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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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Judicial Watch Releases 2013 “ Freedom of Information Act and Open Records Handbook”

Judicial Watch has released its 2013 “Transparency 101:  Freedom of Information Act and Opens Records Handbook,” which provides comprehensive information about how organizations and individuals can use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act (PA) to gain access to government documents.

The “Transparency 101” handbook, which contains detailed information on how to file requests for information from the government, warns: “The centralization of power at the federal level over the past century and the sheer vastness of the federal bureaucracy have made it easy for officials to keep important decisions from public scrutiny … This handbook seeks to empower Americans with the ability to: (1) identify records sought; (2) draft, submit, and administratively appeal requests; and (3) prepare to litigate [open records] requests regarding information that they seek either for public benefit or information pertaining directly to them that they have a right to access.”

During the Obama administration, Judicial Watch has filed more than 1200 Freedom of Information requests with the federal government. And Judicial Watch has filed over 120 lawsuits against the Obama administration to force it to obey FOIA, the federal government’s main transparency law. According to Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, the Obama administration has erected a “stone wall of secrecy,” despite his promise to have “the most transparent administration in history.”

“Our government, at all levels, is off the rails and out of control.  The open records laws are among the best tools available to Americans to hold government officials accountable to the rule of law.  The Obama administration’s arrogant refusal to follow the Freedom of Information Act has led to a ‘transparency crisis’ in Washington.  Judicial Watch is second to none in pursuing transparency from the Obama administration.  Now, with our “Transparency 101” FOIA handbook, we hope to enlist other Americans in the herculean effort to find out what our government is up to,” added Fitton.

 

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Governanace

 

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PRIVACY, NIGERIA COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION AND CYBERCAFES

By Timothy Tion,

On the 21st of October, 2013 Nigeria’s telecommunications regulator; the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), issued a public notice via its twitter handle; @NgComCommission, which came into effect on the 1st of November, 2013 directing all cybercafé licencees and operators in the country to maintain an up to date data base of its subscribers/users detailing information such as; full names, names of corporate body (in the case of a corporate establishment), traceable physical address, full faced passport photograph, telephone numbers, permanent residential address(not P. O. Box), evidence of registration with Corporate Affairs Commission(CAC)(applicable to corporate bodies only) and other forms of identification including international passport, driver’s licence, national identity card, etc.  According to the NCC, this database is to aid law enforcement authorities in fighting the increasing rate of cybercrime committed through cybercafés across the country.
It is not in doubt that cybercrime is rampant in Nigeria. A February 2010 report by the Internet Crime Complaint Centre named Nigeria the top African nation and third in the world (after USA and UK) in its global cybercrime ranking.  It has also been reported that Nigerian consumers lost a total of N1.246 trillion to cybercrime in 2012 and recently the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) reported that the Nigerian banking sector lost over 20billion through internet fraud. There is therefore every need to fight this cankerworm called cybercrime in Nigeria.However,the Government (NCC, law enforcement agents, etc.)must ensure that the fight against cybercrime is done within the limits of the law and must avoid infringing;without lawful justification, the constitutional right to privacy of millions of innocent Nigerians who use cyber cafes or do anything that may negatively impact on that right. It is yet to be proven by NCC that most of these crimes are committed using cybercafés. It is even debatable if these internet crimes are perpetrated using cybercafés considering the availability of faster internet on smartphones coupled with cheap internet plans been offered by the GSM service providers(for instance on 31 October 2013, Globacom slashed its blackberry internetsubscription (BIS) tariffs by half.The Absolute Month platform which hitherto was N2,800 with 3GB data, now goes for N1, 000 with 3GB data) and the convenience of browsing the internet on smartphones, tablets and personal laptops which are increasingly becoming affordable.
Without conceding that cybercafés are used to commit most of the cybercrimes in Nigeria, let us assume that it is actually the case and NCC rightfully desires to step in to curb this monstrous menace of cybercrime by urging cybercafé lincencees and operators to keep an up to date data base of its subscribers/users (that is assuming the users in the case of non-corporate bodies; submit their actual data and not fictitious data). What then becomes of this huge data base of personal and sensitive information of individuals in the hands of cybercafé operators since there are no data protection laws regulating the use of such data in Nigeria? How long will such data be kept? What remedies are available for any person whose personal information has been misused? The data; for instance, phone numbers could be sold or leaked to companies who could use it to send spam or unsolicited/unwanted text messages(adverts) to people. Someone’s identity could also be stolen and used by criminals for e.g. the name, passport and phone number could be used to fabricate or produce a fake identity card and left at a crime scene. The Police on arrival at the crime scene could pick up the identity card and arrest the person whose name, picture and address appear on the card and interrogate or let’s say torture (because a times that is what their interrogation is all about) the person. In the long run it may be discovered that the identity card was fabricated and the person whose details appear on the card was not actually at the crime scene, however, such person may have suffered bodily injuries (sometimes severe) from the torture by the Police.
These concerns and issues raised above could be addressed to a large extent with a data protection law. In recent times many subscribers of the GSM providers in Nigeria have been flooded with promotional or commercial messages. These messages sometimes are unwanted text messages including commercial messages otherwise known as spam which could be annoying and intrusive. In the United States, two laws– the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Controlling the Assault of Non- Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN- SPAM) Act – have been enacted to address spam. The TCPA and the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rules ban many text messages sent to a mobile phone using an auto dialer(auto dialer; according to Wikipedia, is an electronic device or software that automatically dials telephone numbers. Once the call has been answered, the auto dialer either plays a recorded message or connects the call to a live person). These texts are banned unless (1) you previously gave consent to receive the message or (2) the message is sent for emergency purposes.In the UK, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 cover the way organisations send direct marketing by electronic means, including by text message (SMS). Organisations cannot send you marketing text messages you didn’t agree to receive, unless: (a) the sender has obtained your details through a sale or negotiations for a sale; (b) the messages are about similar products or services offered by the sender; and (c) you were given an opportunity to refuse the texts when your details were collected and, if you did not refuse, you were given a simple way to opt out in all the text messages you received.
China too is not left out in the legislative efforts to curb spam and protect personal data thus on October 25, 2013, the Chinese Congress passed an amendment to the Peoples’ Republic of China Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests (the “Amendment”);to address growing problems related to the misuse of consumers’ personal information in contemporary China.The Amendment establishes strict rules on how business operators should collect and use personal information, and how offenders may be punished. The Amendment emphasizes that the personal information collected by a business operator and its staff must be kept strictly confidential. It also prohibits business operators from leaking, selling or illegally providing such information to others, and requires operators to adopt appropriate technical measures to safeguard the information. At the same time, business operators may not send commercial messages to a consumer unless the consumer has provided consent or requested the information.
Apart from those countries mentioned above, many other countries have a law or laws aimed at protecting personal information or data. In South Africa, the Protection of Personal Information Act has been passed by parliament and is awaiting assent by the President; and in Mauritius the Data Protection Act 2004 (the “MU DPA”) was enacted for the protection of the privacy rights of individuals in response to the developments in the techniques used to capture, transmit, manipulate, record or store data relating to individuals. The MU DPA came into operation in February 2009. Data Protection Regulations were issued in 2009 by the Data Protection Office. It is also responsible for ensuring compliance with the Data Protection Act and bringing enforcement actions.
Furthermore, in the UK they have the Data Protection Act;while in Mexico they have the Federal Data Protection Act. Also, in Japan they have the Personal Data Protection Act while in Canada they have the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
In the United States they have a host of laws aimed at protecting personal information or data some of which include the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978whichrequires a  subpoena  or  search  warrant  for  law  enforcement  officials  to  obtain financial records, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991whichprovides certain remedies from repeat telephone calls by telemarketers; and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which restricts the states from disclosing or selling personal information in their motor vehicle records.
It would therefore be of great help if NCC (as a regulator with so much of our data) and other stakeholders could push for data protection laws as is the case in other countries mentioned above.
Moreover, it is even doubtful if this directive by the NCC would be of much assistance in investigating cybercrime cases as by merely maintaining a database of subscribers/users one cannot tell which user browsed the internet for a fraudulent purpose.

 

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Governanace

 

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NIGERIA’S GAY COMMUNITY, GOVERNMENT AND HUMAN RIGHTS

By Rommy Mom, esq

In 2009, when Nigeria’s External Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Madueke, stated before the Human Rights Council, HRC, of the United Nations during the country periodic review that there were no gays in Nigeria, even Nigerians back home were amused. The statement was inaccurate at best.  At the 2013 review, Nigeria took a slightly different position. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Bello Adoke, stated that Nigeria’s Government would not accede to same sex marriage because it is anti cultural.

This statement presupposes that gays do exist in Nigeria.

Nigerians know gays do exist in the country, have been with us and that we indeed have local and cultural appellations to describe homosexuality. In fairness to the then Honourable Minister as per the 2009 position, he was battling to justify the ever present Same Sex Bill in the Nigeria parliament, which seeks to criminalize Same Sex Conduct. The Minister did not avert his mind as to why Nigeria was preparing legislation for a nonexistent community.

As earlier stated, we have always had gays in Nigeria, so the question now is, why the furor about gays and criminalization of same sex conduct?

This question is however itself inaccurate.  Homosexuality is and has always been an offence or crime in Nigeria. Our existing laws refer to it as Sodomy. Section 284 of the Penal Code for Northern criminalizes homosexuality. These are laws inherited form Britain, Nigeria’s colonial masters.

It is wrong therefore, to say Nigeria is on the verge of criminalizing same sex conduct. This has always been the position. Over the years however, Nigerians have lived more in total neglect of the law than in its compliance. Nobody before now cared whether these laws existed. Gays lived their lives amongst fellow Nigerians, could be identified but nobody cared. It was an attitude of “do your thing so long as you do not involve me.”  Of course there is and there has always been social stigma but it was a situation of see no evil, hear no evil. Essentially, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Yes we had gays, they lived among us, their lifestyle came with some social stigma, as is the case even in other parts of the world, but that was it.  Everybody went about their businesses.

To the question again, what changed? Why the attention now on homosexuality and the gay community? Why the reinvention of the wheel now to re criminalize same sex acts?

There are two schools of thought regarding this issue.

The 1st school of thought posits that when Nigeria hosted the 2005 International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa, ICASA,  (an umbrella organization of societies for AIDS in Africa), gays were included in the deliberations with particular emphasis on preventing the spread of the virus. State officials, for whatever reason, stated at the time that Nigeria does not have homosexuals in existence and a group of those present disagreed. It was the silent gay minority now trying to poke a finger in the eye of authority. Persons of this school of thought say that this was the genesis of government’s resolve to crush this cluster of “social misfits” and do away with them.

A second school of thought has it that, failed politicians losing relevance, owing perhaps to their poor performance or other factors, decided to throw religion and dead sentiments into the equation of governance so as to maintain relevance. This, they claim, started with the introduction of Sharia and Christian fundamentalism into Nigerian politics which led to the demonization of homosexuality.

Arising from either of the two, or both, Nigerians were “sensitized” to the growing dangers of being gay and what it portends for our society, culture, and our chances of going to heaven. Of course being the cultural/passionate people we are, the religious people (not spiritual) we are, we started to fall over each other in a bid to decide whose voice could be heard the loudest in condemnation of homosexuality. Note, even before independence and from independence, our laws criminalized homosexuality.

Why was it so easy to whip Nigerians into a frenzy, so quickly into an anti gay disposition, if Nigerians had all along lived quietly with it and accepted gays, choosing only to ignore them?

The answer lies in the title of the proposed law and what the Nigerian on the street understands it to be. The Authorities cleverly styled the Bill “Same Sex Marriage Bill”. The word “marriage” is the catch. Nigerians imagined gays are now asking and demanding for the right to marry, have civil unions and so on.  Nigerians cannot accept nor live with gay marriages. Not now and not in the foreseeable future.

The shame of the rather misleading title of the Bill is that, neither individual Gay Nigerians nor the gay community in Nigeria have demanded nor stepped forward with any demand for civil unions or marriage for homosexuals in today’s Nigeria. This is why the Same Sex Marriage Bill is said to be a farce and meant merely to divert the attention of Nigerians from issues revolving around poor governance and plundering of state resources by politicians and others in positions of authority. In truth, all the noise about same sex marriages is a non-issue in Nigeria!

Yes, the Same Sex Marriage Bill defines “marriage” as any form of same sex conduct, but in truth less than 0.1% of Nigerians have seen the Bill or read it. The word marriage is the key to putting Nigerians up in arms against gays. Nigerians are protesting and will not allow gay marriages. This is not peculiar to Nigeria. Many countries including several states in the US are also yet to accept the concept of same sex marriage.  Eliminate the word “marriage” from the Bill and we head back to the old laws that Nigerians ignored.

The proposed Same Sex Marriage Bill, has however pushed the anti same sex conduct prohibition to fresh frontiers. Human Rights seem to be the least of its worries and advocacy for the rights of gays is now also proposed to be treated as a criminal act. Owing to the surge of negative attention, citizens are gradually resorting to hate crimes against known homosexuals.

The judiciary is also suddenly on the alert.  Based on the old laws, about 22 convictions have taken place in Nigerian Courts in Delta, Kaduna, Zamfara, and Nassarawa states in the last 6 years, as against 2 convictions in over 44 years before now. The Federal Capital Territory, FCT, is no exception.

The question of same sex marriage strictu sensu, it is argued, is at best an academic exercise in Nigeria. Gays in Nigeria are neither demanding nor advocating for same sex marriage. Their demands are simple: recognize our rights as humans in whatever position the government intends to take. Respect the human rights of all whether homosexual or heterosexual. It is the writer’s opinion that this is a fair argument and a very reasonable one at that too.

In fairness to the government, it has also opened up channels of communication and kept free the space for debate and argument on the Bill. Activists and Advocates even if within a hostile parliament, have been allowed to state their position.

This is hoping that whatever position is finally arrived at, human rights, particularly the rights to self-expression will continue to be respected and upheld. We all have the right to be different. Being in the minority is no reason or basis to have the majority take away minority rights where such exist.

 

 

 

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