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MY RETREAT STORY

by Elvis Torkuma

1st March to 3rd 2019, Lawyers Alert held her annual retreat. I left Abuja for Makurdi Benue State Capital with Rapheal Didel our hard working Office assistant, Ellen Onougha our legal officer and Blessing Mase our Finance Officer; we were driving in a convoy of four cars with the police escort in front of us, we stopped at Masaka to fuel our cars and then the unexpected happened, my car broke down I did my best but the car did not start, my colleagues drove off as the time was running against us leaving me, Ellen, Blessing and Raphael. Raphael also did his best  by  proffering  suggestions  but it wasn’t helpful at this point  I started  losing hope of traveling  with the car and how to get out of the ugly situation, after few minutes my program Director Miss Roseline Oghenebrume called me to find out if there was any positive development but I told her there is none at the moment, she then asked me to park the car in the filling station and hire a taxi that will take us to Makurdi, I then called my friend who has a taxi but he rather added to my worries as asked me to  pay him N50000, an outrageous money to pay for a journey of 4hrs, Suddenly the police escort team returned with my program director to assist us with bags.  One of the officers then asked me to start the car again I did and the car picked without wasting time  I drove off and had a successful journey without further challenges; we arrived Makurdi at about 6: PM

We got to the hotel  tired,  we were all expecting to have our bath and rest due to the stressful time we had on the road, we got lodged but the hotel was not a good state as there was limited water, the AC’s were not cooling and some TV’s were  not showing. I then saw a written on the toilet door, (WATER IS EXPENSIVE CONSERVE IT); at this point I knew I was in for another unsuitable experience. I managed the small water I saw to bath. In the evening we had a wonderful seat out with my colleagues, we had enough drinks, barbecue and pepper soup with good music. It was a memorable evening after a hectic day.

The next day we had aerobics in the morning and then proceeded to the venue of our Retreat which is at NO6, Alhmadu Bello Way Old GRA Makurdi Benue State,Lawyers Alert Head Office. DAY 1 of our retreat was an internal meeting where we discussed issues regarding team bonding, organizational Goal, Vision and Mission this was in a way to better integrate some of our new staff into organizational goal, vision and mission, our Consultant Mrs Hadiza was amazing as she was very diligent in making sure we all understand the goal of Lawyers Alert, Values of the organization and our responsibilities as staff. Then it was it TEA BREAK, another ugly episode. They brought us TEA BREAK, a slide break wasn’t well wrapped and the president Lawyers Alert Mr Rommy Mom was disappointed at caterer. He ended up not eating the food likewise others, although I managed and ate the food. After then we continued with our meeting which was participatory and interactive as almost everybody contributed to issues raised. We had lunch when it was lunch time this time the caterer served us a tasty meal. We later conveyed and discussed on few things and then we closed. As it is rightly said, Work without Play Makes Jerk a dull boy! I was just waiting for evening hangout to refresh myself with cold drinks, meat and good music as usual. We later hanged out as I was expecting, we had enough fresh fish to eat, cold drinks with good music.

 

DAY 2. We continued with our retreat on day 2 with our partners in attendance, our 2018 strategic plan was reviewed along with our partners inputs were made. After reviewing our 2018 strategic action plan we also presented our 2019 annual strategic action plan for our partner’s  to make inputs in other to have a robust and  inclusive action plan for 2019. After an interactive session with our partners, they made lot of inputs into our 2019 strategic annual plan we then harmonized their inputs and make 2019 strategic annual plan a document. After a hectic day with our partners in drafting the  2019 strategic plan I was patiently waiting for evening to come so that I will have a hangout with my colleagues, it was going to be a different  evening compare to others  because we were to share gift. I was not having much money to buy an expensive gift but I bought an affordable gift. We went to back to our hotel after the meeting and later gathered at the hotel garden as usual for gift session, we didn’t factor drinks because we were to club that night at Harley Day Inn, we exchanged gift had light drinks and went back to prepare for the night club. All these while I was waiting to see how some of my colleagues will dance at the club due to their conservative behaviours and perceived  low social exposure, these were my thoughts. We then moved into the club at about 9:PM at the VIP, unfortunately the VIP which could have contain us had cooling problems , we had to move out to regular, to my greatest surprised some of my colleagues I thought were reserve were the ones who actually made the club rock that night. Although Mr Hwande dance steps were from another planet, he was the side attraction for me,  and my program director Roseline danced very well, I saw wonderful dancing steps from many of colleagues, Somto, Ellen, Leslie, Mary and the President Lawyers Alert himself Mr Rommy, It was indeed fun and an amazing experienced.

On Day 3.Our supposed final day of the retreat was a very short we only did the recap of the retreat, we spend few hours doing the recap, what went wrong, what went right and what the way forward. We then had Tea break and lunch within an hour interval. We snapped pictures and closed for that day. Although one thing was certain, evening hangout; we later had hangout as usual, had drinks listen to good music and then we both went in our rooms and slept. My retreat was very memorable I had awful moments and interesting moments which made it a memorable retreat. I must appreciate the management of Lawyers Alert for making our retreat fun and entertaining despite challenges we had in the hotel. The provision of drinks, good meal, clubbing and logistics made my retreat interesting. I am again looking forward for 2020 Lawyers Alert again by the special grace of God. God bless Lawyers Alert and long live our partners.

 

 

Elvis Torkuma is the Project Officer of Lawyers Alert and participated in the 2019 staff retreat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PETTY OFFENCES; THE NIGERIAN CONTEXT

By Roseline Oghenebrume, Director Programs, Lawyers Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn sets in the suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria. Alhaji Abubakar (Pseudo name) after his morning prayer wakes his family up to begin the grind for the day. His family comprises of two sons and a daughter all aged 15, 13 and 11 respectively. In his words, it is Monday, you have to meet up with travelers at the Jabi Motor Park or else no food for you all. They begin their journey on foot for a 5km walk with their goods to be sold off on their heads. While they approached the park, they sighted the task force team and obviously took to their heels. While the eldest was lucky to have escaped, the two others were swept off the roads in the van of the task force and their goods seized.

These types of petty acts that are seen as offences is regrettably targeted at low income earners, the vulnerable and the poor. For instance, citizens engaged in activities such as loitering are arrested by security agents shouldered with the responsibility of enforcing these laws. In one instance, someone hawking goods in trying to escape arrest jumped off a fly over in Abuja Central District Area, losing his life in the fall. Security agencies go out at night arresting women and breaking people’s doors, dragging them out on account of their sexual orientation and perceived type of job. Commercial bus drivers trying to eke a living are said to commit offences when parked in a non-designated area and can be sent to jail if they don’t come up with the resources to pay their way through. The above is a picture of what a less privileged family/ citizen in Nigeria deals with on a regular/daily basis.

Nigeria is a country with a population of about 180 million persons with over 70% of its population said to be poor. Nigeria recently ranked highest in poverty according to a report by the World poverty Clock released in June 2018.  This shows that the Nigerian criminal justice system cannot effectively cope in keeping with this high population with regard to arrest and prosecution nor does it have the prison to hold these persons.

As it stands today, Nigeria has about 75,000 persons in prison with about 60% of these persons awaiting trial. Those awaiting trial for petty offences account for a higher percentage of those awaiting trial. Petty offences are more to do with the poor and vulnerable who are often prone to these acts owing to economic dis empowerment. Petty actions like hawking, obtaining goods by false pretence, sex work, sexual expression, slander, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, use of insulting language, intake of alcohol in some Northern States, etc. are criminalised.

Petty offences are not only inconsistent with sections 34, 35, 41 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution, which provide for right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to freedom of movement and right to freedom from discrimination respectively, but are equally inconsistent with Articles 2, 3, 5, 6 and 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights duly ratified by Nigeria.

The effect is State resources are expended in rather needless investigations and prosecutions and the prisons congested. Good governance, more attention at economic empowerment and fighting corruption by Government will be more in focus if Government is not distracted by expending resources on petty offences that are criminalised. Petty offences have resulted in lack of justice for the poor, social discrimination sometimes with grave consequences.

We at Lawyers Alert strongly believes that decriminalising petty offences in Nigeria will aid development given the likelihood of more time and focus on development issues.

Based on the above, the following are recommendations;

 

  1. Laws/policy reform which is critical in decriminalising petty offences because the small actions that are made petty offences are being institutionalised by certain laws in Nigeria.
  2. State and Non- State Actors should be engaged. Majority are not aware of the effects of these laws, they have not been made to understand the importance of decriminalising petty offences and its effect on socio, economic welfare of the nation.
  3. Lawyers are to be encouraged to offer free legal services to victims of petty crimes rather than demand professional fees which the vulnerable and poor people who are the victims of petty offenses cannot afford.
  4. Continuous sensitization of the vulnerable and less privileged in the society. Lack of knowledge of human rights or where to get assistance when their rights are abused is part of the problem that institutionalizes petty offenses.
  5. Civil Society groups, the Media and other Human Rights Activists to embark on a campaign towards decriminalization of petty offenses in Nigeria. Petty offenses target the most vulnerable in the country; the poor, less privileged and uneducated.

 

Poverty is not a crime……

Human Right is for all…….

Decriminalizing petty offenses is a human rights issue….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Divorce Your Wife, Lose Your Home to Her

by Kyenpya Katkuk Esq

In the light of the recent event celebrating women on International Women’s day all over the world on the 8th of March as recognised by the United Nations, women are not only celebrated on how far they have come in the society, in politics and in the economy but it’s also a time for reflecting on the sexism that affects women, a time to raise awareness of continued inequality as well as the achievements of combating inequality.

 

There is no place in the world where women have the same opportunities as men and in so many countries the rights of women and their opportunities are limited by law. The belief that patriarchy is so entrenched in the Nigerian system and the fact that women are unable to exercise their rights have been an erroneous one especially by those ignorant on the rights provided under the law.

 

However, this issue of a woman not having rights to property due to cultural beliefs has been disproved of recent and it has been an uplifting moment in the lives of women in Oyo State, Nigeria.  In the recent decided case, by the presiding Justice Munta Abimbola , the courts held that “ a husband who marries a wife and builds a house during the pend-ency of the marriage stands the risk of losing the house if he later divorces the woman who had children for him unless such woman of her own volition, leaves the matrimonial home”. The presiding Justice whilst ruling on the matter also emphasised on what is known as “palm tree justice”, which indicates that “it doesn’t matter in whose name the property stands or who pays what (on the property) and in what proportion as determination of such matters transcends all rights, legal or even equitable but simply what is fair and just ‘’ in the circumstances of the case.

The basis of this judgement was made under the provisions of the Married Woman’s Property Act 1882.  Furthermore, Section 17 Married Women’s Law of  Oyo State, Cap 83 and Laws of Oyo State 2000 gives a court the discretion as it thinks fit on the issues of title of possession to property. Section 18 Married Women Law of Oyo State also allows the court to treat property as joint property especially where it has to do with a matrimonial home.

 

Conclusively, it could be said that there is significant progress on the application of legal provisions and precedents regarding property rights that affect women inspite of the system of marriage laws (customary, Islamic and statutory marriage). The parties in the decided matter happen to be married under customary law and so this could mean that a woman is entitled to having an equal share of property in the event of divorce, regardless of whether she is married under customary law or statutory law.

 

This is also a good reflection of international instrument , the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), particularly Article 5 ,which refers to how women should not be confined to culturally defined constructions. It recognises that all human beings are equal and have equal rights and deserve equal respect for their human dignity.  Gender stereotypes should not deny women the right to be treated respectfully as an equal. Therefore, this landmark ruling is a significant in combating inequality as it affects women.

 

Kyenpya Katkuk is a lawyer with the Coalition Of Lawyers for Human Rights  (COLaHR).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Employers of labour must comply with HIV/AIDS non discrimination Act

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A Civil Society Organisation in Nigeria, Lawyers Alert has insisted that employers of labour in the public and private sector must comply with the HIV/AIDS non discrimination Act to protect workers who that are infected with Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The President of Lawyers Alert, Mr Rommy Mom told Daily Trust that the HIV/AIDS non discrimination Act that was passed into law in Nigeria five years ago was not implemented and that his organization has dragged the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami to court to demand full implementation and total adherence to the law.

He said the HIV/AIDS non discrimination Act mandates the Attorney General of the Federation to ensure that work places have HIV/AIDS policies to protect workers that are HIV positive.

He said the law was passed in 2014 and that it mandates the AGF to ensure that employers of labour in public and private sector in Nigeria have the policy within three months.

Mr Rommy expressed concern that the law was not implemented five years after and that no policy in work places to protect people living with HIV.

He lamented that majority of workers that are HIV positive are facing all forms of discrimination and stigmatization in their places of work.

 

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Bringing Hope to Prisoners in Nigeria

By Sunday Adaji Esq

prisoners

One fact about prisoners is that one after the other, virtually all of them will be out of prison and back into the society, breathing the air of freedom. What is therefore worthy of consideration is the life they live in prison and the life they will be living when they return to the society.

As it were, prisons are built not just to incarcerate and punish criminals but to reform them. “Reform” here implies putting facilities in place which will help to bring out the best in the prisoners and make them responsible citizens, so that instead of becoming hardened criminals; they become law abiding citizens. This way, the society becomes the better for it.

Although prisons are meant to reform prisoners, the ones in Nigeria rarely serve this function. Experience has shown that prisoners return from prisons in Nigeria to become hardened criminals. In this country, available statistics point to the fact that many prisoners who have completed their prison terms go back to the same acts of criminalities that took them to prison in the first place, and may even become worse than ever.

Perhaps, one of the reasons prisoners are hardly reformed is that the government has not put proper structures in place for the desired reformation and rehabilitation. Visits to our prisons will reveal that the conditions in them are deplorable. Apart from the fact that our prisons are congested, there are no adequate social amenities. There is poor ventilation, poor medical facilities and little or no sports facilities. The inadequacy or complete absence of these facilities make life unbearable to prisoners and even defeat the whole essence of the exercise.

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It is important we remind ourselves that prisoners have rights and are entitled to enjoy these rights even while in prison. In the United States and other civilized societies, prisoners enjoy their rights to education, to medical treatment, to conducive accommodation and to good ventilation. In such climes, prisoners come out of prisons to become better citizens, principally because of the quality of facilities in place. In the U.S, it is easy to recall the likes of great motivational blogger, Steve Pavlina and the former world heavy weight boxing champions, Sony Liston and Mike Tyson. These men were jailed at different times for some offences they committed and while in prison developed their talents that eventually made them become better American citizens. If these were Nigerians and kept in Nigerian prisons, they would have ended up as hardened criminals.

 Bettering the Lots of Prisoners in Nigeria

Within every human being is the capacity to be good and to be better. The first step to bringing the best out of prisoners and making them responsible citizens is to put in place frameworks, structures and facilities required for their reformation and rehabilitation. If all a prisoners is required to do is to serve his prison terms, then, we are far from making him a better citizen. The secret to reforming and rehabilitating prisoners is to invest in them. And to do this, we must stop seeing them as criminals who are not fit to live in society; and start seeing them as citizens who need reorientation and reformation. It is when we start doing this that we will be prepared to put in place frameworks and facilities that will enable them become better citizens. It is interesting to note that a Bill on prison reforms is already before the current National Assembly, waiting to be passed into law. When and if passed, the law will go a long way to solving most of the problems bedeviling this institution.

In the meantime, for any reforms to achieve tangible results, adequate attention must be paid to the issues below:

  1. Provision of Adequate Social Amenities in Prisons

Currently, only few prisons in Nigeria can boast of any medical, housing and sports facilities. And even where these are available, they are in a state of comatose. If we are going to bring hope to prisoners, we must be ready to make their welfare and future a priority. Prisoners are human beings and not animals. Even animals have rights and in civilized societies, the rights being respected and enforced. It is instructive that under our Criminal and Penal Codes, it is an offence to maltreat animals, much more human beings. Government should take a cue from international best practices all over the world and do something urgent on the state of our prisons.

  1. Provision of Educational and Training Facilities in Prisons

It is pathetic and embarrassing that only few Nigerian prisons (Lagos, Onitsha and Jos) have educational facilities for prisoners. Education is, perhaps, the greatest investment we can make on the prisoners. If schools are built in prisons and prisoners are trained, their capacity to become better citizens is enhanced and the society at large will be better for it.

Conclusion

The recent report that 35 inmates in Jos prison would be participating in the November/December 2018 WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate of Education) examinations having been sponsored by the National Industrial Training Fund came as a big relief. More heart gladdening is also the disclosure that the prison in Onitsha has vocational training facilities for prisoners. It is hoped that these developments will be replicated in the other prisons in Nigeria so that inmates can start benefitting immensely from them.

 

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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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