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Local communities should have power over resources – Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation says that it is engaging local communities to understand what it means to be custodian of the mineral resources in their respective areas.

Ford Foundation
Ford Foundation’s Vice President, Mrs Hilary Pennington (middle), along with traditional, religious leaders and other participants

Mrs Hilary Pennington, Ford Foundation Vice-President, made the statement at a roundtable organised by cultural and faith leaders on Wednesday in Lagos.

The one-day event focused largely on Gender-Based Violence (GBV), its relative effects on the society and the role that can be played by cultural and faith leaders, alongside Women Rights Organisations (WROs), to address the menace.

The event, organised by Ford Foundation and supported by the United Nations (UN) Women, also discussed collectively shifting norms that promote GBV and identifying avenues for effective prevention and response.

Pennington said that indigenous people in communities that sit over massive natural resources are the first defenders of those resources,but do not have legal rights to their lands.

She said that they were not equipped to have power and to sit at the tables where negotiations were being made about the value that gets extracted from those lands.

“So, our overall goal is to make sure that they are at those tables, and that when they are at those tables, they know the laws they have negotiating skills, they have the policy backgrounds that will help them be effective advocates.

“Then to fund research organisations, advocacy organisations that can come around the communities that are most affected and give them more power.

“We are also using our grants to give indigenous leaders access to technologies, to computers, so that they can have in a rain forest, drones that they can be used to see whether there are illegal incursions or illegal activities happening around them,” she said.

Pennington, who was decorated as Queen of Africa by the Council of Traditional Rulers in Africa (COTLA) at the programme, said that the foundation’s mission was to advance human dignity and reduce inequality in all its forms around the world.

“As an American foundation, even though we have an office in Nigeria, led by West Africans, we cannot do this work effectively without you and without your advice, without your guidance, without your leadership and without your partnership.

“You know we have heard statistics that are very sobering today, and many facts and numbers.

“Behind each of those facts and numbers of people are human lives or human potential male and female, female and male that are held back because of the culture, the norms and practices we have all over the world, not just in Africa, and I believe we are the generation that can change this,” she added.

Dr Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, Regional Director, West Africa, Ford Foundation, said that a lot had been done in the area of resource governance, focusing on resource-rich communities, especially in the Niger Delta region and creating awareness on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

Aniagolu-Okoye said: “We have been focusing on communities that are resource-rich and so a lot of our work has been done in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and more recently, we have been looking at making sure that communities are aware and know the contents of the PIB.

“We are also beginning to organise them through our partners, of course, to be able to negotiate more effectively with the private sector, with the government and to make sure that the provisions of the PIB are actually being implemented in a way that is beneficial to local communities.

“Beyond that, we are also helping local communities with research, litigation, you know, litigation, where that is necessary ,so that they are able to hold both companies and government accountable for infractions in their communities.”

On gender violence, Aniagolu-Okoye said a report showed that 49 per cent of divorced, separated or widowed women reported experiencing violence since age 18 and that 28 per cent of women who are  married or living with their spouses had experienced violence.

She added that women in the South-South zone of Nigeria experienced a higher rate of violence at 46.4 per cent, followed by the North-Central, North-East,South East and South West at 43 per cent, 38 per cent, 36 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.

”The North-West has the lowest rate at 11.7 per cent, however, there have been arguments that this is because reporting is relatively very low in the North-West compared to other zones and compared to the south in general.

“Nonetheless, the point that we are making is, gender- based violence is pervasive .It cuts across political zones and every of the social indices,” she said.

The regional director also noted that the situation of gender-based violence occurs in the workplace, in religious spaces, and the wider society.

According to her, the problem manifests itself in in the form of sexual harassment, rape, wife and child battery, widowhood rights, excessive burden of housework, acid baths and female genital mutilation, among others.

She explained that while GBV also affected men, statistics showed that the overwhelming victims were women.

Aniagolu-Okoye said the death of Osinachi, a Nigerian gospel singer, who died from demestic violence, was a significant reference of domestic violence in Christian faith.

Mrs Beatrice Eyong, Country Representative of UN Women, said that the roundtable was geared toward listening and learning from experiences with a view to helping tackle the challenge of violence against women and girls.

“I hope that this dialogue will serve to synergise efforts that will accelerate positive actions, addressing issues of sexual and gender- based violence in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda as well as the African Union’s vetoes 63 agenda,” she said.

Mrs Funke Baruwa, the foundation’s Programme Officer, Gender-Based Violence and Injustice, said the foundation was employing innovative ways to tackle GBV by engaging traditional, cultural and religious leaders, using civil society groups as entry points and asking them to lead advocacy.

Traditional leaders, religious leaders and relevant women organisations were in attendance at the programme.

By Itohan Abara-Laserian

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