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Benue Salary logjam: A Tale of Insincerity, Half Truths and the Rest of Us.

By Laz Mom

Targema is fuming with anger. Ngodoo, his daughter, has been sent away from school owing to failure in payment of fees. His retiree landlord has sold the house he is occupying on rent and the new landlord has issued him a quit notice that expires in a week. His Mother-in law is dying due to an inability to raise the money for her operation. He heaves a sigh in frustration. He is not a lazy man. He works his butt off daily in the State Ministry of Health as a Senior cadre Civil Servant.  Ordinarily, he should have been able to take care of his obligations but he is being owed over seven months in salaries by the State Government. There has been no tangible explanation as to why.

The Benue Civil Servants Salary quagmire is a burning issue that has elicited much talk and very little headway. Headways in any discussion are made where the discussants are open, truthful and sincere. The parties in this discussion are the Benue Civil Servants on one hand and the Benue State Government on the other. Lying between them is a ton of insincerity.

The Benue State government is brandishing a huge wage bill of 7-8 billion naira a month.  This figure puts the State wage bill as the highest in the Country. Outrageous at best and downright unbelievable at worst. The State Civil Servants and Government Critics alike doubt the veracity of these claims and will have none of it. The State Government itself doubts the figures and has repeatedly carried out Staff audits to ascertain the accurate figure to no avail. The State Civil Service estimate the State’s wage bill to range between 2-3 billion only, monthly.

The budget estimates for 2017 puts the wage bill for the State at NGN44, 103,666,596 which translates to about NGN3, 675,305,549.66 monthly however these are merely estimates.

It is quite disappointing that there is no specific or reliable data in existence on Benue’s correct wage bill.  The institutions of Government saddled with the responsibility of Workers Salary management have failed in their primary roles and responsibilities. The inability of these government institutions to clear the air on this logjam smacks more of conspiracy than inefficiency, though it could, of course, be both.

Ortom  Gov Ortom of Benue State.

Governor Ortom has been telling anyone who will listen that a cabal within the State bureaucracy manipulates staff wages way above the expected range.  According to the Governor, several attempts at auditing Benue’ workforce towards ascertaining the precise number and wage bill has been frustrated by the cabal. The cabal somehow succeeds in ensuring that the exact picture does not come out.

Despite the above position, perhaps answers to the following questions might prove useful. Who are the consultants commissioned by the Government to carry out Staff audit in the State? What is their pedigree? Government has to be transparent about this audit process if its intentions are to be judged as honorable. This is important not just to protect the government’s fast depleting goodwill amongst the people but also because, chances are that the consultants may have compromised their findings especially where they have no reputable name or brand to protect.

Top level bureaucrats and ministerial accounting officers also need to be held accountable. It is their primary responsibility to know the exact number of Staff in their institutions. The aggregate number of staff in each Ministry, Department and Agency as presented by their Accounting Officers should be able to point towards the real number of staff on the State payroll.

The salary inflating system has become a culture of sorts in Benue. It is firmly rooted at all levels to the detriment of genuine workers and our collective development as well.

Lawyers Alert agrees with the government’s findings that the much-touted “salary inflating Cabal” in the State is deeply lodged inside the bureaucracy. It is common knowledge in the State that there are people, typically referred to as ghost workers, who collect monies from Government institutions at all levels without a single hour of recorded work time. This can be found mostly in local governments and other out stations in the rural areas. For example, it was recently found out that a local Government had as many as 2,000 staff on its payroll. Of this figure, less than 600 were actual staff who report to work regularly. The remaining 1,400 were beneficiaries (whatever this means). This situation is however not limited to the LG level but has also permeated the State level.

This is a trying time for the Ortom administration no doubt. However, it is not yet a hopeless situation as some remedies, if instituted might prove useful.

For one thing, the government’s spin doctors need to adopt a more proactive approach to managing the people’s frustrations, currently directed at the government. We also encourage Government to accept some responsibility for the current situation and find ways of managing same using a people-based approach.

Going forward, we suggest the following:

  • That, all parties concerned in this imbroglio are Benue indigenes and therefore, truth, honesty, sincerity should come first before anything else.
  • That the State Government should channel energies and resources including the State Internally generated revenues into the payment of outstanding salaries as a matter of urgency.
  • That Government should appoint a reputable consulting firm(s) to carry out a thorough staff inventory in the State at all levels with a view towards ascertaining the actual figures
  • That the Government Media and Public Relations pundits should be more innovative in their approach than resorting to blame games and mudslinging.

The day draws to a close. The chickens are home to roost. Targema stares at them as they search for perching spots on the mango tree in the middle of the compound. They are metaphoric of his challenges. He sighs and decides to sell his old refrigerator. He is sure it can serve as a deposit for his Mother in law’ operation before the salaries come.

Laz Mom is a Program Director at Lawyers Alert

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Posted by on October 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Benue: When Floods Occur

By Laz Mom

Floods occur in Benue routinely. Between the years 2000 and 2017, five cycles of flood have occurred with grievous effects.

When flooding comes, its usually with sorrows, tears and blood. The floods often leave in their wake, monumental losses in billions of naira and the displacement of hundreds, sometimes, thousands of families.  Most families never really recover their losses. For example, most of the victims of the 2012 floods have not yet recovered and might never do so.

The recent floods have reportedly destroyed properties and farms worth over 15 billion naira and displaced over 120,000 families across 6 local government areas with Makurdi being the worst hit. As at the time of writing this piece, there are over 15,000 families taking refuge in various camps set up by the Benue State Emergency Management Agency.

Floods occur in Benue especially Makurdi, the State Capital due to several factors. Some of these include, the city’s topography, the river that runs through the town, poor drainage facilities, the release of Lagdo Dam from Cameroun which flows into the River Benue, climate change and many more.

However, the recurrent decimal resulting in these continued disasters would seem to be Government’s failure to institute preemptive measures against the ravages of the floods. Over the 5 cycles of massive floods that have overrun several parts of the state in general, and the state capital in particular, there appears to be no tangible efforts by the Government to build a drainage system that channels waters from streams, culverts and other sources into the river. Perhaps this absence of an effective drainage system could be singled out as the most damning reason why Makurdi continues to play the hapless victim of terrible floods year in, year out.

Following the floods of 2012, it was widely reported in some quarters that, a contract was awarded for the construction of just such a facility to channel waters from various sources across Makurdi into the River Benue. This contract was said to have been valued at 1.4 billion naira and paid up at the time of award.  Five years after, there is no drainage system in place, no cessation to the damage caused by floods.

When floods occur, Government establishes camps for the Internally Displaced victims to take refuge in. These camps become a Mecca of sorts for many, including those hitching a ride on the predicament of others to make a quick buck. Philanthropists, charity organizations, both local and international, as well as various government organizations and even the entertainment industry make haste to identify with the victims. Bags of rice, blankets, toiletries, detergents and other commodities worth billions are bought and distributed to the IDPs. All these acts of charity and concern for the vulnerable by Government are at best media hype and at worst some macabre window dressing. The handouts do not actually fill the long-term needs of those who have lost, perhaps, all their earthly belongings in one fell swoop.

 

Mini Estate In Makurdi

So now the question begging for answers is: what is the solution to the problem of perennial flooding in Makurdi?

True concern would be for the state government to ensure that the damage caused by floods in the state are reduced to the barest minimum. This, we believe, could partly be achieved by ensuring that a proper drainage system is constructed in Makurdi which happens to be perched on the river banks. If reports making the rounds that the award of a contract for the construction of a drainage system is true, then it behooves the Government to hold the contractor(s) responsible for the project to account for the monies collected as a matter of urgency. If however, this claim is spurious, then the state Government should commence the design and construction of a drainage system in earnest.

Secondly, Makurdi is situated in a valley on the banks of a major River. This means the town is ordinarily water logged and swampy. The town’s master plan has clearly mapped out waterways and channels and red flagged such areas against residential buildings. The Ministry of Lands and Survey, the government agency in charge of allotting plots to citizens has been most flagrant in allotting plots in these red flagged zones. Currently, residential homes have been built on water ways and channels regardless. These structures not only obstruct the natural course of water channels, but also mark the residents out for victimhood once floods occur. New residential areas like Nyiman Layout, BIPC Quarters, Kucha Utebe/Judges Quarters axis, etc. are amongst the areas where most of these infractions have occurred.

Thirdly, the effect of the global climate change and the consequent distortion of the natural order of things, occasioned by excessive rainfall, heat, and overflow of Rivers etc. must also be taken into account.  The campaign for preparedness against the effects of climate change has still not sunk into the consciousness of either the Federal or Benue State Governments resulting in knee jerk reactions in the face of disasters such as this. There is need for a proper scientific approach which will also involve some form of public awareness creation to sensitize people about their own responsibilities to protecting the environment as well as the attendant consequences of neglect.

The following short-term strategies might also be beneficial in the long run:

  • Culverts and gutters constructed along all streets and lanes that will ultimately connect to the central drainage system thereby channeling waters from various sources directly into the river.
  • Early warnings from meteorologists and emergency agencies should be taken serious and adequate preventive measures put in place.
  • The dredging of the River Benue should be carried out with every sense of urgency
  • Proper documentation and compensation of flood victims to enable them pick the pieces of their lives up especially Women.
  • Proper environmental impact assessment carried out

If all the above recommendations are properly implemented besides the construction of a drainage system in Makurdi and Benue State in general, when floods do come, the toll they take could be less grievous.

……. Laz Mom is a Program Director with Lawyers Alert

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Governanace, Human Rights

 

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Suit to challenge termination of employment on account on HIV status: Activists and PLHIV identify with Lawyers Alert

The suit challenging the termination of Mr X by his employers on account of his HIV status came up a fortnight ago  at the National Industrial Court in Abuja, and Activists including PLHIV were at hand to identify with the cause.  Persons from NEPWAN, APYIN, SOWCHAN, AHF, NINERELLA+, Heartland Alliance and ASHWAN flooded the court in show of solidarity. This followed advocacy efforts by Lawyers Alert in partnership with Enda Sante. The case of Mr. X, is lodged at the National Industrial Court Abuja by Lawyers Alert in partnership with Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).

“PLHIV have the Right to Employment” adorned T-Shirts was everywhere at the Court premises. Mr X lawyers, Bamidele Jacobs and Sunday Adaji  of Lawyers Alert, were ready and prepared to proceed with the matter which was slated for hearing. The Defendants however sought adjournment to adequately prepare owing to late service of vital documents. The judge granted their request for time to prepare their response and fixed the case to 31st of October 2017 as the next hearing date.

 

Bamidele Jacobs Esq, speaking to Activists after the case.

Sighting the number of people in the court room with their T-shirts on, the Judge opined that probably at the next adjournment, hearing maybe in Chambers and advised supporters in solidarity to be within the court premises and not in the courtroom.

After the hearing, Activists converged in Lawyers Alert office, where Yemi Agoro gave a welcome speech and deliver the greetings  while  Bar. Bamidele gave the history of the case,  and update of what actually transpired in the court room.

Amber Erinmwinhe of NINERELLA+ spoke on behalf of the organizations and Activists present to appreciate the effort of Lawyers Alert in getting justice for the PLHIV community in the country and pledge  continuous support anytime the need arise.

 

 

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The Nigeria proposed Non-Governmental Organisations’ Regulation Bill

By Sunday Adaji…Legal Officer, Lawyers Alert.

One of the most controversial Bills before the floor of the National Assembly (the law-making body of Nigeria) is the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Regulation Bill sponsored by the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Umar Buba. The bill has been described in many quarters as the most audacious and dangerous bills to make its way into the legislature in recent times. It might be recalled that prior to its introduction, a similar NGO Bill was presented to the National Assembly and rejected. This time, the Bill has not only gained acceptance, it is already well on its way to being passed into law.

Provisions of the Bill

According to government, the bill is necessitated by an urgent desire to curb the excesses of shady NGOs which have not only fallen into a pattern of ripping-off donor agencies but are also further tarnishing Nigeria’s already well battered image in addition to quietly funding terror attacks in the country. Noble ideals for sure, so why the alarm?

Well for one thing, the bill proposes to establish a regulatory commission to be headed by an Executive Secretary who will be appointed by the President for a term of 5 years. There will be a 17-man Governing Board led by a Chairman, all of whom will also be appointed by the President. The organization will be imbued with powers to license all NGOs failing which they would not be allowed to function. Only this license will confer legality upon the entity, and not the Corporate Affairs Corporation, CAC,  as is currently the status quo. Said license will be reviewed every 2 years if legal status is to be maintained. The Board also has the power to withhold the issuance of this license as it deems fit without explanation.

For another thing, this regulatory commission will be domiciled within the Ministry of Interior and the Minister given the powers to direct the Board as he sees fit. All NGOs will be required to regularly submit financial reports and sources of funding to the board and also seek permission for how same should be expended and on what projects. Failure to comply will be considered a crime to be punished accordingly (up to 18 months in prison).

The Board will also have the responsibility of determining which foreign donors can be approached for assistance. NGOs will be expected not only to comply with these laws but also all national and foreign policies. This Board, having such wide-reaching powers, will however, itself, remain unaccountable. It will enjoy substantial immunity under law and no judgements can be enforced upon it save with the express permission of the Attorney General’s office.

These provisions can at best be described as draconian and at worst as inimical to the progress of the nation as a whole. Over time, as governance gradually weakened in Nigeria, NGOs, both international and local picked up the slack, filling in gaps that should ordinarily never have existed were government functioning as it should.

General Reactions

In an interview with Channels TV, (a leading television station in Nigeria) on September 23, 2017, Chris Akiri, a law practitioner, expressed shock at how the bill had insidiously made its way through the system, escaping the attention of people like himself and other CSO partners. In Akiri’s words, “This Bill which gives government the power to regulate NGOs is an over-government. Why must government come in to interfere when an NGO has its accountant and auditor? The Bill should not see the light of the day. It has a negative effect. It makes me to nearly vomit. Government is trying to government non-governmental organisations.”

Referring to some sections in the NGO Bill, Akiri explained that by empowering a commission known as NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS REGULATION COMMISSION OF NIGERIA to regulate the activities of NGOs, the government would essentially be usurping and or replicating the power of the CAC (Corporate Affairs Commission) to incorporate, monitor and regulate the activities of NGOs.

Another personality interviewed alongside Akiri, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, the former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was in agreement with Barrister Akiri. In his words, “I was invited to moderate in a discourse on the NGO Bill, but they concluded that I would not be fair-minded. They therefore used bodyguards to bar me from attending the meeting. Why should you have a discourse and bring in bodyguards?”

Expressing further his displeasure over the NGO Bill, Odinkalu said: “It is certifiable nonsense to label NGOs as ‘certified terrorists’. NGOs are doing great work for citizens. Churches and mosques will also be affected by the NGO Bill. Churches and mosques are the earliest NGOs in the world. Presently, we have so many laws that regulate NGOs. We have CAMA (Companies and Allied Matters Act), EFCC (Economic and Financial Crime Commission) Act, etc. Let us implement these laws properly.” Odinkalu also questioned the wisdom in enacting laws expropriating other agencies deeming them counter-productive in the long run.

Pointing out the political undertone behind the National Assembly’s plan to pass the NGO Bill into law, Odinkalu cited the case of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who, in a bid to make himself life president, decertified NGOs that opposed his decision.

Further interrogated about NGOs ability to regulate themselves without government interference, Odinakalu clarified his position thus: “I am not an advocate for NGOs. What I am saying is that we have so many laws that regulate NGOs. We should apply these laws properly.”

Lawyers Alert’s Stance

LAWYERS ALERT does not have a contrary view from those indicated above. We do agree and reiterate the fact that there are already agencies whose functions include monitoring the activities of NGOs. These agencies should be empowered to carry out their roles optimally and regulate NGOs while checking the excesses or illegalities perpetuated either by fake or spurious entities. Government agencies like CAC, EFCC and the FIRS (Federal Inland Revenue Service) are just some of the organizations charged with the task of monitoring and regulating NGO activity in the country.

Certainly, all sectors have challenges and bad eggs and the NGO sector is not immune to this. However, while readily admitting this problem, LA believes that where it is necessary to enquire and investigate the activities of NGOs, the government can do so within the ambit of the existing laws and the agencies concerned. If the government has any grouse with NGOs, it certainly is not as a result of a paucity of laws regulating them. The obvious gap rather, is that government has not fully maximised these laws to prevent criminal elements from taking advantage of loopholes in the system to exploit donor agencies.

CAMA for instance, empowers the CAC to enquire, investigate and prosecute businesses, companies and incorporated Trustees (NGOs) on allegations of any offence. Similarly, EFCC is empowered to inquire, investigate and prosecute any individual, business, company and or NGO regarding any alleged financial crimes or offences. So also, is the FIRS. All the government needs to is to empower these agencies in such a way that their bite is as bad as their bark.

If those already in existence are being under-utilised by government, is there any guarantee that any new law will be better implemented?

Consequences

Should the NGO Bill eventually be enacted, what would be its impact on NGOs in Nigeria?

LAWYERS ALERT’s answer to this question is twofold:

  1. In the absence of any political undertone behind the National Assembly’s plan to pass the NGO Bill into law, the Bill might not make an impact. This is because, it is not the number of laws that matter but rather their effectiveness. What is crucial is the implementation of the already existing laws, not replicating them.
  2. If, on the other hand, there are political undertones behind the NGO Bill, as some have suggested, then the Bill will certainly have a negative impact on NGOs, especially human rights organisations in Nigeria. For instance, a party in power can capitalise on the provisos in the Bill to decertify NGOs that oppose its policies and activities. We all know that no genuine NGO will keep mute when a government in power infringes on the fundamental human rights of citizens.

Now, the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission (the body empowered by the NGO Bill to regulate national and international NGOs) is conferred with the function of registering and maintaining the register of NGOs. It also has power to deregister any NGO. In fact, section 13 subsection (4) of the Bill states: “An organisation that is not registered under the Act cannot operate in the country nor benefit from the facilities made available by the government to organisations which are registered under this Act, but in special cases, the Minister, on the advice of the Board, may make concessions under conditions of emergency.” By this proviso, it is easy for a government in power to decertify and silence any NGO that opposes its activities.

Conclusion

LAWYERS ALERT is of the view that since there are already laws and agencies that are empowered to regulate NGOs, it is of no use enacting the NGO Regulatory Bill. It is not the number of laws a country has that matters but the implementation of same. Thousands of laws do not translate to implementation. If government cannot apply existing laws to regulate NGOs, it would still have difficulty doing so with any new laws.

On the other hand, if the NGO Bill must be passed into law, many of its provisos should be reviewed and amended. And in doing so, members of the public and NGOs in Nigeria, as well as other stakeholders, should be involved in the discourse on the NGO Bill. We believe this will be the case once the bill is scheduled for public hearing as reiterated by the Chairman of the House Committee on CSOs and Development Partners, Mr. Akpatason.

We hope that at the end of the day, the decision that will be taken will be one that will encourage the activities and growth of NGOs in Nigeria, considering the humanitarian services they are rendering to citizens.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2017 in Human Rights, Uncategorized

 

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Women and Non-passage of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill by Nigeria Parliamentarians

Women and Non-passage of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill by Nigeria Parliamentarians

By Sunday Adaji Esq

Context

Wednesday the 26th of July 2017 will go down in history as the day Nigeria’s National Assembly (the country’s law-making body) acknowledged the need to reduce the age limit for elective offices thereby encouraging active participation in governance for younger Nigerians. If the executive does its part and the bill is eventually signed into law, 25-year olds can attempt to have their voices heard in the hallowed chambers of the law-making body, a far cry from the status quo which stipulates 30 years. And while the bill still leaves mixed feelings even amongst Nigerian youth dreading elite capture of the opportunity presented, it does signify a step in the right direction. The same cannot, however, be said for Gender equality as the bills seeking 35% Affirmative Action at Federal level and 20% at state level both received the death blow.

A whopping two thirds of the senators voted to throw the bills out.

Looking at the current composition of the National Assembly, perhaps this should have been anticipated. Out of 469 members of the two arms of the legislature, only 21 are female. Statistically, this means women comprise only 4% of the National Assembly. The situation is not significantly different in the executive arm which has only ever produced 1 female governor, Dame Virginia Ngozi Etiaba of Anambra state, whose tenure only lasted 4 months. Equally abysmal is female representation in other spheres such as economic activities, the labour market, social activities, trade and industry etc.

discrimination, including gender-based discrimination. To this end, section 42 (1) and (2) of the CFRN stipulates:

“42. (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person: –

(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or

(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.

(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.”

The Global Picture

It seems strange that while countries famed for being extremely conservative such as Saudi Arabia are becoming more open to providing better opportunities for their womenfolk, Nigeria, a democratic nation and the largest black nation on earth, seems to be regressing.

In January 2013, King Abdullah Bin Aziz, the Saudi leader, issued a decree introducing a 20% quota for women in the country’s 150-member Shura Council (the equivalent of Nigeria’s National Assembly), and appointed 30 women to join the consultative assembly. The king went a step further in May this year when he issued a decree ordering government agencies to list services women can seek from the authorities without permission from a male guardian as has been the norm. All this in a country which still won’t let women drive…but has at least conceded to provide transportation for them.

Closer home, in 2013, the Rwandan parliamentary election ushered in a record-breaking 64% seats won by female candidates. The government of Rwanda with the UN as a partner, has been pursuing gender equality since 1994, a concept which has remained alien to the Nigerian government owing to religious and cultural mores as the recent damage to the Affirmative Bills glaringly shows.

Yet, in the words of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu: “I recall that this senate is a very gender sensitive senate. We support women at all material times. Anytime we had issues concerning women, we stood by them.” Words which somehow failed to carry weight when it mattered most. Perhaps, memory fails him. It will be recalled that prior to the jettisoning of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill, the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOB) suffered a similar fate despite several modifications and re-presentations. At present, the Bill is again before the National Assembly, has passed the second reading and is currently before the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters. Whether it will be rejected again or be eventually passed into law, is anyone’s guess. Going by recent events, the prospects are bleak.

Although the National Assembly had unanimously agreed to merge the 35% Affirmative Action Bills with the GEOB, there are doubts about the legitimacy of their words owing to the overwhelming number of legislators who voted against the bill in the first instance.

Aftermath of Non-passage of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill

Data provided by Nigeria’s National Population Commission shows that women constitute more than 50% of Nigeria’s population. Going by these numbers, women clearly have vital roles to play in the growth and development of the country. However, they cannot perform these roles if denied the opportunity. The essence of the 35% Affirmative Action for women ministers at the Federal level is to encourage women participation in governance. The same thing goes with the 20% Affirmative Action for women as commissioners in the 36 states of the federation.

It should be noted that the non-passage of the Affirmative Action Bills by the National Assembly stands in direct contravention of the pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to which Nigeria is signatory. The document strives to attain gender parity in all spheres of governance.

Again, by the non-passage of the Affirmative Action Bills, Nigerian women despite their huge numbers, continue to be marginalised and discriminated against both in governance and in other spheres of national life.

There is no gain saying that with such a large population, the more women participate in governance, the more the nation, as a whole, benefits. Empowered women would contribute significantly to the economic, socio-political development of the country. It does seem, sadly, that our legislators have knowingly put the wheels in motion to achieve the reverse.

Way Forward

For Nigeria to become an egalitarian society, we must consider the issue of gender equality seriously. We must consider the changing roles of women in Nigeria. Nigeria is not a male society, it is a mix of male and female, and ironically, females constitutes the bulk of the population.

The way forward is for the National Assembly to now live up to its word and merge both the Affirmative Action Bills and the Gender & Equal Opportunities Bill into one document for assent into law.

We are a nation of approximately 170 million people. We cannot leave half that number out of governance based primarily on biological differences and hope to maximise the gains of human capital.

The capacity to change the course of history lies with our legislators. Let’s hope they seize it with both hands to give Nigeria a competitive advantage in the comity of nations.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

WOMEN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS ON THE PLATEAU: A RISING WARNING OCTAVE

By Jerome Uneje

Bang! Bang!! Bang!!! Bot (not real name) keeps hitting on the door as he hollers her name in the still of the night. Kangyang, (not real name) 28, and a Mother of two slowly sits up in her hard, and narrow wooden bed. She picks up her small handset to check the time. The broken screen shows 1: 17 am. Oh no… not again. She hisses, gets up and opens the door for her husband. He staggers in and begins his routine of abuse and insults in slurred speech occasioned by too much alcohol. She is quiet and takes on the abuses with a dignified silence. He pushes away his food and demands sex. This time, Kangyang refuses. She has been busy on the farm all day and is too tired for sex and asks for a little more time to rest. Bot will have none of that. She stands her ground. A scuffle ensues. Bot grabs Kangyang by the throat and begins to shake her violently. She struggles, but her blocked wind pipe cannot take in enough oxygen to sustain her strength. She gasps and gasps while Bot tightens his grip. She finally weakens and slumps, dead.

Kangyang’s story is an everyday narrative in Nigeria. Violence against Women is as common place as any other vice. The United Nations Fund for Population Agency (UNFPA) reported in 2016 that Gender Based Violence, especially against women has a prevalence rate of over 30% across the country. This translates into 1 out of every 10 Women in Nigeria as a victim of violence in one form or more. The same report has it that over 25% of Nigerian women are circumcised.

There has been an unprecedented rise in violence against women in spite of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition Act) 2015. In Plateau State for instance, reports indicate that Violence against women is on the rise. Reports from the Media and other stakeholders including the Civil Society in Plateau State has it that in the last one year, there have been up to 430 reported cases of violations against Women in the State. Of these figures, 123 are rape cases of which 96 or 80% involve minors. There are over 21 cases of murder and many more.

Currently, efforts are being made by State and Non-State Actors in Plateau state to curb this fast rising menace to the womenfolk. The Civil Society has formed an observatory platform that monitors and documents these violations. According to our sources, the Observatory Platform has over 23 Civil Society and other key stakeholders. It is this platform that has recorded the over 430 cases of violations in Plateau State over the period of 1 year alone.

Besides the efforts Civil Society, the Plateau State House of Assembly, worried by the rising cases of violations against women, has initiated an Executive bill which seeks to penalize perpatrators of violence against women. The proposed bill seeks to strengthen the old Northern Nigeria Penal Code under which offenders are currently charged and tried. The Northern Nigeria Penal Code is archaic and does not speak to current realities on ground. The proposed bill is yet to be passed and it’s still in the formative stages in the Plateau State House of Assembly.

Lawyers Alert commends the efforts of both the State and Non-State Actors in Plateau State in tackling the issue of violence against Women. Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a menace that should concern every member of the society, regardless of status.

Given the above therefore, Lawyers Alert as a Human Rights Organization and a staunch advocate of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, wishes to make the following suggestions to both the Civil Society and Government Institutions in Plateau State and Nigeria as a whole, in their efforts to curb the violations against Women and other vulnerable groups.

Regarding the efforts of the Civil Society, Lawyers Alert suggests that;

  • Recorded violations should not be stopped at the documentation stages alone but such cases should be taken to Court where the perpetrators will be adequately punished and the victims compensated
  • Monitored and documented violations should be analysed by the Civil Society in order to pattern out a trend in the violations. This will help in directing advocacy courses and programs.
  • There should be a pool of Human Rights Lawyers set to offer pro bono services to the victims of these violations especially for the poor and vulnerable.
  • Civil Society should push for the passage and implementation of laws and policies that protect and empower Women including international, regional and local instruments.

To Government Institutions:

  • They should endeavour to pass laws and policies that protect and empower Women
  • Put in place structures and procedures to assure the full implementation of passed and domesticated laws in their States.
  • Put in place structures and platforms that empower Women in economic and social terms through the formulation of laws, policies and special interventions like Women Skill acquisition programs amongst others.

In conclusion, Women Rights are Human Rights guaranteed by laws. The violations against Women must be condemned and discouraged in strong terms at all levels in Nigeria and Plateau State in particular. Failure to take proactive measures in this regard could lead to more episodes of the Kangyang story in our communities.

 

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