has to be able to convey information using a medium and language that can be easily consumed. This could take the form of social media posts and pictures that portray the main point.

An example of this can be seen in how Venezuela Inteligente, a digital rights organization, used social media to promote participation in legislative elections. Mass BlackBerry Messenger messages were sent out to encourage the youth to participate in legislative elections.

If sensitization campaigns are properly conducted, more people would know that they can seek help to address their problems and hence would be better equipped to fight for their rights.

Judy-Vallery Imasuen

Legal Practitioner at the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR)