Enhancing Justice for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria
By Hameed Oyegbade
The sad situation of survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Nigeria, particularly women and girls leaves much to be desired. Most of the survivors often resign to their fate, with only a few pursuing justice, if lucky to be alive as many victims are not alive to tell the story or seek justice.
According to the United Nations, Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is all forms of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedom on the basis of equality with men such as Rape, Sexual Abuse, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) among others.
The www.womenforwomen.org puts Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex OR gender identity. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.
Over the years, perpetrators of GBV/VAWG, are increasingly not being held to account owing to the system failures especially lack of diligent prosecution, owing to poor investigation. This is especially so as 85% of GBV and VAWG incidents are criminal in nature.
Data on violations as reported by a nongovernmental organization, Lawyers Alert (LA), across various locations in Nigeria, exhibiting types and trends is instructive in this regard. The data can be found on Lawyers Alert’s online tool styled “LadockT” https://www.lawyersalertng.com/index.php.
Lawyers Alert’s work in this realm has revolved around awareness creation, legal assistance, advocacy and documentation of violations on Gender Based Violence, with emphasis on VAWG in the course of which much of this data is obtained.
As earlier pointed out, 85% of the GBV/VAWG is criminal in nature. The Nigeria Police Force, (NPF) primarily saddled with the responsibility to investigate and prosecute, with a view to sanctioning culprits and obtaining justice/remedies for survivors.
In achieving result in terms of sanctions for perpetrators and getting justice for survivors of GBV in Nigeria, the NPF must be a decimal in any such conversation. It is interesting to note that the Nigeria Police itself has also set up a Gender Unit, in response to the rising incidents and surge in violence against women and girls.
The Gender Unit (GU) at the Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department (Force CIID) across the six geo-political zones of the country in 2014 was created with the mandate of prosecuting perpetrators and anyone culpable of such offences.
The President of Lawyers Alert, Mr Rommy Mom, said the organization had been partnering and working with the Gender Unit (GU) of the NPF. “Our work with the Police Gender Unit is also linked with our partnership with the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, set up to provide free legal services to marginalized communities.”
The triangular relationship of Lawyers Alert, the Nigeria Police Force and the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, working together as a team, towards enhancing justice for women and girls suffering as a result of violence, has yielded positive results in changing the face of GBV in Nigeria.
As with all partnerships, the partnership (LA, NPF, PDSS) there exist a shared mission, vision, values and goals and the results are manifesting through the extensive meetings, analysis of their various mandates, and the shared vision to ending GBV, especially VAWG. Impressively, there exists shared responsibility within the partnership. Lawyers Alert carried out an institutional capacity assessment of these partners and developed a Joint Capacity Building Plan and Advocacy Plan in meeting the challenges impeding the delivery of the mandate of the bodies. The partnership is initially restricted to three locations, including Niger and Plateau states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The key activities implemented by the partners include Capacity Building for Police Officers which was aimed at enhanced capacity of police officers in Niger and Plateau State and the FCT on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and its dynamics towards providing better services to women and survivors of violence at grassroots level.
Additionally, through this partnership, grassroots women have been linked with the GU and PDSS and thereby changed the narratives from the previous experience when women and women groups across the country were largely unaware of the existence of the GU.
In the past, the consequence of the lack of awareness was a relatively low level of reportage of GBV by women and other survivors. Lawyers Alert President said the organisation linked women groups in Niger and Plateau states and FCT with the GU and PDSS, thereby providing a platform for partnership towards reporting violations, lodging complaints and meeting with women and girls who suffer SGBV, especially in rural areas. There is now synergy between the GU and PDSS which has led to swifter response to SGBV complaints and consequently, survivors of violence can now access and get justice faster.
Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that critical mass of lawyers are now providing free legal assistance to the victims. The lawyers from the Coalition of Lawyers for Human Rights (COLaHR) and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) are now engaged and linked with women towards providing free legal services for survivors of violence. Importantly, the partners keep gathering data on SGBV in Nigeria towards gender mainstreaming and advocacy for Laws and Policy Reforms.
Flowing from the partnership and the interaction amongst LA, the GU and PDSS; the team recommends a comprehensive study of the Police Gender Unit in Nigeria and wants a further assessment that is more scientific, aimed at creating a deeper understanding of the unit’s operations vis-à-vis challenges. This is vital since these challenges vary from one part of the country to the other. A country-wide study of the GU would therefore help with identifying peculiarities with a view to enhanced service delivery.
Rommy Mom posits further that “Civil Society groups and other stakeholders need to carry out extensive advocacy to the hierarchy and management of the NPF towards understanding the scope, dynamics and magnitude of GBV in Nigeria for comprehensive support. The advocacy should emphasize the fact that GBV exists especially at the grass root level. This will enhance/facilitate the creation of GU offices across the country and equipping them with personnel at especially divisional levels.”
Lawyers Alert recommended providing survivors of violence with free legal support, development of gender policies or strengthening the implementation of gender policies where such exist, equipping other security agencies with knowledge of GBV and its dynamics and development of Standard Operating Procedures for GBV interventions.
Given the immense potential of the GU to be the data hub of GBV in Nigeria, data capturing should be uniform and scientific. This will facilitate automatic analysis for tracking trends, types, demography etc. This data can be used for strengthening laws and policy reforms, including other interventions. The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and Administration of Criminal Justice Act should be fully explored to unravel how these laws can be used to empower the GU in the efficient and effective management of GBV in Nigeria.
In conclusion, just as much has been done to empower the NPF in the discharge of its duties with regard to prosecuting criminal aspects of GBV in Nigeria, there is also a need to ensure that those who should be benefitting from such services are aware, willing and able to access same. This speaks to the need for adequate advocacy and sensitisation of Women Rights Organizations (WROs) in addition to equipping the unit especially with manpower and relevant technology to carry out its mandate effectively. Both efforts complement each other. It would be counter-productive to encourage more victims to make reports if the GU is not sufficiently capacitated to handle such issues effectively. Strengthening and empowering the GU of the NPF will therefore further sustain the gains made by women groups, activists, donor bodies, government and implementing partners in the fight on ending GBV and VAWG in Nigeria.
*Oyegbade writes from Osogbo