Why sexual, gender based violence victims hardly get justice in Nigeria
Sunday, September 5, 2021, will remain unforgettable for Mrs. Ifeoma Ganago. That was the day she went to a police station to seek protection and justice against her neighbours, who she claimed had constantly assaulted and battered her, but got arrested and detained instead.
She was subsequently asked to pay money to secure her freedom, while her aggressors, Mrs. Endurance Ovunda, Mrs. Princess Samuel and Mrs. Ihuoma Festus were not arrested by the officers at the Railway Police Station on Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where the complainant went to lodge her grievances.
According to her, one of her assailants, who was at the police station when she got there, was also not detained.
The Guardian learnt that a police officer, who is married to one of the accused persons, Mrs. Festus, had earlier arrived at the police station and told his colleagues to arrest the complainant (Ganago) on her arrival and his colleagues complied without asking questions.
Mrs. Ganago, who sustained serious injuries, was unable to get good medical attention due to the detention until a non-governmental organisation, Rivers Indigenous NGOs & Civil Society Network (RINGOCS), intervened and secured her release. She also could not afford to press charges against the aggressors for lack of funds.
“I have been living on perpetual humiliation, torture and threats, because I don’t have money and connections. The women wanted to dispossess me of the open space I stay to sell things to feed my children; they have been fighting to throw me out of that space. They have tried all means to achieve that purpose, but I kept enduring.
“In the latest incident, they beat me, damaged my goods and when I went to the police station to report, I was detained, because two of their husbands are policemen. If not for human rights organisations, I would have been dead. Even last week, they beat me and threatened to kill me and nothing will happen,” she narrated.
The Police Officer handling the case at the Railway Police command, ASP Lasbary failed to pick several calls to his phone by this reporter. Also, text messages sent to him were not responded to nor was he in office when The Guardian visited the station.
Also, the alleged attackers of Mrs. Ganago failed to pick calls or respond to text messages sent to one of their police spouse, as at press time.
Similarly, 24 year-old Miss Choice Kuru, from Gokana Local Council of River State has cried out over alleged intimidation and incessant Police arrest orchestrated by one Mr. Saviour Imeaba, who she claimed attempted to rape her for refusing to date him.
Miss Kuru said the man who has been making advances to her, offered to drop her off at her destination only for him to drive her to his house and asked her for sex, but she refused and managed to escape, when she raised the alarm and got assistance.
Disappointed that he could not have his way, Mr. Imeaba, she narrated, went to Rumupakani, Ada George police station hours later to lodge a complaint against her, her sister and those who assisted her escape. According to her, Imeaba told the police that her rescuers molested him and took his money. Kuru stated that Mr Imeaba, having failed to achieve his aim at Rumupakani Police Station, subsequently arrested her with Police officer of the Anti-Cultism unit on same allegations.
She is now soliciting help from women organisations and Civil Society groups to come to her rescue, as Mr Imeaba has allegedly vowed to deal with her for refusing to date him. It was later gathered that due to lack of funds to pursue the matter in court, the families opted to settle out of court.
Mr. Imeaba, in an interview, admitted taking Kuru to his house, because “she consented,” but said he later agreed to drop her off when she declined having sex with him.
According to him, Kuru accused him of attempting to rape her when he came to drop her off and she allegedly called hoodlums to beat him up and collect his money and that was why he went to the Police.
He admitted that following his report to the police, Kuru was arrested and later released. Then a few months later, after police investigations showed that the alleged claims by the lady were mere frame up, which was sponsored, both parties agreed to make peace and settle the matter.
He said: “The police looked critically at the issue and asked me to go, that there is no case because the lady was not raped, abused or harassed. They found out that it was a frame-up. As we speak, the case has been closed.”
Since the emergence of Coronavirus pandemic, there has been troubling tales of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), which has been on the rise. The violence is not only on the poor, toddlers and young females, but the rich and adults too.
Recently, a female counsellor and leader of the Etche Legislative Assembly in Rivers State, Mrs. Cynthia Nwala, was reportedly beaten and stripped by thugs on alleged orders of security aide to the Council Chairman, Obinna Anyanwu over power tussle.
According to the female lawmaker, she was beaten and her vehicle damaged, because she kept the mace of the house in her car, following an alleged plan by the chairman and the Deputy Leader to remove her from office.
After the matter was reported, the police arrested only the security aide. A follow up on the case revealed that the police had since released the security aide and also dropped the charges against him.
The Guardian learnt that the police invited Nwala to court on Wednesday, October 20, and the magistrate, Betty Hart, told her that the case was a bailable offence and urged her to go and settle the matter out of court and adjourned.
Mrs. Nwala who said she was perturbed by the development, maintained that she wants justice, alleging that the case is being compromised.
“I really want justice so that this will serve as a deterrent to perpetrators of SGBV and encourage other victims to speak out,” she stated.
While calling on the right groups, women advocates and the international communities to help her secure justice, she said, “the way I am seeing it, the matter is being swept under the carpet. If nothing is done, people will continue to carry out violence against women in the society.”
The three cases are examples of some of the several pathetic tales of SGBV in Rivers State, in which the survivors are demanding justice. Gender-based violence takes numerous forms like intimate partner violence, sexual violence, trafficking for sexual exploitation, female infanticide, child marriage and female gentile mutilation amongst others.
A data obtained from the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in the state revealed that in 2019, there were 139 cases of SGBV. A breakdown of the data shows 19 cases of assault/battery, defilement 20, rape six, failure to supply necessaries 59, abandonment 19, matrimonial inheritance four, denial of access to kids 15.
The document also showed that between December 2020 and April 2021, the organisation handled 512 matters, ranging from rape, defilement, assault, battery, neglect, domestic violence, abandonment, bigamy and matrimonial inheritance. A breakdown of the figure shows assault/battery 74, failure to supply necessaries 256, abandonment 30, defilement 69, denial of access to kids 42, matrimonial inheritance 13, rape 26 and bigamy two, totaling 512.
Also, between May 15, 2021 and July 15, 2021, FIDA received 52 assault cases, failure to supply necessaries 135, abandonment 33, defilement 55, marital inheritance 13, rape 26, bigamy two and widowed practice 12.
Similarly, another data obtained from the office of the Chairman of Civil Rights Council in Rivers State, Mr. Prince Wiro, shows that in 2019, from April to December, the group received 13 cases of domestic violence, eight rape cases, two defilement and three domestic violence/spousal battery.
The records also show that in 2020, 17 cases of domestic violence were recorded, four spousal battery, 10 rape and attempted rape, three defilement and in 2021, between January and September, 20 cases of domestic violence, 14 cases of rape and five attempted defilement were also recorded.
Another data obtained from the office of the State Chairman of RINGOCS, Tombari Dumka-Kote, showed that between May 1, and September 30, 2021, the NGO recorded 258 cases. Dumka-Kote, lamented that some victims in his case file have died out of frustrations due to lack of funds to pursue justice.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in its website stated that approximately one in three women and girls worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Statistics indicate that as much as many survivors are keen for justice, there are some others that want to remain in peril abuse just to be tagged ‘married women’.
To address these issues, Rivers State government had set up “Quick Response Team Against Gender
Violence” in 2019. The team made up of women doctors, lawyers, researchers, and professionals in different fields, were inaugurated at the Banquet Hall of the Deputy Governor’s office. Further inquiries show that a WhatsApp platform created for the group for easy dissemination of information and follow-up has not been active.
A member of the group, who craved anonymity said: “We keep getting reports and information, but we cannot help, because we exist on paper and not in terms of action. We have beautiful ideas, but functionality and enforcement are lacking. We are willing and eager to work, but funding has stifled our projects.”
The State Assembly had also passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill in January 2020. The bill, which is aimed at protecting victims against acts of violence within the State is a domestication of the federal VAPP earlier passed by the National Assembly.
While passing the bill, the speaker of the House, Ikunyi Ibani noted that it would prevent defenceless persons from suffering violent attacks, but that is yet to happen.
Challenges In Addressing SGBV Cases And Police Role
THOUGH charged with the task of combating SGBV, lack of adequate funding, training and poor welfare may be a major limiting factor for the police, investigation revealed.
Findings showed that there is no section of the Police Act that provides budgets or logistics for investigations. However, a top police officer who was recently posted to Rivers State told The Guardian in confidence that there is no special law on logistics approval for the police.
“The Police has a budget and it is broken down into different units where everything is covered. Fuel, pen, paper, stationeries are budgeted for, but when officers are sent for official duties like investigations, there are no resources for it,” the officer revealed.
But a police sergeant at the State Police Command, who simply gave her name as Blessing, disclosed that it is rare to access funds for logistics, stressing that the budget and logistics provisions only exist on paper and not in reality.
This story was supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre For Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Report Women Project.
The Executive Director of the CLEEN Foundation, Benson Olugbuo, lamented that poor funding has greatly inhibited the performance of the Police.
He, however, expressed the hope that the Police Trust Fund Act recently assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari would help to address the challenges.
The Guardian learnt from gender-based NGOs and some survivors that some cases are not prosecuted, because the investigating officer, usually in an attempt to yield to the request of the perpetrator, would meet the family of the victim and convince them to consider family settlement. Some officers, it was gathered, also demand for logistics from victims to enable them pursue the case and the victims for lack of funds, would be discouraged and give up.
The State Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni, acknowledged the fact that funding has remained a major challenge for men of the force, adding that the command has recorded a very high number of SGBV cases since the COVID-19 pandemic. He assured that the command would continue to do its best in the discharge of its duties despite the paucity of funds.
Gender Activists, Stakeholders React
SPEAKING on the issue, a gender activist, Deborah Effiong, said SGBV is an issue of primary concern, which is assuming a higher dimension, adding that it has become endemic.
She said: “When we talk about gender-based violence, we are trying to balance it on both sides. It is an issue that cuts across cultures, tribes and continents. So, it is not peculiar to us here as a people. While our own seems to be more pronounced is because what happens, happens with impunity. Impunity is the issue. When you go to other parts of the world, they tackle these things very seriously. The media will hype it and of course, the entire legal system will swing into action, but here, the system frustrates the case.”
She explained that the nation’s complex institutions are exasperating. “If you report a case of gender-based violence, apart from the fact that the police are not adequately trained to know what to do about it, they are disinterested. They will start citing logistics issues, telling you to bring money to effect an arrest but that is not what is obtainable in other parts of the world. If there is a need to arrest in other parts of the world, they will effect the arrest without demanding money and at no cost to the complainant,” she said.
The gender activist, who is also a lawyer, stressed that lack of political will has made the government not to focus on the right things. According to her, no society can truly make progress with the level of domestic violence, sexual abuse and the entire gender-based violence repeated over time. The earlier we take actions to bring the perpetrators to book to serve as a deterrent to others, she warned, the better.
Effiong insisted that the Federal Government has a heavy role to play in addressing the menace. She stressed that prime attention should be given to issues of SGBV by funding such cases, saying such cases are overwhelming.
“Government should have to pay more attention because most of the people that are confronted with these issues are people who are not just vulnerable but lack the resources to pursue justice.
“This is why a lot of us are working almost pro bono. Again, there is a limit to what we can do, like what I keep telling them. We are ready to appear in court free and put the papers together, but we cannot fund the process. Since it is a criminal matter, you will need to press charges.
“All of these cost money. So what we can do for those of us who work pro bono, is to make sure that we follow up and the ones that cannot afford legal services, we waive our charges or subsidise it,” explained.
The acting chairperson of FIDA in the state, Nnenna Igbokwe, said from experience, most victims are not able to push their matters due to funds, lamenting that the cases are prodigious. She disclosed that FIDA most times, assists the indigents to ensure that matters are filed pro bono through the state government’s e-filing process in the High Court.
“The issue of funding is a very important thing because a lot of people are reluctant to come to court just because they do not have the funds, that is why in FIDA, when we are sure that the victim is an indigent and cannot afford the services of lawyers, we handle it,” she stated.
Another gender activist and Coordinator, Centre for Media, Environment and Development Communications, Constance Meju, reiterated that gender-based violence is a major problem in the country.
She said: “The government has not been putting in enough effort. The woman and girl-child are seen as second-class citizens; issues around them are not really addressed. Cases of rape have risen. Women are being beaten in the house, herdsmen are killing and raping women in the bushes and in communities where there is violence, women are the targets. So, you would expect a caring government to come up with issues on how to address the menace.”
In a recent interview, the State Commissioner for Social Welfare, Mrs. Inime Aguma, noted that there has been increase of sexual and gender based violence since advent of COVID-19 pandemic.
Aguma, a lawyer, said her ministry has established a relationship with the Attorney General of Rivers State to expedite action in prosecuting such cases to serve as deterrent to others.
A consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist, Dr. Eli Sukarime, said survivors of gender-based violence suffer devastating effects like psychological trauma, depression and substance abuse, which often affect the nation’s workforce and the economy.
He explained: “Those that suffer SGBV can come down with depression, anxiety and disorder. It can also affect their reproductive health and affects them psychologically.
“If they are teenagers, they can have hormonal challenges and can also lead to substance abuse. Abused women can have miscarriage, which will have psychological effect on their children. It can affect the workforce, affect the nation’s output economically because abused women may not be able to contribute their quota. Physical abuse like rape can lead to unwanted pregnancy, disease, abortion and invariably increase child mortality rate.”
The medical expert therefore, advised the government at all levels to give prime attention to issues of SGBV.
As the world marks 16 days activism against SGBV, authorities in Rivers State and the nation have been called upon to work towards the elimination of violence against women and girls.
Sixteen days activism against SGBV is a yearly international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10. It was started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and continues to be coordinated each year by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership. It is used as a platform for individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
This story was supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre For Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Report Women Project.