By Chigoziem Ellen Onugha
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:
To make positive societal impact
To address issues affecting the public
To address problems of the common man who ordinarily does not have means of helping himself
To maintain law and order
To ensure that human rights are respected.
Lawyers Alert in recent times has approached various courts in Nigeria with the following cases for determination:
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.
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.
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.