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Category Archives: Sexual Reproductive Health Rights

THE PARODY OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND THE LGBTIQ COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA

By Victor Eboh Esq, Reproductive Right Officer

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Sometime in 2018, one PAMELA ADIE, a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, approached the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria, for the registration of an organization with the name, (LESBIAN EQUALITY AND EMPOWERMENT INITIATIVE), whose goal was to advocate for the rights of female sexual minorities. The Corporate Affairs Commission contended that the name could not be approved because it was misleading, offensive, contrary to public policy and violates an existing law that prohibits same sex unions and associations in Nigeria.

Many adherents and sympathizers have wondered and questioned the veracity and otherwise behind the sentiments of the commission.

This piece, seeks to draw a line of contrast and spell out the parody between the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of Association, and the plight of the LGBTIQ community in Nigeria. But before we get down to brass tacks, let us first consider a general overview of the concept….. Freedom of Association.

 

CONCEPT OF FREEDOM

The word Freedom, has been succinctly rendered by Oxford Advanced Dictionary, as ‘the condition of being free, the power to Act or Speak or Think, without externally imposed restraints.’

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION on the other hand, encompasses both an individual’s right to join or leave groups voluntarily, the right of the group to take collective action to pursue the interest of it’s members and the right of an association to accept or decline membership based on certain criteria.

According to the Human Rights House Foundation, Freedom of Association is one of the most basic rights enjoyed by humans. It ensures that every individual is free to organize and to form and participate in groups, either formally or informally.

Freedom of association involves an individual’s right to come together with other individuals to collectively express, promote, pursue and/or defend common interests without interference, and the right of the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members.   The right to freedom of association protects associations formed to undertake any activity or pursue any objective that an individual can undertake or pursue alone, provided that those activities or objectives are lawful. Freedom of association is a fundamental human right that is crucial to the functioning of a democracy and an essential condition for the exercise of other human rights. It provides space for the development of civil and political society, an arena for people to express different views, values or interests and a platform for such views, values or interests to be heard. Freedom of association complements and consolidates other individual freedoms and without it, individuals may not express themselves as a group, defend their common interests and positively contribute to the development of their societies.

 

BACKGROUND TO THE PRINCIPLE OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The principle of freedom of association constitutes one of the basic tenets of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that was established by the TREATY Of VERSAILLES Of 1919, (source: Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa)  in the wake of the first world war to improve the condition of workers and achieve universal peace through social justice.  The ILO conventions on freedom of association were, and continue to be, primarily focused on the protection of the right to organize and bargain collectively.

 

Freedom of association is closely linked with the freedom of assembly and both are protected by Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The right is interrelated with other human rights and freedoms, such as the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Giving the freedom of association protection in national and international law was not primarily to protect individual interests, but rather to seek to secure a more equitable distribution of power within the working environment and society as a whole. But individuals do deserve legal protection in this as other contexts so that their conscience, religious beliefs, freedom of expression, bodily integrity and so forth are safeguarded.

Consequently, freedom of association is both an individual and a collective human right.

 

LEGAL FRAMEWORK GOVERNING THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The combined efforts of both the Domestic, Regional and International frameworks, all ensure equality of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

DOMESTIC LEGAL FRAMEWORK

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(1999) as amended, remains the ground norm of the land, and it is sacrosanct. The extent of its supremacy is spelt out in Section 1(3) to wit: ‘if any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void’

Of specific interest to the subject matter are the unambiguous provisions of Sections 38, 39 & 40

Section 38(1) ‘ Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…..”

Section39(1) “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference.”

Section 40 “ Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest

 

REGIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Article 10(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that “everyone shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law.”

Articles 12(3), 27(2) and 28 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance guarantee the right to freedom of association.

ACHPR/Res. 5(XI)92: Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Association (1992)

  • The competent authorities should not override constitutional provisions or undermine fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and international standards;
  • In regulating the use of this right, the competent authorities should not enact provisions which would limit the exercise of this freedom;
  • The regulation of the exercise of the right to freedom of association should be consistent with state’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

 

INTERNATIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK

Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and association.”

Similarly Article 22(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

The second paragraph of Article 22 of the ICCPR states that no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right “other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society.”

Article 5(ix) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination also provides for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Article 7(c) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women obligates states to ensure participation, by women, in non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has similar provisions to the ICEDAW.

“States have an obligation to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs and human rights defenders… seeking to exercise or to promote their rights and to take all necessary measures to ensure that any restrictions on the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law.”

– UN Human Rights Council Resolution 21/26 (2012)

 

  • Article 11(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

Article 11(2) of the European Convention states that “no restriction shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protections of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The European Convention no. 124 on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International Non-Governmental Organisations gives recognition to the formation of associations, foundations and other private institutions

The American Convention on Human Rights Art 16(1) states that “everyone has the right to associate freely for ideological, religious, political, economic, labour, social, cultural, sports, or other purposes.”

 

DUTIES AND OBLIGATIONS OF THE STATE IN ENSURING FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

It is the responsibility of the state to respect, protect and facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of association.

States have a negative obligation to refrain from any interference with the right to freedom of association. It is responsible for violations of this right when the infringement occurs as a result of state interference or its failure to secure the right in domestic law and practice.

In Civil Liberties Organization v. Nigeria, Comm. No. 101/93 (1995), ACHPR, the Commission held that “freedom of association is enunciated as an individual right and it is first and foremost a duty for the state to abstain from interfering with the free formation of associations. There must always be a general capacity for citizens to join, without state interference, in associations in order to attain various ends.”

In International Pen and Others (on behalf of Ken Saro-Wira) v. Nigeria, ACHPR Comm. No 154/96 (1998), the African Commission found a violation of the right to freedom of association where the government took action against an association due to disapproval of its actions.  “Communication 154/96 alleges that Article 10.1 was violated because the victims were tried and convicted for their opinions, as expressed through their work in MOSOP. In its judgment, the Tribunal held that by their membership in MOSOP, the condemned persons were responsible for the murders, guilt by association, it would seem furthermore that, government officials at different times during the trial declared MOSOP and the accused guilty of the charges, without waiting for the official judgment. This demonstrates a clear prejudice against the organization MOSOP, which the government has done nothing to defend or justify. Therefore the Commission finds a violation of Article 10.1.” (at para 108).

 

The state has a positive obligation to ensure respect for the right to freedom of association. This includes an obligation to protect associations from interference by third parties and non-state actors.

Further, the state has a positive obligation to enact legislation an/or implement practices to protect the right to freedom of association from the interference of non-state actors, in addition to refraining from interference itself. The principle extends to cases of infringement committed by private individuals that the state could or should have prevented.

The positive obligation of the state to facilitate the exercise of the right includes creating an enabling environment in which formal and informal associations can be established and operate. This may include an obligation to take positive measures to overcome specific challenges that confront certain persons or groups such as minorities, people living with disabilities, women and youth etc. in their efforts to form associations.

 

States have an obligation to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs and human rights defenders, seeking to exercise or to promote their rights.

It is first and foremost a duty for the state to abstain from interfering with the free formation of associations. There must always be a general capacity for citizens to join, without state interference, in associations in order to attain various ends.

Freedom of association also protects the right to refuse to join an association. There is no right for any individual to join a particular association if other members of the group decide not to include them or to expel them on the basis that their membership was not compatible with the aim and interests of the association. However, in relation to trade unions, if a decision not to include a person has adverse employment consequences, any such decision must not be unreasonable or arbitrary.

The right to freedom of association protects against the interference of the State in both the right to form an association and the right to join or remain a member of an existing one. The state is also obligated to guard against interference with the right by non-state actors and facilitate the exercise of freedom of association by creating an enabling environment in which associations can operate.

 

  • IT SHOULD FURTHER BE NOTED THAT Associations have the right to participate in matters of political and public debate, regardless of whether the position taken is in accord with government policy or advocates for a change in law.

“There is nothing…to suggest that it is immoral or unlawful to persuade those in power to change certain laws as long as that is done lawfully and peacefully. If the change advocated for is in the views of the lawmakers, likely to lead to or promote unlawfulness or any other undesirable situation or consequences, they are perfectly entitled to refuse to accede to such suggested changes. To refuse the applicants an opportunity to come together and register an organization to carry out peaceful and lawful advocacy for legal reforms…clearly violates their rights under the [Constitution]”

Thuto Rammoge v. Attorney General of Botswana, case no. MAHGB-000175-13 (High Court).

Legislation and policy concerning associations must be uniformly applied and must not discriminate against any person or group of persons on any grounds such as age, gender, gender identity, health condition, religion or belief, sexual orientation or other status. Membership or non-membership in an association shall not constitute grounds for the discriminatory treatment of persons.

Although an ‘association’ must have some degree of continuity, it need not have any formal or legal status (including legal personality) in order to be protected by international law.

The state cannot effectively negate the freedom of association by generally declaring the objectives of associations to be unlawful.

 

LEGAL EXCEPTIONS THAT NEGATES THE FULL ENJOYMENT OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

International human rights law allows restrictions to be imposed on rights where those restrictions are;

  • Provided by law,
  • Serve as a legitimate aim; and
  • Are necessary in a democratic society.
  • Prescribed by law– This implies that any restriction should have a basis in domestic law. Furthermore, the law itself should be of a certain quality; foreseeable as to its effect and accessible to the person concerned.
  • Legitimate aim– The interference in question should be necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder and crime, for the protection of health and morals or for the protection of rights and freedoms of others.

In Monim Elgak, Osman Hummeida & Amir Suliman (represented by International Federation for Human Rights & World Organisation Against Torture) v. Sudan, ACHPR Comm. No. 379/09 (2014), para 119, the ACHPR found that “the only reason that KCHRED and its director were targeted was on account of their perceived links with the ICC.  The Respondent State has not provided any information showing that the activities of the organization endangered national security, morality, or the rights of other people in Sudan.  In the circumstances, the Commission considers that the State’s interference with the activities of the organization and its staff was unjustifiable and arbitrary and finds a violation of Article 10 of the Charter.”

 

  • Necessary in a democratic society– This implies two conditions;
    • There has to be a pressing social need for the interference, and in particular,
    • The interference should be proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued. They must be proportionate to achieve their protective function; they must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which achieve their protective function; they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected.
  • In Attorney General of Botswana v. Thuto Rammoge [2016] Civil Appeal No. CACGB-128-14, Botswana Court of Appeal held the Registrar violation of the LGBT group’s right to association was not a proportional restriction. “In my judgment the refusal of registration of a society to further address that social ill could only be justified if it could be shown clearly that the society proposed to actively participate in or to encourage the commission of crimes against those sections. That is not the case.  Nor can it be said to be proportional if a society formed to pursue a number of honourable objectives, including advocacy, public health and education, was refused registration purely because, in the subjective view of the Registrar (or of the Minister), it was suspected of being likely to promote unlawful activities.  There must, as I have said, be some evidential basis for such a conclusion.  Here there was none.”

 

JUDICIAL DECISIONS VIS-À-VIS FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION OF LGBTIQ MEMBERS

 

In 2013 in Kenya, the NGO Co-ordination Board refused to register an organization under the name Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council.  The Board defended its rejection on the basis that the proposed names were inconsistent with laws criminalizing same sex conduct.  The High Court in Nairobi held that the Kenyan Constitution guarantees every person the right to freely associate and form an association of any kind.  As the judiciary is enjoined to apply the Constitution without prejudice, the right to freedom of association must be realized for all persons regardless of sexual identity or gender.   The Board, as a state entity, is required to act in accordance with the Constitution regardless of the personal views of its members and public opinion holding that homosexuality is reprehensible.

The Court found that limiting the petitioners’ right to freedom or association was not justifiable under Article 24 of the Kenyan Constitution, since can only be limited if it is reasonable and justifiable in a “democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.”  The criminal ban on same sex conduct does not prohibit LBGT persons from existing or associating and thus is not reasonable nor justifiable.

Eric Gitari v Non-Governmental Organizations Co-Ordination Board [2015] eKLR, Petition No. 440 of 2013 (at paras 73-99).

 

In Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera v Attorney-General Misc. Cause 33 of 2012, Freedom and Roam Uganda and Sexual Minorities of Uganda organized a workshop in order to train LGBTI activists.  The Minister of Ethics and Integrity ordered the forcible closure of the workshop, alleging that it was an illegal gathering of homosexuals prohibited by section 145 of the Ugandan Penal Code, which criminalizes same sex conduct.  The workshop organizers challenged the actions of the Minister as a violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of expression, political participation, freedom of association and assembly, and equality before the law.

The Ugandan High Court accepted that the applicants were exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.  Yet, it also found that Article 43 of the Ugandan Constitution, which allows justifiable limitations of human rights in the public interest, was applicable in this circumstance.  The Court found that the workshop promoted prohibited and illegal same sex acts and such promotion was prejudicial to the public interest, thus the Minister was justified and did not violate the applicants’ aforementioned rights.   The Ugandan High Court declared that the “promotion of morals is widely recognized as a legitimate aspect of public interest which can justify restrictions”.

 

In Pamela Adie v Corporate Affairs Commission (2018) Federal High Court of Abuja, the CAC refused the registration of an organization named Lesbian Equality and Empowerment Initiatives whose goal was to advocate for the rights of female sexual minorities. The CAC contended that the name could not be approved because it was misleading, offensive, contrary to public policy and violates an existing law that prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria.

The Court held that in so far as the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act is still operative in Nigeria and has not been repealed, the right to form same sex and gay unions and associations is prohibited and CAC was justified to have rejected the application for being in contravention of public policy and morality.

 

RECOMMENDATION

The right to freedom of Association is core to any society, it is an indispensable right in enabling citizens to monitor the Human rights situations in a country and to support the implementation of Human Rights policies. It is key for the work of Human Right defenders.

Registration should never serve as a tool to control the establishment of organizations, but rather as a tool to provide them with a legal status in jurisdictions that require such a measure.

Denying registration to NGOs that challenge or criticize the government is a violation of the right to freedom of association which forces civil action underground and delegitimizes NGO work. Registration as a form of repression also hinders the formation of an open and pluralistic society, by excluding civil society from public dialogue.

In many countries with a high level of civil society engagement and indeed an enabling environment, prior registration is not mandatory. If such regulations are in place, the UN has underlined that principles guiding the rule of law also apply to these regulations, meaning that they should be determinable, non-retroactive, lawful, proportional, non-discriminatory, and necessary. Furthermore, registration procedures should be expeditious, and not be used as a tool to slow down the establishment of organizations.

The possibility to appeal a decision should be included in the regulation, to provide civil society organizations with fair access to obtaining legal status. Provisions should not require re-registration, enabling organizations to be sustainable and look to the long-term.

Procedures governing the registration of civil society organizations play an important role in the control of civil society space. With this in mind, the power to limit the right to freedom of association must be appropriately framed. States should not impose lengthy, burdensome or overly bureaucratic registration processes, as this would undermine the effective functioning of NGOs.

In some countries, registration applications filed by associations can take up to a month to be considered for approval, while business registration is considered complete, the moment the application is filed.

Burdensome re-registration and reporting requirements usually do not meet the criterion of necessity, as they are solely used to control the activities of NGOs. Nor do they follow the principle of non-discrimination, as often more requirements are placed on civil society than on businesses. There are also doubts that such requirements are proportional, given the heavy requirements with regard to the budget of NGOs, in comparison to businesses for example.

CONCLUSION

FROM All The ABOVE CONSIDERATION, then comes the parody,… can the express provision of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2014, negate, subjugate and undermine the express provision of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria?

Section 4(1) SSMPA “The registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings, is prohibited”

Section 40, 1999 constitution “ Every person SHALL be entitled to ASSEMBLE freely and ASSOCIATE with other persons and in particular he may FORM or BELONG to ANY political party, trade union or ANY OTHER ASSOCIATION for the protection of his interest”

THERE LIES THE PARODY, WHERE LIES THE SUPREMACY?

 

CAVEAT

Lawyers Alert hereby puts our readers on notice that this article is based on the writers opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization except otherwise stated.

 

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WHEN THE ANOINTED GOT TOUCHED

By Devaan M. Mom

Timi-Dakolo-and-his-wife-Busola-and-Coza-pastor-1

Busola Dakolo’s decision to call her pastor out could not have been an easy one. She is after all, a successful professional photographer, married to one of Nigeria’s prominent musicians, and the incident occurred many years ago.

Her accusation came a few weeks after her husband, Timi Dakolo’s allegations of sexual misconduct meted to female members of the church by the same pastor, Biodun Fatoyinbo.

Biodun Fatoyinbo came to most Nigerians’ consciousness in 2013 when salacious allegations were made about him by a female member of his church who claimed to have been in an extra-marital affair with the founder of the upcoming (at the time) Pentecostal church, the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly, COZA.

Dapper, young, charismatic and good-looking, Nigerians were more sympathetic to the pastor whom it was assumed by most had fallen prey to some Delilah determined to bring him to ruin and pull the church down. Indeed, there are those who opine that the scandal served to make both pastor and church even more popular and sought after.

So, it was with a sense of unease and dismay that many read Timi Dakolo’s allegations when they first hit social media in June 2019. Still, many gave Fatoyinbo the benefit of the doubt. That debate was still being whispered around when Busola, Timi’s wife dropped her own bombshell. Apparently, this same pastor had raped her in her parents’ home when she was just 17 years old. One can only imagine that the constant allegations of sexual impropriety levelled against him by a staggering number of women, mostly members of his church, brought back memories which spurred Busola to pitch in her 2 cents to give credibility to the stories.

It seems to have worked.

Suddenly a tsunami engulfed social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, as more people watched the revealing interview on Youtube and drew their conclusions. However, if Pastor Fatoyinbo of COZA had hoped to weather the storm as usual, it seemed Nigerians and particularly women weren’t having it this time around. In less than 48 hours a peaceful protest was organized and held at the church premises in Abuja and Lagos, 2 of Nigeria’s biggest cities.

COZA’s attempt at a pushback, having the Church premises cordoned off by state security agents, hiring random strangers to stage a counter protest, only outraged Christians and served to rouse scorn and deepen suspicion. The hue and cry would not die down this time and the church had to get Pastor Fatoyinbo to step down (even if temporarily) and yet there are still those insisting on litigation.

Described as a serial rapist, many on social media claim he has a history spanning back to his time before he became a pastor and speak of how he left Ilorin, Kwara state in a dust cloud of sexual impropriety including statutory rape, abortions, and getting kicked out of university. They insist his relocation to Abuja was an attempt to remake his image which has since fallen through owing to the constant trail of the same kinds of allegations.

His wife, Modele Fatoyinbo, who handled service the Sunday after the scandal, defended her husband. A bit of an irony really, since several of the women speaking up claim he blames his behavior on her inability to satisfy his sexual desires.

The sexual scandals COZA has found itself engulfed in are not new to the Christian faith. The Catholic church, the biggest Christian institution in the world, is currently in the process of reconciliation and healing after thousands of faithful brought such allegations against priests spanning many decades. The Anglican church had to deal with a split when it took the controversial decision to ordain gay priests, a stand the African arm of the church refused to accommodate. Every now and again, the random randy pastor is named though hardly ever shamed and life goes on.

However, what makes this situation stand out is the instant mass action embarked upon especially by non-COZA members to try to get the situation redressed. It serves as a watershed in the history of the church in Nigeria and indeed the culture of silence and shame which generally attends such occurrences. For one thing, it makes evident the fact that Nigerians are no longer willing to look away when clergymen are accused of sexual impropriety in any form as was the case in times past. Many challenged Christian regulatory bodies such as the Christian Association of Nigerian CAN, and the Pentecostal Federation of Nigeria PFN, to speak up. Both have since condemned the act while calling for investigations and also revealing that COZA is not registered with either of them.

The public uproar, however, has served the purpose of ensuring COZA’s postponement of a planned weeklong church activity tagged, “7 days of Glory”. These are remarkable achievements as far as holding the Church to account goes. It is also an indication that Nigerian women are finally finding voice and losing shame where rape stories are concerned.

There are still several people who disbelieve Busola’s story and wonder why it took her so long to raise the issue, despite the number of women who have chimed in since the story broke. The Pastor still has a strong fan base within and without his church.

Pastor Dave Ogbole wrote, to the ire of many, on his Facebook page, “My loyalty is stronger than correctness. I run to the battle right or wrong, we never leave a comrade alone in battle. It is one for all, all for one. I stand with Biodun Fatoyinbo, I am Bidoun Fatoyinbo”, following which he also promptly got called out for similar conduct by a certain Nguter Uja.

Also, in support of Pastor Fatoyinbo were the following Twitter accounts, with @funshographix tweeting: “It’s pure lies that Jesus was born through holy spirit (sic), God actually raped another man’s wife to birth Jesus Christ, Pastor Biodun was just following God’s steps.” Yet another tweep, @RenoOmokri described Busola’s account of the rape as being totally without merit. Tweeps like @DrJoeAbah, @Omojuwa, @BukkyShonibare, @Adeola, @AuduMaikori however, had a different perspective and kept the debate alive on Twitter.

Shortly after the video was publicized, Pastor Fatoyinbo, wrote a strongly worded rebuttal in which he threatened to take legal action to clear his name. Many on social media do hope the matter goes to court to reach a resolution on the matter. Twitter account @AyodejiOsowobi appeared to be soliciting for complaints of a similar nature perhaps in hopes of carrying out a class action or having other victims willing to testify should the matter go to court. As at the time of writing this article, her request had generated almost 10,000 likes and been retweeted by over 12,000 tweeps.

Should this action actually follow through, and an investigation is carried out, regardless of what is ultimately uncovered regarding Pastor Fatoyinbo’s guilt or otherwise, it would have served to send a very strong message to sexual predators that the days of shameful silence are over.

 

Devaan Mom is a journalist, development worker and politician. She writes from Abuja.

 

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THE CLASS ACT OF THE 8TH BENUE ASSEMBLY AND THE VAPP LAW

By Jerome Uneje

criminaljustice

 

“Hmmm…Torkwase my sister, so it’s true that everything about the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPPA) is finally done and dusted! Hah…the glory of the 8th Benue Assembly and the Governor will never be erased from the memory of the Benue people o! At least vulnerable and indigent women, children and even men will benefit greatly with this VAPP Act as assented to in Benue State. The two Women smile and lean their backs against the wall at the same time.

The most recently rattled and misconstrued Law has finally seen the limelight. Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill like other bills presented to the National Assembly became a Law in May, 2015 and it seems to have overshadowed all other instruments and laws in Nigeria regarding the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against persons regardless of their sex and/or gender. This instrument enshrines the concerns and needs of vulnerable and indigent women including men and other groups who often fall victims of violence in Nigeria.

The Law which is applicable only at the  Federal Capital Territory had left the option to States at the Sub National level to domesticate the law in their respective States or otherwise. However it became imperative for the Law to be domesticated at the sub-national level especially in States such as Benue where on a daily basis, newspaper headlines are awash with killings, rape or maiming, particularly of spouse and/or lovers by husbands or man-lover, or rape of even minors like the case of Ochanya, who died from a gradual torture of rape by her so-called uncle and his son in Ugbokolo, Benue State and that of a young woman that was strangled to death by her husband for denying him sex in Plateau State and every 1 out of 3 women and/or young girls who suffer violence daily. All of those necessitated the propagation of the campaigning and advocacy for the VAPP Act to be domesticated in the State.

Be that as it may, the VAPP Law among other things has strengthened advocacy against rape, Female Genital Mutilation, partner battery, stalking, harmful widowhood practices by State Actors while prohibiting all forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychosomatic, domestic, harmful traditional practices; discrimination against persons and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.  In as much as this all powerful legislation instrument has provided for the above, it has also initiated positive innovations such as prohibiting persons from being forcefully isolated or separated from their family and friends and preventing widows from being subject to harmful traditional practices. It has even gone ahead to provide for a Commission of Violence Against Women which will be responsible for the general supervision of the Bill while a Victim of Violence Trust Fund will be established to provide and manage victims of violence. Under the Trust Fund, rehabilitation programmes, shelters and rape centers will be provided to cater for victims of violence. This indeed is a huge and robust fortification especially for victims of violence.

The positive effect of this Law is overwhelmingly amazing as prior to this law only women could be raped as approved in other legal materials and in the true definition of the word ‘rape’ as well as penetration of the vagina and for this sole reason, only women could be said to be raped. However, this Law now provides that a man can also fall victim of rape. VAPPA is the first piece of legislation in Nigeria which recognises that men are capable of being raped and also recognizes that not only penetration of the vagina is acceptable. All other criminal statutes delineate the offence in relation to women.  The VAPP acknowledging that unlawful anal and/or oral sex can be rape and not sexual assault is therefore ground-breaking.

The above has truly shown that the Benue people at this point will be thoroughly protected by the appropriate application of this Law and in secure environment notwithstanding the degree and/or pedigree of persons involved in violations.

In conclusion, we express our warmest gratitude to the out gone 8th Benue Assembly for a great job well done. This singular act has demonstrated beyond every reasonable doubt that their tenure was people oriented and has therefore purged it of all shortcomings while the House lasted. We also commend the Executive Governor of Benue State His Excellency Samuel Ortom for his speedy action towards signing the bill into law. We also commend the doggedness of the Civil Society including FIDA, Lawyers Alert, The Civil Society Coalition in Benue, The Media and all other actors involved in the course of this struggle.

As the struggle continues, Torkwase and her friend Ada laugh out loud shake hands and stand up. They walk out of the room towards the door to catch up with a new day in a new Benue where the rights of Women and other vulnerable groups are fully protected under the Violence Against People Prohibition Act.

 

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SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH RIGHTS WITH RESPECT TO HIV VIOLATIONS

by Hwande Richard

HIV is an acronym for Human Immune deficiency Virus; it is a virus that lives in human blood, sexual fluids, and breast milk. It weakens the immune system, so the body has a hard time fighting off common germs, viruses, fungi, and other invaders. It spreads mainly through unprotected sexual contact and sharing needles.[1] The first two HIV cases in Nigeria were reported in 1986 at the international AIDS conference, over thirty years ago. Ever since then the statistics of People Living with HIV have grown, these statistics have been researched and recorded by different organizations and bodies. The most recent research results released on 14 March, 2019 indicates a national HIV prevalence in Nigeria of 1.4% among adults aged 15–49 years. Previous estimates had indicated a national HIV prevalence of 2.8%. UNAIDS and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS estimate that there are 1.9 million people living with HIV in Nigeria. At the national level, viral suppression among people living with HIV aged 15–49 years stands at 42.3% (45.3% among women and 34.5% among men). When people living with HIV are virally suppressed they remain healthy and transmission of the virus is prevented. The new data differentiates HIV prevalence by state, indicating an epidemic that is having a greater impact in certain areas of the country. The South-South zone of the country has the highest HIV prevalence, at 3.1% among adults aged 15–49 years. HIV prevalence is also high in the North Central zone (2.0%) and in the South East zone (1.9%). HIV prevalence is lower in the South West zone (1.1%), the North East zone (1.1%) and the North West zone (0.6%).[2]

The State of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria & Benue State:

HIV/AIDS has in its reign harvested for its self a trajectory of effects in its course.  These myriad of effects cuts across core areas including economic, socio-cultural, health and other effects combined. Persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH) over time have been subjected to humiliation, discrimination and stigmatization; which is a clear violation of their Sexual and reproductive health right. These violations can be traced to the trepidation of contacting the virus from the affected person. The citizenry, both individuals and government establishment were party to these violations; for example, Government hospital refusal to treat a person living with HIV/AIDS or a family refusal to allow a PLWH to sleep under the same roof with the entire family. PLWHAs were practically treated with disgust regardless of the awareness creation done by the government.  Many people living with HIV, who are in good health, will want to enjoy their sexual and reproductive health rights which provides them with equal opportunities with a person living without the virus. The unbearable situation of the PLWH community in the Nigeria society led to the clamour by Civil society organizations and Nongovernmental organizations both national and international for an Act prohibiting discrimination based on HIV status.

The Nigerian legislation in the year 2014 finally passed an Act titled HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act. Despite the enactment of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act, 2014, the Nigeria society still grapples with issues of discrimination and the violation of People Living with HIV. HIV is a health status and not a death sentence; people living with HIV are human beings and are not only entitled to their basic fundamental rights but also their health rights. They deserve to be loved, understood and valued. They deserve to be happy, dream, achieve their goals and lead their normal lives. They are also part of the human resources of our great country Nigeria and they deserve to have good paying jobs and job security. Over the years many victims of these violations previously had little or no support that ensured that they received justice and this situation was given little attention.  This piece seeks to appraise the violation reports of people living with HIV within the last two years using records from Lawyers Alert. This report encompasses violations in the last two years as it affects the above target group. Their documentation is made via their online tool styled “LadockT”http://colahr.org/lawyersalert/index.php  which automatically analyzes these violations across locations with regard to State and Local Government, age groups and type of violation; it also exhibits trends and gaps. Their reports can be found at http://www.lawyersalertng.org/res.php

The report shows that with regard to PLWH, the Abuja Municipal Area Council in the FCT reports the highest number of incidents, followed by Karu local government area in Nasarawa state. Akure East in Ondo State, Awka North in Anambra State, Ibadan South East in Oyo State, Kebbi in Kebbi State, Kwande in BenueState and Lagos Mainland in Lagos State all show the same violation rate.

 

From the report, Emotional Abuse shows the highest rate of violation with 20% followed by Verbal Abuse with 17%,Economic Abuse, Freedom to Associate and Housing have  8% each. While Employment and Physical Abuse have 6%.Confidentiality Breach, Blackmailing and Institute of Learning have 4% each followed by the least rate of violations which are Personal Security, Forced Detention, Harassment, Medical Test and Child Custody having 3% each.

VIOLATIONS JULY 2017 APRIL 2019 INCREASE DECREASE
Emotional Abuse 20% 20%
Verbal Abuse 16% 17% 1%
Economic Abuse 4% 8% 4%
Freedom to Associate 6% 8% 2%
Housing 8% 8%
Employment 4% 6% 2%
Physical Abuse 2% 6% 4%
Confidentiality Breach 6% 4% 2%
Blackmailing 4% 4%
Institute of Learning 6% 4% 2%
Personal Security 2% 3% 1%
Forced Detention 2% 3% 1%
Harassment 4% 3% 1%
Medical Test 4% 3% 1%
Child Custody 4% 3% 1%

Table. Showing Percentage increase and decrease of PLWH – Violations in the last two years.

From the table above we can see the increase and decrease of the reportage of various violations of People living with HIV. It is very important that every one wakes up and begin to respect each other’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and report violations where they occur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/understanding-aids-hiv-basics#1

[2] https://reliefweb.int/report/nigeria/new-survey-results-indicate-nigeria-has-hiv-prevalence-14

 

 

Hwande Richard was a Legal Officer working with Lawyers Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SEXUAL RIGHTS VIOLATION IN NIGERIA

By Doris U. Innocent Esq

lawyers alert

Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents, and other consensus documents. They rest on the recognition that all individuals have the right—free of coercion, violence, and discrimination of any kind—to the highest attainable standard of sexual health; to pursue a satisfying, safe, and pleasurable sexual life; to have control over and decide freely, and with due regard for the rights of others, on matters related to their sexuality, reproduction, sexual orientation, bodily integrity, choice of partner, and gender identity; and to the services, education, and information, including comprehensive sexuality education, necessary to do so.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights SRHR, in Nigeria is an area which, owing to culture and religion, is neither making as much progress nor being given as much space for expression in comparative terms with more “acceptable” rights. Violence against Women and Girls, Abortion, Same Sex Relationships, Female Sex Work, Rights of Persons Living with Affected by or Most at Risk of HIV, Female Genital Mutilation, Unlimited Access to Family Planning, Rights of Persons Living With Disabilities etc. are all issues that citizens regularly confront yet fail to attract the commensurate attention in the positive, from authorities.

The cry out against sexual rights violations in Nigeria is a very serious issue. Sexual rights violations are real and they stare at us every day in our neighborhoods, families and different circles of association. We believe that the first thing we must understand about these individuals is that they are human beings. They are entitled to their basic human rights, they are deserving of love, understanding and acceptance. A lot of organizations have carried out public sensitization, awareness and campaigns through various channels in Nigeria regarding issues related to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. This is an applaud-able approach to dealing with the glaring issues of SRHR violations inherent in our society. There still remain quite a number of people who are either victims of sexual violations or are at risk of becoming victims of sexual rights violation. These victims are usually at left at their own peril, they are seen as objects of constant abuse and discrimination by members of the society.

Lawyers Alert is an established Human Rights Organization with an internationally recognized track record of successful interventions in relation to Human Rights abuses in Nigeria. It is made up of lawyers and other professionals with members across the 36 states of Nigeria. It builds capacity on essentially eco-socio rights, advocacy/legislative engagement, and organizational development. Its programs are essentially the monitoring of rights violations, legal assistance and interventions geared towards enhancing good governance. Lawyers Alert was founded in the year 2000, it was birthed from the place of passion to fight and restore the rights of those whose human rights have been infringed upon. Lawyers Alert has been in the forefront of promoting women’s rights in Nigeria ever since. We have carried out many projects which have impacted positively on the lives of thousands of women and children. Presently, we are implementing projects aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, eliminating sexual and reproductive health and rights violation and providing free legal services to victims.

Notwithstanding, Lawyers Alert’s vision remains clear: A developed Nigeria where the rights of vulnerable groups, especially women are respected. Similarly, her mission has not changed: To promote the rights of vulnerable groups, especially women through advocacy and through provision of free legal services. We are not relenting. We will keep doing the best we can to ensure we carry out our mission and achieve our vision. Denial of an individual’s rights is denial of the rights of all. We will always have mothers, wives, aunt, sisters and daughters with us. They are all entitled to their rights. We should individually and collectively stop violating their rights. And we should do the best we can to protect and defend their rights. This is our yearning for Nigeria, and together we can achieve this. Here at LawyersAlert, we have taken up the responsibility to bear the burdens of people whose sexual rights have been violated or at risk of being violated. We also make periodic violation reports, with instrumentality of our web based tool. You can get to know us better through our website http://lawyersalertng.org/ .

It is on this premise that we invite the general public as always to report human right and sexual rights violation against them and other people, we also encourage you to refer people in need of our services to us. We assure you, that we will work to ensure that justice is served.

 

 

 

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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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