Thursday, August 21, 2014

Zamfara State Bands Together to Hold Nigerian Government Accountable

A woman from Zamfara State speaks at the July 17 meeting with Nigerian government officials about how mining has adversely affected women and children

“In the past, we did not know. We made costly mistakes. But now, Global Rights has opened our eyes to knowledge. We know better. We will do better.”
-His Royal Highness Eze Martin Oyibe, traditional ruler of the Ameka Community

ZAMFARA STATE, NIGERIAOn July 17, more than 100 community members from Zamfara State filled a local town hall to engage directly with the Nigerian government to make sure it adequately redresses the devastating effects from a lead poisoning outbreak in 2010 that resulted from unregulated gold mining.

When news of the lead poisoning epidemic first surfaced in 2010, the Nigerian government was slow and ineffectual in its response to the immediate health issueswhich have claimed the lives of more than 700 children according to a recent report by Doctors Without Borders. The outbreak also exposed the underlying governance issues that permitted the outbreak to occur in the first place.

At the time, individuals and community groups in Zamfara State were not well-organized or knowledgeable about their rights. Most individuals were not aware of the dangers linked to artisanal gold mining, therefore many of them continued to extract the gold from the lead-laden ore with hand tools, thus exposing themselves and their families to lead poisoning. Civil society groups did not know for what the government was actually responsible regarding the lead poisoning crisis or how they could mobilize and demand that the government fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens.

Hosting the town hall gathering on July 17, we witnessed the tremendous strides civil society in Zamfara State has made in the past few years, thanks in large part to our having worked tirelessly with the community since 2010 to teach local groups about their rights under Nigerian and international law and then how to claim their rights through grassroots and political advocacy.

Since 2010, Global Rights has worked with communities in Zamfara State to facilitate several training sessions on human rights and natural resource management, community-organizing initiatives, and town hall meetings to promote dialogue among communities and government officials. As evidenced by the July 17 town hall gathering and as a result of our partnership, people in Zamfara State have become more vocal, united and knowledgeable about their rights. In addition, there has been a substantial increase in women’s participation in discussions on solid mineral governance. When we first began working in Zamfara, a largely conservative and patriarchal state, women were not present in the daily meetings and advocacy efforts. However, inside the town hall on July 17 women were fully engaged, raising their voices and calling for the protection of their rights and the restoration of justice to their community.

In response to the demands from civil society, the Nigerian government has taken steps to redress the severe consequences wrought upon local communities. The government has earmarked a remediation fund for affected families and transferred the funds to the Ministries of Health, Environment and Mines and Steel Development. Most importantly, the government has signaled a commitment to protect the rights of citizens who live in mining communities so that another Zamfara State disaster does happen again. The government has also allocated funds to clean up the top soil in affected communities that has been contaminated with lead.

In the past couple months, Global Rights has organized town hall meetings in Niger and Ebonyi States to expand our work with mining-affected communities in Nigeria and apply the lessons we learned in Zamfara State to other vulnerable communities. We are working to connect the affected Nigerian communities so that they can share their experiences, knowledge and strategies for defending the rights of their constituents. Our goal is to improve citizenship participation and government oversight in human rights issues linked to mining. We achieve this by empowering civil society to directly engage with the Nigerian government and to hold their government accountable to its citizens. Global Rights will continue working with mining-affected communities in Nigeria to help them identify and demand their rights and to ensure their active participation in decision-making processes that affect their constituents.

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