– Asan Gabin Bennedict
Even before the take-over of the Benue Cement Company located in the Mbayion Community of Benue State by Dangote Holdings, the Community suffered various forms of environmental degradation, socio-economic and cultural rights violations and a host of other challenges.
With Dangote Holdings acquisition (owned by Africa‘s richest man) of the company and christening it Dangote Cement, a profit making company, the plight of the community naturally deepened with cases of mass termination of employment of natives, blasting of rocks in near residential areas occasioning deaths, water pollution etc.
With reports of the above scenario filtering in, Lawyers Alert initiated the Mbayion Community Empowerment Project which aims to empower the people of Mbayion Community to effectively and efficiently document human rights violations within the Community, with a view of redressing them.
Lawyers Alert aim is to:
1) conduct consultations in the community affected by the cement production in order to assess their most critical needs
2) empower the community to view the negative effects of Cement production through human rights lenses
3) document and monitor ESR violations related to Cement production within the framework of national law, national and international human rights norms, and corporate accountability standards, where applicable.
4) For the community to gather their findings in a detailed report on the violations and the obligations of the State and Dangote Cement to address them
5) Advocate with Dangote Holdings and Government to put a stop to the violations and for parties to live up to their responsibilities.
Lawyers Alert held preliminary consultations with stakeholders of the Mbayion Community including Community Development Association Officials, Women and Youth Organizations, Traditional Rulers, Elders and Community Gate keepers, Faith Based Organisations etc. These consultations are hinged on need to assist the community assess their most critical needs and also to conduct a baseline research and survey in the host community to collate data for the work. The consultation was carried out in the month of August, 2013.
A report of the community most critical needs is currently being prepared for publication.
Above are pictures from the community engagement and training.
The second phase of engagement was a community trainings aimed at empowering the community to monitor and capture violations through human rights lenses. These training commenced on the 20th of September 2013.
Lawyers Alert at these trainings which was participatory and also an information-gathering process helped the community identify needs in cement production affected communities and built their capacities to gather crucial information about critical human rights violations associated with natural resource exploitation. Traditional Rulers, community members and leaders discussed the ways in which their lives and livelihoods have been affected by cement production, and examined strategies already used to combat the negative effects without success.
Lawyers Alert is now designing a long-term capacity building program tailored to partners’ capacities and communities’ specific circumstances.
Challenge now is Lawyers Alert needs Volunteer Experts/scientists and engineers interested in volunteering their skills with human rights organizations in need of scientific expertise. As such, we are calling on geological experts to help investigate Dangote Cement production overall effects on the environment and on the population living in the area. Among other things, the Experts will be able to guide the Community as they establish a framework for the documentation and monitoring work. Lawyers Alert has already conducted legal research of the existing Nigerian institutional framework that guides issues pertaining to resource extraction and local community grievances.
The above is critical as the Community is ready to start formal monitoring and documentation which will continue till February of 2014.
As stated the community will document the findings within the framework of national law, national and international human rights norms, and corporate accountability standards, where applicable and thereafter produce a detailed report on the violations and the obligations of the state and corporations to address them. Advocacy will be with Dangote Holdings and government officials with a view to putting a stop to the violations and for parties to live up to their responsibilities amongst other reliefs failure which the community will engage the National Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Council of the UN towards the reliefs.