On domestic and sexual violence cases
If the incidence of domestic and sexual violence in Lagos State is symptomatic of the wide prevalence of the vice countrywide, then there is cause for alarm. Unfortunately, the country suffers from dearth of reliable information and statistics on the issue. Yet, even the staggered reports are worrisome enough to warrant focused attention by governments and relevant agencies. Moreover, it is noteworthy that incidents of domestic violence do not often go into the public domain except and until they assume extremist status.
Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency recently revealed that 4,860 domestic and sexual violence cases have been recorded this year, with 11 women dying from domestic violence incidents in 20 months. Disaggregated data on the 11 women show that five died this year, while six died last year. All the men involved in the 11 cases are already being prosecuted and are in custody.
Furthermore, the Executive Secretary of the Agency, Mrs. Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, stated that once victims and survivors begin to get justice, it will help to reduce cases of domestic and sexual violence. This postulation is true of all crimes, and domestic violence is not exempted. Indeed, poor justice administration may be responsible for the rise in the cases of domestic violence; a possible indictment on the Police and the courts.
The society to a large extent enables the crime, since victims often find brick walls at the hospitals, police stations and courts; and some judges give light punishment, which may not deter others. These scenarios enable offenders to perpetrate more of such crimes and become serial offenders with impunity, and may also be the reasons for the poor success recorded in the fight against domestic and sexual violence thus far; despite efforts by several government agencies and civil society organizations to address this crime.
Lagos State Government may be blazing the trail with the Protection Against Domestic Violence Law of 2007, which seeks to eliminate violence in private and public life, prohibits all forms of violence against persons, and seeks to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders. But there is more to be done in terms of enforcement.
A 2022 study on media justice status report on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in Nigeria, which spanned 2018-2020 i.e. Missing data, missing justice: A media justice status report on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Nigeria, stated that missing evidence in justice administration on SGBV cases in Nigeria occasioned by poor documentation in the value chain of justice, not only leads to delays in justice administration, but also stalls justice delivery. Specifically, the study documented that poor NGO, Police and court databases; and poor media follow-up on reported cases are responsible for ‘missing’ justice in the fight against SGBV.
Zeroing-in on the gaps in media reports, it stated that another challenge with tracking the status of some of the SGBV cases reported in the media was the absence of necessary information in the initial report that could be used to trace the authorities involved or other people who could help with the status of the case. Importantly, identifiers, like age, sex, location, date, time, and other vital details are often missing in SGBV reports, while some of the stories quoted unknown sources. In some cases, even the bylines of the reporters were missing.
Similarly, the journalists who reported the cases did not follow up on the stories.
Others are women’s lack of access to legal information, aid or protection; states not adopting relevant laws that effectively prohibit violence against women; the low level of awareness about the laws/inadequate efforts on the part of public authorities to promote awareness of/and enforce existing laws; victims poor knowledge of how to access justice; and the absence of educational and other means to address the causes and consequences of violence.
In order to reduce the incidence of SGBV, survivors and NGOs/other not-for-profit organisations handling SGBV cases should ensure proper documentation of evidence; and state actors in charge of investigation, prosecution and justice delivery should deploy technology to properly and accurately document cases for easy retrieval. The state government should equip courts with computerised data archiving systems to ensure all case files can always be traced easily; and track justice administration from when the cases were filed till when justice was administered.
To improve trust, accountability and gender justice needed to build an inclusive nation where justice prevails. Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency should not only track the justice status of SGBV cases; it should also push for stringent bail conditions for alleged offenders and also have a maximum timeline for justice administration on SGBV cases. Furthermore, stiff penalties should be imposed on court clerks, police officers and prison staff who frustrate or attempt to frustrate efforts of complainants at getting justice for SGBV.
It is also important for the government to invest in capacity development for the police and other security agencies who handle SGBV cases on VAPP and other related laws, arrest, investigation and prosecution; and to hone their skills in the use of language, empathy, documentation, cultural awareness, human rights, women’s rights, child rights and right to justice and other related issues. This will help reskill prosecutors on best practices in prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence cases; in particular, make them adopt the survivor centred approach, which would help victims/survivors get justice.
There should be timeline for justice administration on SGBV cases; as well as a policy to compel judges to take the evidence of IPOs as soon as SGBV cases are before them to encourage victims to seek for redress and reduce the frustration and burden of prosecution on complainants. The policy should also put a ceiling on the timeline for delivering judgement on SGBV cases or else the government should set up special courts for handling SGBV cases aimed at timely dispensation of justice.
For the cold cases, the list of GBV cases showing when they were filed in courts and the list of offenders that jumped bail should be compiled. Those that jumped bail should be declared fugitives and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) be made to declare them wanted. For Investigating Police Officers (IPOs) that have been transferred, their evidence can be taken virtually. These procedures should be adopted by all states, as the problems are practically universal.
The media should avoid episodic reporting and follow-up on SGBV stories to ensure such cases are tracked to a logical conclusion. Beyond reporting the sensational aspect of the story, journalists should highlight the various aspects of how such crimes affect the larger society and report the justice status of such stories, thereby putting additional searchlights on the criminal justice system and enabling a tracking system. In addition, media organisations should invest more in training reporters who cover cases related to SGBV to ensure their reports cover essential details such as background, location, age and sources spoken to.