It is with heavy hearts that the members, staff, and management of Lawyers Alert formally announce the passing of our one-time President, Barrister Moses Udam, who served as President between 2010 to 2012. Moses Udam was murdered on the night of Tuesday, December 15, 2020, in his home in Makurdi, Benue State, alongside his wife by assailants, yet to be tracked and arrested.
The unfortunate incident has come to Lawyers Alert as a total shock given Moses was a good-natured person with a peaceful disposition and total commitment to the plight of the underprivileged, especially prisoners. He facilitated the release of hundreds of detainees at detention centers and was a human rights activist of repute, especially in Benue and North Central Nigeria.
During his time at Lawyers Alert, Moses was noted for selfless service, always looking out for the weak, humane disposition and hard work amidst a deep conviction that free legal services are key to access to justice. He served as the North Central Coordinator of the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, over two terms.
Upon leaving Lawyers Alert he made an unsuccessful bid to win elections to serve as Chairman of the Makurdi Local Government. He was running a very successful law practice, with a leaning to free legal services for the downtrodden before his murder alongside his wife.
Lawyers Alert mourns Moses and regrets the poor state of security where Nigerians lose lives to assailants and men of the underworld at a rate that is presently worrisome. The ability to get away with these crimes, as in the present case, is a strong motivation for men of the underworld.
We call on the government to enhance internal security across the country as this is key in the respect to life and property, the primary function of government. We equally call for the apprehension and trial of the killers of Moses Udam and his wife.
Lawyers Alert will be organizing a colloquium “Security, Access to justice and Right to Life” on the 4th of February 2021 at Benue Hotels, Makurdi in honor of Moses Udam.
As we all prepare for the holiday and festive season, Lawyers Alert encourages all to #TakeResponsibility to limit the spread of #COVID19 . Always wear a face mask and practice other preventive measures.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) regional director has said that in the past few weeks the number of new COVID-19 cases had doubled in more than half of European member states. He said that 300,000 new infections were reported across Europe last week alone and weekly cases had exceeded those reported during the first peak in March. According to the WHO, there have been five million confirmed cases and more than 228,000 fatalities across Europe since the pandemic began. WHO has also predicted that with the commencement of the winter, countries in northern hemisphere will witness massive spread of COVID-19. Altogether over 30 million persons in the world have contracted the virus since December 2019 when it was discovered in Wuhan, China, till date.
In view of these staggering statistics, there is need for countries all over the world to realize that though the precautionary measures being adopted since the beginning of this year have helped significantly in reducing the spread, COVID-19 is still very much with us and if we fail to enforce the precautionary measures, the spread this time may be much more disastrous. In Nigeria, as in other African countries where we have greater proportion of the world’s vulnerable persons, the importance of enforcing precautionary measures cannot be overemphasized. The quick response from President Mohammadu Buhari’s government and from other state governors leading to the lock down of virtually the entire country was very effective in curtailing the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria. Also effective is the social distancing rule, the use of face masks in public places, coughing into elbows, and regular washing of hands and sanitizing.
Doubtless, the negative effect of these precautionary measures was massive. Many countries, including Nigeria, went down into recession, though some economists reported that even shortly before the lockdown in March 2020, Nigeria has already plunged into recession. Many workers lost their jobs during the lockdown in Nigeria. The daily-paid workers went through grueling period as they could not go out to work and earn a living. Be that as it may, the positive impact of the enforcement of the precautionary measures outweighed the negative effect. Think of the 200 million Nigerians whose lives were protected against the deadly COVID-19 infection.
Applying Sustained Precautionary Measures
Globally, some of these precautionary measures have been relaxed. The airports, seaports, cities and public places have reopened. In Nigeria, we have quickly gone back to square one. Presently, it is as though there is nothing like COVID-19. The social distancing rules are no longer observed. Commercial transporters are now conveying more passengers in their vehicles. Our churches and mosques have reopened. Our schools and colleges have reopened. But for the ASUU strike, all our universities will have also reopened. Other precautionary measures like regular washing of hands with soap and hand sanitizing are no longer observed. Go to our courts of law and other government offices, only very few are providing hand sanitizers and water as well as soap for members of the public. The same goes for the use of face masks. Only very few Nigerians are using face masks presently.
Does it mean, then, that COVID-19 has gone? Are we not presently recording cases of COVID-19 infection? The fact is: COVID-19 has come but has not gone. We are still recording cases of COVID-19 infection. The infection is still spreading. Sometimes we witnessed drops in the number of infected persons, but the virus is still as potent as it was. Presently, there is apprehension that there is going to be further spread and it will be much more disastrous. WHO has confirmed this.
What is important to note at this stage is that if there is going to be further spread, the effect will be much more disastrous. This is because, people are no longer observing the social distancing rules. This writer is not saying that Nigeria should be locked down perpetually. While the lockdown may be eased to the extent that people can go about their normal business, as it is presently, other preventive measures should be STRICTLY observed. For instance, the use of face masks should be enforced in public places. Commercial transporters should reduce the number of passengers they carry. Overcrowding should be avoided in public places. And in all public places, water, soap and hand sanitizers should be provided to members of the public.
The last straw that will definitely break the camel’s yoke is vaccine. This is what the whole world is waiting for. COVID-19 has been devastating and a renewed spread of the infection can be much more devastating, but with a vaccine that is safe and effective, the spread will not only be punctuated, the virus will be demystified. Presently over 150 vaccines are being developed to control the spread of the infection, but none has completed clinical trials yet. In August 2020, Russia became the first country to license a vaccine for local use. Russian scientists later reported that early signs showed signs of an immune response. But other experts doubted the effectiveness, stating that the trials were too small to prove effectiveness and safety.
Among all the drugs being tested, only steroids have been proven to save lives and the discovery has been a significant breakthrough. The United Kingdom’s (UK’s) recovery trial points to the fact that the steroid dexamethasone is safe and effective, and “cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen.” Another research proved that another type of steroids called Hydrocortisone is equally effective.
The Fate of Vulnerable Persons
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, those that are worse hit are the vulnerable persons. In view of the expected renewed surge/spike in the spread of COVID-19, the next six months (June 2021) will be crucial to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable persons the world over, especially those in the developing countries. Apart from the fact that it will take up to six months or more to come up with a clinically tested and approved vaccine, another challenge vulnerable persons will face is access to the vaccine. Vulnerable persons can hardly make both ends meet, not even to talk of having money to pay for the vaccine. Again, if vaccines are made free by the UN through WHO, how soon can these vaccines reach vulnerable persons who are mostly dwelling on the fringes of the society?
For this reason, while we await the emergence of vaccines that will put paid to the deadly virus, it is important that government of countries all over the world enforce preventive measures to protect vulnerable persons against contracting the infection.
Lawyers Alert hereby puts our readers on notice that this article is based on the writer’s opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization except otherwise stated.
Rights are God’s given, are these rights applicable to only men in some African Communities? One would ask. In many African communities, women are been subjected to harmful practices which violates their fundamental human rights as human beings, some of these practices includes female genital mutilation, domestic labour , right to education amongst others.
In many African communities, women and girls are seen as lesser human beings, they are force to go through all forms of human rights violations owing to their gender, these violations are often not reported or documented, and it affects their mental health and reduces their self-esteem. Do women and girls have right in some African Communities? I asked.
In some African Communities, women cannot own land or right to child custody and when their husband dies, they are force to bath the dead body and drink the water in other to appease gods of the land, these practices are not applicable to men when their wives dies. Do the African woman and the girl child has right? I asked. Gender based violence is not a big deal in many African communities even in the cities, laws and policies are weak. In Kogi state Nigeria, a lady was beaten to pulp by the state commissioner which attracted the attention of many human rights defenders but it was not a big deal in the eyes of many just because she is a woman.
If truly rights are God’s given and if African women and girls have rights, we must begin to advocate for proper protection of the African woman from harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, right to child custody and right to western education amongst others. Women are better managers and home builders; we cannot subject them to harmful practices without protection. Let’s support the African women and the girl child to enjoy full rights as men do without gender inequality. Women too have rights, we must enhance them.
Human Rights is celebrated every 10th day of December over the world. The day has been chosen to coincide with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – a document detailing the 30 fundamental rights that are said to be naturally available to any one born human – in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Human Rights Day affords every country and other smaller entities the opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in rebuilding the world. It is an occasion for individuals, organizations and even nations to show solidarity with one another and create awareness about the rights of the people. The chosen topic of this piece has actually been adopted from the theme for this year’s celebration. In view of the ravaging and damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that took the world by shock, it is not strange that this theme has been chosen. As countries recover from the incalculable destruction done to its economy and the human capital, I presume the theme is reminding us that we can only recover better when all of us stand up to defend our rights and those of others. Enough of our indolence as it concerns issues of human rights.
A cursory look at relevant records and statistics in Africa does not present any encouraging pictures as the continent has become notorious for armed conflicts with all forms of violations including torture; worse forms of communal violence with large number of internally displaced persons as never before witnessed; arbitrary arrests and other incidence of extra-judicial killings; serious violence against the weakest citizens; human trafficking and various forms of modern slavery; severe economic deprivations; extreme cases of insecurity, just to mention a few. Indeed, all these are common indicators of serious human rights violations, just as they undermine the relevance of any government and the entrenchment of constitutional democracy. The continent of Africa is acclaimed to be home to the largest number of people that live in abject poverty. In fact, Africa holds the records in virtually all the negative indicators that exist- has about the highest maternal mortality rates, extreme low literacy levels and very poor healthcare systems. Such pictures do not in any way give hope of any better future for the continent. At best, they have crystallized into reactions that have placed the situations in Africa in vicious cycles that qualify for extreme emergencies.
In Nigeria, the human rights situation is not any different from the general picture that the continent of Africa portrays. The human rights records coming out of and about this country have been gloomy. It is even ironical that the self-acclaimed constitutional democracy that the country assumed since 1999 has not done anything to improve the situation. Across Nigeria, reports abound of unprecedented hostilities to peaceful and legitimate protests, unlawful arrests and detentions without trials, farmers–herders conflicts, banditries and insurgencies leading to abductions, rape and other sexual abuses. All over Nigeria, especially in the North Eastern part, thousands of lives have been lost and a large number of people displaced from their homes thereby leading Nigeria to have one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. The Boko Haram terrorists that have operated almost freely in parts of the country have cut short the educational pursuits of many school girls and other children. It is of particular interest that all these are happening in country where basic access to education is so low.
In recent times, there have been serious attempts by governments and their agencies to stifle the social and other media and to also shrink the civil society spaces. A lot have been done by the two chambers of the National Assembly to pass laws that would muzzle the social media and that which would cede the controls of civil societies to government. Success in this direction would see freedom of expression gravely impeded.
Although some critical pieces of legislation such as the Violence Against Persons (Prohibited) Act, the Child’s Rights Act, the Administration of the Criminal Justice, Act and HIV/AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act have been passed in the last five years or so to booster the rights of the relevant population; not much has been achieved in terms of implementations. These laws being products of the National Assembly will need domestication in the various states to make them operational at that level. As at the last count, no single one of the pieces of legislation has enjoyed domestication in more than half of the 36 states of the federation. This development does not show that things are looking up and going in the direction.
As the world celebrates the Human Rights Day, it would be appropriate to recall that sometime in August 2017, Vice President Osinbajo (then acting as the president) in August 2017 constituted a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. The panel conducted hearings across the country and submitted its findings to the presidency in February 2018. As of December 2020, the content of the report had not been made public. It cannot also be forgotten in a hurry the recent ENDSARS protests that swept across the country and some of the alleged violations and human rights abuses that accompanied them. The popular Lekki killings where men in military uniforms were said to have opened fire on armless civilians is still fresh in our memories. Right now, judicial panels of enquiry are being set up to investigate allegations of abuses against police personnel. While the dusts generated by the controversies surrounding the setting up of the panels are yet to settle, it is expected that the reports to be submitted by same will be considered and implemented. This is the only way we can show the world that we are serious and ready to safeguard the rights of our people.
As the theme for this year’s celebration goes, the world can only recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic only if we all stand up for human rights. The era of standing aloof must be over if we all seek to be free from all forms of oppressions. Lawyers Alert as an organization says it is not over until it is over. We need to be reminded of the popular saying of Edmund Burke that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Following the #EndSARS protests on human rights violations alleged to have been committed by the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), judicial panels of inquiry have been established at national and state levels. Their mandates include receiving and investigating complaints of human rights violations; evaluating evidence presented, drawing conclusions in respect of the complaint(s) and making recommendations on remedies and reparation. These inquiries will be conducted and concluded within a specified period ranging from one month to six months.
The Nigerian Human Rights Commission, Lawyers Alert and the International Commission of Jurists will be supporting the work of the judicial panels of inquiry to strengthen their capacity to conduct the inquiries more effectively.
To that end, the Nigerian Human Rights Commission, Lawyers Alert and ICJ will be conducting a one-day induction seminar for the members of the Panels of inquiry. This will be run virtually on the 2 December 2020.
The eminent presenters at the induction seminar are as follows: Tony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Hon. Justice Suleiman Galadima JSC (rtd), Chairman of the Independent Investigative Panel on SARS, Professor Christof Heyns, Director, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA); former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Rommy Mom ESQ, President Lawyers Alert & Hon. Commissioner, Human Rights, Police Service Commission; Hon. Justice Biobele Abraham Georgewill, JCA; Prof Solomon Ebobra, Dean Faculty of Law, Niger Delta University.
Just a few weeks ago, a friend put up a video on his WhatsApp story, people were wailing in the background, someone they loved had just passed from coronavirus. The local department of health had come to pick up the corpse. No farewell, no burial, no proper send-off, not even hugs; this is the reality of the highly uncertain times we now live in. So many people have had to bid their loved ones final goodbyes over Facetime or phone calls because of the stringent rules at isolation centers that forbid the physical presence of uninfected kin and friends; nothing prepares you for situations like these.
The coronavirus pandemic is nothing like any of us have experienced before, this novel virus has robbed us of a lot of things – our freedom, economic stability, health, financial security, jobs, peace and more importantly for some of us – our loved ones.
Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation are public health actions that have hampered traditions and processes people typically rely on to make their grieving process easier. All these have been yanked away and replaced by loneliness and feelings of anxiety and stress.
The big question is what do we do with all this grief?
Grieving is a natural human reaction to a painful loss such as the passing of a loved one, there is evidence to suggest that the sudden passing of the ones we love such as losses associated with COVID19 can even be more detrimental as most people cannot cognitively wrap their heads around it thus leaving them in a state of mental limbo.
While it is unrealistic to set a timeline to mourn and grieve the loss of a loved one, grief that goes on for too long when left unattended to can persist indefinitely and have long term consequences on the emotional and mental health of anyone involved. Sadness, numbness, disbelief, anger, insomnia are some of the common reactions you may experience while grieving.
What else is to be expected?
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as ‘a common and serious illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act’.
Recent data from around the world have shown a significant rise in anxiety and depression in many people; this has been linked to isolation from friends and families, job losses, uncertainty about the future, increasing fear of loved ones, or even them contracting the virus and falling ill. These changes may have a notable effect on people already living with depression and heighten mental health struggles on the vulnerable.
Depression can be a consequence of living through this pandemic but it is treatable and you are not alone.
Prolonged Grief Disorder
Prolonged Grief Disorder, also known as complicated grief is defined as grief that lasts for more than six months and interferes with your normal functioning. It is distinctively different from depression and characterized by a distressing and inescapable yearning for the deceased, accompanied by anger, guilt, and other symptoms indicative of intense emotional pain. According to the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 372, No. 2, 2015), without treatment prolonged grief increases the risk of substance use, sleep disorders, impaired immune functioning, and suicidal thinking.
Prolonged grief is expected to increase post-COVID 19 deaths as its symptoms are usually on the rise when the death that caused it is unexpected and happens with no chance to observe traditional grief rituals e.g viewing and burial of body (Castle and Phillips, 2003).
COVID19 is taking away the lives of people who otherwise wouldn’t have died and one of the expected effects is survivor’s guilt.
Survivor’s guilt is a type of self-guilt that occurs after a traumatic event; it occurs when someone feels like they have done something wrong by surviving a life-threatening situation while other people did not. In some situations, it is legitimate e.g causing an accident that led to someone’s death, other times, it is not, as nothing could have been done to alter the outcome of the situation.
Anyone experiencing certain symptoms like flashbacks, jumpiness, or nightmares for longer than a month might need to see a doctor and get evaluated for a trauma-related condition like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD).
It Is Okay To Not Be Okay.
The pain of losing a loved one is real and everyone affected needs to understand that they will benefit greatly from seeking help from a licensed mental health specialist or psychologist. For so many people living in Nigeria, we parade ourselves as being highly resilient and thus therapy is unheard of and often referred to as part of western culture but the consequences of bottling things up are never positive. A trained specialist helps articulate your emotions and challenge the irrational thoughts you might have. They are experts at recognizing the uniqueness of different individuals and have tailored strategies that help you better handle fear, anxiety, and guilt.
Their have treatment plans are evidence-based and can help you overcome sadness and depression.
What Can You Do?
Wear a facemask
Studies show that masks reduce the risk of inhaling spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth, they serve as a barrier against respiratory droplets A mask offers you some sort of protection especially if you are in a room with an infected person.
Wearing one however should not replace social distancing and regular washing and disinfecting hands.
Isabella cries out loud as she saw her nude pictures and other personal information posted on social media by her ex-husband. Her friend Aurora rushed into the room with towel on her chest to inquire on what the situation is, Isabella looked at her with a sad face and said, you can’t believe what I saw on social media, Isabella gave her the phone and she saw the nude pictures and other personal information the Ex-husband posted, OMG! She screamed. How can your ex-husband be so cruel?
According to Global Fund for Women, Online violence against women is an overt expression of the gender discrimination and inequality that exists offline. In 2015, the UN Broadband Commission warned that cyber VAWG had become “a global problem with serious implications for societies and economies around the world.” It noted that 73% of women and girls had encountered some form of online violence; that women were 27 times more likely to be abused online than men; that 61% of online harassers were male; and that women aged between 18 and 24 were at particular risk.
Online violence against women has become a common experience especially for lesbians, bisexual or trans women or any combination, women in politics, journalism and women with disabilities. This creates an environment with the intention of raising alarm, body shaming, intimidating or humiliating and pushing women/girls offline. This is usually directed towards those who are trying to amplify their voices on the issues faced by women/girls online. Online abuse against women/girls is also increasingly being used as a tactic to publicly use power over women, thereby preventing them from expressing themselves freely, which is a fundamental right of everyone regardless of gender identification and/or orientation. Sometimes, Men are also harassed online, but women are the target, online harassment quickly descends into sexualized hate or threats.
The greatest impacton women and girls when they experience violence online is self-restriction, and that is what the abusers want. Most times only physical violence is taken seriously, but as it stands online violence is equally harmful. As it is the case with most women, they turn to avoid social media platforms after being harassed. Online violence is a public health issue and the effects are very harmful; it results in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm, and erodes self-esteem.
Internet access is growing across all continents. With the advent of COVID-19 that has impacted the way of lives of the people, every attention has tilted more to internet usage than ever before and offline violence has extended to online, which makes it easier for people to commit violence without consequences. Women are the main targets of online violence, especially women with voices, like female journalists and politicians. Online harassment can include bullying, trolling, cyber stalking, defamation and hate speech, public shaming, and identity theft and hacking amongst other offences.
Online protection is an urgent priority every single day, billions of people around the world use social media to connect, report abuses that happened offline, learn and share as well as for everyday communications. Social media platforms can help give a voice to the voiceless by raising the profile of some of the most marginalized women and girls in the society.
Many women/girls around the world are experiencing attacks on their websites and social media pages, a host of attackers have succeeded in hacking into and gaining control over women’s and activists’ accounts just to cause alarm, intimidate and harass them and also use their personal images and details to scam their followers.
Online violence against women and girls is real with attendant effects and sometimes it moves from online to offline. Women/girls are learning to expect and accept abuse as a normal part of their daily life experience. Most women/girls have reduced the usage of social media owing to abuse and harassment, while those who are still active on these platforms are forced to change how they express themselves to avoid harassment, which has driven most of them to depression.
Girls around the world have written an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, the world’s most influential social media platforms, to create ways to report abuses and harassment in order to be free and secure when online.
COVID-19 has move more of our lives online, it’s vital that social media space is safe for women and girls.
Isabella’s ex-husband was arrested and detained by the police officers for violating his ex-wife’s right to privacy.
Government should create effective and accessible reporting mechanisms that target gender-based violence online
Government should hold perpetrators of rights violations to accountable
Social media platforms should also create a safe reporting mechanism that will be safe for women and girls.
Over the years, there have been serious increase in Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the society. The upsurge in these violence manifests in the forms of forced marriages, mental and sexual assaults, rape, harmful traditional practices, socio-economic Violence, Female Genital Mutilation etc. GBV has resulted in a lot of psychological and mental trauma for Victims. Statistics have shown that 3 out of every 10 Nigerian experience GBV at age 15. It is from this view that GBV can be seen as a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s’ ability to enjoy rights and freedom on the basis of equality with men. In other words, GBV is anything done to put a woman at a position of not being able to enjoy some rights as provided by law equally with men.
The Gender Unit and PDSS.
In responding to the rise in GBV, the Nigeria Police Force created the Gender Unit at the Force Criminal Intelligence & Investigation Department (Force CIID) across the six geo-political zones of the country on 21st October, 2014. The major task before this unit is to encourage survivors of GBV to report incidence of violations for possible prosecution of perpetrators anyone culpable of such offences. A former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase once said that the gender unit of the Force CIID was set up due to the predominant rate of sexual and gender based violence in the society. Through the years, the GU has brought justice to the door steps of Nigerians faced with these issues.
By the establishment of the GU, the Police Force is no longer hesitating to prosecute anyone found culpable of a GBV to serve as a deterrent to other perpetrators. This has helped to curb Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria and the menace of the Violence. Force Gender Unit had since its inception embarked on full campaign against SGBV due to the daring dangers it portends.
Violence against women is the most pervasive, yet a less recognized human right in the world. A lot of cultures and traditions in the society, unconsciously or ignorantly support violence against women and girls. As a result of this, the so-called inhabitants of these cultures and traditions harbour the perpetrators of these crimes and condemn the victims with tirades, thereby, encouraging impunity and recurrence. Most perpetrators have succeeded in sending most women and girls to emotional and psychological torments by their actions.
Working hand-in-hand with the GU is the Police Duty Solicitors Scheme of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria which was established in 2004 to help reduce the excessive use of partial detention by providing free legal advice to suspects at the police stations, the points at which the decision to detain or release pending trial are being made. Services of young Lawyers completing their compulsory national services are being deployed as duty solicitors to various police stations in the states.
Challenges Identified by Partners.
Lawyers Alert, a Rights Based Organization is partnering with the GU and the PDSS in addressing the challenges faced by both the GU and the PDSS in the course of discharging the duties imposed by the tasks here. The partnership began with meetings held in three project states of Plateau, Niger and the FCT on the 10th and 17th of September 2020. The first Meeting was held in FCT to address some of the challenges being faced in delivering the respective mandates that include:
Obtaining sustainable Evidence
Inadequate synergy between the Police /stakeholders
Lack of shelter for survivors
Discrimination and Stigmatization
Inadequate sensitization of members of the public/survivors of violence(SGBV)
Religious Influence/Societal Norms and Practices
Exclusion of Religious Bodies in active Stakeholders meeting
Rigor of Judicial Processes.
Unwillingness of Survivors of Violence.
The second meetings were also held in the three project states on the 5th and 12th November 2020. The purpose of the meetings is to introduce women groups to the GU and the PDSS. It was also to create a network of organizations that work together to address issues of SRHR and GBV in Nigeria. it was in the course of these meetings that they identified the challenges that Women groups faced in reporting violations. At the end of the meetings the following challenges clearly standout:
Awareness creation/sensitization on SGBV.
Professionalism/Non Descrimination(Police and other security)
Non stigmamtization of Survivours of SGBV
Synergy between Police,PDSS and other Women Groups
Lack of Shelter for Survivours
Transfer of an Office.
Trainings should be given to police officers working on SRHR and GBV issues. LA believes if the capacity of officers working in these areas is built the challenges identify by the women groups will totally be eliminated
Apart from all that have been said so far, All the partners in this relationship recognise the need to develop a Women Satisfaction Index. This tool aims to monitor women’s satisfaction with the services rendered. From time to time, analysed results from this tool are shared with the GU & the PDSS towards addressing gaps noticed for improved service delivery. This will be ongoing even as LA & its partners continuously provide free legal services & document violations. LA believes that as the GU & PDSS begin to effectively address VAWG alongside, these issues will be reduced & access to justice enhanced for women. This model of interventions in the 3 states can be replicated in the other states towards effectively addressing VAWG in Nigeria.
It has been seen that a protest which started on a peaceful note escalated into something that even the protesters did not foresee. The protest was hijacked by hoodlums who exhibited all manner of evil actions against the peaceful protesters and the entire nation, by killing citizens, burning down police stations, privately owned businesses, and vehicles. It was reported that the Television Continental (TVC), a television station allegedly owned by Tinubu Ahmed, was attacked and set ablaze. While these were going on, there was the notorious event of a massacre of peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate by members of the Nigerian Army.
On the 21st of October, 2020, an angry mob attacked the palace of the Oba of Lagos State and carted away with his personal belongings including his staff of office. A warehouse of 600 ft by 600 ft filled with food items meant to serve as palliatives to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on low income earning members, poor and vulnerable persons of the society was discovered and broken into on Thursday, 22nd of October, 2020 in Lagos. A private-sector coalition on coronavirus known as CA-COVID made millions of dollar worth of contribution to the Federal Government, to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on members of the public. These contributions were rather stored by various State Governments in warehouses across the states. The warehouses were full of bags of rice, noodles, and sugar among other items. Looters carted away with all these items. Just after this was discovered in Lagos, other states began a journey of rummage around for palliatives. Several warehouses in states like Osun, Plateau, Kwara, Adamawa, Abuja, were wrecked just to confirm if COVID-19 palliatives were hidden in there. Since then, the country was been in chaos as the quest continues. On the course of searching for COVID-19 palliatives in warehouses, storage facilities holding tons of relief materials have been burglarized and looted in, privately owned businesses were burglarized and looted, people lost their life investments.
How did we get here? Were securities not around when these businesses were looted? Future entrepreneurs are been discourage; how do we move forward? Is this not more than a protest? Looting a privately owned business, are we now fighting ourselves? This is not the group of Nigerians that started a peaceful protest which all the energy and humility that was put into the protest. Who is behind the attacks? Do we call this poverty, illiteracy or impishness?
There are mass arrest and detention of suspected COVID-19 palliative looters athwart states in Nigeria now. Then other question(s) springs up; the people arrested, will they be remanded or put in jail? what if there are innocent persons amidst them? Most of these looters arrested are livid and hungry citizens. Do we put in mind the state of our detention centers? This mass arrest will only worsen the situation of detention centers.
Lawyers Alert contact persons in various states are working on arrests emanating from the #EndSARS protests and arrest of looters in affected states. While we await reports, recommendations from the Judicial Panels of Inquiry been set up across states in the country and proper restitution should follow, it is also important to add that the youth should be fully involved in the progression. We hope for all this to end well soon and in togetherness, we can enforce the knowledge of human rights and accessing it in a secure environment.
It is heart-warming to observe that the killings, maiming and destruction to property that characterized the recent #EndSars Protests have gradually given way to some peace and normalcy following calls by well-meaning Nigerians for at-least an immediate suspension to the protests. The hiatus has paved way for the setting up of Judicial Panels of Inquiry as earlier directed by the Vice President at the Federal Executive Council meeting that held on Thursday, the 15th day of October 2020. At the last count, more than 12 out of the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have constituted the panels. It was reported that Lagos State has inaugurated its own Panel and same would begin public hearings on Tuesday, the 27th day of October, 2020. So far, the Term of Reference (ToR) that is common to these Judicial Panels is to receipt and investigation of complaints of police brutality against the people of Nigeria.
As more states constitute and even inaugurate the Judicial Panels of Inquiry to entertain and investigate complaints against police brutality, it is crucial that members of the panels are selected to demonstrate competence and reflect the complexity of interests giving rise to the protests. Certainly, a retired judicial officer not below the rank of a High Court Judge will chair the various Panels. It will be a good idea to also have representatives of the youths, the Nigerian Bar Association, Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s), and the National Human Rights Commission. It is the least expectation that these panels shall go about their work in a manner that is fair to all parties. Justice in these cases must not only be done but must be clearly seen to be done. The panels must be courageous enough to recommend appropriate disciplinary measures against erring police and other security personnel. Another important consideration in the success of the whole exercise is the period covered by the investigations. It will be an exercise in futility not to include complaints of violations during the protests in the scope of work of the Panels. Indeed, the Panels cannot rightly ignore allegations of grave human rights abuses and even deaths of innocent people in violence that characterized recent protests.
Of course, a direct implication of extending the scope of work of the Panels to cover the period of protests would mean that the Terms of Reference will have to be expanded to include allegations of violations that do not only involve the personnel of the Nigeria Police Force, but also those involving the officers of other security agencies. The alleged involvement of military personnel in the Lekki Toll Gate incidents and other similar ones across the country point to the need to have the scope of work of these Panels extended to cover the field. Yet, it is needless to say that the Panels must be independent and free of the usual government interferences. Each panellist need to be aware that he/she is accountable to the people and not the government. The saying that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ must not be allowed to play any part here. The issue of speed too must be given adequate consideration as a good balance needs to be struck. Although, ‘justice delayed is certainly justice denied;’ a hastily taken decision may spell doom. The earlier the various Panels sit to consider the complaints brought before them, the better as it has become more urgent to have tensions doused now than ever.
Above all, the Federal Government must demonstrate rare political will and willingness to implement the reports/recommendations of the Panels. The experience of the past, where similar reports have been forgotten in the book shelves must not be allowed to rear its ugly head at this time. We must remember that the initial reluctance by the protesting youths to have the protests suspended to enable governments meet their demands is not unconnected to lack of trust occasioned by years of demonstrated insincerity on the part of various governments. It remains that the Judicial Panels can only be as successful as the governments will allow them to be. No doubt, there is so much on the shoulders of the Federal Government who principally owns and finances the current Nigeria Police Force. The concerns and pessimism already expressed in some quarters over the wisdom in state governments setting up these Panels to investigate a Force that they never own and control is a legitimate one as the cooperation of the President, the Ministry of Police Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and much more the Police Service Commission (PSC) would be required for any overall achievements. Indeed, it will be better if these Panels were not set up than doing so and not implementing their reports/recommendations. In that case, the scarce public funds would have been frittered away, the time of the panellists and other support staff would have been wasted and the high hopes of Nigerians dashed once again. God forbids that this happens! We cannot afford to squander this one more opportunity to right the wrongs of the past years.
At this point, it is good news that a state like Lagos has announced the setting aside of a certain amount of money as compensation for those who are eventually found to have suffered any police brutality or a violation of rights. There is no amount of healing that can be achieved if victims of brutalities are not offered monetary compensation. Although, it is true that no amount of monetary awards can adequately compensate for the loss of a loved one, for instance, there is no doubt that this will still go a long way to providing succour for the dependants of those who have been rendered temporarily or permanently incapacitated or have even lost their lives in circumstances that cannot be permitted in a democratic society. It will amount to good preparation if all the other State and Federal governments in the country take a cue from what the Lagos counterpart has done by setting aside a chunk of their resources in anticipation of awards that the various Panels are likely to make in the course of their investigations. This is the least expectation.
In conclusion, Lawyers Alert encourages everyone who has any complaints involving police brutalities or any human rights violations that are captured by the ToR of the Panels to brace up for the challenge ahead and be ready to ventilate his grievance before the Panels. Human rights activists and CSO’s are also encouraged to make their services available to victims that may want to appear before the various Panels. This is the time for us all to live up to and even surpass the expectation of the public on our Pro bono (free of charge) services. There can never be a better time to demonstrate out readiness than now.