Government has the tendency to, and has sometimes been far removed from citizens. In such situations, citizens do sometimes organize themselves to demand in unison, accountability from government through actions ranging from advocacy to protests. This is the gap that gave rise to organized civil society, from NGOs to Trade Unions, Professional Bodies etc
The actions of the organized civil society are sometimes termed “politics” (hidden interests) and the intent, goal or objective of these acts watered down to the detriment of development, good governance and democracy. In these situations, it is important and imperative that the Actors do not lose sight of the goal.
Lawyers Alert over the years, either through its principal officers or as an organization, uses litigation to promote accountability, good governance and deepening of Nigeria’s democracy. It is not out of place to claim concrete achievements in this sphere of our work over the years. Two out of many examples of these are:
• Bringing about the holding of local government elections nationwide when the 36 States of Nigeria were all administered by State Governors through the appointments of Chairmen. This was the norm unchallenged in Nigeria until Lawyers Alert was able to secure Judicial Order declaring this as illegal; The Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions, FOSEIC, was served the judgment which formed the basis of a memo to the then Obasanjo Government . Elections were subsequently ordered and held. Even if today, elections at this level is far from fair and free, we are getting there, and this is no mean achievement, we believe.
• We were able to successfully halt virginity testing before the award of scholarships to girls by the LG Authorities in Odugbolu local government of Ondo state. Lawyers Alert through litigation and advocacy were able to secure Court Orders and the Local Government commitment to stop the practice
One of the principal challenges to our work as expected is Government and sometimes Apologists of government who unfortunately take their eyes off the ball or goal of these efforts and see same as “politics” forgetting the motives or higher calling, if you will, of the efforts.
Recently Lawyers Alert, particularly its President, Rommy Mom came under fire as a result of the flood victims fund case, which has the objective of seeking, to have the Benue people or public know how the flood assistance victims money is being utilized or not almost a year after the disaster.
In plain and clear terms, this action is far from politics but seeks accountability, deepening of our democracy and most important, possible succor to victims of the floods, who lost lives, properties and dignity of human existence.
This suit which is principally anchored on social rights of the vulnerable has now unfortunately been dressed in borrowed robes by government and some of its apologists as threat to government, opposition inspired, etc.
This of course is as far from the truth as the period between the floods and now. It is simply for the Benue people to know the status of the assistance fund, deepen democracy, and enhance accountability.
So much was made of Rommy Mom’s fear for his life when the State Governor made uncomplimentary comments on his person on the State Radio. Truth however is, when a Governor with all the awesome machinery of State power, resources and security, resorts to casting aspersions on an everyday citizen on state radio, because such a citizen is in court to seek accountability, there definitely is a problem. Such a citizen cannot scream enough to be heard as to fears for his or her safety.
The Governor too, had on two occasions, raised fears about his life even with the awesome machinery of government at his disposal. The Governor complained to the Nigeria Inspector General of Police about his safety from Professor Steven Ugbah at a point. Ugbah was arrested. Again when Governor Suntai of Taraba crashed his plane and Governor Yakowa was also involved in similar crash, our Governor expressed fears for his life and sought prayers for his safety from Boko Haram.
The above situations may appear comical to some, but the Governor apparently not minding the security around him felt unsafe. That is the operative word “felt”. He felt unsafe. If Rommy Mom felt unsafe as an ordinary citizen in the circumstances he was in, it is not politics.
Lawyers Alert will like to state with all responsibility that our work of about 10 years is guided by the interest of the poor and vulnerable amongst us. Sometimes Government is the institution we come against in efforts at addressing certain situations. Sometimes its school Authorities like the Benue State University on several occasions, or the private sector like the Nigeria Bottling Company when they were degrading the environment at Gaadi and very soon we will commence the engagement with Dangote Cement Gboko on environmental abuse and social responsibility to its host community. We may not always get to our goal, but we will have the issue out there squarely planted in the face of all critical actors concerned.
The target of our efforts does not matter so long as the victims are the poor, the prisoner, persons living positively, the vulnerable etc. This has been our focus and we will not waver.
Looking at the larger picture, we are in the strictest sense, partnering with Government towards development. That hole in government/civil society relationship is the void being filled by civil society organizations, its same world over.
Enough of dragging into “politics” the flood fund matter.