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Lawyers Alert Brings Human Rights Lawyers together on provision of legal literacy and access to justice to vulnerable groups in Nigeria.

By Roseline Oghnebrume

Lawyers Alert in partnership with UNAIDS Nigeria, brought together human rights lawyers under the auspices of Coalition of Lawyers For Human Rights, COLaHR, on the 28th and 29th day of October 2015 at Kanem Suites, Utako Abuja to interact with People Living with HIV (PLWHIV), People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs), Female Sex Workers (FSWs), Sexual Minorities towards provision of free legal assistance and legal literacy.

The Coalition of Lawyers for Human Rights (CoLaHR) which consists of Volunteer Lawyers across 23 states in Nigeria has as its  mandate the provision of free Legal Assistance and Interventions for Key Populations and Vulnerable Groups in Nigeria.

This event was aimed at bringing Members of CoLaHR and Members of Key Populations and Vulnerable Groups to get to know one another to ensure justice for all and to create awareness of relevant law as members of CoLaHR have been finding it very challenging connecting with Vulnerable Groups since the Coalition was formed. It was also a forum to increase the visibility of CoLaHR and to build confidence and trust between the Vulnerable Groups and Lawyers.COLAHR Meetin

At the event there was an official launch of the CoLaHR website (http://www.colahr.org), CoLaHR help line (08026826761) and email (colahr.nigeria@gmail) making it easy for the Key populations and vulnerable groups to reach the CoLaHR members promptly when the need arises. Ramaroson Mianko representing UNAIDS Country Director, Dr Bilali Camara, emphasized the importance of the website stating that it was created to facilitate  the protection of Human Rights and also to serve a resource base. Informative, Educative and Communication materials (pamphlets and posters) explaining rights and where to go when one’s fundamental Human Rights are abused were developed and distributed to Key and Affected Populations during the meeting to take home and also distribute to the grass roots and the larger community towards possible validation and mass circulation afterwards.

Mr. Kunle Adeniyi, representing of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) expressed his delight with the passion being exhibited by the participants but also cautioned that the forum cannot fully settle the issues of the law as it relates to Human Rights as the Law is constantly existing. He congratulated UNAIDS, Lawyers Alert and CoLaHR for a job well done and for the official launch of the website.

The Executive Director of INCRESE, Dorothy Akenova expressed her joy at the launch of CoLaHR website and stated that she had never been more happy working with Lawyers Alert and UNAIDS. Most participants expressed the feeling that hitherto were not comfortable in the same room with  Lawyers as they always had the mindset that no one understands them and the society at large always discriminates against them. They thanked Lawyers Alert and UNAIDS for organizing the meeting especially with members of CoLaHR  volunteering to provide Legal Assistance to them.

Barrister Rommy Mom, President of Lawyers Alert commended and appreciated his learned colleagues who have offered to give themselves and their time to the Vulnerable Groups to protect and offer pro-bono legal services when their rights have been infringed.

At the end of the 2 day event, an effective networking and trust building between the Lawyers and the Vulnerable Groups was enhanced and  agreed modality between the Vulnerable Groups and members of CoLaHR on reaching out when in need. The participants also learnt about the common violations faced, knowledge of their rights and knowledge of the legal needs of key populations and vulnerable groups.

The members of the Coalition agreed on the following: There should be a permanent staff for CoLaHR, Legal fund for CoLaHR be established and administered by Lawyers Alert, Members of CoLaHR should be trained on Human Right practice, More Lawyers should be trained to increase the number of Lawyers under CoLaHR, There should be a meeting with critical stakeholders and bodies, The need for specialization by CoLaHR members where necessary and the need to have periodic meetings.

 

 

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STILL ON CITIZEN LOIS IORVIHI AND GOVERNOR AL MAKURA

Governor Al Makura

Governor Al Makura

By Jerome Uneje Mary

So much has been written and heard concerning this issue in both the social and mainstream media. Both Ms. Lois and Governor Al Makura’s crowd are trading blames and claiming rights over the said incidence with each party putting forward their edition of the story.

For reminder on the story, on this day, along the Makurdi – Lafia – Abuja Federal High Way, a young lady by the name of Lois Iorvihi was allegedly molested, brutalized and violently intimidated by the security agents on the behest of a sitting Executive Governor under his nose with impunity. This action, is in direct contrast with the wind of change across Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari. It would appear Governor Al Makura and his security details are stuck in the past and have refused to flow with the tide of change.

We were not present when this incidence occurred to endorse or renounce their claims. Some underlying facts in both editions of the same story are however not manipulative. First, there was a face-off between Ms. Lois and the Convoy of Governor Al Makura. Second, the said incidence occurred before the very eyes of His Excellency, Governor Al Makura of Nasarawa State. Third, the young lady suffered some brutalization on herself, siblings and property including her car and media devices. Finally, the young lady was arrested, charged and detained alongside her siblings. Bare fact truth is that Ms. Lois and her siblings were violated simply because she is a woman with “less rights” than her male counterparts as far as Governor Al Makura and his boys are concerned.

In the face of the foregoing indisputable fact we make bold to say that the security agents took their jobs a little too far and the Governor did much too little to manage the incidence. We are not in any way exonerating Ms. Lois of blame neither are we indicting the Executive Governor and the security details. However, we are of the strong opinion that the unfortunate incidence was in the first place avoidable had someone along the line acted a little more civil. The management of the aftermath of the incidence is even worse than the incidence in itself. Since the occurrence of the incidence, the Governors’ spokesman Yakubu Lamai, Senior Special Assistant Public Affairs & Media Strategy has been turning logic on its head all in a bid to make his boss a saint and Ms. Iorvihi the villain.

It is a common knowledge on the streets of Nigeria that security agents especially those attached to high profile personalities act with dispatch overzealousness especially on hapless citizens. Therefore, it is not an out of place incidence for the security agents attached to the convoy of an Executive Governor to pounce on a young lady who seems reluctant to give way to the Governor’s convoy. What is however surprising and baffling is the period and timing of the incidence.

Barely three months into the “change” regime, one would have thought the era of Police brutality and Master Leadership was over. It is also surprising that this ugly incidence happened to a hapless young lady before the eyes of the Governor of the State. As an Executive Governor of a State, it is mind bugling to imagine him sitting in the luxury of his SUV while watching his goons manhandle a female motorist in broad day light. We strongly feel that it is duty and obligation of the Governor to uphold the dignity and rights of hapless Citizens ESPECIALLY women regardless of any circumstances. There is no law that encourages brutality and torture on offenders. Even if Ms. Lois was “driving in the middle of the road” or being “very rude” or even “dressed like a prostitute” it is still unwarranted that her car was smashed, her ipad and phones destroyed and her siblings beaten before detention.  If Ms. Lois had violated traffic laws or committed some other form of crime, the civilized thing to do is to get her arrested and charged as per the offence. Her physical assault and brutalization under the watchful eyes of the Governor speaks volumes on the state of Human Rights in Nigeria especially those of Women. This incidence also serves as a reminder to us all that the issue of Women Human Rights is still light years away from being defended and respected in Nigeria.

Perhaps, the Governor’s Senior Special Assistant Public Affairs & Media Strategy, Yakubu Lamai was right when he said in his response to the incidence that “a political leader of the stature of a governor will naturally face a constant challenge posed by the social construction of his image and identity” which is why this incidence speaks volumes about the attitude of the Governor towards Human Rights and especially Women. In a bit to correct the above ugly incidence in preservation of his towering image we hereby recommend that the Executive Governor reach out a hand of friendship to Ms. Lois and her family. He should also attempt to recompense her on her lost and damaged properties in the hands of his goons including her car and devices. Pay the medical bills of her siblings brutalized in the course of the incidence. This way, Ms. Lois’ Fundamental Human Rights and indeed that of the entire Nigerian Women will be preserved especially in these days of change.

The likes of Governor Al Makura and his goons must learn to live with the change or make way for those who will for the good of Ms. Lois, Nigerian women and indeed the entire Nation.

Jerome Uneje Mary is a Program Officer at Lawyers Alert Head Office in Makurdi, Benue State. She can be reached at unejemarie@yahoo.com

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2015 in Women Rights and Gender

 

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THE EVOLUTION OF BOKO HARAM AND THE ROLE OF CITIZENS

BY ROMMY MOM

Beginnings of Boko Haram

It is widely believed that the movement started out as a pious and strict way of Islam intended to guarantee paradise after death in the midst of worldly and earthy distractions. Not many people are aware that this ideology became so popular in Nigeria’s North East that even some government officials joined in the movement and supported it in order to be seen as holy and pious people.

With time, the movement became powerful enough to start enforcing its way of life on many, demanding zero tolerance to anything western. Some government officials resigned to comply with this directive while others saw the price as too heavy to pay just to belong. Originally known as “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad,” which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad” this coinage was soon shortened by locals to the simpler, “Boko Haram” which, loosely translated, means, “Western education is forbidden.” Those who refused to team up with the extremists were viewed as uncommitted Muslims.

Extra judicial punishment in the form of brutal killings was soon meted out on those who resisted these teachings, especially persons of other faiths. Early violence was targeted at non-believers with Churches targeted particularly on holy days such as Easter and Christmas when attendance was heavy. Perhaps the initial plan was to plunge Nigeria into a religious war. The reluctance or inability of Christians to pay back in kind thwarted this move thereby frustrating the movement in that regard.

The now notorious cult, which began its insidious existence during the Obasanjo administration (2002), was rendered a crushing defeat by the state under YarAdua when it appeared to be challenging the power of the state. However, instead of a well strategized and carefully executed investigation which would perhaps have unearthed the roots of the cult, defeat was meted out on extreme grounds of extra judicial killings, with the arrest and execution of the group’s founding leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.

This act caused the group to run off into the forest (Sambisa) and quietly continue living their “pious” lives while burning with anger and resentment with a view to vengeance. They soon regrouped under a new and more vile leadership, that of the so called Abubakar Shekau.

 

Growth and Notoriety

Having regrouped, the cult, now bent on establishing an Islamic state, quietly developed networks with other extremist Islamic groups, first across Africa and eventually, beyond. How Nigeria’s intelligence missed this is the wonder. Indeed, the efficiency with which the group was able to muster heavy military weapons and machinery speaks volumes about how incredibly weak Nigeria’s government systems were calling to question how the weapons were brought into the country and safely delivered to the terrorists without raising suspicion. These weapons included armored personnel carriers, surface to air missiles and other weapons even Nigeria’s military lacked.

On the anniversary of their leader’s assassination, the group announced its desire to commemorate his death. Not knowing the extent of the group’s preparedness and the seriousness of their threats, the Borno state government (the state that has since gained notoriety as the “home” of BH) assured citizens that there was nothing to worry about and urged them to go about their normal businesses. Underestimating BH turned out to be a big mistake.

On the day of the “commemoration,” gun wielding members of BH stormed the city of Maiduguri, mowing down any Christian policemen in sight, leading to police officers taking off their uniforms and begging for their lives. It was to be the first of many well primed attacks.

The state’s meek reaction did nothing to help and the sect waxed stronger over time, killing at will, bombing prime state targets across the country, including the Police headquarters and the UN office both in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory. Still the state, this time under Goodluck Jonathan, failed to fully comprehend how powerful the rag tag group had grown to be.

BH eventually went as far as conquering and seizing territories, declared its independence from Nigeria and killed citizens at will, at this point, not minding religious inclination. Schools were targeted and children killed for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Buni Yadi massacre in Yobe state was carried out at night in an all-boys school. Shortly afterwards, an estimated 300 girls were abducted from their school, also at night. A few of them managed to escape when one of the vehicles they were being carted off in broke down.

This incident finally turned international attention to Nigeria, when the army first of all lied that the abducted girls had been rescued, then when the abduction was followed by inaction by the state. To this day, one and a half years later, there are still groups demanding for the return of the girls, now known as the Chibok girls. An estimated 200 may have been sold into slavery or forcefully married off to total strangers as Shekau at the time threatened.

Their actual fate remains unknown.

 

Reaction of the state

After the brutal subjugation of the movement by the Yar Adua administration, subsequent dealings by the state lacked any form of decisiveness. State reaction portrayed total lack of political will to deal definitively with the terrorists, leading to a state of general insecurity, not just in the region but across the country, thereby giving the group a larger-than-life reputation.

While the terrorist group wreaked havoc in Nigeria’s North East and the neighboring West African countries of Chad, Niger, and Mali, unscrupulous elements within the government and the military saw the insurgency as a means of making money and corruptly enriching themselves. Monies intended for equipping the military were diverted to personal use, while a poorly armed, poorly motivated military was sent out to tackle a better armed, better, motivated and better organized opponent. The battles ended with Nigeria’s military massacred in huge numbers and the people of the region killed in a pogrom of a sort never before witnessed in the land.

Over 15,000 lives have been lost, while a mutiny within the army, owing to lack of weapons and machinery was decisively dealt with by imprisonment even as corruption continued to thrive and the country bled. It has since been speculated that a 5th column was identified within the army and that some of the sponsors were known to those in power and yet to BH remained a menace.

In the run up to the 2015 elections, the ability of the APC Candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, to definitively articulate issues such as Corruption and Security, and the way these messages resonated with the electorate forced the sitting government to finally see BH as an electoral albatross that could lead to its defeat. Elections were quickly postponed to deal with BH, but lacking any concise operational plan, weapons were hastily put together and indiscriminate air strikes commenced in territories held by BH. While the group was indeed pushed back, the collateral damage was equally huge especially in the civilian population.

This last ditch attempt at stopping BH, while the most impressive, did nothing to help the Goodluck administration as the people’s minds were already made up. Elections eventually threw out the government and installed Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, whose credentials as a long serving military man were seen as the right qualification for a Nigerian leader hoping to rout BH.

 

The Citizen

The present administration is now engaging BH in a more constructive and intelligent manner, strengthening alliances with neighboring countries, gathering intelligence and launching offensive strikes, while curbing corruption within the system and motivating soldiers.

The results are commendable as Nigeria is now on the offensive as opposed to BH being on the offensive, which was the situation in the past, and practically all Nigerian territories have been reclaimed. This has led to a new approach by the terrorists, bombing of soft targets within the communities, markets, viewing centers, IDP camps etc.

Intelligence can help neutralize these attacks and this is where the role of the citizen is key. The new wave of terrorism in Nigeria can NEVER be won except the citizen steps up and engages.

Intelligence is not obtained from thin air but by citizens being observant and reporting suspicious movements and or circumstances in their surroundings. In the past, those who did report such things found themselves under attack, the information having been somehow leaked to the terrorists. Perhaps this was led to the situation we now face where some of these communities have taken to shielding the terrorists and some even contributing their children to the “cause.” There are also those who genuinely believe the extremists are trying to promote an Islamic agenda and as such have developed genuine sympathies for them leading to them cooperating with the group and shielding them from the prying eyes of the authorities.

Interestingly enough, as operations against the group have continued, it has become obvious that though members of the group claim to be Muslims trying to establish an Islamic state, a good number of them know nothing about the religion itself other than what they have been brain washed by the master minds into believing. It is said that a good number of them neither pray nor can recite vital parts of the Quran. One then begins to wonder what the real motivation or trigger behind the movement is.

Attempts by the Jonathan administration at various points in time to establish contact with the group and determine their demands produced woeful results. Unlike other terrorist groups in Nigeria which made concrete demands on government, BH’s demands were unrealistic and speak of a lack of focus. The group is believed to have demanded that Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, convert to Islam, a request which of course went unattended to.

There is a real need for some of Behavior Change Communication strategy to be embarked upon to enlighten Muslims of the real intentions of the group which has little to do with promoting Islam and everything to do with spreading hate and fear. There is a need to send out educational passionate educational messages, suing passages from the Quran to counter the poisonous messages being spread by the terrorists.

These could be in the form of radio/TV messages, billboards, online broadcasts and so on. After all, the fight is against an ideology. There is therefore a serious need to work on the minds of those who are vulnerable to get them to understand that the ideology of the terrorists is warped at best. This is one of the ways in which the state can help the citizens to decide on doing what is right.

Regarding the fear of being outed after passing intelligence to security agents, the current government seems genuinely concerned about curbing the excesses of BH as can be seen by the fact that the service chiefs are now stationed right at the battle front and have been seen at the frontlines with their men. This is a clear sign that the status quo has changed and people can now trust the security agents.

“Small” things like strange faces, tenants who would rather keep to themselves, vehicles haphazardly laden with gas cylinders and driven in populated areas, etc. as normal as they appear, could be clues. A tip off to security agencies may lead to saving of scores of lives.

People acting suspiciously in crowded environments such as markets, schools, malls, Churches should be carefully observed and if possible questioned. Unattended bags should not be poked or touched. Very rickety cars driven to a crowded spot and abandoned are also suspect.

The need to create awareness amongst community leaders on how to spot suspected terrorists can’t be over emphasized. It is very important for the purposes of stepping the messages down to members of the community in languages they will understand and be made to understand how this strategy could save us all.

If we can successfully push for and achieve the measures outlined above, then we can truly begin to say with confidence that the days of BH in Nigeria are numbered.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in Governance, Human Rights

 

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Behind the arrest of a Nigerian ex-minister in London is a maturing Nigerian president

Written by Yinka Adegoke

For some Nigerians, there’s an inevitable feeling of deja-vu about their country’s former petroleum minister, Diezeani Allison-Madueke, being arrested in London on charges of money laundering.

That’s because in 1984, under the rule of current president Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian government tried and failed to abduct another former cabinet minister, Umaru Dikko, in London. Dikko had been accused of looting as much as $1 billion.

BBC World Service retold the caper in 2012:

On a summer’s day, Mr Dikko walked out of his front door in an upmarket neighbourhood of Bayswater in London. Within seconds he had been grabbed by two men and bundled into the back of a transit van.

“I remember the very violent way in which I was grabbed and hurled into a van, with a huge fellow sitting on my head – and the way in which they immediately put on me handcuffs and chains on my legs,” he told the BBC a year later.

Labelled “Nigeria’s most wanted man,” a plot was hatched to get both him and the money back.

The extraordinary plan was to kidnap Mr Dikko, drug him, stick him into a specially made crate and put him on a plane back to Nigeria – alive.

The messy incident involving ex-Mossad Israeli operatives, a brave British customs officer, and a major diplomatic fall-out with Britain, shows just how much the ruling Buhari has learned about the importance of soft power and diplomacy over the past three decades.

At that time, president Buhari was a 42-year-old, no-nonsense, rigid military dictator and strict disciplinarian

While Buhari has retained a strict, no-nonsense approach to leadership (one that is sometimes considered too slow), he also appears to have become a team player when it serves his interests—for example, at his inauguration in May when he talked about working with Nigeria’s border nations in the battle against the Islamic insurgents Boko Haram.

Now, Buhari is targeting Allison-Madueke as part of his election pledge to hold senior government officials accountable for corruption. Allison-Madueke is at the center of a missing $20 billion oil scandal; the country’s central bank, along with other independent investigations, have flagged the national oil company’s suspect accounting on her watch.

Whereas in the Dikko case Buhari ran into trouble with the British government for attempting to abduct a resident on its territory without warning, this time Buhari appears to have been working closing with British authorities before Allison-Madueke’s arrest; The raiding of her home in Abuja by local anti-graft agents appeared to be synced with her arrest in London.

And it was a newly formed International Corruption Unit of UK’s National Crime Agency that made the arrests of five people (including Allison-Madueke) connected to the case. Those arrests came after concerted efforts by Buhari to pressure Western governments and financial institutions to help combat money laundering and recover misappropriated funds from corrupt regimes, particularly in African countries.

Buhari’s government will need the continued support of international heavyweights like Britain and the US to prove his resolve in eradicating corruption in Nigeria. Unlike in 1984, he now has the democratic support of the majority of Nigerians, which Western governments like Britain can feel more comfortable standing behind.

the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2015 in Governance

 

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