• Friday, July 19, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Defending the defenders- African lawyers form group to defend NGOs

Defending the defenders- African lawyers form group to defend NGOs

Those defending the environment have come under attack since the days of the environmental rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, who was hanged along with eight of his Ogoni kinsmen.

Many of those who defend the environment, especially in the Niger Delta have become marked men and women; facing different kinds and degrees of harm.

Now, a group of African lawyers under the aegis of Natural Justice have come together to offer defence to the hapless defenders.

The group has gone further to discover a foreign funding winder to help the NGOs to access funding, especially for their rescue.

Natural Justice is described as a group of lawyers, in fact, a Pan-African organisation with lawyers from all over Africa: South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Natural Justice (Nigeria) organized a three-day workshop in Port Harcourt on ‘Empowering Human Rights Defenders’ to teach the NGOs various funds now open and how to access them, especially the one that is meant as a rescue for the defenders.

Mike Karikpo, Programme Manager, Natural Justice (Nigeria), explained to newsmen that the group which is from all of the countries mentioned above work to get community voices and community platform to ventilate their issues. “Natural Justice is driven by the communities, everything we do is tied to communities.”

He said they collaborate with the communities to protect the environment, to defend rights and to stand with communities when they need support.

“We know the people who are defending the environment, who have been working as environmental activists, human rights activists across Nigeria for the last 30 years.

“Often nobody defends them, they do this work out of the passion they have for defending the environment. It was only in 2019 that the United Nations even recognize the environmental rights defenders.”

He said it is a growing area of work though many people in attendance have been defending the Niger Delta environment from the oil spills, gas flaring, and destruction of mangroves, but that nobody has really thought about them.

“Their health, their physical protection, the fact that sometimes they are harassed and molested by government, that they are incarcerated unlawfully and unfairly, nobody has really thought about supporting these guys who do these works, So, this is our niche. We want to support the men and women who protect our environment because, at the end of the day, the environment is our first right.”

He said his group intended to bring to participants who have done these works over the years that there is a systematic process of doing this work. Also, there are international treaties and laws that protect them to do this work.

“It does not exist in Nigeria right now and we can find a way so that those international instruments and treaties are brought to effect within the Nigeria legal echo system and that we can protect them and allow them to do their work with peace of mind so that they know that if something happens there is an emergency; that in 48 hours they could get $5000 to help them get a lawyer or move from where they are to somewhere else if it becomes dangerous.”

The lawyer said: “What we want to do is to ensure that those who do these important works have the protection and support both within ourselves, regionally, Africa and internationally, to continue to do the work.

“And whenever they run into any issues, whether is mental, health, etc, they have people and processes that will support them so they can continue to do their work and do it with their heart knowing that their family will be protected, themselves will be protected, and there will be a support to get them into a healthy place if something happens to them.”

Read also: Sanwo-Olu orders probe into Banana Island building collapse, 25 rescued

The AED Fund

The fund was unveiled for Nigeria Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Port Harcourt via an online presentation from Mozambique by Stephana Rahorijao.

The funding is said to be unique by the speed of its application and response, 48 hours. It can fetch up to $5000.

Unveiling the AEDF from Mozambique, Stephana Rahorijao told the trainees in an online presentation that the fund took roots from the UN Resolution of 2019, saying that it is for human rights activists that face harm, pressure, and other negative actions for the work they do.

He mentioned areas of focus as urgent legal assistance to activists faced with legal entanglements, urgent medical help to such species, those facing temporary relocation costs in the event of a need to flee, those facing bail or bond from cases arising from human rights activities, those who need to hire private security in exceptional cases, and those who

may need to install security gadgets when faced with real threats.

He also showed the areas the fund does not cover such as those wishing to fund their office apartment (secretariat support), normal human rights programmes not related to threats to their lives, armed security, and natural disasters.

We want more – Participants

Some of the participants who are seasoned in activist work in the oil region, however, pointed to the critical areas funding is urgently needed in the Niger Delta.

Erabanabari Kobah: Environmental Management Consultant

I am happy to see this kind of programme where people volunteered to assist those in Africa, especially the less privileged. But as good as the programme is there are still areas we suggest that should be added such as research.

There is nothing you can do today without data. If you want to get your case solidly establish

there must be data and data acquisition is a very expensive project. So, I am of the opinion that they will be able to find research that will be able to establish whatever anybody will want to talk about. For example, we have the famous UNEP Report. But there are gaps, UNEP even acknowledged, that the Health Assessment is important.

The level of ecological devastation in the Niger Delta is appealing beyond what we have documented. So, we think that more research needs to be done to establish adequately the extent of ecological devastation and the consequences on the environment and the people.

Again, litigation has different aspects. The oil companies are so established to the point that even going to court against them is difficult, you can’t get justice. So if you are willing to provide two things not just funds for litigation, but also funding the campaigns around litigation so as to establish the issues even while it is going on because you cannot underestimate the power

of the media when it comes to issues that are under trial. The litigation cost and media angle are what I think they should look into.

Patience Osarejiji, Coordinator of Mgbokase Initiative Eleme

We are glad but most of us know the situation we are facing in Nigeria. The poverty level has

kept us in the stage where we are. It could be a deliberate weapon against ordinary people.

So, if they can give some funding to those of us who deal with women and young girls, it will be better. You see the reason our young girls, even married women, are going into prostitution these days is that there is nothing they can use in feeding themselves and their children.

So, if there is funding that can energies the woman, good funding, the grant we always ask for is not forthcoming. We need funding that can help the livelihood of the women so some of them can start good businesses.