Who is a human rights activist?

A human rights activist has always been of loose connotation in Nigeria.

Chief Femi Falana (SAN), widely referred as a human rights activist.

This concept is particularly of relative connotation to different sections of the Nigerian society. The definition and authenticity of what a human rights activist has gotten lost in the faraway lands of Nigerian expectations, punctuated by the constant disarray we find ourselves.

In the contemporary Nigerian society, while the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi is the standard for human rights activism, pillars of legal society like Festus Keyamo and Chief Femi Falana are widely regarded as human rights activism, but as noted earlier, the word has been used too loosely, that its true efficacy has become lost in translation.

Who is a human rights activist?

As Defined by Wikipedia, Human rights defenders or human rights activists are people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. They can be journalists, environmentalists, whistle-blowers, trade unionists, lawyers, teachers, housing campaigners, and so on.

With the contemporary times we live in, rife with the powers of media and interconnectivity, fueling a constant need for heroes and advocacy, a human rights activist could also be a politician or even a musician, as far as he represents and aims to safeguard an promote the rights of Nigerian citizens.

The Nigerian expectation

Nigerians generally believe that human rights activists should be always available in perpetuity to the many needs to every Nigerian and offer their services without an expectations of financial rewards. While the concept of pro bono cases in Law practice was meant to promote altruistic and humanitarian causes like human rights activism, there are instances where even though you are an activist, you also need money.

Asides that, Nigerians are mostly opportunists. If they realize you offer free legal services most of the time, most Nigerians will simply not pay you due to the innate entitlement in them.

While we must also admit that certain people have abused what a human rights activist is for money, Nigerians also have too high a standard for activists.

Even worse, the Nigerian definition of a human rights activist means a person that affects lives personally whereas a human rights activist can be a public person that criticizes governments and advocates better governance and better treatment for citizens without necessarily an individual impact.

Human rights activism should not be measured by the rate of suffering an activist has suffered for advocacy. Not all acts of activism require such and not everybody will be like Chief Gani Fawehinmi.

But does he have to be a Lawyer?

No. While a lot of Nigerians limit the scope of human rights activism to the legal sphere, activism will always need more than Lawyers and transcend Lawyers.

That said, Lawyers do have an advantage in the conversation of activism. Nonetheless, the issue of activism will never be simply limited to simply what legal processes can accomplish. Human rights activism could simply be about the right of the derogated girl-child to actually access education, and that is just advocacy that might not require laws.

Reducing human rights activism simply to legal processes underrates the entire concept of activism. Dr. Oby Ezekwesili can be referred as a human rights activist, and so will Prince Gwamnishu Emefiele Harrison who recently rescued a 15-year-old girl from a forced marriage in Ozubulu, Anambra State.

Should he be poor?

Make it out the ghetto, they call you Hollywood…

-         Meek Mill, on “Cold Hearted II”

The world has a ‘sell-out problem.’ Anyone that simply transcends the struggle ceases to be ‘real’ in the eyes of the larger populace.

In their eyes, that change simply means he cannot relate to them anymore; living his life simply means he has forgotten about them; adjusting to his new lifestyle means he ‘sold out.’ It’s the same reason why society hates privilege and everything it stands for.

The problem is really about how a lot human societies – especially Nigeria - have more than 35% people living below the poverty limit. Thus, most people cannot relate to wealth and they feel rich people perceive life through rose-tinted glasses. For them, money is just a means of transaction and a dream they might never attain.

This standard translates into how Nigerians judge human rights activists and hold them to that standard to which most Nigerians can relate and access.

Asides that, Nigerians feel a human rights activist should be ‘untainted’ by wealth and not chase money, but their rights. They feel the moment he makes his cause about wealth, it derails him for catering to their needs.

The truth is, wealth should have no influence to judge who or who isn’t a human rights activist. He doesn’t have to be poor.

Who then makes a human rights activist?

A human rights activist is simply a selfless human being who understands that the basic and fundamental rights of every human must be guaranteed and exercised, regardless of any barriers, and the limitations of same rights.

He doesn’t have to be poor, be a Lawyer or only be interested in pro bono cases when activism is legally inclined. Activism might mostly be a pro bono ideal though.

That said, empowering other human beings is self-empowerment. 

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