Abiodun Baiyewu-Teru, Nigeria country director of Global Rights, the international human rights NGO speaks on its activities in Nigeria across the thematic areas of access to justice, natural resource governance; security as well as women’s rights
Global Rights has been in Nigeria for over 15 years, how has it been trying to ensure access to justice by the poor at the grassroots?
The Global Rights is an international human rights capacity-building organization; we basically build the capacity of human rights organizations, grassroots activists and communities to demand for the protection and fulfillment of their human rights. We have been working on issues around election monitoring, democratization, women’s rights issues like violence against women including sexual and domestic violence.
We work in the area of access to justice under which we support and train paralegal institutions. We also work in the area of security and human rights, working on the principles for security and human rights, on issues around conflicts including early warning and early response systems for conflicts in northern Nigeria.
We are also building the capacity of early warning and response systems of institutions like the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC and community-based civil society organizations working in communities that are prone to conflict. We have facilitated dialogues between communities and governments to forestall violence and worked around natural resources and human rights, by protecting the rights of mining communities, particularly regarding communities that are rich in solid minerals.
The hallmark of our work on natural resources has been working in Zamfara state where over 700 children (unofficially) have died from lead poisoning, where we engaged the government of Nigeria and building the capacities of civil society organizations and communities in Zamfara state to demand for the actualization of their rights. We are helping the Nigerian government understand that they owe the Nigerian citizens of mining communities the responsibility of ensuring their rights are protected.
In that regard, we also filed a complaint at the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, demanding for investigation into the lead poisoning incidences in Zamfara and we are now awaiting the outcomes of their investigation. And while we are still waiting for the outcome, another incident happened in Shikira village of Rafin local government area of Niger state, where we are also working. We have also worked on solid minerals in other states of Nigeria, on coal energy in Kogi state, on quarries and lead mines in Ebonyi state as well as in Plateau State.
You train paralegals that provide legal aid services at the grassroots. How crucial is the role of paralegals in ensuring access to justice to the poor at the grassroots?
Access to justice is a fundamental human right which unfortunately is over looked by most governments, if people at the grassroots do not have aces to justice that will result in citizens’ frustrations and also lead to conflict; it will also engender poverty at the grassroots which will affect productivity. Again, lack of access to justice has a tendency for resulting in human rights violations which the Nigerian government has an obligation to protect.
Moreover, there is a huge gap in terms of the ratio of citizens to lawyers and courts at the grassroots; not only that, there is high illiteracy rate in the country which is more prevalent in the North and which also makes it difficult for such communities to access services of organizations like the Legal Aid Council, LAC, and National Human Rights Commission, NHRC.
Therefore, if you have trained community-based paralegals, they will be able to provide legal aid services to such communities and it is only cases that must be taken to courts, Legal Aid Council, or National Human Rights Commission that will be taken there and which will help solve citizens’ frustration as well as hopelessness at the grassroots.
You built the capacities of civil society and community-based organizations in Zamfara state to demand for the actualization of their rights after incidences of lead poisoning in the state. How do you hope that will help avert future recurrences of such incidents?
The civil society organizations have been strengthened to be able to hold the government accountable concerning what is going in Zamfara state because it is still an ongoing problem. Now, they are able to facilitate town hall meetings to request the Nigerian government to fulfill their rights as citizens, to ensure effective governance at the mining communities.
Recently, we provided technical support the community-based organizations to be able to on their carryout advocacies. Now, when Global Rights eventually withdraw from Zamfara State, we are certain that the people of the state will be able to fight for their rights themselves.
The Boko Haram crisis has resulted in a lot of human rights violations by both state and non-state actors. What are you doing in that regard?
Well, we are also working on security and human rights, demanding that the government actualizes the rights of citizens of communities affected by the crisis. There are millions of Nigerians who are missing, including children as well as those who have been rendered homeless. We still do not have a registry for such missing persons.
Moreover, there is a lot of sexual violence in the Internally Displaced Persons camps for which we go to the camps to educate the IDPs on their rights particularly what they should do if there are cases of sexual violence. These are the two areas Global Rights is trying to hold the Nigerian government accountable for. And we are trying to get the government to open a register for missing persons so that we can have a database on which people can find missing persons in Nigeria, that is yet to be done but we will continue to push for it.
The African Union recently launched the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention …