80 women, girls reportedly raped in six months, say CSOs
• Protests Rock Lagos, Abuja, Bauchi Over Spike In Cases
• Organisations Want Government To Declare State Of Emergency On Gender, Sexual Based Violence, Seek Strict Enforcement Of Laws
• ‘One In 10 Women Are Being Sexually Violated’
• Reps Move To Domesticate Child Rights Act, Set To Engage States Assemblies
The Coalition of Civil Society Groups, in continuation of ongoing condemnation and protests against rising cases of rape and violence against the girl-child, yesterday at the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) headquarters in Abuja demanded that the federal government, as a matter of urgency, should declare a state of emergency on gender and sexual-based violence.
This is just as the House of Representatives expressed readiness to ensure the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and the Child Rights Act.
ActionAid, in conjunction with other civil groups, including TeacherNG, Girl-Child Africa, Connected Development, Enough is Enough Nigeria, Stand to End Rape, Silver Chip Fox, Yiaga Africa, Dorothy Njemanze Foundation and Education on Vaccine Foundation, Women Advocacy Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme, Malala Fund, Heir Women Development and Disability Rights Advocacy Centre, as well Centre for Communication and Social Impact (CCSI), during a nationwide protest, called on the NPF to promptly investigate, prosecute and conclude all rape, sexual and gender-based violence cases in the country.
Of concern to the groups is that between January and June this year, over 80 women and girls between two and 80 years old have been reported raped, saying the recent rape and brutal murder of 23-year-old University of Benin undergraduate, Uwaila Omozuwa, in Benin City, the Edo State capital, as well as the rape of a 12-year-old girl by 11 men in Jigawa State, is a deadly reminder that Nigerian girls are endangered.
ActionAid Country Director, Ene Obi, expressed concern over the safety of Nigerian girls, women and grandmothers, lamenting that security operatives meant to protect are also threatening to rape and kill them in the face of conflict, noting: “Women and girls need more than promises; we need an urgent declaration of state of emergency in every state in Nigeria to accelerate investigation, arrest and prosecution of offenders.”
Manager, Women Rights Program Action-Aid, Nkechi Ilochi-Omekedo, while addressing journalists, also bemoaned the unabated rape cases, saying one in 10 women are being sexually violated, adding: “We are saying enough is enough. We are not at war, but with what is happening everyday, it appears as thought we are at war.”
She urged the three arms of government to rise up and protect women and girls and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. Dorothy Njemanze of Njemanze Foundation regretted that domestic and gender-based violence is killing many and there are no provisions to pay victims’ hospital bills. She said: “Sexual and gender-based violence is an emergency, so a state of emergency should be declared as a matter of urgency before the end of next week by the government, so that timelines can be given to ensure all the states are doing the right thing.” CCSI has called on government and the judiciary to ensure strict enforcement of legal provisions and penalties against rape and other acts of violence against women and the girl-child in the country.
In a statement in Abuja, Executive Director of CCSI, Mrs. Babafunke Fagbemi, lamented that the country was losing her precious daughters to rape, while those who survive the violence are left to live with the painful memories for a long time, adding that the authorities must be more deliberate in protecting Nigerian women and girls.
She said: “It is unacceptable what has happened to the young girls who met their untimely deaths in the most gruesome manner. The question we should be asking is why should this dastardly act continue, despite the myriad of laws that we have in this country.
“Is it that those who commit rape are let off easily or the laws themselves are grossly insufficient to act as a deterrent? We need to look at the issues of our laws, if they are insufficient with a view to strengthen them, while the security agencies must ensure the enforcement of such laws.”
Fagbemi added that the world of women and girls keep shrinking, as sexual and domestic violence continue to affect their ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. This in turn, he added, have debilitating effects on their mental and physical health, which also limits how they compete fairly and contribute to a better society.
“Nigeria needs her women and girls and must defend and protect them from the hands of predators,” Fagbemi said stressing that to make women and the girl child feel safe and confident to lead equal lives as their male counterparts, justice must be served against perpetrators of crimes against women to serve as a deterrent to other intending perpetrators.
She commended the Edo State Government and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) for swinging into action while urging the public to continue to demand for a thorough investigation and application of the full weight of the law against the perpetrators: “We sincerely commiserate with the families of the victims and CCSI will continue to play a key role in the enlightenment of Nigerians against sexual and domestic violence.”
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the chamber would engage the 36 states Houses of Assembly to achieve the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and the Child Rights Act.
He stated that the engagement would be technologically conducted due to the urgency and critical nature of the issue, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalation of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in the country.
Speaking while hosting some of the CSOs in his office, Gbajabiamila added that the House would consider working on sexual violence-related laws to make them conform to the current realities.
The Speaker also disclosed that the House would work towards ensuring that the services of CSOs working on sexual and gender-based violence are classified as essential services, adding: “My question has always been, why do we have this very significant uptick in cases of rape right now, as opposed to in the past? Is it because of cultural shift and people are now emboldened to report these cases or is it just actually an uptick, with more cases of rape?
“I’m not sure which one it is, but whichever one it is, it has been brought to the forefront and it is incumbent upon us as legislators, in fact, upon every Nigerians to confront it and eliminate it as much as we can.
“I believe the House has been very responsive on this matter. Fortunately, it falls in line with our 9th Assembly agenda, the issue of women and the sanctity of their dignity and the constitutional rights of the dignity of their person.
“We had a motion on the issue on the floor of the House yesterday (Thursday), robustly debated with enough time. We reached far-reaching resolutions on the issue and we even resolved to wear black on our next sitting to show solidarity and the seriousness with which we have taken the issue.
“On Violence Against Persons Prohibition and Child Rights Acts and the domestication of both, I am aware that about 27 states are yet to domesticate them. But we will take that initiative to the states.
“I intend to write and communicate to all the Speakers of all 36 states for them to be proactive about this piece of legislation. Hopefully, we will set that up sometime next week to have a meeting, obviously by zoom conference, with all the Speakers on a single item agenda, which will be the issue of Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act and the Child Rights Act and the domestication of same.
“I am sure by the time we are through, all 36 States would, unless there is a reason which I cannot even think of why any state would oppose such. I assure you, every single member of this House is on the same page with you on this matter.”He expressed concern over domestic and sexual violence-related laws, saying: “I think the bar has been set very low in Nigeria, in terms of definition. Perhaps we need to look at the legislation to tighten the noose, definition and even rape, because universally, rape is considered by criminal definition, sexual intercourse and penetration without consent.
“Now, it is the most difficult crime to prove because of how to establish consent. Sometimes it is obvious there was no consent, but sometimes, it is a slippery slope and it is a grey area as to what exactly is consent.
“Sometimes we have situations where women gave the consent and thereafter withdraw the consent, but I believe the mantra has to be sustained that no is no and it doesn’t matter at what stage. So, maybe in our legislation definition of rape needs to be loosened up, but to the extent that a man will know that no is no.”
Earlier, representatives of the CSOs had complained about the refusal of many states to either pass or domesticate the Acts, adding that due to the escalation of rape in the country in recent times, the CSOs demanded a state of emergency on domestic violence against women, while seeking a deliberate criminalisation of such offences, since many victims do not come forward or get properly documented, either at the hospital or Police station.
They also pleaded for intervention over alleged cases of aiding and abetting by Police officers, which oftentimes lead to mishandling of such cases, as well as on funding for establishments of CSOs that handle issues of sexual and gender violence to enable victims to have justice at all times.