Tag Archives: Civil Society Nigeria
Lawyers’ Alert work in HIV and AIDS is restricted to principally two thematic areas, Human Rights Education and Rights Enforcement through litigation/Advocacy. Secondly massive education and capacity building on Preventing Mother To Child Transmission, PMTC. We believe successfully preventing and eliminating Mother to Child Transmission will be a key step in wiping out new infections and ultimately end AIDS.
Our involvement began in 2003, when Lawyers Alert organised a workshop in Benue State on HIV and AIDS in relation to Human Rights. The theme of the workshop was “HIV and AIDS, Ethics, Human Rights and the Law”. The workshop was for Persons living with HIV and AIDS, NGO’s and Policy makers with the support of the British Council. The workshop sought to explore positive living against the backdrop of the law and human rights in Nigeria, using Benue State as a case study.
Following the workshop it was established by participants that there indeed exist a lot of human rights violations by the state and non state actors in principally the rights to health, education and employment with regard to especially women and children.
Following this cardinal finding by participants, in 2004, Lawyers Alert carried out a situation analysis on HIV and the Law in Benue wherein we published booklet titled “HIV and AIDS: A Legal Framework” where we explored the relationship between Human Rights and the treatment of persons living with AIDS. This book is the product of engagement with the community of persons living positively and legal institutions. It became crystal clear that while Government has beautiful and well laid out plans in States Strategies, political will often do not match the strategy papers.
Owing to frustrations of non implementation of strategy documents, Lawyers Alert alongside the Community of person+ explored the idea of creation of obligations on the state and private hospitals, schools and industries with regard to women and children so this can be enforced. Only a law can achieve this, and this has been the struggle since 2005, to have a Non Discrimination Law passed by the State that will regulate and create obligations on routine testing of pregnant mothers, early infant diagnosis, adequate Medicare for mothers and children living with AIDS, access to education and non discrimination at workplaces, etc.
Legislation in these areas will go a long way in preventing mother to Child transmission, eliminate discrimination, enhance access to education, and guarantee employment for women.
Lawyers Alert has continuously partnered the then State Action Committee on AIDS on issues bothering on human rights and the law regarding HIV and AIDS. We specifically drafted the Bill transforming the State Committee to an Agency so as to make it more effective. The Bill has since been passed into law. Over the years we have effectively participated in the drafting of State strategic Plans for the Agency inclusive of other activities.
Lawyers Alert has represented over 100 person+ in efforts at enforcing or protecting their rights to accommodations, uninformed testing, workplace discriminations etc. We have carried out over 12 workshops, in building capacity and creating awareness on rights of person+ in Benue, Nassarawa and Plateau States.
Regarding PMTC, we are involved in mass community education in changing values especially with regard to Gender. Gender empowerment and elimination of stigma is key to effective PMTC. When the rights of women are respected by elimination of violence, disinheritance, access to education created and jobs provided, with fewer stigmas and discrimination, PMTC will succeed.
We have carried out efforts in these regard through awareness creation/capacity building and community theatre in especially between 2008 to date.
All Lawyers Alert programs have the above main streamed into it.
Lawyers Alert is presently in the process of developing tools to measure the impact of our work in Benue, Nassarawa and Plateau States in the sphere of HIV and AIDs/ Human Rights.
EDUCATING/SENSITING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM OF OFFENDERS HUMAN RIGHTS: FOCUS ON BENUE, PLATEAU AND NASARAWA STATES OF NIGERIA
EDUCATING/SENSITING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM OF OFFENDERS HUMAN RIGHTS: FOCUS ON BENUE, PLATEAU AND NASARAWA STATES OF NIGERIA.
This is a summary of a three day training workshop on the Application of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules (UNSMR) and Human Rights Standard for the Criminal Justice Sector in Benue, Plateau and NasarawaStates of Nigeria held at the Benue Hotels Makurdi.
Participants were drawn from the Prisons, Police, Judiciary, the office of the Attorney General and Civil Society Groups.
The training workshop was organized by Lawyers Alert with the support of Norwegian Human Rights Funds (NHRF). The workshop was aimed at increasing compliance with International Standard and promotion of best prison practice in three target States involved in a comprehensive inter-sectoral reforms efforts in the criminal justice sector.
This report summaries the key points arising from the workshop so that they can be incorporated into the planning and preparation efforts underway for possible replication in others States of the Federation.
While the portion of the workshop devoted to international standards focused on content, those devoted to planning were aimed at learning a process that could be applied to addressing ongoing needs for improvements and reforms within the criminal justice sector.
Toward that end, the following objectives for the workshop were developed:
- To increase understanding and awareness of the UN Standard Minimum Rules and International Human Rights Standards among participants.
- To strengthen and contribute to respect of Human Rights and collaboration among the institutions of the Criminal Justice system.
- To empower Civil Society Organization to monitor Human Rights abuses in the criminal justice sector of the focal states.
- To develop a monitoring and reporting process to assess progress and identify new and emerging priorities to be addressed.
Following an introduction to the Standard Minimum Rules as a whole, participants were asked to identify key issues to be addressed during the workshop. Participants were divided into four groups. Each was asked to select a category of rules within the SMR on which to focus their planning activities. The process was repeated twice allowing participants an opportunity to examine eight categories in depth, identify one priority problem to be addressed in each and develop a practice plan to initiate reforms.
The eight topics selected and the problems within each are listed below. The planning process included identifying short-term solutions (those that could be implemented or begin implemented within six months). Following each problem were the short-term solutions identified by each group to address the problem.
Based on the evaluation results, review and findings from the sector wide forum, the following intervention areas were identified for short and long term impact.
- It was agreed that the Criminal Procedure Code should be amended in the focal States stipulating time limits on the Attorney General Office for Legal Advice.
- The Nigerian Bar Association in conjunction with the Justice Sector NGOs should create a network of Pro bono Lawyers in the focal States.
- Further workshop should be carried out based on the model of linking training on International Standards and good Prison Management with planning methodologies to put these principles into practice.
- The forum resolved that it would be possible to add a Training of Trainers component to this workshop design.
- The selection of participants surfaced as a crucial factor for this workshop and must be done carefully for future workshops. Senior Officers with decision making responsibility should be included in the workshop. In addition, it will be strongly advisable that those with relevant technical expertise in the areas that are under consideration should be included as participants ( e.g. the officer in charge or works if the Bore-hole well is to discussed ).
- For future similar initiatives, with addition of a training of trainer component, a minimum of five days in a residential setting to allow for longer working days.
- Considerations should be given to planning for a second tier training and planning workshops to focus on needs identified through this process. Based on the current experience, two specific workshops have become:
- Basic International Standards orientation to familiarize sector personnel with basic Human Rights standards.
- Outreach and planning with external stakeholders and potential partner to plan actions in which they are likely to become involved ( e.g Legal Aid, Counseling, Sports and recreation ).
8. There was a strong tendency among officer participants to defer to their own headquarters staff and more often Abuja as the source for solution to what were often local problems. While the rule of the federal headquarters should not be over looked, there is a profound need to redirect the attention of prison officers to problems that can be addressed by their own initiative and focus attention in such as way as to promote site-based problem solving and initiative.
9. It is important to focus on short-term projects to gap analysis and problem solving. By directing the process toward applications that make it possible to see concrete result within 6 months of planning process, realistic goals and actual accomplishment can be realized.
10. Once the first rounds of problems are addressed, others should be anticipated and addressed in a similar manner. The process of planning and problem solving is one that should become an integral part of the criminal justice system.
11. The practical application of human rights and good prison management principles was a very useful technique in transforming SMR from abstract concepts to practical principles that can be applied in Nigerian prisons.
12. Promote sector wide communication among personnel of the criminal justice sector in the focal states on a practical problems solving level.
13. Encourage and promote more cordial relationships between inmates and prison officers to promote appreciation as human beings.
IMPLEMENTATION AND FOLLOW-UP
Owing to the structural and long lasting impact of Recommendation
Lawyers Alert is saddled with the responsibility of coordinating activities towards the achievement of same in the focal State alongside key stakeholders.
Timely follow-up on the network of pro bono Lawyers as evidenced by the planning initiatives begun at this workshop are essential. The NBA Chairman of the various States should immediately agree for the formation of a Strategic Planning Committee and subsequent take off.
Regarding all other recommendations a Core Group should be formed comprising Heads of the various sectors from the focal States to move the process forward towards implementing other recommendations.
The Core Group will have responsibility for overseeing the final development of the strategic plans, ensuring implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. It will assume an ongoing role in further gap analysis, planning and evaluation.
Lawyers Alert remains immensely grateful to the Norwegian Human rights Fund for all the support especially in the realm of Prisoners Rights in the Middle Belt Nigeria and especially BenueState. This present initiative is indeed very ambitious and if the recommendations are implemented will undoubtedly change the plight of the Nigeria awaiting prisoner, who sometimes spends over 10 years in jail awaiting trial.
In defence of Abuja women
BY BEN AGANDE
Reprieve may be on the way for Abuja women who have been at the receiving end of alleged harassment by men of the Nigeria Police and Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), as a non-governmental organisation, Lawyers Alert Association, has dragged the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation, among others, to court to enforce the fundamental human rights of women in the FCT.
It would be recalled that following the announcement by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board that prostitution is illegal in the Federal Capital Territory, scores of women, some of them innocent, have been arrested on the grounds that they were ‘soliciting’ for men, especially when found in the evening unaccompanied by men.
In one particular incident that provoked outrage in the Federal Capital Territory, a banker had parked her car and went into a shopping mall to pick a few things. As she came out of the car, she was ‘arrested’ by men of the AEPB and the police; bundled into their pick- up van and was detained for two days before her employers intervened and got her released. Victims have been made to suffer untold indignities, including alleged rape by police men who arrest them for the mere fact that they venture to go out at night unaccompanied by men!
Worried by the harassment of the women folk because of the mere fact of their feminity, Lawyers Alert Association, led by Barrister Rommy Mom, instituted a case at the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking an “order of perpetual injunction against the defendants to restrain them from the act of arrest of women in Abuja at night on suspicion of prostitution, as such action is without legal basis, unconstitutional, discriminatory and a violation of the human rights of women in Abuja”.
In an interview with Sunday Vanguard, Mom noted that, apart from challenge faced by women generally, African women have suffered several cultural and social violation and inequality which hampered their development. He appealed to the court to “send a clear signal that men in authority should not further seek to institutionalise this by passage of arbitrary orders and laws that will entrench these practices”, that have kept women in perpetual oppression.
In an originating summon, the plaintiff noted that the issues for determination was “whether the incessant harassment, intimidation and arrest of women in Abuja at night on suspicion of prostitution is not only unconstitutional but also a violation of women’s human rights”.
Quoting relevant sections of the constitution to buttress his point, Mom posited: “Movement is closely tied to liberty as women can constitutionally move freely in Nigeria whether in the day time or night time. Nothing differentiates the day and night for a particular set of citizens to be targeted at nights for arrest on being sighted. This is discriminatory and violates section 42(1) of the 1999 constitution”.
He argued further: “For women in Abuja to be subjected to arrest, purely on the grounds of their sex/gender at night in Abuja is discriminatory as men can and do move about without any molestation or harassment. We implore the court to note that these restrictions are pursuant to the executive orders of the 1st Defendant (Hon. Minister of the Federal Capital Territory).
“It is clearly therefore without any basis for the directive of the 1st defendant, a male, to subject women to domination by men, where men can conduct their businesses and other chores at nights without any fear of molestation, but women cannot, owing to fears of arrest and intimidation by agents of the 2nd and 3rd defendants (Commissioner of Police FCT and the Inspector General of Police respectively)”.
On the argument that women being arrested is based on the war against prostitution in the FCT, the plaintiff noted: “Prostitution involves very direct act of soliciting. It is our submission that whatever law the defendants are premising their actions on violates the supremacy of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999′.
An Over view:
Most often, campaigns into offices in Nigeria and indeed Africa are usually not issue based and even when specific undertakings and/or commitments to the electorate are made, the Electorate are not sufficiently equipped nor empowered to engage government and demand accountability.
The Mandate Protection project basically seeks to build the capacity of the electorate towards demanding for accountability and transparency from the elected officials based on specific campaign promises.
Benue and Nassarawa States of North Central Nigeria was served as pilot states for this project in the build up to the 2007 general elections. The project funded by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), sought to enhance and promote the empowerment of the citizenry and accountability in governance which has been the bane of under development in West Africa and other under developed countries.
The methodology for achieving this included the creation of State Mandate Coalitions, capacity building training, networking, engagement with government (executive and legislative), public enlightenment/empowerment programs, media and town hall meetings.
The objectives of the project was substantially realized. In both States, Civil Society partners came together to form Mandate Protection Coalitions, elected its Officials and forming their own structures of management. . A 3 day capacity building workshop was held for members of the coalition for both Benue and Nassarawa States. The essence of the training was to equip members of the coalition to effectively and efficiently engage elected political office holders to in order to bring about a positive change in the Nigeria polity. This project was first of its kind regarding realization of documented campaign promises.
The project impacted greatly on the 2011 elections in the States. In Nassarawa state the then Governor Akwe Doma lost re-election as he failed to deliver on the documented promises while in Benue State, the incumbent Governor party lost a substantial number of seats in the state and federal parliament owing to awareness and demand of the civil society no doubt enhanced by this project.
PROJECT ACHIEVMENTS AND OUTPUTS
AS a resullt of the project, remarkable achievements have been recorded. Below is a list of the achievements
(a) Formation of Mandate Protection Coalitions in the 2 States of Benue and Nassarawa.
(b) Capacity of the Coalitions in the two project states built and nurtured to effectively engage Government.
(c) In Benue State as a direct result of the Coalition efforts Government set up a committee comprising local NGOs to assist harmonize the State Economic Blue print styled BenSEEDS. This was no mean feat as since assumption of office efforts have been made to refocus government on the need to continue with the SEEDS process which is a more comprehensive development plan in order to attract donor support once more. Major Donors had left Benue due to an apparent lack of commitment by the then government.
(d) Another achievement is the report of the people’s assessment on delivery on campaign promises. The report serves as a strong advocacy tool for both legislative and executive advocacy.
(e) Civil Society Groups in the project States are now geared in one unified direction towards participatory governance and accountability
(f) Government engagement with the electorate has been enhanced in Benue and Nassarawa States
Lawyers Alert and NAWYCCA learnt and benefitted immensely from this project. Key is the need for networking and working together. Owing to this project both organizations have met severally and in the course of this work shared information, skills and knowledge that is mutually beneficial and organizationally invaluable.
We also learnt the how effective Coalitions can be when working together with a sense of purpose. The States Coalitions are effective, passionate and eager to deliver making State governments responsive.
The value of early preparation is also evident. Even as the Coalitions are engaged in this project they are also poise to impact on the 2015 General elections. The ideas generated in this direction are well thought out as against the “rush, rush” approach which is traditional in Nigeria regarding civil society engagement in the electoral process.
For Lawyers Alert particularly, this has enhanced our administrative skills of administering a wide reaching project in two states involving virile coalitions.
Lawyers Alert is thankful to OSIWA for this partnership and looks forward to more fruitful efforts in the service of humanity.
Lawyers Alert is a Civil Society Organisation that is non-partisan and non-profit made up substantially of Lawyers and other professionals committed to the entrenchment of democracy, rule of law and socio-economic development of residents of Nigeria.
It was founded in 2000, and became operational in 2002. It is registered according to the laws of Nigeria and BenueState. We are headquartered in Makurdi, Benue State with offices in Abuja.
Our vision is the entrenchment of virile democracy in Nigeria alongside its’ attendant gains.
Our mission is the empowerment of the citizenry through knowledge of their Rights and accessible means of enforcing same in a secured environment.
In 2002, Lawyers Alert, which is Benue based, identified the need for a State Network of NGOs, to create a forum for Civil Society Organisation in the state to meet and share information, knowledge and skills. The idea was to also provide a forum for cooperation and coordination in terms of advocacy in the state. Following this Lawyers Alert brought together about ten NGOs to form the Benue NGO Network, BENGONET. Today BENGONET is a viable State Network with about 52 member Organisations, a functional office and Staff. Lawyers Alert provided office space for the network for 2 years and also chaired the network till late 2006.