Tuesday, November 26, 2019 5:03 pm
By Nehru Odeh
It was a media parley like no other. Not only was more light shed on the involvement of law enforcement agencies in sexual violence, it kick-started this year’s 16 days of activism on gender-based violence. This was the conclusion of all at the media chat organized by Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN Foundation and Project Alert on Violence against Women with support from OSIWA at Watercress Hotel Ikeja, Lagos on Monday, 25 November, 2019. The confab was tagged: Sexual Violence by Law Enforcement Officers in Nigeria.
The media parley was remarkable because it held on the day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999 to mark the international Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in remembrance of the Mirabal sisters – Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal – who were brutally executed on 25 November 1960 by agents of Rafael Trujillo, the then dictator in the Dominican republic. The theme for this year’s 16 Days of activism is: Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape. In attendance at the media chat were journalists and members of the civil society.
Emmanuel Ikule, National Coordinator, NOPRIN Foundation set the ball rolling by stating that the press conference was aimed at promoting law enforcement’s accountability, transparency and responsible policing and respect for human rights and rule of law. “We believe that this press conference being also the beginning of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence will help mitigate the challenges we have been facing, especially on issues of human rights and also enable oversight agencies to carry out their mandate of ensuring discipline and accountability on the police. And humanize the police enough to comply with Violence agains Persons Prohibition act, VAP 2015,’ he said.
Ikule also bemoaned the fact that acts of sexual violence against women are perpetuated by law enforcement agents who rather than defend the people defile them. Yet those acts of sexual violence are either ignored or allowed to continue with impunity. “It happens everyday. It has come to the level whereby people that are supposed to be defending us are the ones defiling us. And it is high time we made that change and ensure that that change is effected. And it has to start with us,” he averred, adding that not only are acts of sexual violence perpetrated by law enforcements agents, they are under reported in the media.
“I constantly remind us that whenever we come for a gathering most times we talk. We put that emotion and the tension down. Yes we actually want to do this. But when we get out of the building, most times it also ends there. We go back and sit back as if nothing is happening. But everyday we cry. Even if you are not crying in your own comfortable home, know that somebody out there is complaining and is suffering because of these issues we are mentioning here,” Ikule lamented.
Ikule then called on all and sundry to join hands in tackling the menace. “We encourage everybody that is here for us to give our all to ensure that our fight for a more responsive police that actually attend to the needs of the people instead of violating their rights will be adhered to at the end of the day and constantly as a group would work towards helping and mitigating these issues that will be raised today,” he said.
Nsini Udonta, Progamme Officer, Project Alert on Violence against Women, on her part, said the 16 days of activism is like a birthday to her organization because it has to do with the issue of the elimination of violence against women. “And Project Alert as an organization has been working, doing a lot of advocacy on the issues of rape and sexual violence in Nigeria,” she maintained.
Udonta, however, drew the attention of the audience to the fact that a research carried out by her organization some time ago, and which was published, showed that 77 per cent of victims of sexual violence in Nigeria are children. “We were very glad when we noticed that even the world is trying to look at sexual violence in these 16 days of activism. It’s a welcome development. During these 16 days of activism, individuals, government, non-governmental organizations and corporate bodies all over the world are expected to be actively involved in taking steps to empower women and girls though various advocacy, one of which we are doing here today and aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women, including sexual abuse of girls,” she said.
Udonta also spoke on the reality of sexual violence against children in Nigeria. “You will agree with me that there is no day that cases of sexual violence against children are nor reported in the media. We have a case whereby a two year old child was raped. We have a case whereby a six months old baby was defiled. We have several cases which we need to draw the world’s attention to,” she explained.
Philomena Nneji, representing the Federation of Women lawyers, FIDA said her organization is passionate about women and children particularly with respect to the prevalence of sexual violemce in Nigeria. “We are here to lend our voice to eradicating gender-based violence and all forms of violence in Nigeria in particular and in the whole world in general. We are also encouraging everyone to amplify their voices against this dehumanizing and barbaric act. The theme for this year is quite apt, looking at the incidence of violence in our country. FIDA stands against rape and other sexual violence. And we have been engaging ourselves in legislative advocacy from this angle,” she stated.
Nneji then made an appeal for everyone to join hands and stand against sexual violence. “There is need for everyone of us to focus on the need for how to gear efforts towards putting in place a comprehensive and multi-sectoral services that is acceptable or all survivors of rape and sexual violence. And also explore how we can collectively change our response to be survivor-based, survivor-centred, timely and efficient I order to end the prevailing culture of impunity in this direction and foster a culture of justice and support. We all have to really stand against this social menace,” she maintained.
Patience Ikpeh Obaulo, representing West Arican Network or Peace Building, WANEP Nigeria, said the fight against sexual violence is not all just women and girls affair. She spoke on the need or men to be carried along as well. “It also involves having male allies to continue to see how issues of gender-based violence can be eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum. You read the pages of newspapers, or go through the internet on a daily basis and you find issues of rape, of partners killing each other, of spouses killing each other and you begin to wonder what’s happening. It’s there. People are not saying much about it. You just hear on paper and off it goes,” she lamented.
The media parley ended on a high note with a Question-and- Answer session in which members of the audience asked questions bothering on the Busola Dakolo rape case and the precedence the recent judgment has set, what efforts FIDA is doing to eliminate sexual violence against women and young girls in our society, as well as the culture of silence and impunity in our society. And member of the high table did justice to all the questions asked.