Barr Abiodun Baiyewu is the Country Director of Global Rights in Nigeria. A women’s Law and Public Policy Fellow in the Leadership and Advocacy For Women in Africa, she is also a writer, an accredited mediator, dispute resolution trainer and an HIV/AIDS youth counsellor. In this interview with JULIET AKOJE, she speaks on the activities of Global Rights in Nigeria among others.
There are several areas of Human Rights issues, what are the specific areas you work on?
Global Rights advocates for sustainable Justice is unique among other international Human Rights organisations working on the ground to build local capacity.
Global Rights works on issues of governance and Human Rights, building capacity, activists and communities, creating platforms for engagement between supply and the demand sides of justice and of governance.
Specifically, the core areas that we work on are access to justice, security, Human Rights and natural resources.
Under our access to justice program, we work on using strategic litigations to advance Human Rights courses, grants, Human Rights courses.
We work to equip community-based para-legals to offer legal first aid to indigent persons, particularly women living in the rural communities.
Under our security and human rights programs, we work on issues of sexual violence, as you know sexual violence is not just a gender issue, it’s a security issue and it affects both men and women and children particularly.
It’s not just gender issues but human rights and security issues at Global Rights.
Also, we work on protecting the rights of civilians in armed conflicts and you will find our capacity platforms initiatives in the North-east. We are working on the conflict in Kaduna and Benue states and generally advising the people on what their rights are and also calling on government to fulfil and protect the lives of civilians in armed conflict.
On our program on natural resources in human rights, we work in the area of mining: protecting the rights of mining host communities. We also work on specific natural resources that will result to the breach of the rights of citizens. Our area of interest is water and access to clean water, the things that can affect that and government’s duty to ensure people have access to clean water.
Considering the level of human rights issues in Nigeria, do you think the government and CSO’s are doing enough?
You have to understand that we have come a long way in Nigeria and our issues change from era to era. We have come all the way from the era of slavery, colonialism to military rules and currently we have a resemblance of democratic era and in all of these, you must know that they are human rights violations.
For some of these human rights violations, some have been completely eradicated, some have taken other forms, some are better and some are worse.
We now have contemporary forms of slavery like trafficking, like in a case where you have a domestic worker and the salaries of the person for a whole will be paid to someone else and their work conditions are really poor.
There are also cases of young men and women who were trafficked from this country to Europe to work as sex slaves. Slavery is alive but now in a different form.
We also have issues with democracy, the right of the people to decide. Even in our democracy there is still a lot of authoritarian rule in our political system. We have not evolved to the stage were people choose those in power and also decide the system they want.
There is also the issue of government condoning violence. If the government is not condoning domestic violence there would have been a drastic reduction in our society.
There is arbitrary violence inflicted on people by the Armed Forces so our issues have evolved over time and we find out that there are a lot of human rights issues.
Our government is getting better, however extremely slow. The Nigeria Police now have Public Complaints Unit, the society and government are becoming more tolerant to freedom of expression. The government has improved.
In the course of your advocacy programs and activities in Nigeria, what would you say have been your greatest challenge?
I do understand that change takes time and that’s the core challenge and change takes people wanting to change.
People and government naturally do not want to change and when you point out a human rights violation and enforcing it takes a while. It takes consensus campaign to change things.
A lot of people want things to remain the same especially those who enjoy the political economy of human rights violations and they are usually the most powerful people in the society.
It also takes time to make people understand that they have the power to change their situation and that they can directly affect government and the way it works. It takes patience, working carefully with communities.
The rate of illiteracy in Nigeria is also not helping because we need to educate people on their rights in the language they will understand and engage government with.
Considering the number of languages in Nigeria, communicating with them is really not easy. A lot of time they should be able to read to understand a whole lot of things.
Another big problem is implementation of our laws and implementation of our laws is really about the institutions being willing to do so.
Notwithstanding the challenges, what keeps you going?
In spite all our problems, I see hope for Nigeria and I have a very strong vision of the Nigeria of my dream and that is all I work for. To help build Nigeria of my dream from my own little corner.
How long have you been in the advocacy campaign and what has the experience been?
I have been working on Human Rights and developmental issues for 18 years now and I have not regretted it.
Does any particular case or encounter stand out for you?
We have lots of outstanding issues like the Zamfara lead poisoning and our campaigns got the government to act.
We have also got issues of sexual violence and we have been able to get people oriented and in few weeks, we will launch our App on sexual violence and we will protect the privacy of the people we report.
Also, our campaigns in coal mining has yielded some results. In Kogi state for example, we have got the Ministry of Mines and Steel taking up the company and treating the community better and knowing that our intervention yielded results gives me Joy.
What is your appeal to the federal government?
The true picture of Nigeria is the way it treats its most vulnerable people. And we cannot hide that from the international community. Doing business will be easier if our people are treated with respect, rights are protected and the speed of violence will gradually reduce if government will respect the rights of it citizens.
The government needs to take up holistic views on human rights issues.
There needs to be mutual relationship between us and the government to fight human rights abuses.
What is your message to the masses?
We need to develop a vision of Nigeria of our dream and we should learn to treat each other with respect and dignity.
If we treat each other with dignity, we will have a society that we all will be proud of.
We should also know that change is within the power of the people so we should act like it.