•Gbajabiamila: Lawmakers will engage state legislatures on sexual violence law
Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos, Olawale Ajimotokan and Udora Orizu in Abuja
Mass protest erupted in Lagos and Abuja yesterday in response to the rising spate of rape, sexual assault and mindless murder of women in Nigeria.
The protesters were unequivocal as they demanded justice for 22-year old University of Benin undergraduate, Miss Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, who was raped and brutally murdered by four men; a pregnant postgraduate student of the University of Ibadan, Azeezat Shomuyiwa, who was killed in her home in Ibadan and Miss Bello Barakat, a 18-year-old undergraduate, who was also raped and murdered in Ibadan, Oyo State.
Also on the list is a 12-year old, who identified 11 men who raped her at different times, and an 18-year old lady identified as Jennifer, who was attacked and raped by a gang of five men in Kaduna.
The Oyo State government and the state’s police command have vowed to fish out the killers of the students, while the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila promised that lawmakers would engage state legislatures on domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and the Child Rights Act.
Meanwhile, Omozuwa’s case attracted global attention when she died two days after she was raped in a branch of the Redeem Christian Church in Benin City on Wednesday, May 27 and died on Saturday May 29, at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, of complications from the brutality.
In Lagos, the protesters, drawn from different non-governmental organisations, went round the city and eventually stormed the Lagos State Police Command, to challenge security agencies to rise to the occasion by ensuring justice for rape victims.
Carrying placards with inscriptions, such as “Stop killing and raping women”, “Say no to rape”, “No means no”, “We have the right to our bodies”, “Consent is key”, the protesters were all kitted in black to reflect the somberness of the occasion.
The police allowed yesterday’s non-violent protest to proceed, following the flak the Lagos Police Command received on Thursday after it turned back a similar protest organised by Feetprint Afrika Cultural and Creative Arts Academy, Oworonshoki Youth Forum and Oworonshoki Art Forum and by other community organisations.
At the Lagos Police headquarters, the protesters drawn from Stand To End Rape (STER), Yiaga Africa, Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, TechHerNG, Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, SilverChipFox, Education as a Vaccine, Girl Child Africa and Connected Development called for a systemic action against Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV).
With one voice, they stated that on the issue of SGBV, it was high time the government declared a state-of-emergency on the crude act.
The protesters said while they used Omozuwa and Barakat as the example of the systemic violence against girls and women, they were also out on the street to fight for other victims in the country.
They called on the police and other security agencies to figure out effective measures to checkmate the rising cases of sexual violence in Nigeria.
They further stated that a memo would be forwarded to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and the Federal Executive Council calling for an effective and sustained institutional response to SGBV in Nigeria.
Some of their key demands listed in the statement were: “Domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and Child Rights Act in all states of the federation;
“Establishment of Sexual Assault Referral Centers (SARC) in every state, backed with a coordinated, sustainably-funded support system;
“Criminalisation and prompt state-led prosecution of SGBV cases within, regardless of requests or interference by the victim’s family or interested parties; “Implementation of functional Family Support Units and Force Gender Units at the state level that are well equipped to address SGBV cases; the imposition of public disciplinary measures against officials of the NPF and state prosecutors that mishandle cases of SGBV.”
Dorothy Njemanze, one of the protest organisers said: “Children are dying, women are dying, enough is enough. We are watching every step of everything the politicians say and do on sexual based violence.”
Media personality, Bolanle Olukanni, who was present at the Lagos Command said the response they got from the police was not encouraging.
She wrote afterwards on her page: “Requesting for change with @standtoendrape.
Protesting against the indifference of the @nigeriapoliceforce. We need you to do better for us. Help us, Protect us! Honestly very disappointed with the response we got at the Command Headquarters.”
THISDAY had reported on Wednesday on the move by the police to strengthen its gender based units by deploying specialised investigators and additional investigation assets to all the Gender Desks Offices and the Juvenile Welfare Centres (JWC) across the country.
According to the Force Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), the move by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu was to strengthen and enhance the capacity of the units to respond to increasing challenges of sexual assaults and domestic/gender-based violence linked with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and other social ills within the country.
Protest in Abuja
Several human rights groups, yesterday marched on Abuja streets, demanding an end to rape and other violent crimes against women.
The uncontrollable spate of sexual violence inflicted on women and girls sparked outrage across the country.
The demonstrators comprising mainly women and numbering more than 200 marched to the Nigeria Police Headquarters on Shehu Shagari Road, where they submitted a petition to the Inspector General of Police.
The organisers said the protest was to draw attention to the widespread sexual violence in the country. They referenced the recent violence on three women who were defiled and killed by their assaulters.
The demonstrators held many banners and demanded that those responsible for the attack and murder of the victims should be prosecuted and brought to justice in line with the laws of the country.
Some of the banners they carried read, “Justice for all Nigerian girls and women” “No means no”, ”Rapists and Rapist Apologists are Cancelled” and ”To be a Woman is not a Crime”.
The rights activists asked the police and security agencies to curb the rising incidents of sexual assaults in the country.
In a statement issued after the demonstration, they demanded for the domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and Child Rights Act in all states of the federation in addition to the establishment of Sexual Assault Referal Centres (SARC) in all states.
Oyo Government, Police Vow to Fish Out Killers of Raped Student
Also yesterday, the Oyo State Government and the state’s police command vowed to fish out the killers of a pregnant woman, Azeezat Shomuyiwa and Barakat Bello.
According to a statement by Mr. Taiwo Adisa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, the Special Adviser to the governor on Security Matters, Fatai Owoseni, a retired Commissioner of Police and the new Commissioner of Police in the state, Enwonwu Nwachukwu made the vow while paying condolence visit to the families of the two victims yesterday.
The duo was unanimous in condemning the incidents, noting that the security agencies would soon fish out the perpetrators.
Barely three days after young Barakat Bello was reportedly killed at Kara Area of Akinyele Local Government, another incident occurred in Ijefun near L. Adisa Quarry off Moniya-Oyo road, where Shomuyiwa, a postgraduate student of the University of Ibadan was killed by yet-to-be-identified persons.
Owoseni and and the Commissioner of Police were told by members of the community that the late Shomuyiwa was hit with a big stone while inside her room.
Residents also stated that the woman only returned from Kano in February, where her husband had just secured employment after completing his NYSC programme.
The commissioner of police, Nwachukwu and Owoseni assured families of the deceased that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
The trio of CP Nwachukwu, retired COMPOL Owoseni, as well as the Executive Assistant to Governor Makinde on Security, Sunday Odukoya, also visited Akinyele where 18-year-old Barakat was reportedly killed by unknown persons on Monday.
They urged residents of the two communities to be security-conscious and to report any suspicious movement to the police for safety of lives and property.
Gbajabiamila: Lawmakers to Engage State Legislatures on Domestication of Sexual Violence Laws
As part of efforts towards taming the rape scourge, Gbajabiamila disclosed that he and other members of the House would engage the 36 states Houses of Assemblies on the need for the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and the Child Rights Act.
The Speaker disclosed this while hosting some members of sexual and gender-based Civil Society Organisations in his office yesterday, saying that the House would consider working on sexual violence-related laws to make them conform to current realities.
Some of the CSOs at the meeting were Women Advocacy Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Education as a Vaccine (EVA), Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, Rule of Law and Anti-corruption Programme, Action Aid, Malala Fund, among others.
Gbajabiamila said the engagement would be conducted technologically due to the urgency and critical nature of the escalating issue of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in the country, and in consideration of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Speaker also said the issue of women and the sanctity of their dignity and constitutional rights, fall in line with the 9th Assembly’s agenda.
He hinted that the definition of rape needs to be loosened up in the legislation, but to the extent that a man will know that no is no.
He said, “Fortunately, we had a motion on the issue on the floor of the House on Thursday, robustly debated with enough time. Because it (this issue) is beyond the dignity to person; it is a fundamental human right that has been abused. 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’m aware that about 27 states are yet to domesticate them. But we, as a Federal House, will take that initiative to the states. I intend to write and communicate to all the Speakers of the 36 states for them to be proactive about this piece of legislation. Hopefully, we will set that up sometime next week to have a zoom conference with all the Speakers on the issue.
“I’m sure, by the time we are through, I think 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.
“Perhaps, as a House, we need to look at the legislation to tighten the noose, tighten the 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’s obvious there was no consent, but sometimes, it’s a slippery slope and it’s a grey area as to what exactly is a 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.
“Part one of the resolution we reached on Thursday was that every police station establishes a unit for sexual offences, separate from everything else. These are the kinds of things we are looking at to give teeth and to give bite to the offence of rape. So, we will need your input since women are most affected.”
He added that the House would work towards ensuring that the services of CSOs working on sexual and gender-based violence are classified as essential services.
Earlier, representatives of the CSOs had complained about the refusal of many states to either pass or domesticate the Violence Against Persons Prohibition and Child Rights Acts.
The CSOs demanded a state of emergency on domestic violence against women, while seeking for a deliberate criminalisation of such offences since many victims of such violence do not come forward or get properly documented either at the hospital or police station.
They also pleaded for intervention over reported cases of aiding and abetting by police officers, which oftentimes lead to mishandling of cases of sexual violence.