Nigeria Field Post #3: Political, Legal, and Environmental Rights

This third, and last, field report from Nigeria, focuses on the political, legal, and environmental issues that Adam and I learned about during meeting with Nigerian NGOs last month. While I write about just three examples of Nigeria’s challenges in these areas, they provide a window into some of the most pressing problems that the nation is currently dealing with, and some insights into how to incorporate media into advocacy efforts to amplify critical voices and increase the impact of groups working on these issues.

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  • Artisanal mining:

Artisanal mining, or subsistence and independent mining by individuals, is a growing, unregulated industry in Northern Nigeria and parts of the Delta region. However, because there is no oversight for this work, safe labor practices are rarely put into place. Hundreds of poor miners, many of them children, are being poisoned by lead in the ground while they mine for gold and other precious natural resources using only the most rudimentary tools. Thousands of Nigerians are affected by this unregulated industry when they become sick after lead from the mining enters the water supply. According to a Human Rights Watch report: “A Heavy Price: Lead Poisoning and Gold Mining in Nigeria’s Zamfara State”, close to 500 children have died as a result of mining in Zamfara state alone. While the Zamfara state government has worked with international partners to begin to address the problem by treating over 1,500 children with lead poisoning and cleaning up seven villages that have been contaminated, there are thousands are children who still require treatment from the horrific poisoning and even more that remain exposed to the disease through contamination.  Global Rights is one organization we met with who is working to promote regulation and industry standards.

  • Constitutional review:

Another theme that came up with a number of the women’s rights groups with whom we met was a constitutional review process currently scheduled for July of this year. At present, 25 of 360 representatives in the Nigerian House of Representatives are women; women make up only 8 of 109 seats in the Senate, and there is not a single female governor in 36 states and the federal capital territory (Abuja).  Women’s affirmative rights, including those to positions of power, have been enshrined in most constitutions that have been written since South Africa provided a model in 2000 and increasingly enshrined in international law and mandates. Nigeria’s constitution was approved in 1999, and thus, this review process presents an opportunity for women in Nigeria to assert and codify their rights to governance and leadership.

The review process, however, appeals to all sectors of the population, and placing technology into the hands of all Nigerians helps forward this goal. One new and innovative project in the country is being organized by Enough is Enough Nigeria  (EIE-Nigeria) who designed a mobile app that all Nigerians can download and places the entire constitution in every users’ hands. The smart phone app provides a forum to post questions and discuss issues surrounding the provisions in the constitution, lets people share sections of the constitution on Facebook that are interesting and relevant to ongoing issues, allows searching capabilities for specific words and phrases, and lists a directory of lawyers that can provide access to legal advice on-the-go. This technology is changing the accessibility of the law and democratizing the constitutional review process.

  • Elections 2015:

Many Nigerian civil society groups are beginning to develop strategies for ensuring free and fair elections in 2015. Previous elections have been tainted with widespread violence and fraud where political bigwigs hired men to storm polling stations, fill out ballots, and stuff the boxes. Although the 2011 election was widely seen as an improvement from previous years, the results were still challenged by the minority party, the Congress of Progressive Change (PCP), and an estimated 500 were killed during election violence.

EIE – Nigeria, a youth led coalition, is not just developing mobile apps but they are also attempting to clean up elections. Another interesting initiative EIE developed is the R.S.V.P (register, select, vote and protect) campaign.  EIE uses Twitter (@EIENigeria and #RSVP2015) and Youtube to reach out to young adults who will advocate for fair, safe elections. Through compelling videos featuring Nigerian celebrities, R.S.V.P. seeks to inspire the youth generation to advocate for accountability and transparency in elections.  EIE’s goal is to get “10 million young people to be actively engaged in the electoral process by 2015” through it’s multimedia campaign. 

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The incorporation of new media into these campaigns indicates the beginning of an increased use of cutting-edge advocacy tactics for human rights work in the nation. Video is a big part of Nigerian culture as Nollywood is the “Hollywood of Africa;” however, documentary is not popular in Nigeria. However, many of the groups we met with expressed a desire to learn how to use video tactically, safely and strategically to advance their campaigns and legal work. In this way, we feel encouraged about the ways in which N-Map collaboration could be a great value to their work. For this reason, Adam, me, and the entire N-Map team are very excited to move forward with our partners in Nigeria. Stay tuned for more information as our work and relationships develop further!

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