Michael Olugbode in Abuja
The European Union (EU) and its partners are stepping up efforts to mobilise action towards fast-tracking prosecution of offenders and guaranteeing access to justice and remedies for victims of sexual assault.
According to a statement on Wednesday, top of the EU’s priority list is the creation in Nigeria of a special court for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) cases, which will be a key highlight of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against SGBV, which begins on November 25.
The statement said through its Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme, implemented by the British Council, and the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, the world’s largest targeted effort to end all forms of violence against women and girls, the EU has been at the forefront of the campaign to stem SGBV and bring succour and justice to victims. Last year, President Buhari and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum declared SGBV national emergency.
The statement revealed that during the 16 Days of Activism, victims of sexual assault will receive free legal and psychological counselling under a joint effort by RoLAC, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Judiciary and the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
The EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Samuela Isopi, will lend her support for the establishment of special SGBV courts during the seventh Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Network Conference coming up at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel on November 25. The Chief
Justice of Nigeria, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the Minister of Women Affairs, and the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development will all participate in this Conference.
The statement said since Nigeria’s first SARC was established in Lagos in 2013, the number has grown to 32, spread across 19 states of the the country and the FCT.
It said: “Since 2016, the EU has spent over N1 billion on the SARCs. As of June 2021, the SARCs had assisted over 21,000 survivors of sexual assault. They offered
immediate medical emergency and counselling, in addition to supporting to victims to access the legal system. Over 70 per cent of the clients of the SARCs are young people under the age of 18. Clearly, this number does not properly represent the scale of sexual assault in Nigeria.
“To underscore the importance of reporting and quality data collection in the fight against SGVB, the Spotlight Initiative is launching a report spotlighting 16 facts about SGBV, co-signed by the EU, the UN and the Nigerian government. Despite positive developments in awareness-raising, service provision and data collection, much more needs to be done to address the recognised data gaps.”
The statement added that: “In spite of the remarkable expansion and spread of the SARC initiative in Nigeria and stronger focus nationwide on the provision of comprehensive medical and counselling services for survivors, cases of sexual assault remains grossly underreported to the centres. Still worse is the proportion of cases that are prosecuted.
“To make matters worse, even fewer convictions are secured, often after long, tortuous, winding legal processes.”
Against this backdrop, Ambassador Isopi, said “fast-tracking access to justice for SGBV survivors has become imperative.”
The SARC Network Conference will be followed by mock SGBV courts sitting. This will be, modelled on what survivor-centred SGBV court processes and proceedings should look like if they existed in Nigeria. The mock courts will simultaneously sit at Transcorp Hilton Hotel and the Federal Ministry of Justice.