IDEAS Radio 29 November 2019

The IDEAS in #16Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women

Aghogho Oboh: Alright … welcome, welcome, welcome: it’s nine minutes past four in the hot and humid city of Lagos.  I’m Aghogho Oboh with the rest of the gang, I told you we’ll be here.

Rotimi Sankore: We don’t do shaku maku on this programme, so we just welcome you … we just welcome you back …

Ayo Obe: An elderly Legal Practitioner such as myself … do I qualify as a gang?  Gosh!

AgO: Someone just put that up there on social media: Where’s the rest of the gang? So I just took it from him.  Alright, we’re talking about the biggest stories in the world of politics and development. Big stories that have happened this week, and we will begin with IDEAS, which stands for Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability where Ayo Obe will be looking at 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women, which incidentally was the first day of the Activism which we’ll run all the way till tenth of December which is the International Human Rights Day.  So we’re going to continue that discussion which we’ve begun on Monday. Every day of the week we’ve highlighted issues with respect to women, development and rights issues. And then we’ll do a beeline to the Public Square where we’ll be having discussions on the controversial Social Media Bill: bill’s gone past second reading at the Senate, but then there’s been outcry, huge and loud the reactions have been. Remember on Twitter you can connect with us on any of these handles,  @ideasradiong, @NigeriaInfoFM, @RotimiSankore @AghoghoOboh and @naijama. Also send us messages on WhatsApp 08095975805 and I promise we will take them. So over to IDEAS with Ayo Obe. 

AO: Hello Aghogho.  And it’s great to be back after an absence last week.

RS: Yes, welcome back to both of you.  Yes.

AO: Yes, in fact Rotimi we’re going to be looking at the issue of the IDEAS component when we think about Activism Against Violence Against Women.  And I’m actually a little bit stirred by … on this subject because there was a tweet on my Twitter feed of a confrontation between an … very much aggrieved consumer of electricity and representatives of an electricity company in Lagos.  And the … one of the representatives of the electricity company was a woman and she was holding a wire and the … or some cable, and the aggrieved consumer was also holding the cable, and they were sort of dragging it, and the man was obviously – I mean, I would say he was at breaking point – but at the point of his …  as part of his reaction he started stripping himself and then he threatened to rape the representative of the electricity company, at which point of course she let go of the cable. And it was … there was a lot of comment about it on social media. But I … so I commented that neither side covered themselves in glory but I was really disturbed that so many people found the threat of rape a matter for laughter, and … were sort of joking, and kind of saying to the man that this was …

RS: Not a funny matter at all!

AO: … No, because I sort of felt that the issue went beyond who was in the right and who because the impact would be that if that was a legitimate response to an argument that a man who was having with a woman, then a woman who was  going about her job and doing her duty should expect to such a threat, at which point she would now draw in. And with so many of these things (and it will come up in your discussion on the Social Media Bill too), that the real danger is that people now start to adjust their behaviour to deprive themselves of rights which they’re entitled to enjoy because they fear that something might happen.  Instead of insisting on their rights, and possibly having to pay a penalty for demanding or insisting on their rights, you find that instead, they end up saying: Well I’d better not … I will just not do this, I will not put myself forward. And I think it’s in that context that, I think, that we tend to make a bit light of the issues of violence against women, and this is reflected in the way that our law enforcement agencies respond when there are issues of violence against women, and that was why I felt that it is a matter of Accountability, not just of the law enforcement agencies, but I think also that this is probably one of those occasions when we ourselves need to think about what kind of ethos or mindset do we create in society that makes it feel that …

RS: There’s the matter of the law enforcement agents …

AO: Absolutely

RS: … not being held Accountable for … 

AO: Well they don’t even consider themselves Accountable for the security and safety of women in protecting them against violence.  I mean …

RS: At least, for their lack of action.

AO: … Yes.  Let me say that it is quite some years now since I chaired the Civil Society Panel on Police Reform, and one of the issues we looked at was: Why is there so little public confidence in the Nigeria Police Force?  And one of the things that came out very strongly, was that women in particular had little confidence in the police both because they faced ridicule, victimisation, or, being victims, they faced accusations of putting themselves in the way of harm – you know, victim blaming – and in some really egregious cases where minors had been taken by their parents to report sexual assault and being sort of lined up by the police and … or made to stand in front of a panel of seated police …

RS: Being treated like a suspect.

AO: Well before you get to that, just being told: Ah well, didn’t you enjoy it?  Or if you are a person with disabilities … you don’t get the … you’re … the offence against you is not treated as something for which the police is accountable.

RS: I’ve even seen women that were beaten at home being asked by police: What did you do to provoke him?

AO: Yes, yes.  Again, it’s always this idea that the victim has to explain herself.  And I think that if we’re talking about Accountability matters, then the police has to understand that it is Accountable for the safety and security of every citizen in the country who presents themselves as a victim, and that rather than put the victim through a – how do I put it? – a barrage of scepticism and ridicule and even taunting really, that the police has to step up, because the … in the long run, if we move away from the concept of policing as something done for the protection and preservation in power of those in power, to the protection of the citizens in the country, then we will understand that the police has to be accountable to us, and not to those in power.

RS: We were talking about this on Monday morning, and two issues came up.  One is, the low numbers of women in the police, the lack of human rights training for the police overall, and especially the men.  And also, not enough women magistrates and judges. As a lawyer, how do you think the low numbers of women police, women in the police affects …

AO: I think … I mean … We should just look at the issue of women in the criminal justice system whether it’s police, whether it’s magistrates and judges, although I do think that Lagos – I’m not so familiar with the magistrates  significant number of magistrates who are women in Lagos State. But I think that it goes beyond numbers. When I was on the Police Service Commission, there were attempts to recruit women and in particular to establish a mobile women, you know, to have women in the mobile police, because there were … before, there were no women in the mobile police.  And – I was not the women’s representative on the Commission – but the women’s … the person who was there to represent women, was particularly active in this matter, Prince Nana (of … she’s now late) but she was particularly active in getting the IGP to understand that that women need to be at every … in every … that there should be no section of the policing that is closed to them.   However, and we in the Civil Society Panel, we also recommended that the Nigeria … that where women suspects are arrested, if they cannot be interrogated or questioned where – if there are no police women in that police station then they should be taken to a police station where there are women. Now, in fact I should say that that – you remember that last Friday, when I was coming back late from the University of Ibadan, it was one of the things I had gone to talk about which was the violence against commercial sex workers.  But I think it’s important for us to also be aware that simply having women in the police is not the alpha and omega of the story.

RS: Hence the call also for better or improved training on human rights.

AO: Yes, because the women themselves, just like their junior, their male counterparts, they are subjected a process of dehumanisation, breaking down and building up into the character that those in charge of the police want you to be, and  what those in charge of the police want police officers to be is not necessarily sympathetic hearing ears to members of the Nigerian public who have grievances or complaints to make. So that you often find that the women themselves in the police force can be subjected to brutality and other forms of sexual harassment which makes them 

RS: Even overall structural discrimination against them, because as you know you can’t join the police if you are a woman and you are married.  

AO: Yes, well, I mean it’s one of those things that the long-delayed amendment of the 1948 – yes, before your time, even before my time if I may say so – the long-delayed amendment of the 1948 colonial Police Act, is where it says that women cannot be married, they have to have the permission of the Inspector-General of Police.

RS: That is, if you are a single policewoman and you want to get married.  

AO: Yes, there’s no similar provision for men.

There’s no similar provision for men.

AO: Yes.

RS: You can’t even join if you are married already.  And that discourages a large number of women from joining.

AO: And the point is that that discrimination, of course it’s unconstitutional and ought to be struck down in any event, and in fact the police no longer … because … one would say that a male police officer is more likely to marry three of the criminals than the … but because it comes with the mindset of: The woman cannot think for herself and will do whatever her husband tells her.  And that’s why she needs permission, or that … But if you’re saying that a spouse should be vetted by the superior officer, then all spouses, whether they are male or female should be vetted. So I thought that I should mention that, because I think there’s this idea that Accountability only talks about money or things like that. But I think that because we keep on coming back, and it’s one of the things that we mention in Bring Back Our Girls too, that the security of the citizen is part of what government is set up to be, and what they have to account to us for.

RS: Accountability for your role as a public servant …

AO: As a public servant …

RS: Including in law enforcement.

AO: … in charge of security.  You see law enforcement – we use the term ‘law enforcement’ – but what they are supposed to be there for is to guarantee our security It’s the whole reason why nations are formed, why we have governments; to provide security to citizens.  Now that does include enforcement of the law, but we also have to provide the general environment of security, and as long as you don’t have a police service or a Police Force which thinks that everybody is entitled to security, then you have that problem.  I should say that one of the things that came up during the conference that I went to when I was away last week, was that the idea of policing as something for the benefit of citizens is a fairly recent idea. That mostly policing, fighting of wars and so on, is all about those in power and their safety and security.

RS: In other words the defence of the state and …

AO: The defence of the state did not necessarily mean the defence of the citizens within the state, I mean they could be sacrificed or cannon fodder, or whatever …  So we really have to get past that.

RS: Lastly before we go, what do you think can be done to improve this situation of lack of accountability with regards to protection of women?

AO: Well I think that the basic thing is that there has to be greatly improved training for the police, and that I mean … when I was in the Civil Liberties Organisation, we were trying to do human rights training with the Nigeria Police.  But I think that we seem to be – in a way – going backwards on the issue of the police conceiving of their duty as something that should encompass the security and safety of all. But definitely training. Yes, increased number of women in the police service, because … in numbers, then there is more … there’s safety in numbers that they will be able to resist the idea that they should become these mental automatons who look on with lack of concern when other women are – or even children – are being subjected to abuse at the hands of their fellow officers.

Rotimi, I must – before we close –  I need to say that we were going to talk about the Gender Equal Opportunities Bill.  I would just want to say that – because one of the … the ‘I’ in IDEAS stands for Integrity, and I do think that 25 years after Nigeria signed up to the Convention against the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and we signed up to it, that it’s a matter of  Integrity for the country to enact legislation that will actualise that Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and so far, we haven’t. That GEO Bill (as it’s called) has been brought forward not … this is not the first time that it’s being presented …

RS: Several times, it was introduced again just two days ago by Senator Olujimi

AO: Yes, and the Nigerian Senate does not  seem to understand that this is an undertaking that Nigeria gave to the International Community, that these are the sorts of things that we respect in our country.  And we are not respecting them. And I think that that legislation would raise our Integrity quotient because we would now at last be seen to be doing what we promised to do.

So I want to thank you …

RS: Thank you.

AO: It’s great to be back, please be sure to tune in to us next week when we hope to have an important guest on the show.

RS: Thank you so much Ayo.  Great to have you back.

AgO: Alright.  Alright, so we do a beeline to Public Square right after this, please keep listening.