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Lawyers Alert Releases Data on Human Rights Abuse Associated with Petty Offences in Nigeria

By Olawale Oyegbade, The Nigerian Voice, S/W Bureau Chief
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Data on human rights abuse associated with petty offences in Nigeria covering the period October 2019 and March 2020 have been released by Lawyers Alert.

The Data detailing the analysis of human rights violations based on types of petty offences is with a view to serving as useful tool for advocacy towards decriminalization of petty offences in the country.

The findings on Petty Offences in Nigeria by Lawyers Alert, a non-profit body, in partnership with Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) focused on ten violations most rampant, reported and monitored.

These offences include indiscriminate disposal of waste, wandering or loitering, disobedience to parents or constituted authorities, alms seeking, hawking, public display of affection, violation of traffic or wrong parking, breach of promise, commercial sex work, sexual minorities and being a rogue or vagabond.

The President of Lawyer Alert, Barrister Rommy Mom said the data was accurate, credible and represented true picture of the state of human rights violations associated with Petty Offences.

His words “Our documentation process seats on our already existing structure of producing data in other spheres. Lawyers Alert has an online tool that automatically analyses data according to geographic locations (774 LGAs), age, sex, types and so on.

"This tool has given us the plank to produce data in Nigeria on several issues ranging from SRHR to sexual minorities. In producing the data on Petty Offences, the online tool was expanded to also capture violations associated with petty offenses."

"Violations report came from our six (6) focal persons in the six (6) geopolitical zones of Nigeria. This accounts for the national spread of the data produced, even though, this project is focused in the following States, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Niger, Plateau and the FCT", he said.

According to the report, on the above listing, disobedience to constituted authority ranked highest among petty offences in Nigeria as evidenced with 28%.

The reason for this, as highlighted in the report was because the support for the government by the citizens has dwindled owing to falling standard of living as a result of which citizens have been exercising in very strong terms, their non appreciation as evident in traditional and new media.

“For instance, unfavorable Facebook postings against the government of the day have seen social media journalists in jail in Cross River, Bauchi and Adamawa states. NGOs are being threatened with regulations through legislation that in truth seeks to gag them. It is therefore not surprising to note that, overall, disobedience to constituted authority within this period ranks highest."

Also, wandering, loitering and being a rogue were also among the rampant cases of petty offences in Nigeria with 26%. This was categorised as the most commonly used modus of security agents in Nigeria shaking down citizens, especially young males.

According to the report, “Often, young males are arrested, and the contents of their phone demanded. They are forced to unlock their phones for proof that they are not rogues or vagabonds and have identity, where no identity card exists, and it is usually a ground for arrest and detention.”

“Where phone contents exhibit pictures of videos of for example gay sex or complicated apps exists, they are arrested as being gay or “yahoo boys” a term for internet fraud. This violation is analyzed at 26%. Commercial Sex Work ranked third with 10%.”

“Violations associated with Commercial Sex Work within the period of monitoring violations ranks third at 10%. This can be said to be low in view of the visibility it gained in Nigeria, following the raids and arrests of female sex workers in Abuja and subsequent protests by residents of the city.”

“Ironically, it will appear the issue and constant search light on these violations by the police has reduced dramatically, though still at 10% in compassion to other violations. Hawking and Sexual Minorities both stand at 4%. Often violations with regard to hawking are in seizure and destruction of the goods.”

“Violation of Traffic or Wrong Parking and Breach of Promise that are ordinarily not reported had a percentage of 1%. From calls received, citizens usually do not see these as a violation of their rights and see no need for reportage. Violations associated with Indiscriminate Disposal of Waste, Alms Seeking and Public Display of Affection had an insignificant reportage of less than 1% in this reporting period."

The Chairman, Governing Board, Lawyers Alert, Dr. Magdalene Dura said petty offences were created by colonial masters in attempt to have a strong hold on people and their right to self-expression and determination.

She frowned that petty offenses offend human rights particularly rights to movement, expression, liberty, and dignity of person. She said “Petty offences often times have no victims, for example, wandering/loitering, rogue/vagabond, hawking”

“As earlier captured, these offences do not only violate human rights but over the years, people have been sent to correctional custodial facility on this account. This is why there is a strong movement to decriminalize petty offence in Africa.”

“Often, Parliamentarians in efforts at decriminalizing offenses demand evidence of data to validate positions they take. This is where the gap exists”,

"So, while we are all in agreement on the violations associated with petty offences, there is paucity or lack of data to validate this. This reason is why Lawyers Alert with the support of OSIWA is not only monitoring rights violations associated with Petty offences but also documenting this so as to have the evidence to support decriminalization of petty offenses in Nigeria, or provide for non-custodial sentences, where appropriate”, Dura said.

Dura added that the data are verifiable and that the report as produced is scientific in regard to violations associated to petty offences in Nigeria. She commended OSIWA for providing necessary support for the project.