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Category Archives: Human Rights

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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Benue: When Floods Occur

By Laz Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mini Estate In Makurdi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Bamidele Jacobs Esq, speaking to Activists after the case.

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

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

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

 

 

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The Nigeria proposed Non-Governmental Organisations’ Regulation Bill

By Sunday Adaji…Legal Officer, Lawyers Alert.

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

Provisions of the Bill

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

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

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

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

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

General Reactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawyers Alert’s Stance

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

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

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

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

Consequences

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

LAWYERS ALERT’s answer to this question is twofold:

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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