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Lawyers Alert Brings Human Rights Lawyers together on provision of legal literacy and access to justice to vulnerable groups in Nigeria.

By Roseline Oghnebrume

Lawyers Alert in partnership with UNAIDS Nigeria, brought together human rights lawyers under the auspices of Coalition of Lawyers For Human Rights, COLaHR, on the 28th and 29th day of October 2015 at Kanem Suites, Utako Abuja to interact with People Living with HIV (PLWHIV), People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs), Female Sex Workers (FSWs), Sexual Minorities towards provision of free legal assistance and legal literacy.

The Coalition of Lawyers for Human Rights (CoLaHR) which consists of Volunteer Lawyers across 23 states in Nigeria has as its  mandate the provision of free Legal Assistance and Interventions for Key Populations and Vulnerable Groups in Nigeria.

This event was aimed at bringing Members of CoLaHR and Members of Key Populations and Vulnerable Groups to get to know one another to ensure justice for all and to create awareness of relevant law as members of CoLaHR have been finding it very challenging connecting with Vulnerable Groups since the Coalition was formed. It was also a forum to increase the visibility of CoLaHR and to build confidence and trust between the Vulnerable Groups and Lawyers.COLAHR Meetin

At the event there was an official launch of the CoLaHR website (http://www.colahr.org), CoLaHR help line (08026826761) and email (colahr.nigeria@gmail) making it easy for the Key populations and vulnerable groups to reach the CoLaHR members promptly when the need arises. Ramaroson Mianko representing UNAIDS Country Director, Dr Bilali Camara, emphasized the importance of the website stating that it was created to facilitate  the protection of Human Rights and also to serve a resource base. Informative, Educative and Communication materials (pamphlets and posters) explaining rights and where to go when one’s fundamental Human Rights are abused were developed and distributed to Key and Affected Populations during the meeting to take home and also distribute to the grass roots and the larger community towards possible validation and mass circulation afterwards.

Mr. Kunle Adeniyi, representing of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) expressed his delight with the passion being exhibited by the participants but also cautioned that the forum cannot fully settle the issues of the law as it relates to Human Rights as the Law is constantly existing. He congratulated UNAIDS, Lawyers Alert and CoLaHR for a job well done and for the official launch of the website.

The Executive Director of INCRESE, Dorothy Akenova expressed her joy at the launch of CoLaHR website and stated that she had never been more happy working with Lawyers Alert and UNAIDS. Most participants expressed the feeling that hitherto were not comfortable in the same room with  Lawyers as they always had the mindset that no one understands them and the society at large always discriminates against them. They thanked Lawyers Alert and UNAIDS for organizing the meeting especially with members of CoLaHR  volunteering to provide Legal Assistance to them.

Barrister Rommy Mom, President of Lawyers Alert commended and appreciated his learned colleagues who have offered to give themselves and their time to the Vulnerable Groups to protect and offer pro-bono legal services when their rights have been infringed.

At the end of the 2 day event, an effective networking and trust building between the Lawyers and the Vulnerable Groups was enhanced and  agreed modality between the Vulnerable Groups and members of CoLaHR on reaching out when in need. The participants also learnt about the common violations faced, knowledge of their rights and knowledge of the legal needs of key populations and vulnerable groups.

The members of the Coalition agreed on the following: There should be a permanent staff for CoLaHR, Legal fund for CoLaHR be established and administered by Lawyers Alert, Members of CoLaHR should be trained on Human Right practice, More Lawyers should be trained to increase the number of Lawyers under CoLaHR, There should be a meeting with critical stakeholders and bodies, The need for specialization by CoLaHR members where necessary and the need to have periodic meetings.

 

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Of Ortom, Taxation, Benue and Expectations Management.

…….Rommy Mom Esq

Onyeche looks through her window to see the evening sun go down as it makes way for the fast approaching dusk. Her eyes can see the grandeur of the evening glow but her mind is filled with frustrating thoughts instead. It’s been three months since she last went to school as a final year economics student of the Benue State University. Her eyes move away from the window to the calendar. Three months from today, and she would have been a graduate; and now she doubts if she will graduate this year at all.

Onyeche’s fears, doubts and expectations reflect the state of the feelings of the over 5 million people across the entire state. Workers’ salaries are backlogged upwards of six months and valued at approximately 12 billion naira in arrears. The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has stated that the verified debt profile for Benue state so is over N90bn as against the purported N9bn indicated by the immediate past administration of Gabriel Suswam.

That States, including Benue, have suffered dwindling fortunes from the Federal Allocations is obvious. This, we are told, is occasioned by falling crude prices, lack of fiscal discipline, corruption, and leakages in the system over time. In a few words, Nigeria is broke.

In Benue, the situation is pathetic. For a State that relies 97% on federal allocation, the picture begins to take shape, and it is not a good picture by any measure. The backlog of salaries (approximately six months), pension claims, unpaid contractors, loans that are due, and an almost non-existent Internally Generated Revenue envelope all paint a grim picture.

Juxtaposing the above scenario with the joy and huge expectations that greeted the victory of Governor Ortom at the just concluded polls poses a contrasting scenario. On one hand are the huge expectations of the deprived and suffering Benue masses and on the other is an empty treasury and near zero Internally Generated Revenue base. The only ray of hope in all of this, is that the Governor is not deterred and has repeatedly stated his conviction that he will turn things around.

Yet, methinks, we the Benue people, must manage our expectations, and not only that, we must assist the less informed to be in the know of the actual state of government accounts. This is fundamental if good governance is to find a home in Benue. Where do we as citizens come in and how does the Ortom administration deliver amidst great expectations and the myth of the never ending deep pocket of government? This is where the need for proper management of the people’s expectations comes in. This paradox and dilemma requires patience, partnerships and openness from the people towards the new administration and vice versa. The situation calls for tradeoffs, midway meetings and other possible local understandings and options.

The citizen has rights that Government as an institution must respect, protect and fulfil. This means government must provide for our rights, especially civil and political rights; create an enabling environment for the enjoyment of same and also protect these rights from being abused in any way. Provision of education, healthcare, housing, food, are just some of these rights, and in some climes these are justiciable. This therefore means that government must have resources to deliver. In plain terms, government must have money!

At the risk of repetition, Benue is presently without resources or money, making these obligations of government difficult to meet. This is especially so because we rely 97% on federal allocation, and this structure which we solely rely on, has never been as shaky as it is today. Yet Benue state government must hold and deliver, and alternatives ways must be sought, develop and sustained, and they must be locally sourced, right here in Benue.

The above can only be achieved by the emergence of an alternative source of income that is independent of federal allocation and loans. The only feasible and sustainable alternative source of income for the state remains the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) which currently stands at almost zero in relation to our needs. For the State to move ahead in terms of development and in the direction of the fulfilment of the dreams and aspirations of every Benue man, woman, boy and girl, there is a need to bolster the Internally Generated Revenue base of the state to meet the huge expectations of the people.

Mercifully, Ortom, even during his campaigns, made it clear that his administration would prioritize increasing the Internally Generated Revenues of the state in order to shift from the over dependence on federal allocations and loans which over the years have failed to yield any remarkable development in the state.

Of course, residents and people of Benue will point out to anyone who cares to listen about the huge potentials of the state, from tourism to wealth in the ground etc. The question, however, is, how do we get the resources to tap these huge potentials? Loans, loans and more loans? Yes, people talk of going into partnerships, bringing in multi-national companies to finance some wonderful projects, etc….but again, these organizations are no father Christmases. There is always a catch.

The most important issue which we have failed to highlight so far in all of these is: what is the role of the citizen in resolving this challenge? How can you, the citizen, contribute to the re-birth of a new Benue?

Dear Benue indigene and resident, we have a constitutional obligation to join hands in the rebuilding of our potentially great state, Benue. The solution lies in the paying of that, oh so disliked stipend better known as “taxes.” We need to make the sacrifice so that government can function and deliver on its obligations to us. It is not an option, but an obligation. We cannot in all good conscience say we love Benue or even demand that government discharges its obligation to us for the provision of basic infrastructure if we do not pay taxes. That is how it works and this is one of the major ways we can assist today’s government, that we are all excited about, to deliver.

Do you own a school, a shop, or a house? Do you render consultancy services, and do you buy luxury goods? If yes, we have an obligation to pay taxes. In Benue today, taxes that are collected are less than 30% of what could be paid and collected by the state to develop its people, pay salaries, provide social amenities etc. As citizens, we must admit we have failed ourselves, our government and our children yet unborn in the discharge of this obligation and we need to start today. The huge potential revenue that lies untapped and neglected can and will add considerably to the capital outlay of the state.

We must look inwards for increased revenues, which can only be achieved through taxation, legally permissible levies, rates and other charges by the government on the Benue citizens. This, in other words means that, the Benue man and woman will provided needed support for the expected development projects through prompt and regular payment of taxes and other legal and permissible levies as and when due.

No doubt in a corrupt environment, where government steals and does not deliver on good governance, citizens are reluctant to pay taxes, and many may argue their cause on various grounds, some valid and some not so valid. These arguments will range from prevailing hardships to lack of accountability and everything in between. True. Yet this is no reason to avoid paying taxes.  Ortom deserves the benefit of doubt that he will not steal our money. He has said so on several occasions. He is the first Benue Governor, that I personally have heard repeatedly mention transparency and accountability. The least we can is give him the benefit of doubt, pay our taxes then hold the government to account.

It is only logical that a tax paying citizen will be more justified and concerned about holding the leaders to account and demanding probity through transparency and active participation in governance. Citizens who pay their taxes and rates have a stronger justification to demand for accountability from government than those who do not. This function can be achieved through civic groups, workers unions and community based associations who will periodically engage government at all levels to account for taxes paid.

The Ortom government on its part, we are sure, must have plans regarding how to achieve the campaign promises made. The government must be tactful and strategic in its approach to commencing its wholesale approach in increasing the Internally Generated Revenues of the state, especially the tax envelope. The initiative has to be people-oriented and driven to enable a more persuasive and acceptable outcome.

In this regard, the government will have to liaise closely with Civil Society Groups, Community Based Organizations, Faith Based Organizations etc. This is imperative because these civic groups are close to the people and have a high success rate with regard to grassroots mobilization and sensitization. Their mobilization and sensitization skills will enhance the peoples’ support to the proposed taxation policy and enhance its success for the growth and development of Benue.

Once this is achieved, the worries of Onyeche and millions of other Benue indigenes when they peep through their windows, will melt away as they see the sun rise in its glory and majesty at growth of a new and vibrant Benue.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Governance, Human Rights

 

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REPORT OF CSOs VISIT TO BENUE STATE, GOVERNOR- ELECT, DR. SAMUEL ORTOM.

By Asan Gabin Bennedict

The Coalition of Civil Society Groups in Benue State paid a courtesy visit to the Governor-Elect, Dr. Samuel Ortom at his residence in Makurdi the State Capital. The CSOs presented quick win targets for the Governor-Elect to address within his first 100 days in office.

Presenting the document titled: “Benue CSOs/Media Coalition 100 day in office target for Dr. Samuel Ortom, Governor-Elect, Benue State of Nigeria”; the Team-leader Mr. Rommy Mom, said setting 100 days target for the incoming administration to meet has become imperative for the civil society in the state, as it is believed that meeting these targets will set the administration on the path of achieving the much needed expectations of the citizens of the state. Mr. Mom thanked the Governor-Elect for the invitation to input and partner towards the much needed development in the State.

The Team-leader noted with regret that,  had the Civil Society Groups in the State partnered and engaged previous governments in the State in setting realizable agenda, and monitoring same and demanding accountability in a more effective and efficient manner, the State would have progressed much more development wise. He said the least the CSOs could do is their resolve to promote and protect the mandate given to the incoming Ortom administration by the people of Benue State by engaging actively with the new government

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Mr Rommy Mom presenting the 100 days Target Document to Ortom.

In his response, the Governor-Elect Dr. Samuel Ortom, thanked the CSOs Coalition in the State for harkening to his call to all citizen to participate and make meaningful contributions to his administration. He assured the CSOs of his administration’ zero tolerance for corruption and an open door policy that will enhance accountability. He promised opening up space for government/CSOs collaboration, partnership and engagement. By so doing, he promised to reduce the agenda of the Civil Society into actionable point for ease of implementation and monitoring.

The Governor-Elect reiterated the fact that he holds noting sacred as the mandates given to him to govern the State and he promise to do so with the fear of God and respect for the people of the State who are the mandate givers. He further acknowledges the fact that he is human as such susceptible to human frailty and imperfection and call on CSOs to be disposed to advising and correcting his government objectively for maximum gain by the State.

SUMMARY OF ISSUES SET-FORT BY THE CSOS FOR THE GOVERNOR-ELECT TO ATTAIN WITHIN HIS FIRST 100DAY IN OFFICE 

FINANCES/RESOURCES

Reliance on federal allocations is now almost a call for a death sentence on the state. Federal allocations are insufficient to take care of salaries, outside of other recurring expenditure.  There will be zero finances for infrastructure and other projects.

In the circumstances, it must be acknowledged that Benue is in a deep pit that would need some filling. Given the above situation, the partners set up the following targets for the new administration.

  • Within the first 100 days the Ortom government should endeavor to inform the Benue people of the true and actual state of finances of the state in plain language and explain the challenges that lay ahead. 
  • In the first 100 days, the administration should convene a technical meeting regarding the state of Benue’s finances to be attended by indigenes of Benue knowledgeable in economics, development, and resource generation. 
  • Within the first 100 days, the Ortom administration should convene and hold a Donor conference in Benue for the four big players in development (World Bank, EU, UNDP and the DFID) for the possible channels of synergizing and partnering with a view to proffering solutions to the challenge. 
  • Tax Regime is an area that was also looked into by the CSO/Media partnership. The resolution for the Ortom administration is to, within 100 days, address the issue of BIRS with a view to regaining its lost glory. In getting citizens to pay their taxes in a dignified and humane manner rather than in a thuggish manner, community groups should be co-opted to help in addressing and creating awareness on the need for people of Benue to pay their taxes. 

HEALTH

The Benue health sector is in a crisis. It is an emergency. There is a dearth of nurses with current statistics at 1 nurse to approximately 60 patients as against 1 nurse to 3 patients. As it were, the School of Nursing in Benue has lost its accreditation a while back, and can no longer produce nurses. As retirement takes its toll, the vacuum is in one word, frightening. The school of health technology that produces community health assistants is gradually becoming a curse. The Assistants now set up quack clinics in the hinterlands and hurry citizens to their deaths, capitalizing on the absence of nurses and doctors.

The story is no different with Doctors. The medical school in Benue state university suffered the same fate as the School of nursing and to date is unable to produce doctors, though recently accredited.

Persons living with HIV are left behind regarding access to healthcare and other such services.

The Ortom administration should therefore, in 100 days, seek to:

  • Aggressively commence the process of halting the rot in the healthcare system by the development and implementation of a clear plan to address the issue of accreditation of the school of nursing through the provision of a well-equipped educational facility.
  • Appoint technocrats into positions in the health sector and not politicians.
  •  Develop a health master plan that will involve civil society. 

AGRICULTURE

Benue State which is “The Food Basket of the Nation” has become a food basket without food; an empty food basket. This remains so despite the fact that the soil and weather are naturally suitably regulated to support a wide variety of arable and plantation crops, livestock, forestry, wild life and fishery products.

The Ortom administration should therefore, in 100 days, seek to:

  • Timely distribution of herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers and improved seedlings to farmers across the State.
  •  Government should encourage partnership with land owners and carry out massive land clearing for cultivation.

PEACE, SECURITY AND JUSTICE

There is an urgent need to redeem the peace and security situation in Benue State. This is the only sure way of entrenching development and enhancing the living condition of the Benue people. Unfortunately, these fundamentals for livelihood have become a scarce commodity in the State.

The Ortom administration should therefore, in 100 days, seek to:

  • Set up a peace and reconciliation committee with a mandate of peace building and advocacy for harmonious co-existence amongst communities across the State, borders and neighbours.

A community-policing scheme will be evolved in conjunction with the State Police Command, Local Vigilante Groups, the National Security and Civil Defence Corps, who will be trained on relevant community policing techniques.

  • The immediate resolution of the dispute between government and the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria with the view of preventing the incessant industrial strikes by the union to enhance access to justice and speedy prosecution of offenders.
  • The unsatisfactory working conditions of judicial staff, including non-payment of salaries, which is responsible for low morale, should be addressed by the government peremptorily.
  • The State Executive Council should initiate a Bill for a law prohibiting public grazing in the state with a view to bringing to rest the crisis between herdsmen and farmers in Benue State

WATER AND SANITATION

The importance of water in all the fairs of human endeavour cannot be overemphasized hence the aphorism: “water is life”. Government should prioritize water supply in quality and quantity.

The Ortom administration should therefore, in 100 days, seek to:

  • Government should setup a committee to assess the cost of reticulation of water in Makurdi and urban areas in order for the public to have a firsthand cost will put the Greater Makurdi Water Works to maximum use.
  •  Government should establish community health clubs in primary and secondary schools to deepen the culture of sanitation.

CITIZEN’S WELFARE

The Benue resident is today almost living a beggarly life owing to lack of resources. This is because the state is one where most salaried workers are employed by the government which then proceeds to deprive them of salaries for months at a time.

In 100 days therefore, the Ortom administration should:

  • Endeavour to pay outstanding salaries by at least 70%. We shy away from insisting on 100% given the dire financial circumstances of the state.
  • Provide refuse bins across the state especially in commercial areas and markets to stem the spread of diseases through waste and dirt. In the long terms an incinerator to burn waste should be installed in large towns in Benue state.
  • The issue of the Makurdi Greater Water Works should be spread open to the Benue people to unravel the mystery of 16 years of work on a water project that has never yielded tap water. The people have a right to know and thereafter be realistically expectant regarding the next steps.
  • Cost of governance should be drastically reduced starting with the number of people on the entourage that follows the Governor to Abuja or on other trips. At present the Benue person funds each Abuja trip by over N15m per trip for the Governor. These huge amounts if reduced drastically can be plowed into the economy of the state over a period of time.
  • The incoming administration is called upon to make appointments based on expertise, merit and skills and resist the urge to patronize party members if Benue is to forge ahead.
  • Closely related to 5 above is the suggestion that the number of ministries be reduced and merged to enhance efficiency, financial probity and an all-round better administration.

SPORTS

All over the world sporting activities have become economic development means order than the leisure it use to be. With the teaming crop of unemployed youth the development of this sector will enhance employment/economic development of the State and curtail crime amongst youth.

In 100 days therefore, the Ortom administration should:

  • Government should set up a committee to resuscitate sports activities in all public & private primary and secondary schools in the State.
  •  Government should direct all LG Councils to initiate, adequately fund and prudently manage sports clubs to enhance sports development.
  • Government should encourage the private sector (companies and individuals) to form sports clubs for sports development.
 
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Governanace

 

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LAWYERS COME TOGETHER TO PROVIDE LEGAL ASSISTANCE TO KEY POPULATIONS AND VULNERABLE GROUPS

Volunteer Lawyers across 23 states in Nigeria came together in Abuja between the 2nd to 6th of February 2015 to educate themselves on the plight of key population and vulnerable groups in Nigeria at a training organized by Lawyers Alert a human rights NGO, with the support of UNAIDS Nigeria office.

At the end of the meeting, the lawyers numbering over 30, resolved to act under a coalition with the specific mandate of servicing vulnerable groups to include Persons Living with HIV, Persons with Disabilities, Women and other key populations impacted most by HIV.

The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof Chidi Odinkalu who was present at the meeting, emphasized the anti-human rights effect of discrimination and stigmatization, stating human rights are universal and interdependent. While we may not agree on everything, we must respect the right of others nonetheless he stated. He commended the lawyers for the bold initiative and assured them of the NHRC support at all times.

UNAIDS Country Director, Dr Camara Bilali, who was also present, commended the lawyers for their passion, commitment and sacrifice in terms of free representation of key population. The challenges are enormous in the sphere of policy, laws and other interventions, and lawyers are best equipped to tackle these, given their training, spread and community presence he stated.

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Rommy Mom, President of Lawyers Alert, said he was particularly excited at the prospect of what can be achieved going forward in terms of legal representation to these vulnerable groups by the initiative. He commended his Colleagues for their volunteerism while wishing more lawyers could be coopted from other states going forward.

At the end of the 3 day training the lawyers resolved to come together under a Coalition of “Lawyers for Rights of Vulnerable Groups” for the purpose of legal aid and other interventions on behalf of Persons Living With HIV, Persons With Disabilities, Women, Sex Workers, Sexual Minorities, etc.

A Participant from Maiduguri in Borno state, Barrister Merama Balami, and Barrister  Abigail Dahiru from Gombe, in Gombe state stated not minding the insurgency, they will work within the spaces provided to also reach out to Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, within the context of key populations.

Participants were presented with certificates at the end of the training.

The Coalition resolved to hold an inaugural meeting in the very near future to develop a strategic plan to guide them in the first three years of their work.

 

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Will Nigerians speak out over the Boko Haram threat in the elections?

As Index on Censorship preps for this year’s Freedom of Expression Awards, one of 2014’s campaigner nominees, Rommy Mom, gives a Nigerian perspective on the rise of Boko Haram

By Rommy Mom / 4 February, 2015

Walls are plastered with campaign posters ahead of the 14 Feb elections in Nigeria. (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/Flickr)

As Nigeria’s 14 February general election approaches, the menace of Boko Haram has intensified. Attacks are more frequent and brutal. No Nigerian is entirely safe.

In Baga, a community in Borno state in Nigeria’s north-east, over 2000 people were reportedly killed in a single attack in January. Boko Haram is easily one of the world’s deadliest terror groups — a group that slit 61 school boys’ throats in a raid; that straps bombs on 10 year-olds; that has kept 276 school girls abducted for almost a year and is abducting more; that has killed over 30,000 Nigerians and left over 3 million displaced.

The group now controls a land mass the size of Costa Rica, collects taxes, has its own emirs and has declared a caliphate incorporating parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. On 25 January 2014, the group, in a very daring move, made efforts to seize Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

Boko Haram’s activities are not restricted to the north-eastern part of Nigeria as generally believed. The attacks on the UN headquarters and police headquarters in Abuja, the federal capital city, and several other deadly assaults occurred in Nigeria’s north central states.

The group’s attacks have stagnated economic growth in the north east and weakened diplomatic relations between Nigeria and neighbouring countries. In an escalation, Chadian troops have attacked Boko Haram positions in Nigeria, the BBC reported on 3 Feb.

Local views

While the group has consistently reiterated that it is out to Islamise Nigeria, a good number of Nigerians — Muslims and Christians alike — find this implausible.

Initially it was a convincing strategy because the group targeted mostly Christian places of worship and a few government institutions. Over time, however, the attacks became more random and less deliberate. Individuals of different ethnic groups and religious convictions were dragged off buses and killed in vile operations in broad daylight, typically lasting several hours with no interruption from security agencies. Entire villages have been ransacked regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Some Nigerian Christians however, opt to stick with Boko Haram’s initial script, pointing out that the group’s attacks bear a close resemblance to those of ISIS, known to have a very low tolerance for people of other faiths and liberal Muslims. A handful of northern Muslims agree with this line of thought.

There are also those who believe the group is being funded by some members of the northern Islamic political elite for selfish gain. Such theories appear to have basis in fact. At least one sitting senator and a former governor of Borno state, have been closely linked at various times to the group. Why none of them have been investigated leaves most Nigerians baffled.

There are other theories about the rise of Boko Haram that pin the blame on the government. This line of reasoning cites the president’s southern heritage for a lack of interest with the violence in the north. Southerners are seen to be taking vengeance for the loss of lives and property suffered at the hands of northerners during the Biafran War of 1967. Boko Haram also presents another route for siphoning Nigeria’s funds into private accounts.

The accusations of a self-acclaimed Australian “negotiator”, Stephen Davies, that Nigeria’s former Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Azubuike Ihejirika, a southern Christian, was actively involved in funding Boko Haram activities while working to undermine Nigeria’s army, resonated with many Nigerians of northern extraction who believe the current administration is out to cripple the region. Some southerners, on the other hand, say the northerners brought Boko Haram upon themselves and should therefore reap the fruits of their folly. Such people neither see Boko Haram as a national threat nor believe there is any truth to some of the harrowing stories coming out of the north, viewing them simply as an attempt to frustrate President Goodluck Jonathan, himself a southern Christian, out of office.

Media silence

The media in Nigeria, despite their seeming independence, are divided along political lines depending on ownership. Government media are biased in favour of the government while the private media lean towards the political loyalty of the owner. Accountability to the citizens is low.

Investigative reporting on the situation in the north by local media is limited. Local journalists are quick to point out that they lack the support of their respective organizations to report these stories. The lack of insurance, social benefits or recognition in the event of death is also cited as reasons for this reluctance. Indeed several media houses have been attacked without any response from the authorities.

Nigerians will often quote foreign press in authenticating their stories, since other local sources are generally viewed as suspect. For instance, while authorities put the deaths in Baga at 150–based primarily on guess work, foreign media reported 2,000 deaths based on satellite imagery and interviews with some who escaped the carnage.

The military appears helpless. Stories are told of soldiers who trade their arms for mufti from the locals or wear civilian clothes under their uniforms in order to enhance escape in the event of an attack. Boko Haram is considered more brutal to soldiers.

In a recent interview with CNN anonymous soldiers said that supplies and incentives are low, morale is lacking and wounded soldiers are made to pay for their treatment. A spokesperson for the military has since denied these allegations, labelling the claims “satanic”. There has been at least one incident of mutiny among the troops in the north.

Most Nigerians see BH as a threat to Nigeria’s development and would want an end to the menace. Life is now altered. Roads that were four lanes in the past are now narrowed to a lane or two in areas with a heavy government presence. The roads in the country are heavily guarded, and a general sense of unease and fear rules especially in northern Nigeria.

Will Nigerians speak to the situation in the coming presidential elections? Tough question. Ordinarily yes, Nigerians will respond by voting out a government that has shown a complete lack of determination, political will or focus to counter Boko Haram.

But this is Nigeria. The political elite have successfully used religion and ethnicity to divide the populace, wherein voting, even if it counts, will be coloured by ethnicity and religion. Even so, for the first time in the annals of Nigeria’s history, the president’s campaign convoy has been repeatedly stoned.

February 14, Valentine’s day, Nigeria’s Presidential elections day, will tell where the love truly lies.

This article was originally published on 4 February 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2015 in Elections, Governanace

 

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The Freedom of Expression Awards honour the word’s most remarkable fighters for free expression: who will it be in 2015?

2014 Award Winners

Held on March 21, 2014 at the Barbican Centre, the 2014 Freedom of Expression Awards honoured these four courageous nominees who went above and beyond to fight for free expression.

Advocacy

Shahzad Ahmad

Journalism

Azadliq

Digital

Shu Choudhary

Arts

Mayam Mahmoud

2014 Nominees

Advocacy: Shahzad Ahmad | Colectivo Chuhcan | Generation Wave | Rommy Mom

Arts: Meltem Arikan | Lucien Bourjeily | David Cecil | Mayam Mahmoud

Digital: Shubhranshu Choudhary | Free Weibo | Edward Snowden | Tails

Journalism: Azadliq | Greenwald/Poitras | Callum Macrae | Dina Meza | Abdulelah Haider Shaye

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2014 in Human Rights

 

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Rommy Mom: Nigeria’s gay marriage law is misleading and harmful

By Alice Kirkland

 

Rommy Mom

 

The wording of Nigeria’s recent anti-gay marriage law is misleading and has provoked a spike in hate crime towards the homosexual community, according to leading human rights lawyer Rommy Mom. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act 2013, which is yet to be published since it was signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan in January, outlaws gay marriage and relationships. It also makes it illegal for gay people to hold meetings, and outlaws the registration of homosexual clubs, organisations and associations. Those found to be participating in such acts face up to 14 years in jail.

Mom, who was nominated for the Index Freedom of Expression Advocacy Award for his work with Lawyers Alert, visited the Index office to speak about the current situation in Nigeria and the problems facing the LGBT community. “When the title is ‘Same Sex Marriage’ it’s not something many people are able to wrap their heads around…what it has done is to stir up some hate crimes against persons of different sexual preferences,” explained Mom. At the same time, the public are failing to take note of the other implications of the law to homosexuals hidden behind the title.

Mom referred to an attack on a group of at least half a dozen young men in a village on the outskirts of capital Abuja recently after the law was passed.  The men, dragged from their homes in the middle of the night by villagers, were assaulted and battered, before the local police detained them. “We have a constitution where people are innocent until proven guilty,” Mom told Index, but that wasn’t the case here, and hasn’t been in many other recent cases.

But why has one word — “marriage” —  resulted in an increase in violent crimes against the LGBT community? As Mom explained, the idea of same-sex marriage is a very Western notion (although, as he pointed out, only 19 states in America have legalised the act of civil unions) and is something the Nigerian people are uncomfortable with.

While same-sex marriage was not legal prior to the law coming into force, in some Nigerian cultures, including that of the Igbo people, women have been marrying other women for centuries for the benefit of their husbands — be it for economic or reproductive reasons. “It’s a situation that before now wasn’t there. Sexual differences have always been with us in Nigeria, we’ve lived with it and we’ve accepted it. It might come with some social stigma but people were not going out of their way to want to harm [homosexuals] or to incite hate,” Mom said.

“People have died because someone has labelled them a lesbian or a gay. But that’s what the law has cost in Nigeria.”

This article was originally posted on May 30, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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