Justice, education sectors should be holistically reviewed to reduce sexual violence, says Akinlami
A Lagos-based social development lawyer, Mr. Taiwo Akinlami in this interview with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO spoke on the increasing cases of rape across the country and why the government and the judiciary must urgently address the scourge.
The alarming rate of sexual violence is currently worrisome. Is it because the Violence Against Person Prohibition Act (VAPPA) 2015 has not been domesticated by all the states?
The issue of rape in Nigeria has to be considered from the root. VAPPA has only been domesticated in 11 states and when you add the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, you have 12. Laws exist before the VAPPA. VAPPA is not the only law or the foundational law that addresses the issue of domestic violence. In the Southern region, there is Criminal Code and in the North there is Penal Code. Then concerning children, there is Child Rights Act 2003. And there is Child Rights Law of the 24 states of the federation.
There is the Juvenile and Young Persons Law. All these laws frown against rape, child sexual abuse and all of that. So, what the VAP has done is to expand the scope of who can be raped by the provision of that law; it is now deduced that a man also can be raped. So, Child Rights Act has also provides that a boy child or girl child can be sexually molested, or raped. I think the problem is not about the law but what are the measures in place to prevent rape? Our approach to this issue has been more of responding, instead of being proactive. We can name and shame. There is no problem with that. We can also cry out when something has been done. We believe if we cry out and lead a campaign, there would be a level of intervention that will deter other people from doing what has been done. But the fundamental thing I see there is that we need to recognise the root causes of this crime. We need to be committed to a conversation that is interested in addressing the root causes and bringing out the solutions.
When it comes to crime, there are three reasons why people commit crime. The first reason is that when someone commits a crime and there are no consequences about it, people will always nurse the will to commit crime.
Secondly, people can also be encouraged or motivated to commit crime because of the allure of proceeds of crime. The last one is the possibility of escape, which is the strongest factor. So, if somebody has the will to commit a crime, no matter what the attractions are, if he or she is not sure of escaping after committing the act, the fellow may not commit the crime. Escape from the scene of the crime and escape from justice are serious factors. The major issues we are dealing with right now are, that those who commit crime are sure of escaping from the crime scene and if for whatever reason they do not escape, they are likely to escape from justice. These are the major things we need to be looking at. Until we have justice for all, we cannot have justice for one. We need to look at the justice sector and also the judicial system in Nigeria. The entire justice system begins from arrest, investigation, prosecution and conviction. All of those must be properly looked into. And until we look into them, we might not be able to get it right.
Back to your question, it is not because the VAPPA has not been domesticated. It is because in Africa, we enjoy chasing shadows. We hardly look at issues, which is the fundamental reason. We are masters at chasing shadows and not until we stop chasing the shadow, particularly in the issue of rape this problem will persists. People have been killed and deformed and in all of these conversations, there is no justice.
Would you say the lockdown imposed by the government to check the spread of coronavirus pandemic assisted incidences of gender-based violence in parts of the federation?
Your observation is very correct. There has been a major increase in domestic violence since the lockdown was imposed and it is a global problem. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organisation (WHO), local and International organisations are beginning to notice that there is increase in domestic violence. There have been deaths, in the United Kingdom, United States of America and also in Nigeria and people have lost their lives to domestic violence. When these crises began, I started a series that I published on my blog. One of the things that I addressed is the issue of domestic violence. I said that domestic violence has increased because of the lockdown. People are in each other’s faces. Maybe what existed before was been patched up, but that there is lockdown, they are forced to be together, do things together and everything boils over and escalates. That is the issue.
So during the lockdown, everybody was together. Even now that the lockdown has been relaxed, people are still together more than they used to be. So for me, the lockdown brought out the ‘beast’ in us. If there is no beast in us, lockdown will not bring out anything. The fundamental issue is that the lockdown brought out the shallowness in most relationships. While we must encourage people to look at the foundation of their relationship, we should also encourage people to discuss issue of how to resolve crisis in marriage and at what point should they involve a third party. I think people should speak out, if they are experiencing violence. You cannot keep quiet because silence encourages the abuser. You must find a creative way of informing a friend or government agencies, when you are abused. If you speak up, help will come for you, but if you keep quiet, there is every tendency that you will die in silence.
Are men to be specifically blamed for the abuses?
Well, it is important for me to say that while women and girls are abused, men too are also maltreated. It is important to keep that in view. If you look at the report of Violence Against Women in 2014, you will discover that more boys are sexually molested in schools than girls. That is the report of the UNICEF to the Federal Government and other agencies that sought the research and launching of that report. Both genders are being molested but it is condemnable. Women and men should not be subjects of abuse or maltreatment. God created us with dignity and honour. Any attempt, calculated or perceived to attempt to dehumanize anybody is not acceptable.
If we are to blame anyone for the maltreatment of girls or women, we have the society to blame. We need to understand that whatever you promote or reward will grow. The fundamental issue borders on how we train and raise our children to respect the dignity of another person. How do we treat those children? Training and treatment are two different things. When today’s children become adult, they are going to play out the same treatment they received when they were young. We must take that into cognizance. It is the mismanagement of children that manifests in educational, economic and national crises we have all over the world today. The way a man treats his wife is the way his children will other treat women. The kind of music we expose our children to is also important. Society must be serious if we are ready to protect girls. We cannot blame men or women because we are the product of our environment.
What is your advice for the committee set up by the Federal Government to address gender-based violence?
The unfortunate thing is that we are a nation of committees. What is the committee supposed to find out that we are not aware of? We have seen committees come and gone. I don’t have confidence in committee. The issues are very clear, when you set up a committee, what are its terms of reference? What is the committee supposed to look at? We have problem with the justice system. People commit crime and get away with it, which ought not to be.
The committee must speak to the right people, conduct public hearing and make their findings known to the public, so that that finding can become a point of agitation. We need to review our justice and the entertainment operations, which our children are exposed to. There is impunity in the way our children are being raised at this time. We cannot address the issue of domestic violence in isolation. There is nothing in the society that is in isolation. They are all interconnected. You cannot address domestic violence as an independent variable. The committee must understand the value of our system as a country.
Some people are already prescribing death penalty for rape convicts. Would you subscribe to such idea?
There is no punishment too harsh for a rapist. I’m not talking of an accused rapist. When one is accused of rape, the person is innocent until proven guilty. So am talking about the convicted rapist. When the person has gone through a legal process and the court convicts the person, there is no punishment too much or harsh for convicted rapist. But the question I seek to ask is how would death sentence or castration stop rape? We are trying to place hope on punitive measures. Despite the fact that armed robbers are being sentenced to death, some people still rob with arms. Death sentence does not deter people from committing crime. British criminology says it is the society that is committing the crime, so the society has to be careful how it addresses crime. I think our investment must be on prevention. There must be social justice before criminal justice. Social justice rests on the fulcrum of criminal justice, so social justice is key. We are interested in causes of these crimes; we are interested in how to prevent crime. One of the ways to prevent crime is to invest in people. Until we address this impunity, the idea of somebody committing a crime and not being caught because the security system is porous will prevail.