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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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DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PERSONS LIVING WITH DISABILITIES (PROHIBITION) ACT 2018: WAY FORWARD

By Ifeyinwa Onochie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Population Commission of Nigeria (NPC) has estimated that no fewer than 19 million Nigerians are living with disabilities. This population
has as its major challenge issues of stigmatization, discrimination and resultant unequal treatment in all spheres. This is evident even in access to physical spaces/building either public or private which truncates not just physical access but also access to opportunity and resources.

According to a definition from equalityhumanrights.com, “equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents.
It is also the belief that no one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability.”

Disability in Africa and across the world, is viewed in most instances as associated dependency and inability to perform basic chores. People exhibit pity for Persons With Disabilities when in actual fact their impairment makes little or no difference to their abilities.

Nigeria efforts in negating these issues and the realization that disability is in the mind and the need to negate discrimination, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018. This development in Nigeria is good news. This means we will begin to see less and less people living with disabilities suffer discrimination from point A to B in this country. Furthermore, the Act prohibits all forms of discrimination on ground of disability and imposes fine of N1, 000, 000 for corporate bodies and N100, 000 for individuals or a term of six months imprisonment for violation. Equally heart-warming is that the Act also provides for a five-year transitional period within which public buildings, structures or automobiles are to be modified to be accessible to and usable by persons living with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs.

This means curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, wider doorways and corridors. This also means that building plans of any public structure under construction since the President’s assent of the Act shall be scrutinized by the relevant authority to ensure that the plan conforms to the building code.

Furthermore, with this Act, discrimination is prohibited in public transportation facilities, and service providers are to make provision for the physically, visually and hearing impaired and all persons howsoever challenged.

We are finally stepping into the visions of our forefathers for, unity, peace and progress. However, there is dire need for our government to pick up a magnifying glass and look into these vast NGOs that claim to cater to the people living with disabilities in Nigeria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Miss Faith Yaasa, a disability Rights activist, the question right now is: “are all the foreign aid monies collected being used to really support the people they claim they represent and collect for? What happened to awareness campaigns to sensitize the general public on matters affecting Persons With Disabilities? What about the economic empowerment of Persons With Disabilities through realistic and achievable programs that impact the society positively?” This is the right time to take a stand and put a stop to the incessant injustice and crimes committed against physically challenged citizens is the message Miss Yaasa engaged with us at Lawyers Alert when she stopped by our office this week.

Lawyers Alert cannot agree less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Compulsory Treatment And Care For Victims Of Gunshots Act, 2017: An Analysis

By Chigoziem Ellen Onugha Esq

GUN

One of the known characteristics of Laws is that it is dynamic and not static. An example is our Constitution which has been changed serially, with the current one being enacted on May 29, 1999. Even with that, the 1999 Constitution has also gone through a couple of amendments. Change in Laws is chiefly a direct consequence of developments within a given society. Of all the challenges confronting Nigeria, I am convinced that health problems are most discomforting, and therefore any attempt by the government to build solid foundations that suit each of the problems of the health sector is going to be a welcome one. Admittedly, the enactment of the COMPULSORY TREATMENT AND CARE FOR VICTIMS OF GUNSHOTS ACT 2017 is a direct attempt to underscore one of Nigeria’s problems with regards to health.

Nigeria has no doubt progressively changed and enacted Laws to take care of its ever-changing environments. One of the offshoots of such progressive changes has been the enactment of the COMPULSORY TREATMENT AND CARE FOR VICTIMS OF GUNSHOTS ACT, 2017.

Prior to December 20, 2017, lots of lives were being lost on a daily basis due to refusal to care and treat gunshot victims by hospitals, agencies of the government and even individuals. Before December 20, 2017; it was common to have people die of gunshot wounds simply because they could not provide either police reports or money for treatment. This is, indeed, careless on the parts of the hospitals, the governments, and individuals. The doctors, for one, appear to have forgotten the Oath they swear to at induction and had rather made money and other materials considerations the substance of their practice.

It is easy to see that the emergence of the Act in question is a complete game changer with regards to the abnormalities associated with the usual refusal to treat gunshot victims. The Act has taken care of thorny issues ranging from police procedures, hospital/hospital personnel’s involvements to that of the public involvement. Its provisions are far reaching, at least, to the extent of gunshot wounds and its victims.

The fourteen provisions of the Act alongside their sections are as follows:

  1. Right to treatment
  2. Duty to assist
  3. Notification of police
  4. Certificate of fitness
  5. Offense
  6. Relations to make statement
  7. Withholding information
  8. Protection of volunteers
  9. Persons guilty of the offense
  10. Duty to notify victim relations
  11. Offense of standing by
  12. Records
  13. Trial of a corporate body
  14. Restitution

Far reaching and beautiful as the provisions of this Act are, citizens who the law is meant to protect may not be able to take maximum benefits of same unless those shouldered with the responsibility of enforcing the law are alive to their various responsibilities. It is easy for this same law to go the way of others before it in terms of implementation.

Unlike the previous instance where the whole burden of safety was on a victim of gunshot wounds, the Act withdraws this burden and places them on the police and the hospital/hospital personnel. The Act also goes ahead to make provisions for restitution at the instance of a High Court to be made by a corporate body or a person convicted of an offense under this Act to a victim of the offense.

Similarly, issues relating to police reports and deposits before treatment of gunshot victims have been taken care of by the new law. We expect better results in that regards, as we encourage citizens to hold on to their rights. That is all we have got.

 

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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

gavel-scales-justice2

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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