And Justice for all

By Sr. Rosemary Williamson, O.L.M.
March/April 2009

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Shortly after his inauguration, Nigeria’s President Yar’Adua allocated some millions of to fund lawyers who would visit the prisons and identify those whose cases had not received due legal process. His vision of justice, however, met with corruption by other officials who were to implement his plan. Thus only those officials motivated by a personal commitment to justice and human rights responded.

Sr. Rosemary Williamson; Mr. Teiman, District Police Officer; Sr. Mary Deighan; and District Chief Atiem. Vandeikya, Nigeria. Sr. Rosemary Williamson; Mr. Teiman, District Police Officer; Sr. Mary Deighan; and District Chief Atiem. Vandeikya, Nigeria.

Cornelius Tamen, a member of Vandeikya’s Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) and a lawyer, was one of those few who answered this call to action. Even while he was a student at Benue State University, whenever possible he returned to Vandeikya and participated in the weekly meetings of our local JDPC group which I had started several years ago. His presence always enlivened our discussions and frequently he was able to articulate what members were struggling to express. Some of the local issues we have tried to address are the lack of clean water in the marketplace; corruption that prevents access to fer-tilizer for sale at the government subsidized price; sale of illicit liquor containing harmful substances; and lack of employment for young people.

Our efforts have met with only minimal success, but at least they have raised awareness among some of the people of their basic human rights. While local government authorities failed to respond to the need for a bore hole well to provide clean water in the marketplace or to fund a skills training workshop for unemployed youth, at the local level the Rotary Club has received confirmation from their international partner for funding the well.

Our efforts to document the corruption around fertilizer distribution were prevented both at the local and state levels by those involved. However, there was more success regarding the problem of illicit liquor. Due to public outcry, a bill was passed to ban the sale of illicit liquor throughout Benue State. The next step will be to ensure that the law is enforced.

Cornelius wants to become a priest. While he is waiting to apply to the Jesuits, he has assisted us in obtaining legal title to land ownership for a woman who is one of our long time friends. He has also supervised the building of a small house for her. Left to her own resources she would be victimized as she suffers from mental health problems.

Recently Cornelius has been offered a position with a Human Rights NGO in Lagos State. It is individuals like him who are living signs of hope for Nigeria’s poor and oppressed. I believe he is only one of many more for I see the same potential and commitment to justice issues in other young JDPC members.

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