The recent public outcry by female law students of the University of Calabar against the dean of their faculty, Cyril Ndifon, over allegations of sexual harassment reinforced the fact that the prevalence of gender-based violence, particularly on Nigerian women and girls, undoubtedly persists and urgently needs to be addressed.
There have been repeated calls for more efforts to address gender-based violence as statistics show slow progress in addressing the malaise.
Between 2013 and 2018, findings from the Nigeria Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), revealed that the incidence of spousal, physical, sexual, or emotional violence grew from 25 per cent to 36 per cent, with spousal violence being the most prevalent.
Also from the DHS data, the most recent on the topic, instances of sexual violence against women from ages 15 to 49 increased from 36.9 per cent to 44.9 per cent.
Between 2017 and 2019, there has been an increase in reported sexual violence cases in Nigeria. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, reported cases rose from 26 in 2017 to 60 in 2019. Moreover, the number of women who reported having experienced physical violence increased from 28 per cent in 2013 to 31 per cent in 2017.
More recently, in October 2022, 17 million Nigerian women were reported to have experienced gender-based violence. According to statistics from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), one in three Nigerian women has experienced physical or sexual violence, as Derby Collins-Kalu, a senior programme officer in charge of gender-based violence (GBV) at the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN), explained.
A plan to tackle the aforementioned is contained in President Bola Tinubu’s manifesto which reads: “Our government will expand the use of specialist police units to investigate and handle cases of domestic violence. We shall strengthen social services and support to victims of domestic violence and abuse by encouraging whistleblowing, counselling for victims and sanctuary homes. We shall prioritise the prosecution of domestic abuse cases and will seek more serious criminal penalties for abusers.”
But before the new Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Ohaneye can start implementing the plans, there is a need for a reminder about the existing stumbling blocks that hinder the fight against GBV in Nigeria.
Before tackling prevailing issues within her jurisdiction, gender advocates urge the new minister to collaborate with relevant anti-GBV actors and be abreast with the issues in the sector. Findings by PREMIUM TIMES show she is a lawyer, a businesswoman and a philanthropist but with little political influence.
“Even though she is a lawyer, you have to take her through all the previous commitments Nigeria has made since she has not been part of the movement. The minister now would have to be taught many things – frameworks, protocols etc,” said Ene Ede, a gender activist popularly called Mama Gender.
“The first thing is to educate, enlighten and coach her. You also need someone (minister) with a great disposition to learning to be able to grasp the teachings. After understanding, you begin to engage”.
Likewise, the Executive Director of Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, David Anyaele, advised the minister to be open in her consultations and approaches especially to women with disabilities because they were excluded from President Bola Tinubu’s manifesto.
Poor awareness, adoption differences in VAPP and CRA
The previous administration got more states to adopt the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act of 2015 and the Child’s Rights Act of 2003.
The VAPP Act seeks to prohibit all forms of violence against persons, including women and girls, in private and public life and provides maximum protection, effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.
Also, the CRA is the law that guarantees the rights and responsibilities of all children in Nigeria. It specifies the duties and obligations of the government, parents, and other authorities, organisations and bodies.
While this was considered a laudable move, different provisions were domesticated in the states, particularly with the CRA, according to Mabel Ade, a gender advocate and founder of the Adinya Arise Foundation, which provides a range of interventions for women. She indicated that nine states in the North-east and North-west like Borno, Yobe, Kano, Kebbi, and Katsina, had either pegged the age of consent at 14 years or were silent about it to perpetuate child marriage.
“The constitution tells us you are an adult when you are 18, so the age of consent should be consistent with the age of adulthood. You can’t be a child and give consent for sex or to be raped. These are called state legalising violations”, she told PREMIUM TIMES.
This is one issue the new minister has to resolve and this according to Mrs Ade can be done by her (the minister) examining “the legal frameworks where there are gaps to see how she can navigate and find creative and effective advocacy tools to engage state governors and parliaments to align them with what is obtained in the national law and follow up with implementation to ensure there is good public awareness about these laws”.
In doing these, she advised the minister to build structures around monitoring and evaluation so that the states alongside ministries and parliament at the state level align and develop indicators that the different gender desks can monitor to evaluate impact in terms of mitigations and interventions.
In addition to the highlighted inconsistencies, inadequate awareness about the prevailing anti-GBV laws was also identified as one of the factors still fuelling the prevalence of cases. More awareness of the laws is necessary, Mrs Ade said.
“Awareness should not just be done in the media but at the community level where the issues are being perpetuated and done through people that understand the everyday language.
“There should be good relationships with the National Orientation Agency, the media houses and civil society groups to ensure that there is a good public awareness in languages that are understood.”
Inconsistent GBV data, lack of synergy among GBV actors
A major stride accomplished under the previous administration was the creation of databases and platforms to record gender-based violence cases, being the first of its kind.
Report GBV was launched in 2020 and collates unified data on violence against Nigerian women and girls, from CSOs, NGOs working in the sector and GBV desk offices in security agencies across the country and supervised by the Ministry of Women Affairs.
There is also the Nigeria Sexual Offender and Service Provider Database (NSOD), a sexual offender register introduced by the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in 2021.
As of 24 April 2023, Report GBV had 15,299 cases, recorded 674 fatalities, 825 closed cases, 4,729 open cases and 33 convicted while the NSOD had 1,189 cases, 232 convicted, 546 in court and 187 under investigation within the same period.
Recent data could not be reflected as the NSOD website has removed the display of collected GBV data.
Reacting to this, Mrs Ede, who also serves as the VAPP Act Coordinator, noted that NAPTIP ought to be in charge of the process as indicated in section 44 of the VAPP Act which reads: “The National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP) is mandated to administer the provisions of this act and collaborate with relevant stakeholders including faith-based organisations”.
Also on NAPTIP’s website, one of its functions as VAPP Act administrator is to “manage data on SGBV and upload information to the Sex offenders register in collaboration with the ICT department.”
It is for this reason Mrs Ede raised issues regarding data fragmentation as she noted that the GBV database is not properly treated.
She said: “The Police won’t bring their data to NAPTIP. The Ministry of Women Affairs will say they have a coordination point. Even when you ask NGOs to bring their report, they are not willing because they feel they are doing NAPTIP a favour. They won’t even give data to the converging point of every statistics in Nigeria i.e. the National Bureau of Statistics. Data is sitting in the correctional service. We don’t have holistic data. The data ought to be within the NSOD.”
To this end, she advised the new minister to tackle the issue by enforcing NAPTIP as the lead in this regard because the agency has the powers to arrest and prosecute when cases are received whereas the ministry does not.
Underfunded response to GBV cases, slow justice system
Another issue for the new minister to tackle is how the justice system in Nigeria and inadequate financial resources frustrate cases of GBV, making survivors abandon the cases and allowing perpetrators to prowl for their next victim.
This was buttressed by the former Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, who complained about the slow justice system. She mentioned that out of a total of 3,754 pending cases of SGBV, only 33 convictions were recorded as of 16 January although she did not mention when the data was first computed.
To tackle this, during her tenure, family courts were established in 17 states to ensure the safety and protection of children. Also, special courts for SGBV cases were designated in the Federal Capital Territory and four judges were assigned to handle them.
But Mrs Ade, who did research into this, said many state governments did not implement the initiative because of a lack of funds and others who started it have not been able to sustain it.
Consequently, she recommended to the new minister to secure funds dedicated to forensic centres to ease the court procedures on GBV cases.
“There should be pro bono services or subsidies around getting a lawyer that will follow up on such cases. I know it will be a lot of work for her because the ministry does not have enough money but if she is able to use her network and skills as a businesswoman, lawyer and politician, align with development partners and CSOs, she will be able to achieve greater heights,” she added.
Courts shut out women with disabilities
For women with disabilities who have suffered some form of gendered violence, it is still a long road to justice as court facilities in Nigeria are not inclusive enough to allow them to participate and as a result, shut them from getting the justice they deserve.
A PUNCH investigation revealed that many courts of law in the country do not have ramps and railings when visits were made to some Federal High Court headquarters in Abuja, the Supreme Court, and Osun State High Court.
In addition to this, the Executive Director of the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Mr Anyaele, told PREMIUM TIMES that “there is absence of sign language in the courts, which excludes persons with hearing impairment and court processes are not done to accommodate persons with visual impairment.
“Also, the language used in courts is too technical that persons with disabilities struggle more to understand as such, access to justice is very slim.”
He asked the new Minister of Women Affairs to conduct an audit of courts’ processes, environment and framework to identify gaps around persons with disabilities in accessing the courts.
Inadequate government shelters
GBV survivors in the Federal Capital Territory go through a tortuous process before finding shelters that can accommodate them as there is only one government shelter in the nation’s capital. They eventually rely on privately run shelters which barely have enough resources to cater for the welfare of survivors in their shelters as more cases spring up.
In a previous report done by PREMIUM TIMES, Nsini Christina, the shelter administrator of Sophia’s Place, the first-ever GBV shelter in Nigeria, located in Lagos State, said Project Alert, the NGO running the space, can only afford to feed survivors on an occasional basis when sponsored by donors.
“We pay N2.3 million as rent (for the shelter), and the landlord wants to increase the rent, but it also needs urgent renovation. We have to apply for funds to renovate the place and sustain the welfare of the occupants,” she said.
Mirabel Centre, Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Lagos state, has for the past 10 years provided free support to survivors through the support of donor organisations and partners. But at some point it had to solicit public funds to run the centre, the Communications Officer, Nancy-Olive Tamuno, said in a mail to PREMIUM TIMES.
To resolve this, she solicited a budget line to be drawn for SARCs nationwide. She further asked other related agencies to provide support that will enable them to carry out the job of providing quality, timely and professional medical and psychosocial support to survivors.
“These services are provided free of charge and support from the government to be able to do this efficiently would go a long way in seeing that survivors get the help they need long term,” she added.
Mrs Ede, the gender activist, also asked the political appointee to create more shelters in town so survivors can have easy access to them.
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