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ADDRESSING SOCIAL INJUSTICE THROUGH STRATEGIC IMPACT LITIGATION.. CASE STUDY OF LAWYERS ALERT.

By Chigoziem Ellen Onugha

SIL

For problems ranging from poverty to bad governance, laws and policies in a country like Nigeria with over 200million estimated human population, it is common to have most of its citizens vulnerable. Citizens encounter more problems than they do welfare and these problems often require professionals like lawyers to address them. Owing to the fact that lawyers also are sometimes vulnerable in certain situations, one will begin to wonder where lies help for the common man.

Help for the common man lies in the strength of a few determined professionals who are willing to stick both their necks and their resources out.

Lawyers Alert, a human rights organization that has its focus on free legal assistance to vulnerable groups and indigent persons in Nigeria, under “Strategic Impact Litigation”. Strategic Impact Litigation which is commonly known as “SIL” is a form of litigation which is aimed at addressing public issues for the sole purpose of making impact in the society.

Before this project, there were certain irregularities, for instance, prisons congestion, lives of citizens were lost without anyone being questioned, patients were detained in public health establishments due to their inability to pay their bills, persons were relieved of their jobs owing to their HIV statuses etc.

The objectives of this project are as follows:

  1. To make positive societal impact
  2. To address issues affecting the public
  3. To address problems of the common man who ordinarily does not have means of helping himself
  4. To maintain law and order
  5. To ensure that human rights are respected.

Lawyers Alert in recent times has approached various courts in Nigeria with the following cases for determination:

  1. Lawyers Alert V Government of Borno State & 1 Or

The government of Borno State demolished houses, living homes and hotels in Borno State without notice and compensation, thereby rendering people homeless, jobless and destroying people’s businesses. According to the said government of Borno State, the buildings inhabited criminals and formed hideouts for same. Lawyers Alert took up the matter and instituted an action against the government of Borno State in the Borno State High Court of justice, in the Maiduguri judicial division, for violating the human rights of its citizens, asking the court for the following.

  • A declaration that any residents of Galadima Area, Baga Road and indeed of the entire Maiduguri metropolis are entitled to own moveable and immoveable properties in Maiduguri and anywhere in Nigeria.
  • A declaration that the Defendants’ act of demolishing hotels, residential houses, restaurants, shops and other public places in Galadima Area, Baga Road, and indeed the entire Maiduguri metropolis on grounds of public interest, without the due process of law amounts to a violation of the constitutional rights of the concerned citizens.
  • A perpetual injunction restraining the 1st and 2nd Defendants from further demolishing properties of residents of Galadima Area, Baga Road and indeed of the entire Maiduguri metropolis, Borno state until the Defendants have fully compensated or resettled owners of such properties marked for further demolition.
  • An order of the court directing the 1st Defendants to take inventory of all the moveable and immoveable properties so far demolished in Maiduguri metropolis and to compensate and/or resettle owners of these properties
  • And for such further orders as the honourable court may deem fit to grant in the circumstances.

This matter is currently on appeal.

  1. Lawyers Alert V the Attorney-General of the Federation & 2 Ors

 

Pursuant to the provisions of the HIV and AIDS (anti-discrimination) Act, 2014, the duty to ensure compliance with the Act is vested on the Attorney-General of the Federation. Most unfortunately, five years after enactment of the said Act, compliance is yet to be made. Thus, noncompliance with the said Act has resulted in high discrimination of persons living with HIV, at workplaces. On that note, Lawyers Alert instituted an action in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Abuja judicial division, asking the following reliefs:

 

  • A declaration that Employers of labour (Ministries, Agencies and

Departments, including the Private Sector) are bound to develop and register HIV&AIDS workplace policies.

 

  • A declaration that the Respondent is bound to ensure compliance with the provisions of section 21(1) (2) of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act, being the oversight body saddled with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the Act.

 

  • An order of court directing the Respondent to ensure that employers of

labour (Ministries, Agencies and Departments, including the Private Sector) develop and register HIV & AIDS workplace policy within 30 days of this Order.

 

  • And for such further orders as this Honourable court may deem fit to make in this case.
  1. Lawyers Alert V Benue State University of Agriculture, Makurdi

 

A school bus conveying students of Benue State university of Agriculture, Makurdi, from a part of the school to another part of the school. Unfortunately, it had an accident and a student was severely injured and due to the weight of the accident, the student went into oblivion. The injured student was immediately rushed to the school’s clinic by some other students who were at the scene. On getting there, the medical personnel refused to treat the student because on their demand for the student’s clinic card, the good Samaritans could not provide it. even when majority of the students who rushed the unconscious accident victim to the hospital testified that they knew her ad also went ahead to mention her department, the clinic medical personnel did not change their minds on treating the victim. Unfortunately, while the medical personnel was still hellbent on treating the victim, the victim lost so much blood and passed away. Students were devastated and a riot ensued. In the process, some of the school’s facilities were destroyed.

The school after the riot, demanded that each student should pay the sum of N10,000 for to enable repairs and replacement of all that were destroyed. On hearing this, Lawyers Alert took up prosecution of the case and immediately filed an action against the school at the Federal High Court of Nigeria, asking the court for the following reliefs:

 

  • A declaration that the 1st Respondent’s clinic’s act of refusing to administer medical treatment to the victims of the accident on campus for the reason that they were unable to produce the 1st Respondent’s identity cards, leading to the death of some of them, contravenes section 20 of the National Health Act, 2014 and amounts to a serious violation of the students’ rights to medical care and to life as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, 1999.

 

  • A declaration that the 1st Respondent’s clinic’s act of requesting students’ identity card before administering treatment to the accident victims even in an emergency situation amounts to a violation of section 20 of the National Health Act, 2014, the ethics and practice of the medical profession and a gross violation of the students’ rights to life.

 

  • A declaration that the Respondent’s action is illegal, null and void and of no legal justification.

 

  • A declaration that the Defendants’ action of imposing the sum of N10, 000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) fine or any other money or amount on the students of the 1st Respondent is illegal, mischievous, gold digging, null and void, and of no legal justification.

 

  • An order of this Honourable Court restraining the Respondents from collecting the sum of N10, 000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) or any other amount of money by whatever name or description from the students of the 1st Respondent as fine, damages, levy, fee or any other name whatsoever over the alleged students’ demonstration that took place on the campus of the 1st Respondent on the 15th day of August, 2018.

 

IN THE ALTERNATIVE

 

  • An order directing the Respondents to forthwith refund any amount of money by whatever name or description, already collected from the students of the 1st Respondent over the demonstration that took place on the campus of the 1st Respondent on the 15th day of August, 2018.

 

  • A perpetual injunction restraining the 1st Respondent’s clinic from further requesting for identity cards from individuals in emergency medical situations before treatment and medical attention.

 

  • Such incidental orders as the justice of this case may demand.

 

Effectively, with regards to all issues of access to justice, all hands must be on deck. Lawyers Alert is doing its best to ensure there is improved access to justice for vulnerable groups, but much more is still needed to be done.

 

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One Day Strategic Planning Meeting On Reducing Human Trafficking In Benue State

Introduction

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On the 24th of September 2018, a case of human trafficking was reported to us at Lawyers Alert for legal advice and possible assistance. That a certain man named Saviour Daboor was placed under arrest and detained by the police at the State Criminal Investigation Intelligence Department (SCIID) Makurdi for an alleged case of human trafficking. That Saviour Daboor an indigene of Benue State on the 4th of September, 2018 took five (5) girls to Lagos State under the guise and pretence that he will make life better for them, by giving them jobs in Lagos. On arriving Lagos, he handed over the girls to an unknown woman who is still at large and surreptitiously left the vicinity. The girls were then taken out of Nigeria to BURKINA FASO, obviously for prostitution and Sex Slavery rather than a conventional job as promised by Saviour. Upon realising their situation, the girls resisted but at that point they are handicapped both financially and emotionally. As part of the job requirements, a medical test was conducted on the girls and it was discovered that one of the girls was pregnant and another sick and this isn’t good for the job. Thus the two were sent back home. Following the arrest of Saviour and the pressure that followed, the third girl was eventually returned. However, two of the victims of the trafficking are still held up with the trafficking gang in Burkina Faso. Saviour is under arrest and in detention and will be due in Court on the 21th November, 2018. The other members of the syndicate are still at large and two of the victims are still under their grips in a foreign land. This is a clear case of human trafficking and women rights violation. These girls undoubtedly have been sold into slavery and from all indication will be made to serve as sex toys.

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Given the above therefore Lawyers Alert held a one day strategy building meeting with partners and stakeholders with a view towards charting out a work plan that will lead to the release of the trafficked girls and the prosecution of the culprits involved. The meeting was also intended to necessitate the building of a movement and a formidable fight that will lead to the release of the girls and subsequent arrest and prosecution of the suspects in Court to account for their actions.

Goal

The goal of this intervention is to enhance the promotion and protection of Women Human Rights in Benue State and Nigeria and to secure the return of the trafficked girls back home and the punishment of the suspected culprit.

Objectives

  • To form a mass movement through collaboration with 5 identified stakeholders towards synergising on the release of the two girls and compensation for all the 5 Victims
  • To design and implement an effective action plan that will lead to the achievement of the project goal.

Expected outputs

  • A copy of the work plan
  • Secure the arrest and prosecution of all the suspected culprits.

Expected outcome

  • A reduction in the incidence of human trafficking.
  • The promotion and protection of women human rights in Benue state.

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The meeting was held at Lawyers Alert’ conference hall.  A total of 28 participants attended the meeting cutting across different organizations and groups. Participating Organizations comprised of State Actors, Non State Actors including the Civil Society, Media and Professional groups.

The meeting commenced with self introduction of participants. This was followed by a welcome address by the Progams Director of Lawyers Alert’ head Office Mr. Lazarus Ahangba. In the address he appreciated their time and commitment to the cause of the project. He briefly introduced the purpose of the meeting and its expected outcome. He urged the participants to be active and make quality contributions. Goodwill messages from NBA, NAPTIP and Ministry of Women Affairs were also delivered. NBA expressed delight to be part of this project and offered their hand of solidarity with pledges of support in any capacity and at any moment the need arises. NAPTIP thanked Lawyers Alert for organizing this meeting and said that the meeting could not have come up at any better time than now. They said human trafficking is becoming more rampant in Benue and equally pledged their support to this project and in any other way possible. The Ministry of Women Affairs equally thanked Lawyers Alert for putting the meeting together and expressed willingness to work with Lawyers Alert in any way and manner as required. After tea break, R.A Hwande Esq, the Legal Officer at Lawyers Alert unpacked the project. In his presentation, he attempted the definition of Human trafficking, traced its history and prevalence level from the federal level to the State, the legal frameworks that criminalizes Human trafficking both local and international. He concluded the presentation with focus on the case at hand outlining its beginning, goal, objectives, expected outputs, outcomes and the progress made so far. After his presentation, one of the victims, Ms Helen narrated in details what happened to them and how some of her friends are still held back in Burkina Faso. This was followed by questions, answers, comments and the development of a work plan and way forward.

In order to develop a more cogent work plan, the meeting broke into two working groups. A technical working group made up of Lawyers and the officials of NAPTIP and a Civil Society/ Media working group. At the end of their deliberations, each group presented their proposed action plan and persons responsible.

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Civil Society/ Media Work Plan:

  • Create a Social Media platform that will serve as an interactive forum that will keep all the project participants together and the conversations alive.
  • Report the meeting and its outcome and also write features periodically on the issue to harvest public support and also sensitize People on the issues of Human trafficking.
  • Monitor Court proceedings regularly.
  • Carry out Advocacy visit to key State Actors and other public institutions including DG Radio Benue, Commissioner of Women Affairs, Wife of the Governor, Commissioner of Justice, NAPTIP and the General Manager the Voice newspapers.
  • Push for the rehabilitation of the victims of trafficking.
  • Create a coalition that will work on this project and other related issues in the State.

Technical Working Group Action Plan

  • The other victims should write a letter of complaint to NAPTIP in order to commence the arrest and possible prosecution of the suspect at the Federal High Court.
  • Explore the possibility of including Kidnap among the charges against the victim.
  • Monitor the progress of the case at the State High Court and explore the possibility of filing a fresh case at the Federal High Court and withdrawing the other case at the lower court.
  • Work closely with NAPTIP, FIDA and the NBA to ensure justice for the victims of the trafficking case.
  • NAPTIP to explore the possibilities of rehabilitating the victims of the case.
 

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