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Category Archives: Governance

2019 ELECTIONS: As the Clock Ticks …

By Laz Ahangba

politics

The loud music blares out in the quiet night. Tarkule, a middle aged Man of about 43 is awakened from his hard narrow bed. He stands up and peers out of his small window. He sees a number of cars parked at Chief’s residence across the road. Chief is a political godfather and a Party Chieftain of note. All political aspirants pay him homage to smoothen their path to victory.  Tonight, scores of aspirants have come to do him obeisance as usual. Tarkule hisses, looks at the time on his wall clock to discover it is past 2.00 am. He slowly walks back to bed and lies down to endure the noise and nuisance.

These are the days of politicking. Scenarios like the one described above are common place. Politicians are busy crisscrossing every nook and cranny of Nigeria soliciting for votes. They are selling their candidatures under the auspices of the different political parties. The political aspirants have different slogans, different songs, but same nothingness, full of promises but short of issues.

Elections in Nigeria and their processes have been this way from time immemorial. Political party structures are hijacked by godfathers and moneybags made of all shades of people, usually deficient in civility and accountability. These ones manipulate the party systems to throw up candidates of their choice. The chosen candidates are forced on the electorate into office. Once elected, the apparatus of government becomes the joystick of the godfathers and moneybags.  They play around the system to milk out their investments in terms of contracts, appointments and other compensations. This system plays out at all levels of governance. The consequences of this age-long tradition is poverty, lack of accountability, impunity, gross corruption, violations of the rights of citizens and worst of all, loss of democratic values. Political aspirants, rather than sell themselves to the electorate, mortgage themselves to the political godfathers knowing that without them, their victories at the polls are not guaranteed. How wrong!

The electoral process is likened to two-parallel lines but arriving at the same destination. It is between the election candidate on one line soliciting for votes from the electorate and the electorate demanding that his issues be addressed by the candidate on the other line, thereby leading all to the same destination called good governance. This process is only made possible through issue-based campaigns and issue-based voting. The election candidates should strictly carry out campaigns based on issues while the electorate vote based on the issues, quid pro quo.

The quality of electoral campaigns is a forerunner to the quality of governance after a winner has emerged and vice versa.  As the 2019 general elections draws near, has there been any issue-based campaigns from any of the candidates across political parties yet? Has the electorate positioned itself for issue-based voting across Nigeria? Have there been any tangible moves by citizen-groups to begin to engage elections candidates on issues bothering them and their communities? A brief environmental scan on the political Eco-system at all levels of governance across Nigeria shows little or no active issue-based campaigns from the candidates and there has not been strong body language from the electorate towards making demands for same. At the national level, for example, of the over 75 presidential candidates, only very few have plans that could culminate into issue-based campaigns. What has dominated the media (especially the social media) space is mudslinging and gutter-language campaigns. The same scenario is playing out at the sub national levels. Rather than base their campaigns on issues, most governorship candidates across the country are busy mudslinging one another while also employing unsavory propaganda.

The electorate, especially the youth are also culpable. Rather than engage the election candidates on common issues bedeviling their communities, they resort to real and cyber thuggery. Social media platforms which should ordinarily serve as a useful resource for the youths and other electorate have become a battle ground of some sorts. Any question, or comment directed at any election candidate is viewed by his supporters as an attack worthy of reprisal often in very harsh and derogatory language. This attitude is denying the electorate the opportunity to objectively engage the election candidates on issue-based campaigns which this election cycle desperately needs.

As we approach the 2019 general elections, the following are recommended as measures we should endeavor to put in place in order to bring about the change Nigeria desperately needs:

  • Profile all our election candidates across all political parties at all levels of governance
  • Undertake a study of the most pressing issues confronting our communities, state and country in general
  • Demand for issue-based campaigns from election candidates and vote candidates whose campaigns issues resonate with those of our communities, states and country
  • Present to electoral candidates citizens’ charter of demands based on the prevailing issues across communities, states and country with monitoring and evaluation indicators
  • Vote based on issues contained in the citizens’ charter of demand
  • Monitor and implement evaluation indicators.

As Tarkule finally drifts into sleep, the campaign vehicles begin to drive away. Again, he startles out of sleep and hisses in anger. He could hear the singer praise singing the candidate. He calls him the sun, the moon and star of his community. “What rubbish!” He thinks out loud. As the sound of the campaign songs fades away, Tarkule wonders if the singer and his ilk bother about improvement in power supply, job creation, heath care system, infrastructural development, agriculture and all the other challenges bedeviling the society. With these thoughts, he slowly drifts back into sleep

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Election Primaries through the Lenses of the Law

Compiled by Mr Lazarus M.A, Miss Jerum Uneje, R.A. Hwande Esq and S.P. Oobulu Esq

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Nigeria’s democracy is nascent and oscillates on a 4-year election cycle. As the present administration draws close to the end of its tenure, various political parties have conducted primaries across the Federation as stipulated by the legal framework regulating the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Political parties are legally saddled with the responsibilities of sponsoring their candidates’ campaigns for every political position for election.

The law perhaps is apt regarding the conduct of party primary elections regarding how a candidate can be elected. On this point, section 87 of the Electoral (Amendment) act, 2015 clearly lays down the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties which could either be by direct or indirect voting. The spirit of this section is in line with provision of section 36 of the 1999 constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria which guaranteed fair hearing. By direct election, aspirants are given the opportunity of being voted for by all members of the party present at the election venue, while in indirect primaries aspirants are voted for by delegates (the number is usually determined by the position contested for). Whichever procedure (direct or indirect) a political party decides to adopt, the aspirant with the highest votes becomes the representative of the party.

Despite this injunction, the Media, Civil Society and other stakeholders report that the recently held primaries fell short of the provisions of the ELECTORAL (Amendment) ACT 2015. All the major Political parties failed to adhere strictly to the provisions of the subsisting legal framework as shown in a range of malpractices that shadowed the primaries across the country.

The APC (All Progressive Congress) adopted the indirect primary election procedure in Benue State. This system as earlier mentioned makes use of delegates who elect candidates on behalf of the party congress. However, it is alleged that the procedure was not strictly followed in practical reality. For instance, it was reported that during the House of Representatives election for Kwande/Ushongo Federal Constituency, violence ensued because of protests from delegates who alleged that they were being impersonated. Allegations of vote buying and tampering with the delegates list were also rife and thrown at 2 of the aspirants.

Elections-Rally

The PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) which also adopted the indirect election procedure also failed to comply with the provision of section 87 of the ELECTORAL (Amendment) ACT 2015. It is alleged that the PDP primary elections at all levels and stages in Benue state were marred by violence, supplanting of candidates, vote buying and clear case of God-fatherism. In Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency for election for example, candidates were alleged to have been substituted.

From the above it is clear that the spirit and tenet of the above section of the Electoral Act was violated in its entirety. In any case, elections, be they at primary or general stage require strict compliance with the provision of the electoral act to ensure peaceful, orderly and smooth conduct. Any deviation from these provisions is punishable under the Act if found guilty by the court of law. For instance, section 122 of the Electoral Act provides for the offence of impersonation and criminalizing same. The punishment paragraph under sub section (1) of the above section stipulates that, if found guilty the person shall be liable for a maximum fine of 500,000 (five hundred thousand naira) or 12-months imprisonment.

 

Other alleged offences also took place. For example, it is widely reported that the All Progressives Congress (APC) failed to conduct the required primary elections for the State House of Assembly; instead, party big wigs selected candidates of their choice for the elections over those desired by the electorate. This is a clear violation of the subsisting electoral law.

The above stated violations have their consequences in varying degrees and dimensions including the following:

The rights of both the delegates and aspirants who have the mandate to vote or be voted for have been fundamentally denied and breached by leaders of the various political parties.

Another serious consequence is the potency of derailing the forthcoming general elections and its credibility.

Another consequence is the breeding of grounds for violence and unrest in the political ecosystem.

Based on the foregoing therefore, the following are recommended:

  • That the Independent National Electoral Commission intensify its monitoring of Party Primaries, investigate allegations and sanction erring Parties accordingly.
  • Sensitize political parties and their officials on the need to adhere strictly to the provisions of the subsisting legal framework regulating the conduct of elections
  • The justice system actors including the Police, the Judiciary and other stakeholders should be sensitized on the need to closely monitor, investigate and sanction erring individuals and parties accordingly.
  • Power brokers should be told of the need to ensure peaceful elections by midwifing a free and fair process thereby providing a level playing field for all.

Leaders of thought such as the traditional and religious leaders should be encouraged to preach against the culture of vote-selling as it inhibits community development subsequently.

 

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Women Participation in Politics: 2018 Primaries in Focus

Compiled by Mr Lazarus M.A, Miss Jerum Uneje, R.A. Hwande Esq and S.P. Oobulu Esq.

women in politics

Women are an integral part of the political process anywhere in the world including Nigeria and Benue State. Comprising of over 49% of the population of the Country, Women are a force in both number and impact in Nigeria. They have made remarkable contributions in all areas of our National life as exemplified by amazons like Dr. Dora Akunyili, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Mrs. Obi Ezekwesili, Prof. Grace Alele Williams etc. Closer home, women like Chief Elizabeth Ivase, Dr. Enyantu Ifene, Hon. Margaret Icheen etc. have contributed immensely in shaping the socio-political ecosystem in Benue State. Despite these recorded achievements, election of Women into key political positions remains at a very low level in the State. The 2018/19 general elections have not changed the narrative. In fact, things are getting worse going by the performance and conduct of the last primary elections in terms of Women participation.

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All general elections are preceded by a primary election which throws up candidates for different positions across the contesting political parties. Ahead of the 2019 general elections, party primaries were held, across political parties, between mid-September and first week of October 2018. However, a plethora of complaints show that the exercise left much to be desired in terms of Women participation especially in Benue State. Though there was a good turnout of women vying for office, few were able to clinch their party tickets. The State Governorship primaries featured no female aspirant this time, not on any party platform.

The National Assembly elections particularly, did not favor Women. For example, the Senatorial Primary Elections produced 1 female from Zone A of the State while the House of Representatives had about 5 candidates across all the political parties, of this number, only 1 was nominated as at the time of writing this report.  These women and their constituencies are as follows:

Dorothy-Mato

Dorothy Mato – Vandeikya – APC – House of Representative

Mimi-Adzape-Orubibi

Mimi Orubibi – Kwande – APC – Senate

Other female aspirants lost out not because of lack of capacity but largely due to the age long discrimination against Women in party politics. For example, in the Kwande/ Ushongo Federal Constituency elections under the All Progressives Congress (APC), the only female candidate that was chosen by consensus vote due to the inconclusiveness of the elections owing to violence was substituted by the party big wigs because owing to gender considerations. That same situation obtained in Otukpo Federal Constituency Primary elections under the Peoples Democratic Party. The female candidate that was the choice of the delegates was supplanted by a male candidate that was the choice of Party chieftains at the top.

Female Aspirants to the State Assembly fared no better. Under some political parties, no election took place. The few that did were characterized by irregularities such as vote buying, violence, intimidation, hijacking and supplanting of party delegates, etc. In all these irregularities, Women were the worst hit. At the end of the day, only about 3 Women emerged as flag bearers for the State Assembly elections across the over 90 registered political parties that participated in the primary elections in Benue State and across Nigeria.

In view of the above therefore, one can say that, the 2019 general elections do not favor Women Human Rights judging from the precedents associated with the primaries. One strong point that resonates loudly is that Women Politicians are still being considered second class and subservient to their male colleagues. This is disappointing and sad because women are not being given the encouragement, opportunity and responsibility they deserve by their male counterparts. This is the situation even as global conversations and actions are again tilted towards Women Human Rights. The much-acclaimed affirmative action which cedes 35% of positions to Women of which Nigeria is a signatory to has been sidelined, to say the least.  This is true in that so many of these women willingly came forth as party card carriers, showed interest to contest but were not nominated mostly based on gender issues.

Given the above scenario, therefore, we recommend the following:

  • That all Women Politicians who feel discriminated against and hard done by their parties at the just concluded primaries can challenge the status quo in Courts of law
  • That political party structures should review their policies towards female politicians and begin to see them as equal partners in progress instead of just making up party numbers
  • That the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should increase its monitoring of political Party primaries to protect vulnerable candidates, especially women
  • That Media and Civil Society should intensify their reportage and advocacy on Women Human rights with focus on the electoral process.

 

In conclusion one can truly state that the issue of Women Rights and political participation, rather than improve, seem to be waning. It’s been the same story since the inception of democracy in Nigeria in 1999.  Despite their best efforts, very few women have been able to secure key elected posts in the country. According to LA research report on the last General Elections (2015), there was neither compliance with local, regional and international instruments aimed at promoting and protecting women’s rights and development nor an increase of women participation in the electoral process in comparison with the just concluded primary elections.

We believe that if women are carried along, they can act for themselves and influence development policies, actively participate in the political process and attempt to minimize factors in the justice system which negatively impact them.

 

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Concluded Party Primaries: A Perspective and Matters Arising

Compiled by: Mr Lazarus m., Miss Jerume Uneje, R.A. Hwande Esq and S.P. Ozobulu Esq.

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If democracy is the government of the people for them and by them, as the popular adage goes, then it is the nexus in the democratic process. Elections are central to the deepening and sustainability of the democratic system of Government anywhere in the world. It provides Citizens with the opportunity to vote in or out any leader of their choice at all levels of Governance. In the election sub-sector of Democracy and Good Governance, elections are not an event but a process. There are three phases in the electoral cycle. They are the pre-election, Election Day and the post-election.

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Currently, we are in the pre-election phase for the 2019 general election and many activities have been carried out and are still being conducted by various stakeholders. The just concluded party primaries held between Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, October 7, 2018 were legally the responsibility of the different political parties to carry out under the supervision of INEC.  Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended makes it mandatory for political parties organizing congresses, conventions and nomination of candidates to give 21 days’ notice to INEC to enable the commission to observe the process.

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So how did the Political parties fare in the conduct of the just concluded party primaries? Lawyers Alert will attempt to X ray the general conduct of political parties with focus on the major political parties from 3 basic perspectives. These will include adherence to deepening of democracy and its values in the electoral process in Nigeria, Gender equality and respect of Women Human Rights and respect of the electoral Act 2014 and other legal issues thereto.

Globally, elections are intended to deepen the culture and practice of democracy. Political parties are expected to abide by the norms of the electoral process in fielding aspirants by providing a level playing field, equal opportunity. They are expected to be transparent, accountable, provide a participatory process that will throw up the best candidates from which the electorate can then choose. Was this achieved in the recently held primaries?

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In fact, the just concluded party primaries were colored by a range of malpractices as alleged by affected aspirants. Cases included vote buying, violence, intimidation and threats, tampering with the delegates’ list and candidates’ imposition among other forms of anti-democratic acts which were recorded across all parties in different states of the federation. The primaries became warfare, as the power brokers and aspirants seeking tickets turned venues of the intra-party poll to a theatre of war, with the attendant injuries, loss of lives and property and palpable tension. Internal democracy and lobbying were substituted with Machiavellian antics and the reign of impunity and terror.

In Zamfara State for example, the entire election was marred by violence and intra party crises with 2 sets of results brandished by two factions of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Media reports suggest that the INEC has since barred the party from fielding any candidate for the forthcoming elections. So, what happens to all the Aspirants that spent time, money and other valuable resources? What happens to the wishes of the electorate willing to express their franchise under the APC in Zamfara? What will happen to the growth and deepening of democratic values in that State?

The People’s Democratic Party Presidential Primary Elections held in Port Harcourt is also alleged to have been characterized by vote-buying and intimidation. An aspirant purportedly flooded the venue of the party’s convention with so much foreign currency that local parallel market operators opened temporary offices at the venue. At the end did the winner get voted in or did he simply purchase his victory at a price? These are questions.

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APGA, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, was anything but “progressive” in the conduct of its primaries. News reports suggest that certificates handed over to the wrong aspirants are to be recalled. Indeed, the party chairman is said to have apologized to party members explaining that the sudden fame enjoyed by the party caused a rise in some of the confusion that unfolded.

The Social Democratic Party, SDP, had its own share of drama as young politicians who opted for the platform in hopes of avoiding the scheming associated with the big 2, APC and PDP, soon found themselves facing equally unsavory circumstances. In Benue state. the party is said to have allowed itself to be bought over by a certain big wig in who was not welcomed in the first party he defected to. The party has also been accused of not holding any ward congresses whatsoever and merely imposing officials on the party.

There was also the issue of imposition of candidates by Political Godfathers. For example, our investigations reveal that in Benue State under the All Progressives Congress (APC), no primary election took place for the State Assembly. The party big wigs picked and chose the candidates dear to their hearts regardless of how the delegates or the electorate felt.

In the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the African Democratic Congress (ADC), among others, the story was not too different as protests against the manner of primaries and alleged imposition continued to resonate across the states where the parties have strongholds. From Gombe to Benue to Oyo, stories of aspirants threatening fire and brimstone over the primaries abound, with some even already defecting to other parties.

elections.. nigeria

Aggrieved political actors across the six geopolitical zones are not giving up over the perceived high-handedness meted out by the top echelon of influential party elders, doing all they can to salvage “the situation.” Ironically, among the ranks of those involved in subdued anger and frustration in the party are a couple of state governors whose preferred choices as likely successors or anointed candidates for other levels of Grade A contests were frustrated by more powerful forces in Abuja.

As it stands, the questions political observers are now asking are: how do the dramatis personae intend to douse some of the ignited flames? What is the shape of the things to come ahead of the general elections? Considering the unnerving discontent at various levels of the power strata, will the general elections still be a battle of the 2 Titans, APC and PDP or will the discontentment in their ranks give the up-and-coming parties a much-needed boost?

The 2019 elections promise to be a thing of awe…though not necessarily in a good way.

 

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LAWYERS ALERT RELEASES REPORT ON MILITARY INVASION OF NAKA, BENUE STATE, NIGERIA.

Following the invasion and razing down of the Naka, a town in Benue state by the Nigeria military on the 19th day of April, 2018, Lawyers Alert has released a report detailing the violations that ensued thereof. In the 2 hours of this operation, more than 250 houses and other property worth millions of naira including foodstuffs and other household items had been destroyed. This is sadly within the context of herdsmen killings within the same community.

The invasion is said to be in reprisal for the alleged killing of a soldier by some residents of the town.

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Lawyers Alert within the report recommended the immediate release of the arrested suspects from military detention facilities and handing over of same to the Nigeria Police Force for necessary investigation and possible trial in a civil court; setting up of a judicial commission of Inquiry with the aim of identifying all those culpable in these acts and bringing them to trial; the compensation and rehabilitation of the victims of this invasion amongst several other recommendations.

The report is available at:

http://lawyersalertng.org/activities/Nigeria%20Military%20Invasion%20of%20Naka%20%20Town%20in%20Benue%20State.pdf

 

 

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Increase State Resource Allocation on HIV efforts: Lawyers Alert Tells the National Assembly at the Public Hearing on 2018 Federal Budget

The Nigeria Budget Proposals, or better properly called “The 2018 Appropriation Bill”  which encapsulates what and how the federal government will spend Nigeria resources is undergoing debate at the National Parliament.  A public Hearing  held by the Joint Committees of Appropriation  of the Senate and the House of Representatives  for Citizen groups  to make inputs  in helping  parliamentarians make proper resource allocations.
Lawyers Alert made  its presentation seeking  increased HIV funding in Nigeria given especially, the dwindling funding from the International community at the Hearing.  Our inputs follows a year of monitoring violations and related actions in this field in Nigeria, and offering free legal services to victims.

Our Ellen Onugha, Legal Officer, made the presentation of behalf of Lawyers Alert

Find Below full text of Lawyers Alert presentation.

RESPONSIVE BUDGETING: HIV AND AIDS INTERVENTIONS IN NIGERIA:  BEING A PRESENTATION OF LAWYERS ALERT NIGERIA, AT A PUBLIC HEARING OF THE 2019 BUDGET BY THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

PRESENTED THIS 28TH MARCH 2018

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with an estimated 175 million inhabitants. Research in 2013 showed that HIV constitutes a major public health concern in Nigeria and that the country has the second largest burden of HIV in Africa with an estimated 3.4 million people living with the virus in 2013.

Global Fund, an international financing organization that aims to attract and disburse additional resources to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, had invested a total of 24 grants in Nigeria since 2003, as part of efforts aimed at tackling the HIV threat. Indeed, as at June 2015, a total of 1.43 billion dollars had been disbursed for HIV programs.  Despite these investments however, in Nigeria, Global Fund faced a number of challenges leading to the sub-optimal grant performance shown below:

  • Poor quality health services including treatment disruptions
  • Inadequate monitoring and evaluation including poor data quality
  • Low financial absorption
  • Fraud, corruption or misuse of funds
  • Poor financial efficiency and reporting
  • Inadequate principal recipient governance and oversight.

Owing to these challenges, Global Fund reduced its funding to Nigeria, thereby making the management of HIV programs, ordinarily capital intensive, even more problematic.

In 2014, the federal allocation to health constituted just 6% of the national budget and was predicated to decline in the future. It has. Currently, state level allocations for health tend to be at an average of 3%. As at 2014, HIV intervention was underfunded by 4 billion dollars. This means there are presently minimal financial resources to make investments in health to significantly alter the course of HIV in Nigeria.

As a result of this paucity in funding the following results have been recorded:

  • Approximately 160,000 (one hundred & sixty thousand) people died from HIV and AIDS related illnesses in Nigeria in 2016.
  • About 220,000 (two hundred and twenty) new infections were recorded.
  • Out of 3,200,000 (three million, two hundred thousand) people living with HIV in 2016, ONLY 30% have access to antiretroviral therapy.
  • Only 21% of the estimated 270,000 (two hundred and seventy thousand children, ages 0-14 years) in Nigeria living with HIV have access to antiretroviral treatment.
  • Children, especially females, dropping out of school to cater to the needs of infected parents who are sick.

Simply put, the number of people living with HIV and those affected by it, is now disproportionate compared to the funds budgeted for treatment. This is a tide which must be stemmed and quickly too.

Note that an estimated 1.8 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, thereby taking a huge toll on their health, safety and wellbeing. In many instances, elderly grandparents, many of whom tend to be struggling with physical infirmities and financial challenges of their own, have to bear the responsibility for these children.

Incidentally, the National Strategic Framework, 2017-2021, aims (amongst others) at ending AIDS by achieving zero new infections and zero AIDS related deaths. This goal can only be described as utopian at the moment owing to the meager funds allocated to curbing the scourge.

2021 is just 3 years away. What successes have been recorded in tackling HIV? Do we have a tragic case here of “one step forward, two steps backwards”?

The adage “Health is wealth”, has never been more apt than it is now. Our biggest resource in Nigeria at the moment does not lie in the ground in the form of black gold, NO. It lies on the surface of the earth in the form living breathing beings, you and I, who form the bulk of the wealth of this great land. It lies in our human capital. Safeguarding the health of all Nigerians, especially from problems such as HIV, is therefore a task that the Federal Government must embark upon with all sense of urgency.

Of what use would any other achievements be if we were all too sick to benefit from them? If health, and by association, HIV and AIDS programs, are not adequately funded and managed with a view to prioritizing the well-being of citizens, all other budgets would amount to nothing because there might actually be no Nigerians left to enjoy them.

It is therefore imperative that this National Assembly pay heed to the neglect in this sector and take steps to redress the shortfall in funding. This is critical given that international support has drastically dropped as cited above. Failure to do this by the National Assembly could translate to an inability to meet the goal of the National Strategic Framework within the proposed time frame of 2017-2021.

Lawyers Alert therefore, seeks a proved and specific funding, beyond the health sector, for HIV and AIDS interventions by provision of adequate anti-retroviral therapy to enhance access for persons living with HIV. In addition, we seek adequate provision of commodities and services to promote absolutely free testing including the provision of effective mother to child transmission Medicare.

The National Assembly is so urged.

Thank you.

 
 

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Women and the Benue Killings

By Jerome Mary Uneje

The sound of the whistle pierces through the quiet dark night in the neighbourhood of Ityo Gbenda, a suburb of Anyiin, the headquarters of Logo Local Government Area of Benue State. Everybody is alarmed and tense. A few brave men dare the consequences and rush in the direction of the sound, machetes and spears in hand. The loud sound of the whistle at this time of the night could mean a warning or worse still, an attack within seconds; the few brave men have raced to the home of Pa Agbidye or what remains of it.

To their surprise, it is Orlaade, his rascal drunk of a son, who has had an overdose of ogogoro and is playing pranks. They are livid. How could one be so irresponsible as to alarm the community this way when they were barely returning home since January when the marauding herdsmen attacked the community in the dead of night killing scores and burning homes including the Orlaade’s father’s? One by one they leave, hissing only after abusing the fellow who is neither concerned nor remorseful.

Such has been the fate of the People of Logo, Guma and some other parts of Benue since the January attacks by the killer herdsmen. Though some level of peace is gradually returning, fear and an uneasy calm hang thickly in the air. The January attacks have taken a toll on the State on a multi-sector level ranging from the Government to individual persons.

At the State level, the attacks and killings have caused a lot of economic hardship and sprain on finances. For example, over 5 Internally Displaced Persons Camps have been set up by Government to cater for over 45,000 persons displaced in both Guma and Logo local governments. Through the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the Government has channelled a lot of financial resources into purchasing relief materials and other necessities for Displaced Persons across the 5 camps. These monies were never budgeted for neither had plans been made in advance for their expenditure. What this implies is that, monies meant for other projects like Health Care, Agriculture and other core areas of social life may have been channelled into addressing this unexpected and unfortunate situation. This will no doubt affect the finances and economic position of the State.

Furthermore, the killings have led to a sharp decline in the aggregate food production in the state. Benue is known as the food basket of the Nation due to the high level of agricultural production the citizens engage in. With over 75% of its Citizens engaged full time in the Agro Industry, the State derives most of its Internally Generated Revenue from farms produce. Guma and Logo are particularly known for their high-level food production especially rice and yam. With both local governments currently displaced, their quota of food production and potential revenues could be lost never to be recovered. This has the potential of leading to famine, malnutrition, loss of income and other domino effects that could be inimical in the long term to general food security in the country.

At the community level, local Citizens no longer sleep with their eyes closed. Daily, the peoples of both Guma and Logo live in perpetual fear for their lives and property. Though operation “Cat Race” has been established by the Nigerian Army, fear still permeates the atmosphere. This state of perpetual fear creates an environment of insecurity, uneasy calm and tension leading to a potentially disastrous situation especially when fed by the ever-spinning rumour mill.

Though a degree of Peace has returned, the trauma of the death of loved ones and destruction of properties still affects the people. Burned houses, granaries, orchards and farmlands are physical reminders of the assault the people suffered on New Year morning of 2018. These sad reminders only make a bad situation worse. Other properties destroyed included shops and business centres. Certainly, feelings of bitterness would be assuaged if perpetrators were at least caught and punished for the irreparable losses especially human lives.

It is a global fact that in any violent conflict, women are usually the worst hit. This attack is no exception. Going by the report of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, of the over 45,000 people in the 5 camps, approximately 65% or 29, 250 are women.

A major challenge being faced by these women is the loss of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services especially for Pregnant Women. Most of them have lost follow up on Antenatal/ PMTCT services. This loss of follow-up on basic Sexual and Reproductive Health Services posses a significant danger for both mothers and unborn children. Other such services these women have lost access to include Family Planning and HIV and AIDS. The displacement has led them to an inability to continue follow up on their medication and cocktails. As a result, some of them are already taking ill and in danger of imminent death.

The dearth of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in these camps also affects young girls and women who are sexually active.  The camps provide little or no form of Sexual and Reproductive Health services to this group yet they face a situation where most of them are exposed to sexual demands from males longing to take advantage of their predicament. Already vulnerable, many succumb to these demands even without protection at the risk of unintended pregnancies and or infections. Were adequate Sexual and Reproductive Health Services provided in these camps, or these women and girls not displaced from their homes, the above situation might not arise.

Another effect of the displacement on the Benue woman is the loss of livelihood. Over 75% of women in Benue are farmers or petty traders living in rural areas. With this displacement, the women in both Guma and Logo have fled their homes leaving their means of livelihood.

With the increased pressure on their declining finances, some of these women are resorting to unbecoming methods and means of survival even sex for money in spite of the inherent dangers. Worse still is the fact that they will have little or nothing to fall back on when they return home from these camps.

Yet another effect of this displacement on the Benue Woman is the sharp increase in violations on women’s rights especially Gender Based Violence including battery, rape, assault, intimidation etc. Most of the displaced women within and/or outside these camps have faced one form of violence or the other. Though no specific statistics exist to confirm the number of displaced women violated, our survey has shown that many of the displaced women have experienced one form of violation or the other since the attacks occurred. Gender Based Violence is therefore another effect of the displacement on the Benue woman.

Full scale hostilities have subsided. Peace has since returned to the displaced communities. Pockets of violent attacks are reported here and there but the effects are still there. In order to ameliorate the effects of this conflict on the State and its Citizens, the following is recommended:

  • The Federal Government and the International Development Agencies should increase their aid to the State in providing assistance to the displaced people and in rebuilding homes and properties destroyed by the marauding herdsmen.
  • Deliberate efforts should be made by both the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in tandem with the State Institutions to assist farmers with improved seeds, seedlings and other farming inputs with a view towards boosting aggregate farm produce in Benue State to stave off famine and food shortage.
  • The operation Cat Race and other Security Operatives should intensify their patrols and surveillance in the war torn grassroot communities to establish their presence. This will reduce the level of anxiety and sleeplessness in the communities.
  • On the mass destruction of properties in the affected communities, we strongly recommend the compensation of the affected people of their losses in monetary terms,
  • We also recommend that Sexual and Reproductive Health services be provided in camps and in the conflict zones including the provision of Ante-natal/PMTCT to pregnant Mothers.
  • Lastly, we recommend the monitoring and documentation of the violations of Rights of the displaced women with a view towards investigating the violations and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

As they leave, the leader of the security contingent takes a last, piteous look at Orlaade. He ponders how such a childish act could have rattled an entire community, a situation which would never have arisen prior. He sighs. Such has been the effect of the killings in Anyiin and indeed the entire Benue State.

Jerome Mary Uneje is with Lawyers Alert

 

 

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