Partnering to Combat Human Rights Abuse in Nigeria

With the aim to improve access to justice for vulnerable Nigerian communities and ultimately contribute to the reduction of poverty, the ROLE UK Programme supports a partnership between the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Nigerian Bar Association.

Nigeria is a large and complex country with a myriad of human rights challenges. The Boko Haram crisis in North-Eastern Nigeria has resulted in the internal displacement of over 2 million people within Nigeria, who have very little access to justice or resources. Internal displacement can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, leading to family separation, food insecurity, loss of documentation and subsequently the loss of freedom of movement, loss of property, and increased risk of onward displacement.

“Internal displacement is the great tragedy of our time. The internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable of the human family,” Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary General

Simultaneously, in the Niger Delta region, oil pollution and environmental degradation have had a damaging effect on communities for decades. This has contributed to political and economic conflict, violent militant and criminal groups and very high levels of insecurity. Nigerian laws are not currently adequate to ensure a just outcome in environmental legal cases and the Nigerian legal community lacks knowledge about the regional and international mechanisms that can help to protect these communities.

Facilitated by A4ID’s ROLE UK programme, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Bar Human Rights Committee have partnered to use the law to empower and protect internally displaced people in North-Eastern Nigeria, as well as support access to justice for communities in the Niger Delta impacted by environmental degradation.

Building Nigerian lawyers’ capacity to support vulnerable citizens

There are significant weaknesses in Nigeria’s domestic legal frameworks in relation to both human rights and environmental issues, which make it difficult to hold the government and other powerful actors to account. Expertise in international human rights law is limited in Nigeria, as the subject area is not covered in most standard law degree courses. The partnership between the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Nigerian Bar Association is therefore designed to increase Nigerian lawyers’ awareness of how to use international and regional legal mechanisms to address human rights problems, specifically the difficulties faced by internally displaced peoples in North-Eastern Nigeria and the communities in the Niger Delta.

To enhance their knowledge and understanding of international human rights and the legal implications of environmental degradation, more than 100 Nigerian Bar Association members have received a series of trainings, led by the Bar Human Rights Committee and facilitated by the ROLE UK programme since February 2018. These trainings aim to build the professional capacity of Nigerian lawyers to advise on how to utilise mechanisms of redress for people displaced in North-Eastern Nigeria by internal conflict, as well as on how to use international and regional law in pursuit of economic claims in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The Bar Human Rights Committee trainers have also produced training materials and a training programme to promote best practices for investigation and legal redress for human rights and environmental violations.

Through its support for the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Nigerian Bar Association to convene trainings and deploy highly qualified experts in the international human rights field, with relevant knowledge and experience, the ROLE UK programme aims to ensure adequate redress for human rights abuses in Nigeria.

Continuing the fight for justice

A key element of the trainings delivered by the Bar Human Rights Committee is to develop the skills of Nigerian lawyers to deliver further training to their colleagues on international human rights mechanisms of redress. Since the trainings began, the Nigerian Bar Association reports increased understanding of the rights of internally displaced peoples. As a result, perception has also changed around the role that Nigerian Bar Association lawyers can play in assisting internally displaced peoples. Trained lawyers have begun taking up cases on behalf of internally displaced peoples and developing rights-awareness training in internally displaced people camps, as well as setting up mobile court systems allowing magistrates to sit remotely to hear the cases of internally displaced peoples.

With encouragement from the ROLE UK programme to formalise their partnership, the Nigerian Bar Association and Bar Human Rights Committee signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the close of the first training workshop, which committed both parties to continued collaboration to enhance the skills of lawyers in the application of human rights law. According to a Bar Human Rights Committee representative, the MoU has put the two partners on a more equal footing, with the Nigerian Bar Association becoming more assertive about its priorities following the signing of the MoU. This is important in creating a genuine peer-to-peer relationship and reducing the risk that an actual or perceived power imbalance between in-country and international lawyers affects the nature of the partnership going forward.

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