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CHRISTIANITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

When ELVIS-WURA TOWOLAWI walked into my office and discussed starting a human rights education project in churches in Makurdi, Benue state, I was amused. Yes, we will have a wide audience and reach, but such must be situated within the Bible to have the impact we normally desire. So I challenged him to posit human rights within the Bible before I will approve the project. He produced a beautiful and compelling argument which I have compressed below. Am glad I approved the project, as Lawyers Alert “Human Rights Education for Churches” project is turning out to be one of our most successful projects. That is a discussion for another day though.

Find below ELVIS-WURA TOWOLAWI memo to me which am sharing on Christianity and Human Rights…..Rommy Mom Esq

The concept and idea of human rights started at creation when God said, ‘Come, let us make man in our own image and likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.”  So God created human beings, making them in His likeness-  to have dominion over all things. ( see: Gen. 1:26-28, Good News Bible). Little wonder, the Psalmist, awe-stricken by the garb of beauty and dignity conferred on humans by God exclaimed: “When I consider Your Heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man  that you visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honour. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet!” (see: Psalms 8:3-6).

So God is the author of human rights. Fundamentally, human rights are God-ordained entitlement given to humans in order to live a worthy life of dignity and dominion. According to the Indian Supreme Court, ‘’ human rights are calculated to protect the dignity of the individual and create conditions in which every human being can develop his personality to the fullest’’. These rights are inborn, innate, and inherent in every person for the mere fact of being human- made in God’s image.

According to the respected Nigerian Jurist  Ben Nwabueze: When we speak of the human person as having an inherent dignity and integrity, it is the spiritual attributes of thought, choice, conscience, the ability to form or hold opinions, to have feelings, emotions, sensations and impulses that are primarily referred to as conferring dignity and integrity on the human person.

Now, these rights are recognized all over the world as belonging to humans- whether black, white, brown, yellow or red; whether rich or poor; educated or uneducated; believer or non- believer. And these rights are provided for and protected in our Constitution which is the supreme law of the land; and in the African Charter and the International Bill of Rights. They are your benefits as sons and daughters of God and citizens of Nigeria. No one can take these rights from you recklessly and with impunity; be it Government or man. These rights beautify our existence on earth and give our lives a meaning.

Clarity demands that we highlight the rights which every Nigerian is entitled to for ease of remembrance and enforcement in the Court of Law. These are the rights:   (1) RIGHT TO LIFE ( no one can take your life without justification under the Law)  (2)RIGHT TO DIGNITY OF HUMAN PERSON ( that is, no person shall be enslaved, tortured, or required to perform forced labour; or subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment); (3)RIGHT TO PERSONAL LIBERTY;(4) RIGHT TO FAIR HEARING ( That is, the right to be heard before condemnation if one is accused of a crime or wrong. After all, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, He heard their ‘defenses’ before chasing them away from His presence with respect even though He’s Omniscience ( see: Gen.3:8-13).  So’ why should a man be judged without hearing his own story?) (5)RIGHT TO PRIVATE LIFE AND FAMILY.     (6)RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF THOUGHT, CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION (every man has the right to think, and hold doctrines and ideology without fear; worship without force or disturbance his own God) (7) RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND PRESS.(8) RIGHT TO PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION.(9)RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT AND RESIDENCE IN ANY PART OF COUNTRY ( That is, a Nigerian citizen can go anywhere he fancies in the nation, stay wherever he wants and cannot be deported or banished from any part of the country as was done by the Lagos State Government for any reason except disaster or crisis.) (10)RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF DISCRIMINATION on whatever grounds: be it sex, religion, tribe, language, or even social status; everyone is entitled to equal treatment and opportunities to enjoy the goodness of the land. (11) RIGHT TO ACQUIRE AND OWN LANDED AND IMMOVABLE PROPERTY ANYWHERE IN NIGERIA. And properties cannot be compulsorily acquired by the State without adequate compensation and in line with the Law.

Yet the question is and reasonably too,  if we humans and citizens of Nigeria and the World have such rights, why do indignities, harassment and victimization persist? The answer is with us: ignorance and fear. The Holy Writ affirms this—‘’ my people perish for lack of knowledge’’. And when knowledge comes, freedom comes: ‘’ for you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free’’. Whenever you know that these rights of yours are violated or there’s a threat of violation, feel free to approach the nearest Court, lawyer of judicial office for redress, ‘’ for its God’s minister to you for good; for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is God’s minister and avenger to execute wrath on him that practices evil’’ (see: Romans 13:4) Do not your rights be trampled upon by anyone. Human rights are God-given rights which human agency can help enforce their enjoyment.

.At LAWYERS ALERT we strive to be the voice of the voiceless and plead the cause of the poor and needy.’’ (see: Psalm 31:8-9) Remember, God gave you these rights for a life of dignity and dominion; so don’t allow anyone deprive you of them. No bird can build a nest on your head except you let it. As the mantra at Lawyers Alert goes, Know and Enforce your rights.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      ELVIS-WURA TOWOLAWI is an Intern at Lawyers Alert

 

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in Human Rights

 

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LAWYERS ALERT HOLDS A ONE DAY CONFERENCE ON “IMPUNITY, JUSTICE SECTOR AND DEMOCRACY ON THE 19TH DAY OF NOVEMBER 2013 AT THE NUJ HOUSE MAKURDI

Impunity is a global problem. It’s utterly pervasive. It can be found anywhere in the world and it can take many forms. Whether it’s a case of a classroom bully or a corrupt dictator, when impunity reigns – when people in a society feel free to act without fear of consequences – some use that freedom to hurt others.

This year IFEX Global Network  is running its third annual International Day to End Impunity campaign from the 1st to 23rd of November 2013. IFEX  Global network comprises over 80 organizations working in more than 60 countries around the world

This year’s campaign includes calls for actions to be taken now in support of five courageous individuals: Yorm Bopha, a Cambodian human rights activist repeatedly threatened, beaten and currently in prison for peacefully protesting against land grabs; Eren Keskin, a rights defender in Turkey threatened and shot at while seeking justice for women who have been raped and tortured; Doaa Eladl, an Egyptian cartoonist threatened for creating cartoons which have been deemed blasphemous; Martin Pallares, an Ecuadorean journalist threatened for reporting on government corruption; and Rommy Mom, a lawyer in Nigeria fighting for government transparency and accountability, who has had to flee his home following death threats and a public denunciation over the radio by the governor of the state.

It is in furtherance of the above that Lawyers Alert holds a Conference tomorrow, Tuesday 19th November 2013  “Impunity, Justice Sector and democracy in Nigeria”  at the Nigeria Union of Journalist House, NUJ, Makurdi.

Speaker will be Professor Okpeh O Okpeh of the Benue Sttae University, while the State Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Barrister T Igba will discuss the paper alongside an imminent panel of Discussants.

How has impunity within the Courts, Police, Prison, and Ministry of Justice etc impacted especially negatively on our democracy?  Your attendance and participation will greatly enrich the discussion and be helpful as the report will be widely disseminated

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Stand with Rommy Mom, Human Rights Lawyer,Nigeria, sign the petition for his safety

In mid-2012, Nigeria was besieged with floods that resulted in many people losing their lives, livelihoods and homes. Benue State, one of the worst hit during the floods, received N500 million (approx US$3.2 million) in federal aid money. Yet, no money has been paid out to the state’s residents thus far, propelling human rights lawyer Rommy Mom to take the authority in charge of disbursing funds, Benue State Emergency Agency, to court using the Freedom of Information Law.

Mom, who heads an NGO called Lawyers Alert based in the state capital Makurdi, requested information on what happened to the funds. On 28 May 2013, Governor Gabriel Torwua Suswam reacted angrily by attacking Mom with damaging and condemnatory statements in a phone-in programme on state-controlled Radio Benue.

That same day, Mom received phone calls from people close to the Governor advising him to quickly leave Benue or risk his life. He fled Benue that night.

Mom had every reason to take the threats seriously. According to local NGO Media Rights Agenda (MRA),”Benue state has a politically tense environment, so such a statement from a leader is an invitation for an attack on Rommy Mom.”

“Since the threat to my life, I have been forced to carry out my work from outside of Benue. This has not been easy, but it is part of the sacrifices and challenges of making accountability and transparency a currency in governance. The Freedom of Information Act is a critical starting point,” said Mom.

Despite his petition to the Benue State Commissioner of Police and Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police, the threats to Mom have gone uninvestigated making it too risky for him to return home.

Stand with Rommy Mom and ask Governor Suswam to publicly assure his safety, so that he can return home and continue his work without fear.

kindly visit to sign the petition  https://daytoendimpunity.org/take_action/index.php?day=18

 

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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IFEX profiles Rommy Mom Esq on 2013 International Day to End Impunity

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) today launched the start of its 2013 anti-impunity campaign ahead of the third annual “International Day to End Impunity” (IDEI) during which it will profile the case of Nigerian human rights lawyer, Mr. Rommy Mom, who had to flee his home State of Benue following threats to his life.
Mr. Mom, who is President of the Makurdi-based non-governmental organization, Lawyers Alert, is being threatened because he is asking questions, using the Freedom of Information Act,  about how much Benue State received from the Federal Government and other sources as support to flood victims in 2012 and how a N500 million Federal assistance was spent since no victim of the floods in the State had been paid.
For the first time ever, Nigeria entered the “Impunity Index” of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ), released on May 3, this year, in commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day.  The Impunity Index is an annual ranking of countries where journalists are murdered regularly and their killers go free.
Nigeria is one of five countries around the world to be highlighted in this year’s global campaign to end impunity. The other countries are Cambodia, Egypt, Turkey and Ecuador.
In launching the IDEI campaign, IFEX is asking its members around the globe, as well as other individuals and organizations, to participate in its “23 Actions in 23 Days” by taking actions hosted on the website; www.daytoendimpunity.org, which will serve as the campaign hub from November 1 to 23.
Observing that something new will be featured on the website every day between November 1 and 23, IFEX said:  “We’ve created multimedia resources to help people understand the problem and find ways to add their voices to a global network of activists working together. Through infographics, videos, online interactive experiences, articles, country profiles and interviews, we hope to engage more people than ever in this campaign that strikes at the very roots of the injustice and insecurity that silence expression.”
IFEX explained that it especially hopes the campaign will help draw attention to and encourage action in support of five individuals who will be profiled on specific days during the campaign, and then again on 23 November, the International Day to End Impunity.
Those to be profiled ahead of the IDEI are: Yorm Bopha, a Cambodian human rights activist and protester, on November 4; Eren Keskin, a Women’s rights activist and lawyer in Turkey, on November 7; Doaa Eladl, an Egyptian cartoonist on November 12; Martin Pallares,  an Ecuadorian journalist on November 14; and Rommy Mom, a Nigerian human rights lawyer, on November 18.
IFEX is working with its Nigerian member, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), to draw national and international attention to the plight of Mr. Mom. MRA will be coordinating activities in Nigeria in the lead up to the IDEI, particularly on November 18 and 23, including providing details of Mr. Mom’s case and calling for public support on his behalf to ensure his safety and enable him return to his home state to continue his work.
The IFEX impunity campaign website also features an interactive map that will plot all campaign events and actions planned or undertaken by IFEX members.   The hashtags for tweets are: #IDEI, #endimpunity and #23Nov.
 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Unnecessary and Extreme Use of Force on School Pupils during peaceful protest in Makurdi, Benue State by the Nigeria Police on the 24th October, 2013.

As early as 8:30 am on the 24th day of October 2013,  pupils of NKST Primary school Wadata,  Makurdi trooped to school as usual only to find the gates locked on account of labour strike embarked upon by their Teachers on the orders of the Teachers Union, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT).

The NUT has been in a running battle with the Benue State Government over non-payment of salaries spanning over three months, non implementation of Teachers Salary Scale amongst others issues. This culminated into the Teachers embarking on an indefinite strike on Wednesday 23rd October, 2013.

Pupils on arriving school on 24th of October 2013 to attend classes found the gates to the school locked by their striking Teachers.

In reaction, School children numbering over 400 blocked the street leading to the school in protest over the inability of the State Government to resolve the lingering crisis. The children whose ages range between 4-13 years barricaded the road and burnt used tyres, displaying placards to express their feelings.

Thirty minutes into the peaceful protest, watched by about 100 amused persons, a team of armed Police men in two trucks  from the State Police Headquarters Makurdi  arrived the scene and without any efforts to discuss nor persuade the children to leave, resorted to immediate use of force on the  protesting kids.

A Staff of Lawyers Alert who witnessed the incidence saw the kids chased and lashed with horse whips, tear gassed and assault by the police officers leading to a number of them sustaining severe injuries.  According to Our Staff “it was like the children were armed, the force used was certainly beyond reasonable, excessive and the children’s safety was the least of the police worries leading to injuries of varying kinds. It was unnecessary”

Lawyers Alert condemns this action in totality as the force used was certainly not commensurate with the circumstances. Worse still no form of negotiation or efforts was made to get the children off the streets.

Children like adults have the right to expression as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The violation of this right in addition to the assault and psychological trauma of the Police brutalizing children is to say the least unfortunate.

Several international covenants that Nigeria is privy to respect and recognize the right of children, including the Child Rights Act 2003 Laws of Nigeria. We consider the acts of the Police as an act of violence on the persons of the children and an abuse of their rights to human dignity, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as it is also a violation of the Nigeria laws.

We call on the Commissioner of Police Benue State to issue an apology to the pupils and their parents and also visit them in hospitals, and when school resumes, call on the pupils and explain to them  the unlikelihood of such happening in the future alongside regrets.

The children should not be left thinking the police is after all not their friend.

 

Issued the 25th day of October 2014

Asan Gabin Bennedict

 

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Governanace, Human Rights

 

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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.

REFORMS.

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:

 

  1. To increase understanding and awareness of the UN Standard Minimum Rules and International Human Rights Standards among participants.
  2. To strengthen and contribute to respect of Human Rights and collaboration among the institutions of the Criminal Justice system.
  3. To empower Civil Society Organization to monitor Human Rights abuses in the criminal justice sector of the focal states.
  4. 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.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. The Nigerian Bar Association in conjunction with the Justice Sector NGOs should create a network of Pro bono Lawyers in the focal States.
  3. 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.
  4. The forum resolved that it would be possible to add a Training of Trainers component to this workshop design.
  5. 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 ).
  6. 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.
  7. 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:
  8. Basic International Standards orientation to familiarize sector personnel with basic Human Rights standards.
  9. 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.

 

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Human Rights

 

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REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHT ENFORCEMENT; LAWYER’S ALERT AND EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLINGS IN NIGERIA

LAWYERS ALERT AND EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLINGS IN NIGERIA

In its simplest form, Extra-Judicial killing connote executions outside the parameters of judicial procedure. Any killing outside of judicial pronouncement of the killing is deemed to be summary execution.

The act of extra-judicial killing is about the highest human rights violations, as the victim(s) is/are denied the right to fair hearing, defense and life.

In it report to mark the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights day recently, the international Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law Nigeria released a report in which it stated that “over 54,000 Nigerians have died in extra-judicial killings since 1999. Some of these include extra-judicial killings by security forces, summary executions, vigilante killings, and abductions by militant groups’

Of the 54,000 estimated deaths, the Nigeria Police Force is estimated to have executed over 15,000 Nigerians in extra-judicial killings between 1999 and 2009 that is an average of 1,500 deaths per annum or 5 deaths per day, across police formations in Nigeria. Most of these deaths in police formation according to human rights groups are carried out by the deadly Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) found in all the police State headquarters across the country.

Lawyers Alert have often sought redress for the victims and/or their families where we can or when these complaints are made to us.

In Benue and Nassarawa States and North Central Nigeria Lawyers Alert is presently in Court over 2 of such executions by men of the Nigeria Police. The two cases are that of Bem Akaaza and Peter Ityukembe (both deceased).

Bem Akaaza wrongfully died in the custody of the Nigerian Police Force in 2006. He was arrested in lieu of his Brother who was wanted by the police. Bem died under mysterious and questionable circumstances which inform the litigation.

Peter Ityukembe was shot and killed by a cop who was his co-suitor in contention for a hand of a lady in marriage. Peter was tag a criminal by the police officers who carried out this act.

These matters have been heard and reserved for judgments within the month of June 2012. The full text of the judgments will be uploaded here as delivered by the Federal High Courts in Abuja and Makurdi respectively.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Governanace

 

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