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Lawyers Alert is a Human Rights NGO into capacity building, legal assistance, good governance and documentation of rights abuses, especially of women and other vulnerable groups.

Benue: Of Cattle Colonies, Ranching and Grazing Routes

By Rommy Mom

Growing up on the Plateau, in the 80s, the yearly tradition was to see Herdsmen arrive on the rocky plains just before the rains, setting up their huts. They would daily graze their cattle in non-farming areas down the plains. As the rains dried up the Fulanis would demolish those dwellings and move on. There absolutely was no crisis. Principally for 2 reasons: the Fulani dwelled on the rocks, while their cattle grazed on weedy spaces between the mountains, far from the plains being used as farmlands.

Desertification has brought in new challenges, amongst which is the elimination of suitable grazing areas for the cattle. This, in turn, has led to the herdsmen now grazing their cattle on farmlands and sometimes actual farms, leading to the chaos that is now being witnessed in the Benue basin. I concede the situation might not be as simplistic as painted above, but undoubtedly, this is the basis of all Nigeria is going through today with Herdsmen.

Enter Benue. This is a state where every inch of land not built upon is converted to some agricultural use, gardening or keeping livestock. The rural areas are inhabited 100% by full time farmers. No hyperbole intended, practically every inch of land in these area are farmlands. Even among natives and indigenes, communal clashes have ensued over farmlands. The question of the Fulanis therefore going through routes in Benue or grazing on certain lands will appear to be a non-starter. Do you displace the inhabitants to create spaces for cattle? Do you pay compensation to the rural populace for cattle to pass? Again these questions are neither here nor there, since the presence of government, especially the Federal Government, is virtually absent in these rural communities.

In practical terms therefore, the tradition of herdsmen building transit camps for settlement and grazing for a season, then moving onwards, cannot find a place in Benue, as it was in the Plateau. How does the Benue person who is economically tied to, and survives on his land, as his only source of livelihood, hand same over to herdsmen for the welfare of their cattle?

For the Fulani man, the idea of their nomadic settlements, grazing and onward movement is a fact the Benue people must live with. Therefore, the acquisition of territories for settlement and grazing is now being enforced even if with consequent bloodshed.

Today parts of Guma, Logo, and Kwande LGAs of Benue State are inhabited by the Fulanis and every year, there is a further push for more land. These are the barefaced facts that Nigerians must be made aware of.

Ortom Ortom

How do you solve this problem?

The Federal and State Governments are not on the same page with regard to a solution. While the Benue state government has promulgated the Benue State Anti-Open Grazing Law 2017, the Federal Government appears displeased with it. The law in a nutshell bans grazing in all its forms in Benue and has stated therein penalties for such. It also has enforcement mechanisms therein. No doubt the state government has the interest of its people at heart. At the last count, there has been an average of 41 herdsmen’s clashes, yes 41, between 2013 and 2017.   Thousands of lives have been lost. Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps are now littered across the state especially in Guma, Makurdi and Logo LGAs.

There are neither remedial nor assistance measures from the Federal Government in mitigating the situation. For an economically disadvantaged state like Benue, battling with salaries and infrastructure, IDPs and unemployed indigenes uprooted from their farmlands is the last problem a responsible government would want on its hands.

This is why the promulgation of the anti-grazing law is perfectly understood and in order. Take grazing out of Benue, all the associated deaths, IDPs camps, properties lost and the economic effect of all of the chaos would have been avoided.

The FG on the other hand, is advocating for grazing routes and colonies. One of the arguments is that grazing routes have been in existence for centuries. The question however is, what is the position of the law with regard to land in Benue?

All lands in Nigeria today are administered and regulated by the Land Use Act of 1978. Under this law, all urban lands in Benue are held for the good of the people under the trusteeship of the Governor. While the rural lands are under the LG administrators.

The effect of this therefore, is that the FG has no say with regard to land in Benue. It is the government of Benue that will even provide the FG with land for any project in Benue. Under our jurisprudence, the FG cannot compel the Benue state government to open up the state lands for cattle routes or cattle colonies. It is a legal impossibility.

The Benue state anti-grazing law is therefore in order, proper and just.

If, and assuming the FG and Herdsmen require an inch of the land in Benue, they will have to apply to the Benue State Government for such lands and if the government is convinced that it is for the overriding community good as stated in the Land Use Act, the decision will be that of the State Government. This is why the seeming arm-twisting by the FG for grazing routes and or cattle colonies in the state is off the rails.

Whatever the situation, what makes sense now is this: removal of all cattle and herdsmen in any form from Benue. Let some semblance of peace and non-bloodletting be the order of the day. It is only in this state of affairs that any conversation or talk of cattle colonies or grazing routes will make sense.

Any action outside that for now would amount to dancing on the graves of the departed.

As a member of the constitutional conference, I opined that the Fulanis are not ordinarily nomadic but rather compelled by circumstances of grazing to so be. Two years after the confab, the Fulanis have remained essentially nomadic and the consequences is what we now face. Time to tame the menace referred to as grazing, cattle colonies, ranches or grazing routes, in whatever form.

Rommy Mom Esq

President, Lawyers Alert, 08036081967, rommym@lawyersalertng.org

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2018 in Governanace, Human Rights

 

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AMPLIFYCHANGE VISITS LAWYERS ALERT

A representative of AmplifyChange, Mr. Patrick MccLure paid a working visit to the Abuja Office of Lawyers Alert located at Area 11, Garki Abuja. The visit which took place on the 27th day of November 2017 afforded both parties the opportunity to discuss organizational and project issues, particularly as it involves gender based violence. Discussion also covered our partnership and other areas of interest. The President of Lawyers Alert, Mr. Rommy Mom who spoke on continued collaboration and partnership noted that Lawyers Alert maiden reports on SRHR violations in Nigeria was a joint collaboration by the organizations. AC pic

Patrick McClure and some Staff of Lawyers Alert

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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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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