By Rev. Sr. Juliet Ifediba, OLA. (Barrister & Solicitor)
Representatives from different female religious congregations numbering about 84 sisters gathered on the 22nd day to 27th day of November, 2016 for a workshop at DRACC (Daughters of Divine Love Retreat and Conference Center) Lugbe FCT, Abuja Nigeria; on the invitation of the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN) Washington DC. A conglomerate of faith based movement consisting of European Catholic Missionaries that have worked and lived in Africa whose sole aim upon retirement, is advocacy for a just society.
The subject matter for the workshop/training was ‘SERVICE, ADVOCACY AND CHANGE: REV. SISTERS AND NATION BUILDING’. The workshop was introduced by the AFJN Coordinator for Women Project; Rev. Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SND and the welcome address in which the ‘need and urgency’ for getting involve as women religious in advocacy was given by the Executive Director of AFJN; Rev. Fr. Aniede Okure, OP. The key note address was given by the former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi who also gave input on the negative impact of the culture of waste in Nigeria. A lot of presentations and trainings based on the Nigerian realities and in relationship to the call to prophetic role of the female religious in social justice were given, such as;
· Violence against women and children in Nigeria; a personal story by Mrs. Chinyere Eyo. This presentation exposed the evil impact of violence on women and children and the role to be played by the female religious in ensuring that this evil is fully eradicated from among the populace.
· The role of advocacy in the implementation of laws protecting women and children from violence; issues, challenges and the role of Catholic Rev. Sisters by Barr. Mrs Okogbue. This presentation while exposing in real data the different abuses meted out to women and children, also discusses the root causes of some of the abuses while at the same time inviting the female religious to take part in fighting the scourge since it is almost reaching epidemic level in the society.
· Women, Children and Gender Based Sexual Violence in Nigeria by NAPTIP TEAM. This presentation explains that persons who suffer violence or any form of abuse do so simply because of their sex (Male/Female) and not because they have committed any crime against humanity or breach any known law of the land. Sisters were invited to take up their prophetic role by condemning not only in words but also through their actions evils of this nature.
· Fiscal responsibility and budgeting process, by Barr. Emeke. The sisters were taught how responsible and accountable budgets are made by the government and how budgeting can be influenced.
· Engaging Government and Law makers, Local, State and National Level, this presentation was given by the Staff of the National Assembly of Nigeria. She was able to explain to the sisters the processes of law making, how and the ways a bill could be sponsored to become an effective law.
· Biblical Foundation of Advocacy, this very important presentation was given by Rev.Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP. It was the major catalyst and forceful propeller to the Nigeria female Religious, here Fr. Okure explained the foundation and the concept of advocacy. He stated that advocacy is a Christian vocation with roots in the scriptures. According to him, it all started as far back as the time of Abraham in Genesis 18:16-32, where Abraham was seen negotiating on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. Likewise, in the new testament, the parable of the importunate friend in LK 11:5-8 also portrays advocacy wherein the neighbour would not give up until his request was met, of course the friend agreed to help as a result of the persistency of the neighbor rather than on the basis of their friendship. So advocacy for justice, according to him demands persistency and tenacity even in the face of opposition. Also on the foundation of advocacy, he identified Isaiah 60:11-12 wherein, prophet Isaiah fortold the mission of Christ and which Jesus himself confirmed thus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, God has sent me to bring freedom to the prisoners (prisoners of fear, ignorance), recovery of sight for the blind (physical & spiritual), to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18) [political, cultural, religious oppression] and Jesus’ own expression that “I came that they might have life, and have life to the fullest” (John 10:10). Equally he enlisted various Catholic Social Teachings of Church which enjoined each baptized to participate in advocacy such as the ‘Synod 71’ document where it was stated that ‘Work for justice is an integral part of Gospel Proclamation (Synod ‘71), and a papal document of Pope Benedict XVI, Africae Munus (Africa’s Commitment) wherein he states that “A charity that is unaccompanied by Justice is false”. He equally explained the various types and methods of advocacies and how each method could be employed to bring about positive changes in the society.
· Advocacy Using Social Media, sisters were also taught on how to use social media such as whatsapp, twitter, facebook etc. to reach out to wide audience on issues of burning concerns in the society.
At the end of the presentations, Rev. Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SND introduced reflective question and answer session which henceforth shall be a yardstick for the sisters and which further shall be most compelling in their quest for just society, these reflections shall later bring them face to face with the realities of the unrepresented Nigerians, they shall soon wear their (poor) shoes and truly feel their pinches, they(shepherds) shall in this journey smell mostly like them as this unquenchable fires of AFJN shall sure bring them face to face with the dichotomies (between the rich & poor) that exist in the society. The questions were;
· Given the different present issues in Nigeria today, which issues do you think Women Religious Can Effectively Tackled?
· Which do we tackle Now?
· What Strategy shall we adopt?
The Nigeria female religious in answering the questions opt to advocate against crimes such as rape and sexual abuses of women and girl child, infiltration of genetic modified foods (GMO), child labour and human trafficking in persons which at the time was very rampant and ravaging serious havoc among the youths, equally important is the issue of violence against women and children especially given the fact that most of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes most times escapes punishment. The strategy that the Nigeria female religious adopted was public demonstration in the different government parastatlals, town hall meetings, village to village awareness, meeting with law makes at various levels etc, these strategies would continue to be their method of advocacy in ensuring a just and peaceful society.
The sisters on the 24th of November 2016 amidst media coverage went for the advocacy and lobby visit at the National Assembly and at the Police Headquarters, Abuja. Entrance into the National Assembly was not achieved due to challenges of protocol, nevertheless the sisters staged a public, prayerful protest in front of the National Assembly gate by way of raising their different placards on which were captioned the following phrase;
· STOP! VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN NOW!
· JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS FOR ALL
· GMO NOT A SOLUTION TO HUNGER; OUR LAND! OUR FOOD!
· AS LONG AS LITTLE CHILDREN ARE MADE TO SUFFER, THERE IS NO TRUE LOVEIN THE NATION
· OPTION FOR THE POOR; THE MORAL TEST OF A NATION IS HOW WELL IT PROVIDES FOR THE POOR AND THE VULNERABLES.
They publicly read out their demands to the hearing of all people. Indeed! that was just the beginning. The sisters from the Assembly proceeded to the Force Headquarters, where they were warmly received by the DIG of Police with his team. The sisters commended the police for their effort in curbing crimes in the society and equally invited them to share in their vision as captioned in the various placards carried by them and articulately written also in the different documents read to them. They reiterated to the police the need for adequate protection of human lives and declare their desire to partner with them. The DIG and his team thanked the sisters and urged that all hands must be on deck if crimes are to be totally eradicated. He ensures their desire to work with the sisters for effective crime prevention. The advocacy and lobby visit ended in the evening with a take away supper for each sister.
The seminar and training continued the next day with the theme, ‘experiences of the lobby/advocacy visit’, also is the group work with the question, ‘how effective has the sisters mission in Nigeria been’ that is how have the sisters contributed to the nation building and the way forward based on the ‘Signs of the Time’. There was always rosary procession at the end of each day before dinner.
On Saturday, the 26th of November, 2016, the action planning on another advocacy by the area conferences of the female religious were drawn up in four different categories, comprising, group that advocates against violence on women and children, group that advocate against culture of waste, group that advocate against maternal and child mortality and group that advocate against GMO products. Each group is to fashion out the means through which its aim shall be achieved.
Upon the AFJN Washington DC directives (as directed by Rev. Fr. Aniedi Okure and Rev. Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SND), sisters numbering about (10) ten from different congregations were nominated for a meeting after dinner on the 26th of November, 2016, these would be members of the AFJN(Nigeria) Steering Committee. In that meeting, it was agreed that AFJN as an initiative be duly registered in accordance with the corporate requirements of the Nigeria law in order to enable it operate legally in Nigeria on issues of advocacy. Ten (10) man trustees were set up for the AFJN (Nigeria). The trustees were made up of the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, PRO, Secretary, Financial Secretary, Treasurer, Legal Adviser and Coordinators.
On the 26th and 27th of April, 2017, Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria (AFJN-N) having being fully registered under the Nigeria Law, had an advocacy visit with Ujiogba and Ogwa communities respectively in Edo State of Nigeria. There, the sisters had with the members of the communities (men, women, youth and children) educative and enlightenment awareness campaign on many issues such as women and child abuses, child prostitutions, trafficking in persons and other social vices prevalent in both communities and which militate against the fundamental rights of the indigenes.
Indeed a lot of discoveries were made based on the sisters interactions with the members of these communities such as illegal setting up of brothel where girls and boys were groomed into prostitution, especially in Ujiogba community, the implication of this was – increase in school dropouts among the youths, retarded manpower development, mental laziness, presence of serial rapists, abusers, kidnappers and indeed destruction of the human person and the entire society.
The sisters visited the said brothel and engaged with the owner as to the way forward by encouraging him to stop such activity within the community as it is truly not conducive and beneficial in terms of positive growth and development of the community. The incident (brothel operation) was reported by the sisters to the Commissioner of Police who in turn asked his men to investigate same and deal appropriately as required under the law.
On November 26th to 1st December, 2017, Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria (AFJN-N) visited again, Edo State. Here the sisters visited again as a follow up, Ujiogba, Ogwa and Ugbogui communities respectively, in each of these communities, Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria (AFJN-N) held town hall meetings with the entire communities including school children on programmes such as evils of human trafficking, child prostitution, child and women abuses, human rights education, capacity building and other empowerment programmes.
Equally, Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria (AFJN-N) held special programme for the Youths of Edo State Nigeria at Akpakpava Youth Center, on the evils of human trafficking, child and women abuses, capacity building and other empowerment programmes with over Three Thousand Youths comprising male and female in attendance. Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria (AFJN-N) also paid many advocacy visits so as to get all hands in deck in the fight against these social ills; such as to the Commissioner of Police in order to secure partnership with him and his men in the combat against human trafficking; child prostitutions and other social vices, to the Honourable Minister of Youth and Special Duties for similar purpose and to the Onogies’(traditional rulers) of different Communities in Edo State who are the custodian of moral values and who the sisters believed have a great role to play in the fight against social ills.
Again on the 18th to 23rd of May, 2018, Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria (AFJN-N) carried out advocacy programme such as human rights education, evils of human trafficking, child and women abuses/prostitution, capacity building and other empowerment programmes in Benin/Edo State Government Schools including engagement with some traditional rulers.
In all these advocacies embarked by the sisters a lot of positive changes have been recorded such as creating of awareness among the targeted groups, capacity building, empowerment, education and positive value system have been inculcated among the populace, above all, the sisters have been able through the advocacies prompt the enactment or review of laws that adequately protects the rights of the citizens.
In continuity with the commitment to eradicate unjust structures in our communities and societies, Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria (AFJN-N) shall carry out another advocacy training and practice programme at Enugu State Nigeria wherein the sisters shall be trained on advocacy and afterwards publicly match to the relevant places to demand justice for and over some particular issues!
I shall keep you updated as AFJN train moves in Africa!
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