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In Pictures: Strategic Impact Litigation Training for Nigerian Lawyers held on the 21st and 22nd of August 2018.

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Posted by on August 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Strategic Impact Litigation Training Workshop

Towards getting Nigerian Lawyers to commence active Strategic Litigation cases that offers legal support to resource constrain citizens, Lawyers Alert will be conducting a strategic litigation training for Nigerian Lawyers on the 21st – 22nd of August 2018. Venue will be at Reiz Intercontinental Hotel Abuja. There will be Live streaming of the training on our Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/lawyersalert/ and YouTube page. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmeNqfhl9uNCVSmYs_E1_CA?view_as=subscriber You can also follow highlights of the training on our twitter page @lawyersalertNG.

 

 

Combating Insecurity in Nigeria: Call for Restructuring the Nigeria Police

By Sunday Adaji Esq.

It would seem the current security situation in Nigeria calls for a complete overhaul of our security apparatus, to wit, our law enforcement agencies, especially the Nigeria Police. This overhaul goes beyond removing the executive officers of our law enforcement agencies. The overhaul has to do with restructuring.

We have talked about community policing in the past, but the fact that citizens are not trained and well-armed for this limits our ability to make any significant headway in our resolve to maintain law and order in Nigeria.

We have also been talking about restructuring. Perhaps, this is the right time to restructure. The current security situation in Nigeria calls for restructuring. We have the Boko Haram insurgencies in the North East of Nigeria. We also have the herdsmen ravaging most parts of the North, destroying lives and property with impunity. There seems to be no end in sight.

The police force seems helpless. In fact, a significant number of policemen have been killed by these insurgent groups. Unless drastic measures are taken to grapple with the insurgencies in the country, we may be heading towards the state of anarchy.

The primary duty of the government is the maintenance of law and order. To this end, section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999, as amended, states: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Although our law enforcement agents are trying, their effort is not yet good enough, for as long as these insurgencies continue, they have to redouble their effort to ensure that law and order is restored.

Call for State Police

Many people who call for restructuring have advocated for entrenchment of true federalism. Although Nigeria is a federal state, we cannot say that Nigeria is practicing true federalism. In a true federalism, power resides with the component units of the states which form the federation. Nigeria is made up of 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Nigeria’s style of federalism operates a three-tier government, which is the federal government, the state governments and the local governments. However, power does not reside in the 36 states, but in the central government, otherwise known as the federal government.

The implication is that the central government is over bloated with the power that should reside in the 36 states. All the assets that should belong to the component states (natural and material resources) are taken over by the central government to be utilized for the benefit of the component states.

With power concentrated at the Centre, all 36 component states are forced to rely on the Centre for their monthly statutory allocation. Further, the Centre is in control and seen as the highest authority from which orders emanate. This is actually not the representation of a true federalism. In a true federalism, the component states are meant to be as, if not more powerful than the Centre.

One of the major shortcomings of Nigeria’s type of federalism is that until orders come from the Centre, the component states remain practically at a standstill. Everything depends on the Centre.

As a result of this major shortcoming, many have advocated for restructuring, calling for the  establishment of a state police. Proponents of this restructuring are of the view that if each component state has her own police, they would be able to handle security situations in their territory.

The Federal Government seems to be toeing the line of restructuring the police as there is, before the National Assembly, the agitation for the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution to reflect restructuring. By this restructuring, each of the 36 states of Nigeria would have its own police while the Federal (Central) Government would have her own separate.

This is a welcome development. It is our hope that when the constitution is finally amended to restructure the Nigeria police, and the 36 state governments now establish their police, this restructuring will go a long way to curtail the problem of insecurity in Nigeria.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Benue Political Logjam and the Fate of the Electorate

By Richard A Hwande Esq.

Preamble

Political upheavals and recalibrations are not new on election eve years. In Nigeria, this is characterized by party defections and counter defections by political gladiators.  This obtains at all levels of the political class. Back in 2014, a political eve year, this scenario played out with mass defections from the then PDP to the APC. Four years later, its déjà vu. This high level Political scheming and machination cannot go without its effect on the polity. The current political intrigues as obtained have cascaded down to the grassroots across Nigeria in varying magnitudes.  The political environment and dynamics in States across Nigeria have been recalibrated in quantum leaps with the fate of the common man and electorate hanging in the balance.

The Confusing Benue Episode

Benue Politics has always had an interesting narrative. From time immemorial, political alignments and counter alignments have rocked the State with attendant effects both negative and positive including the current episode.

The current Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom has been locked in a tense face-off with his erstwhile god-father, Senator George Akume, the de facto APC leader in the State. The reason for the face off cannot be emphatically established as this, like other political issues, is shrouded in secrecy leaving room for rumored and assumed reasons to swirl around.

The effects of the face-off are however not rumored or assumed. They are real and staring right at us, the biggest being the defection of the Governor, his deputy, 13 local government chairmen, and 22 Assembly men from the APC to the PDP, the closest choice. This has opened up a gamut of political swings and up swings in the State with each action birthing a reaction.

On the 24th day of July, 2018, the speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly Hon. Terkimbir Ikyange and his deputy, Hon. James Okefe, were impeached unanimously by about 22 members present at a reconvened session of the house. Recall that a week earlier the House had proceeded on a month’s recess to resume plenary on the 15th of August, 2018 only to reconvene abruptly against its standard practice to impeach the speaker, his deputy and other principal officers of the House in curious and suspicious circumstances. The 22 members of the House elected a new speaker and a deputy on the same date.

The following timeline captures the unfolding political quagmire:

  • On the 24th day of July, 2018, the speaker, Benue State House of Assembly and deputy are impeached by 22 members present at a reconvened session.
  • On the 25th of July, 2018, the Benue state Governor decamps from the APC to the PDP.
  • On the 26th July, 2018, heavily armed Police squad cordones off the State Assembly preventing members and staff from accessing the Assembly complex. This move is believed to have been orchestrated by the impeached Speaker in tandem with the APC leadership in the State.
  • On the 27th July, the chief Judge of Benue State issues an order restraining Hon. Terkimbir Ikyange and others from parading themselves as leaders of the State Assembly while a pending suit they had filed before another High Court of Justice in Makurdi challenging the impeachment was yet to be determined.

In another twist, another State High Court issued yet another order restraining the police from occupying the State Assembly Complex and preventing the 22 Assembly members loyal to the Governor from gaining access to the Benue State House of Assembly Complex to carry out  their official duties. The Police have since vacated the complex but the house is yet to resume sitting as it is currently on recess.

As it stands:

Currently, in Benue State, things are falling apart and the centre is not holding. The political logjam is taking its toll on Governance leaving the common man in the street in limbo. For instance, 9 of the 13 State Exco members loyal to the erstwhile god father have been sacked with no replacements made so far not mentioning heads of Parastatals and agencies including the Benue State Internal Revenue Service.

The Implications

The implications of the political logjam are multiple and burdensome. The first implication is that the issues of core governance, which are service delivery to the is neglected and has been sacrificed on the altar of ego and the political interests of the gladiators.

Another implication is the deepening of poverty and misery on the already impoverished Benue Citizen. Since the beginning of 2018, Benue has been engulfed in a vicious orgy of bloodletting by killer herdsmen with attendant consequences. Going by the reports of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, it had registered more than 180, 000 displaced persons which it has been catering for in eight camps while over 500 000 IDPs are taking shelter wherever they find space. Mercifully, the attacks are beginning to decline with slender peace appearing on the horizon in the State. The least the State needs at the moment is another round of disharmony from its leaders. Political affiliations are normal and legal but the acrimony and tension being witnessed in the State at the moment is least desired. This will no doubt deepen the poverty level of the already impoverished Benue Citizenry especially Women and Children.

Yet another grave implication of the current situation in Benue State is the derailment of democratic structures and values in the State. For example, it was widely reported that a battalion of heavily armed Police men invaded the State Assembly more than once to prevent the assembly from sitting to carry out its legislative functions. At any rate, it is most undemocratic and absurd for the Police and other Security agents to invade a legislative complex to prevent lawmakers and their aides from carrying out their duties. Furthermore, the Assembly is divided between two factions. A 22 member faction loyal to the Governor and another 8 member faction loyal to Senator George  Akume. Things got uglier when the 8 man Assembly faction attempted to impeach the Governor in a counter move against the 22 man group. The 22 Assembly members now sit at the Banquet Hall of the Government House to carry out their legislative duties.

We can go on and on reeling out the implications as negative as they are. Going forward however, we recommend the following as measures to save our State and its future from imminent danger.

Recommendations:

  • We call on all warring factions to sheath their daggers and dialogue over their differences for the interest of the common man.
  • Security agencies including the Police should not be allowed to be used as hatchet men in the hands of Politicians to settle scores with disregard to democratic norms and the rule of law in Benue State and Nigeria.
  • Peace and harmony are the most important resources the State and its Citizenry need as we emerge from herdsmen crises in the State.
  • The various interest groups should note that the citizen is paramount and should be prioritised above everything else including political interest especially the rights of Women, Children and the most vulnerable in our society.

In conclusion, we can only say that though conflicts, disagreements and realignments are common decimals in party politics, these can, however, be managed in an effective and  efficient manner without losing sight of the bigger picture which is the growth and development of our State and the Nation as  a whole.

In conclusion, we aver that this Benue logjam will provide the electorate an opportunity to know who has their interest at heart as we go to the polls come 2019.

R.A. Hwande Esq is a Legal Officer with Lawyers Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

AMPLIFYCHANGE VISITS LAWYERS ALERT

A representative of AmplifyChange, Mr. Patrick MccLure paid a working visit to the Abuja Office of Lawyers Alert located at Area 11, Garki Abuja. The visit which took place on the 27th day of November 2017 afforded both parties the opportunity to discuss organizational and project issues, particularly as it involves gender based violence. Discussion also covered our partnership and other areas of interest. The President of Lawyers Alert, Mr. Rommy Mom who spoke on continued collaboration and partnership noted that Lawyers Alert maiden reports on SRHR violations in Nigeria was a joint collaboration by the organizations. AC pic

Patrick McClure and some Staff of Lawyers Alert

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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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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