26 September 2017

Nigeria: Lawyers Urged to Be Creative in Litigating Maternal Health Issues

With recurring incidents around maternal health in the country and little or no justice achieved, lawyers have been urged to be creative in pursuing justice for the victims.

Lawyers are also asked to utilize the fundamental right aspects of the constitution to demand justice for victims because it will go a long way in reducing incidences of careless and needless maternal deaths and enhance women's rights.

The Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) made the charge in a two-day training for lawyers, which focused on the rights-based perspectives in maternal health adjudication, litigation and other legal measures in handling maternal health cases.

"Nigeria rates second to India in maternal mortality, even the reduction at 630 deaths per 100, 000 live births in Nigeria is unacceptably high. The deaths of women during pregnancy or delivery is a major public health challenge hence constitutes a violation of fundamental rights, including rights to life and right to family life," said the Executive director of WARDC, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi.

She noted that even though maternal health issues are not properly stated in the constitution, such cases could be pursued based on the right to life and other related areas, which are also in our constitution.

"We are asking lawyers to be more creative. We want them to expose the laws and get them tested. It is because we have not tested the laws enough that have made some cases not litigated.

"Some of the things that Gani Fawehinmi talked about in those days were not in the law, but he tested it and the decisions have helped to strengthen the law. Some of our laws should not just stay as decoration, they should be investigated and examined," she charged.

A legal practitioner with WARDC and one of the speakers, Emmanuella Azu, said, most lawyers are trained to believe that issues around sexual and reproductive health is an issue of negligence.

"But then this is more of a human rights issue. This perspective is missing in our curriculum especially for older lawyers who have been in the field practicing. So we are not taught that issues around sexual health could also be a human rights issue. So this training brings to the fore that when there is a violation in sexual health, it is a violation of the individual's rights," she said.

Former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Yinka Farounbi said that awareness is key to gaining knowledge.

His words: "The law is crucial in any society and more importantly when handled appropriately to get justice. And so this training is to re-awaken the consciousness of lawyers to their responsibility in ensuring that they play a major role in protecting and saving lives.

This training also gives us a platform to give a holistic look at the law and see areas where we can recommend to the legislature for necessary amendment."


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