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Benue Salary logjam: A Tale of Insincerity, Half Truths and the Rest of Us.

By Laz Mom

Targema is fuming with anger. Ngodoo, his daughter, has been sent away from school owing to failure in payment of fees. His retiree landlord has sold the house he is occupying on rent and the new landlord has issued him a quit notice that expires in a week. His Mother-in law is dying due to an inability to raise the money for her operation. He heaves a sigh in frustration. He is not a lazy man. He works his butt off daily in the State Ministry of Health as a Senior cadre Civil Servant.  Ordinarily, he should have been able to take care of his obligations but he is being owed over seven months in salaries by the State Government. There has been no tangible explanation as to why.

The Benue Civil Servants Salary quagmire is a burning issue that has elicited much talk and very little headway. Headways in any discussion are made where the discussants are open, truthful and sincere. The parties in this discussion are the Benue Civil Servants on one hand and the Benue State Government on the other. Lying between them is a ton of insincerity.

The Benue State government is brandishing a huge wage bill of 7-8 billion naira a month.  This figure puts the State wage bill as the highest in the Country. Outrageous at best and downright unbelievable at worst. The State Civil Servants and Government Critics alike doubt the veracity of these claims and will have none of it. The State Government itself doubts the figures and has repeatedly carried out Staff audits to ascertain the accurate figure to no avail. The State Civil Service estimate the State’s wage bill to range between 2-3 billion only, monthly.

The budget estimates for 2017 puts the wage bill for the State at NGN44, 103,666,596 which translates to about NGN3, 675,305,549.66 monthly however these are merely estimates.

It is quite disappointing that there is no specific or reliable data in existence on Benue’s correct wage bill.  The institutions of Government saddled with the responsibility of Workers Salary management have failed in their primary roles and responsibilities. The inability of these government institutions to clear the air on this logjam smacks more of conspiracy than inefficiency, though it could, of course, be both.

Ortom  Gov Ortom of Benue State.

Governor Ortom has been telling anyone who will listen that a cabal within the State bureaucracy manipulates staff wages way above the expected range.  According to the Governor, several attempts at auditing Benue’ workforce towards ascertaining the precise number and wage bill has been frustrated by the cabal. The cabal somehow succeeds in ensuring that the exact picture does not come out.

Despite the above position, perhaps answers to the following questions might prove useful. Who are the consultants commissioned by the Government to carry out Staff audit in the State? What is their pedigree? Government has to be transparent about this audit process if its intentions are to be judged as honorable. This is important not just to protect the government’s fast depleting goodwill amongst the people but also because, chances are that the consultants may have compromised their findings especially where they have no reputable name or brand to protect.

Top level bureaucrats and ministerial accounting officers also need to be held accountable. It is their primary responsibility to know the exact number of Staff in their institutions. The aggregate number of staff in each Ministry, Department and Agency as presented by their Accounting Officers should be able to point towards the real number of staff on the State payroll.

The salary inflating system has become a culture of sorts in Benue. It is firmly rooted at all levels to the detriment of genuine workers and our collective development as well.

Lawyers Alert agrees with the government’s findings that the much-touted “salary inflating Cabal” in the State is deeply lodged inside the bureaucracy. It is common knowledge in the State that there are people, typically referred to as ghost workers, who collect monies from Government institutions at all levels without a single hour of recorded work time. This can be found mostly in local governments and other out stations in the rural areas. For example, it was recently found out that a local Government had as many as 2,000 staff on its payroll. Of this figure, less than 600 were actual staff who report to work regularly. The remaining 1,400 were beneficiaries (whatever this means). This situation is however not limited to the LG level but has also permeated the State level.

This is a trying time for the Ortom administration no doubt. However, it is not yet a hopeless situation as some remedies, if instituted might prove useful.

For one thing, the government’s spin doctors need to adopt a more proactive approach to managing the people’s frustrations, currently directed at the government. We also encourage Government to accept some responsibility for the current situation and find ways of managing same using a people-based approach.

Going forward, we suggest the following:

  • That, all parties concerned in this imbroglio are Benue indigenes and therefore, truth, honesty, sincerity should come first before anything else.
  • That the State Government should channel energies and resources including the State Internally generated revenues into the payment of outstanding salaries as a matter of urgency.
  • That Government should appoint a reputable consulting firm(s) to carry out a thorough staff inventory in the State at all levels with a view towards ascertaining the actual figures
  • That the Government Media and Public Relations pundits should be more innovative in their approach than resorting to blame games and mudslinging.

The day draws to a close. The chickens are home to roost. Targema stares at them as they search for perching spots on the mango tree in the middle of the compound. They are metaphoric of his challenges. He sighs and decides to sell his old refrigerator. He is sure it can serve as a deposit for his Mother in law’ operation before the salaries come.

Laz Mom is a Program Director at Lawyers Alert

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Posted by on October 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Nigeria proposed Non-Governmental Organisations’ Regulation Bill

By Sunday Adaji…Legal Officer, Lawyers Alert.

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

Provisions of the Bill

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

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

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

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

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

General Reactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawyers Alert’s Stance

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

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

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

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

Consequences

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

LAWYERS ALERT’s answer to this question is twofold:

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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Women and Non-passage of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill by Nigeria Parliamentarians

Women and Non-passage of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill by Nigeria Parliamentarians

By Sunday Adaji Esq

Context

Wednesday the 26th of July 2017 will go down in history as the day Nigeria’s National Assembly (the country’s law-making body) acknowledged the need to reduce the age limit for elective offices thereby encouraging active participation in governance for younger Nigerians. If the executive does its part and the bill is eventually signed into law, 25-year olds can attempt to have their voices heard in the hallowed chambers of the law-making body, a far cry from the status quo which stipulates 30 years. And while the bill still leaves mixed feelings even amongst Nigerian youth dreading elite capture of the opportunity presented, it does signify a step in the right direction. The same cannot, however, be said for Gender equality as the bills seeking 35% Affirmative Action at Federal level and 20% at state level both received the death blow.

A whopping two thirds of the senators voted to throw the bills out.

Looking at the current composition of the National Assembly, perhaps this should have been anticipated. Out of 469 members of the two arms of the legislature, only 21 are female. Statistically, this means women comprise only 4% of the National Assembly. The situation is not significantly different in the executive arm which has only ever produced 1 female governor, Dame Virginia Ngozi Etiaba of Anambra state, whose tenure only lasted 4 months. Equally abysmal is female representation in other spheres such as economic activities, the labour market, social activities, trade and industry etc.

discrimination, including gender-based discrimination. To this end, section 42 (1) and (2) of the CFRN stipulates:

“42. (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person: –

(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or

(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.

(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.”

The Global Picture

It seems strange that while countries famed for being extremely conservative such as Saudi Arabia are becoming more open to providing better opportunities for their womenfolk, Nigeria, a democratic nation and the largest black nation on earth, seems to be regressing.

In January 2013, King Abdullah Bin Aziz, the Saudi leader, issued a decree introducing a 20% quota for women in the country’s 150-member Shura Council (the equivalent of Nigeria’s National Assembly), and appointed 30 women to join the consultative assembly. The king went a step further in May this year when he issued a decree ordering government agencies to list services women can seek from the authorities without permission from a male guardian as has been the norm. All this in a country which still won’t let women drive…but has at least conceded to provide transportation for them.

Closer home, in 2013, the Rwandan parliamentary election ushered in a record-breaking 64% seats won by female candidates. The government of Rwanda with the UN as a partner, has been pursuing gender equality since 1994, a concept which has remained alien to the Nigerian government owing to religious and cultural mores as the recent damage to the Affirmative Bills glaringly shows.

Yet, in the words of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu: “I recall that this senate is a very gender sensitive senate. We support women at all material times. Anytime we had issues concerning women, we stood by them.” Words which somehow failed to carry weight when it mattered most. Perhaps, memory fails him. It will be recalled that prior to the jettisoning of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill, the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOB) suffered a similar fate despite several modifications and re-presentations. At present, the Bill is again before the National Assembly, has passed the second reading and is currently before the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters. Whether it will be rejected again or be eventually passed into law, is anyone’s guess. Going by recent events, the prospects are bleak.

Although the National Assembly had unanimously agreed to merge the 35% Affirmative Action Bills with the GEOB, there are doubts about the legitimacy of their words owing to the overwhelming number of legislators who voted against the bill in the first instance.

Aftermath of Non-passage of the 35% Affirmative Action Bill

Data provided by Nigeria’s National Population Commission shows that women constitute more than 50% of Nigeria’s population. Going by these numbers, women clearly have vital roles to play in the growth and development of the country. However, they cannot perform these roles if denied the opportunity. The essence of the 35% Affirmative Action for women ministers at the Federal level is to encourage women participation in governance. The same thing goes with the 20% Affirmative Action for women as commissioners in the 36 states of the federation.

It should be noted that the non-passage of the Affirmative Action Bills by the National Assembly stands in direct contravention of the pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to which Nigeria is signatory. The document strives to attain gender parity in all spheres of governance.

Again, by the non-passage of the Affirmative Action Bills, Nigerian women despite their huge numbers, continue to be marginalised and discriminated against both in governance and in other spheres of national life.

There is no gain saying that with such a large population, the more women participate in governance, the more the nation, as a whole, benefits. Empowered women would contribute significantly to the economic, socio-political development of the country. It does seem, sadly, that our legislators have knowingly put the wheels in motion to achieve the reverse.

Way Forward

For Nigeria to become an egalitarian society, we must consider the issue of gender equality seriously. We must consider the changing roles of women in Nigeria. Nigeria is not a male society, it is a mix of male and female, and ironically, females constitutes the bulk of the population.

The way forward is for the National Assembly to now live up to its word and merge both the Affirmative Action Bills and the Gender & Equal Opportunities Bill into one document for assent into law.

We are a nation of approximately 170 million people. We cannot leave half that number out of governance based primarily on biological differences and hope to maximise the gains of human capital.

The capacity to change the course of history lies with our legislators. Let’s hope they seize it with both hands to give Nigeria a competitive advantage in the comity of nations.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Lawyers Alert sensitize Journalists on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights

The training was organized by Lawyers Alert for journalists as part of a sensitization and advocacy drive within the media community. The objective is to educate journalists on the subject of SRHR and how they can effectively report violations of same and also getting the participants to cascade knowledge gained to other journalists.

Facilitators at the training were:

  1. Rommy Mom, Esq. – President, Lawyers Alert.

2.  Mrs. Abubakar Abubakar – Director, UNFPA.

3.  Charles – Director, UNAIDS.

SRH, HIV & GENDER ISSUES IN NIGERIA

Facilitator – Zubaida Abubakar, UNFPA

Topic – “SRH, HIV and Gender Issues in Nigeria.” (Focus: Key Populations)

She began by acknowledging the vital role journalists play as watchdogs of the society in ensuring the protection of Human Rights. “We need to engage the media,” she enthused, “our work is based on evidence. Children and girls are mostly victims of SRHR violations. They are victims of rape, violence, etc. We have to educate them and the media can help achieve this.”

To buttress her claims that children and teenage girls were the most vulnerable in terms of SRHR violations, Mrs. Abubakar reinforced her facts with statistics shown below:

  • In Nigeria, girls particularly between the ages of 18-22 years of age are likely to get pregnant before marriage. The North has a preponderance of early marriage.
  • Female hawkers are particularly vulnerable to rape.
  • Owing to poverty, religious and cultural issues, girls are married off at the young ages of 9-22. They are most at risk of HIV and Vesico-Vaginal Fistula, a condition that frequently occurs when underage girls give birth. Nigeria has up to 600,000 cases of VVF. Girls with the condition tend to be stigmatised and isolated.
  • 47.6% of illiterate girls get pregnant early. They have no idea of the use of contraceptives.
  • Maternal and child mortality rate is high in Nigeria: For every 100,000 births, 576 infants die, while approximately 111 of the mothers die in childbirth.

Consequences

On the consequences of the violations of the SRHR of girls, Mrs. Abubakar pointed out that:

  • There is no opportunity for their being educated (attending school).
  • The vicious cycle of poverty is continued.
  • They are isolated.
  • 25% of the girls whose SRHR are violated contribute nothing to the economy.

What to Address

On what to address, Mrs. Abubakar explained

  • Girls should be kept in school to discourage child marriage.
  • Girls who do not get formal education should be empowered through vocational skills.
  • The health and well-being of children should be prioritised.
  • Girls should be trained in the use of contraceptives.
  • There should be a conducive environment for children and girls.
  • Keepers of the traditional institutions should be enagaged in these efforts to obtain their support which could in turn influence parents to change their beliefs.
  • Children and girls should be given comprehensive HIV education.
  • Young people should be co-opted into the information dissemination process.
  • Social could also be a useful tool in this effort.

UNFPA Projects

On the projects being carried out by UNFPA, Mrs. Abubakar noted:

  • 4,150 are being supported with the help of Canada. In Nigeria’s North, UNFPA provides support in the education sector. In Lagos (the suburbs of Lagos State), out of school children are being supported by training them in vocational work. 270 of the girls were able to impact 20,000 others.
  • Campaign launched last year to end child marriage in Nigeria.
  • A forum was set up to educate various communities on the negative effects of early marriage.
  • UNFPA collaborates with local NGOs to carry out their work with ongoing projects in Kaduna and Kebbi States.
  • Support is being provided for girls suffering from VVF

EFFORTS AT ENHANCING SRHR REPORTAGE IN NIGERIA

Facilitator – Charles, UNAIDS

Topic – “Efforts at Enhancing SRHR Reportage in Nigeria.”

Mr. Charles introduced a five-page news report culled from The Associated Press, which he distributed to all participants titled: “Rampaging Sudan Troops Raped Foreigners, Killed Locals.” Using the news report as a yardstick for measuring reports on SRHR, he asked participants to read the report and critique.

Most participants condemned the detailed style of reporting. They were of the view that The Associated Press was so detailed in the reportage that within days of publication, Sudanese citizens were able to identify victim of the gang rape perpetrated by 15 South Sudanese soldiers.

A participant, (a female journalist with the Daily Trust), was of the view that the victim’s identity ought to have been protected in line with the ethics of the profession. Though her name was withheld, the description of the location and the race of the victim, were so vivid that Sudanese citizens had no problem identifying the victim.

A few of the participants, however, had a dissenting opinion. One of them was of the view that the detailed reportage was what led to further investigations.

The Facilitator left the critiquing to the professionals only pointing out the following issues:

  1. The news is about sexual violence in the context of armed conflict.
  2. Giving tips (reports) to journalists helps with exposing SRHS violations.

HUMAN RIGHTS DIMENSION

Facilitator – Rommy Mom (Lawyers Alert President)

Topic – “Human Rights Dimension on Violations of SRHR,”

Citing the cases of the FSWs in Abuja and the suspected gay people in Gishiri village, in Abuja, Lawyers Alert intervened, Mr. Mom emphasized the need to protect key affected populations. To buttress his point, he cited the case of a Customs Officer who was accused of theft in a market in Jalingo, Adamawa state and subsequently beaten to death. It was only after the mob action that his identity was revealed.

Mr. Mom rounded off his session with a quote he once saw in a prison in a prison he visited. The placard read: “A society is judged by how it treats the weakest among them.”

QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION

The issue of homosexuality in Nigeria is a touchy one especially since the country has enacted laws criminalising same sex relationship and marriage. It was no wonder therefore that the following questions came up:

Q – “If I heard you clear, you mean you offer free legal services to homosexuals?”

Rommy Mom – “Yes, if we offer 10 free legal services to victims of SRHR violations, including homosexuals.”

Q – “How do you marry this with the Nigerian laws which prohibit homosexuality?”

  1. M – “Years ago, in Gishiri village, a pastor mobilised a mob to attack some persons alleged to be homosexuals. They broke into their houses, assaulted them, took them to the police station, and they were detained. This to the Pastor and his believers was in keeping with the law. We urge you however to examine the process. It is an offence to break into a persons’ home, assault the person etc. Yet we choose to ignore this. It is so much as the law, the process. We don’t violate rights, in getting to the end of the law. Lawyers Alert is about rights of ALL. Remember again, it is the court that determines culpability at the end of the day. The law does not permit any person to break the doors of people on ground of suspicion of being homosexual. It is the court that will determine the guilt of any person alleged to have committed a crime. Homosexuals, like other groups be they Female Sex workers, Persons Living With HIV, Persons who use Drugs etc are the vulnerable people in the society. How we treat and relate with them is different with coloration of stigma and discrimination. Ours is to focus on the rights of these key population groups.”

Q – “Do you also offer services to children and victims of domestic violence?”

  1. M – “Yes, we offer free legal services to children and victims of domestic violence. A 10-year old girl was raped recently. Her mother could not afford to pay transport fare. We offered her free legal services and we also paid for her transport fares.”

WAY FORWARD

On way forward, all participants agreed that:

  1. We should keep journalist informed as journalists are human beings and not ghosts that should know everything that happens in the society.
  2. Outcome of meetings should be shared. It could be visual, audio or text.
  3. Lawyers Alert could organise meetings to keep journalists informed.

CONCLUSION

Mr. Mom thanked all participants and assured them that the training just held was just one of many more to be held, and that from time to time, Lawyers Alert will hold refresher trainings for those in attendance.

 

 

 

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LAWYERS ALERT TO SUE NIGERIA ARMY OVER BENUE KILLING

Lawyers Alert has taken up the matter of the wrongful killing by the Nigerian Army of one Master Ipaven Paul AYEM, a JSS 3 student of Holy Family Catholic Secondary School, Jato-Aka, Kwande Local Government Area. The family of the young man had approached Lawyers Alert last month to seek for justice over the killing of their son by men of the Nigerian Army.

According to the family, Paul Ayem, had just closed from school and sat down to lunch outdoors when he suddenly slumped at the sound of gunshots and was found to be bleeding from the head. Closer inspection revealed a gunshot to his head. It turned out that men of the Nigerian army had taken it upon themselves to randomly fire into the air in an attempt to disperse vigilantes they were caught in an altercation with. It was in the course of this action that Paul received a bullet to the head resulting in his instant death. The sad incident took place on the 21st of March 2017.

Strangely enough, when the Nigerian Army were made aware of the incident by the family of the deceased, they became quite hostile and refused to listen to the deceased’s family against standard practice and procedure – and dismissed the death as likely caused by a bullet fired by the vigilantes.

Lawyers Alert believes responsibility lies on Government at all levels to bring to justice the perpetrators of such this act. Paul was a 17-year old in a certificate class with poor parents catering for him and hoping for an eventual reaping of the fruits of their sacrifice. 

Based on the above facts and the Nigerian Army’s indifference to the family’s plight, Lawyers Alert has written to and served on the Nigerian Army, a 21 days’ notice to meet the following demands:

  • a.      Identify and bring to book the soldiers involved in this heinous crime as their conduct was a negation of the ethics, conduct and rules of engagement of the organization.
  • b.      The Nigerian Army serves a letter of condolence on the family of the deceased for the unfortunate and unlawful death of their son from the bullet fired by men and officers of the Nigerian Army.
  • c.       The Nigerian Army pays to the family a compensation of two billion naira as damages for the unlawful killing of their son by men of the Nigerian Army.

A failure to meet the demands stipulated above will cause Lawyers Alert to resort to the law courts for a judicial determination of this matter.

 

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2017 in Human Rights, Uncategorized

 

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LAWYERS ALERT PRESS RELEASE. BENUE KILLINGS: BEYOND THE CONDEMNATIONS; MATTERS ARISING

Billows of smoke, lifeless bodies, charred cars and deserted streets best describe the scenarios in Buruku, Ukum, and, to a lesser degree, Kwande Local Government Areas recently attacked in Benue State of North Central Nigeria. For some time now, the people of Benue have been under heavy attacks from different fronts ranging from militia herdsmen, marauding gunmen and other sources in between. An estimated 200 lives have been lost with many more maimed or wounded. This situation has left the people, especially Women and Children, as the main victims of these unfortunate attacks.

The chief role of every government at all levels is the protection of lives and property of its Citizens. Nigeria is no different as specified in the 1999 Constitution in chapter 2 section 2b: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” This provision however, seems to look much better on paper than it does with regard to implementation in Nigeria as a whole. With the return to democracy in 1999, wave after wave of violence has been meted out on the people by a range of faceless groups. Until very recently, Boko Haram terrorists held sway in Nigerias north east having almost totally crippled the Borno state government.

But these attacks have not been limited to any one part of the country.

On Friday the 17th of March 2017, reports have it that a platoon of gunmen believed to be nomadic Fulani Herdsmen, numbering over 50 stormed the sleepy town of Buruku and opened fire on unsuspecting residents. The attack is said to have lasted over three hours. At the end of the unanticipated onslaught, over 60 people lay dead, most of them Women and children.

Three days later, on Monday March 20 2017, an unknown number of gunmen, in four vehicles and 12 motorcycles invaded the town of Zaki Biam in Ukum Local Government again opening fire on defenseless people at the popular yam market and killing an estimated 80, leaving in their wake a trail of destruction. Reliable reports of the Zaki Biam incident are few and far between. Rumors and speculations, however, abound ranging from suggestions that the killing spree was the aftermath of intra-ethnic bickering to external attacks from a neighboring state.

Be that as it may, Lawyers Alert has been able to glean information from reliable sources indicating that the Zaki Biam attack also lasted well over three hours from about 5pm to 8pm. Now, the question begging for answers is, where was the Police?  The failure of the Police in the local government areas to quickly counter the marauding gunmen can only be described as unfortunate. Especially in light of the prior attack on Buruku.

The true situation of the Kwande incident remains unclear. For now all we know is that lives have been lost and another group of citizens displaced.

The state government’s response has however been swift. Governor Samuel Ortom made personal on the spot visits to ascertain the true status of the attacked localities and consoled the bereaved. He also ordered the prompt expulsion of all Fulani herdsmen from the state, a stance which drew nods of approval from the people but also attracted the ire of the police chief in the state who considered the action inappropriate and illegal. The Governor and the Comissioner of Police were soon caught in a standoff that left a sour taste in the mouths of many.

The dismay expressed by many at the turn of events might be traced to the fact that Security agencies who ought by now to have put preemptive strategies in place were caught napping as the marauders came, saw and conquered without challenge from them. Indeed, not a single person has been arrested in connection with any of the attacks so far, rather reports reaching us have it that Jato Aka in Kwande LGA is currently on lock down by the same security agencies who seemed powerless in the face of what can be only be described as a terrorist attack in other parts of the state. And yet the state government’s efforts at curbing the menace were seemingly being thwarted by those actually given the mandate.

Without a doubt, the onus for keeping the Police well equipped, armed and trained lies on the shoulders of the Federal Government. There has never been a time in the history of the Nigerian nation when a need has ever been as glaring as this one currently is. Intelligence gathering is a necessity and can easily be achieved with the current advancements in technology. Security has gradually evolved from a place of reactiveness to pro activeness. These coordinated attacks are randomly unleashed on unsuspecting members of the public by hoodlums some of who actually are Fulani herdsmen (as seen in their own confession regarding the Agatu massacres). Whether all of these attacks can truly be traced to marauding herdsmen however, remains a matter for thorough investigation.

Be that as it may, regardless of who the killers are eventually (hopefully) identified to be and no matter what their motives are, the Nigerian state has witnessed one death too many as a result these unknown murderers. The political will to unmask the brains behind these attackers must be drawn from whatever reserves of inner strength the Federal Government still has left. The masterminds and their financiers must be located and brought to book.

Certainly, the state government also has a major role to play and we commend Governor Samuel Ortom for his untiring efforts to return peace to the state. Shortly after assuming office, the arms buy back project reduced the quantity of small arms scattered across the state as many turned theirs in. The process went smoothly and reports have it that up to 700 such arms were retrieved. All this achieved without the shedding of a single drop of blood.

The Ortom administration has also done its best to halt the activities of a local power monger known simply as Gana who had become a law unto himself and had been named in connection with many murders one of which was that of a close aide to the governor himself. Though still on the run, Gana arguably no longer has the chokehold he once did on the state. This is another commendable gesture as Benue has no interest in contributing its own quota to the pre-existing mix of locally bred terror mongers.

That said, much still remains to be done as we are sure Governor Ortom himself is fully aware.

In line with the state governments efforts at finding a lasting solution to this seemingly never ending tide of violence, therefore, Lawyers Alert recommends the following steps:

The Federal Government:

  • The Federal Government should set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the Ukum and Buruku slaughters with a view to bringing the culprits to book and compensating the victims.
  • The Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, send a ministerial delegation to assess the situation in both Ukum and Buruku LGAs and forward their findings straight to the Presidency for immediate action.
  • The deployment of a special TAC team to Benue is welcome.

State Government

  • The Benue State Government should synergize its Security position with the Security Agencies in the State especially the State Police Command.
  • The State Government should set up its own panel of inquiry to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the armed conflict with a view to finding lasting solutions to the problem and compensation of the victims.
  • The Benue State Government should strengthen peace building committees across troubled spots to include herdsmen, farmers and other critical stakeholders.
  • The State House of Assembly should carefully go through the anti-Grazing Bill currently before it which the state government has requested be sped up. In their bid to reach a quick conclusion, the people of Benue should not be saddled with a law that could work against the interests of the people as feelers seem to indicate at the moment.

Conclusion:

In Conclusion, Lawyers Alert considers all extrajudicial killings as a gross violation of fundamental Human Rights. All lives are sacrosanct and where any life is taken for any reason beyond judicial spheres, the responsibility lies on Government at all levels to remedy the situation and bring to justice the perpetrators of such dastardly acts.

Borno must never be replicated anywhere else in Nigeria. Enough is enough. The time to act is NOW.

Rommy Mom Esq

President, Lawyers Alert

+2348036081967

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
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