IDEAS Radio 19 June 2020

Sexual and Gender Based Violence: IDEAS issues

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, a fine afternoon for nine … nine minutes past four, 99.3 Nigeria Info.  I’m Aghogho Oboh, Public Square.  Talking about all the big big issues happening in the country.  Tomorrow it’s a big day, tomorrow it’s International Day to end violence against Women in Conflict and Humanitarian settings.  And this sets the background for discussions in the Public Square where IDEAS will usher us in, the Shadow Pandemic, surge in violence against women and girls during COVID-19, that’s the conversation we’re going to be having at the Public Square.  But IDEAS first.  Remember, you can join the conversation on social media on Twitter @NigeriaInfoFM, @RotimiSankore, @ideasradiong @naijama, @AghoghoOboh.  Any of these handles, questions already up there for you to attempt to deal with.  

But IDEAS first.  On Wednesday the 10th of June, that’s last week, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum declared a State of Emergency on Sexual and Gender-based Violence.  And in his Democracy Day address last Friday, the President reiterated his government’s commitment to fighting against gender-based violence, and assured citizens that the police were working to ensure justice in recent cases.  This are obviously responses to rising public concern in the wake of high-profile cases of sexual assault.  Certainly the matter is being widely discussed across the country.  And so, this sets the background for a conversation with Ayo Obe on IDEAS.  Hello Ayo, good evening.

Ayo Obe: Hello Aghogho, how are you?

AgO: Brilliant, brilliant.  And always great to have Ayo open us on the Public Square with IDEAS.  So Ayo, SGBV trending, Sexual Gender Based Violence, and I’m sure … rather, Sexual and Gender Based Violence.  And the first, what we usually will find out is the IDEAS component … in the declaration of the State of Emergency on Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

Ayo Obe: Okay Aghogho, I think that interestingly enough, this is one of the areas where I should say that all the elements of IDEAS, that’s Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, all come into … come into play.  I mean, … I often find that I’m repeating myself in this programme, because I think it was only just last week that I was saying that no matter the identity of the perpetrator, no matter the identity of the victim, crime should be investigated and the perpetrator brought to book.  But … so that you might say that that covers the whole issue of Gender Based violence in any event.  But the fact is that you see, particularly in relation to Gender Based crime, Nigeria has not been living up to that ideal.  So in a way, I would say that the current concern … the current funk – what I call the “moral panic” actually, is one … it offers an opportunity of bringing Nigeria up to the ideal of impartiality before the law.  I mean because I think it’s one thing for the Governors to declare a State of Emergency on Sexual and Gender Based Violence, but if those fine words are not going to be followed through on, then that in itself raises issues of Integrity and Ethics.  I mean, if we look at the picture of Nigeria, we can see that many states have enacted a Violence against the Person (Prohibition) Law, and a smaller number have enacted Child Rights … by the way, I should say that the difference between an Act, is that an Act is for the federation, and that a Law is enacted by individual States, by the State Houses of Assembly, and in fact, in Nigeria, the majority of criminal offences are state laws.  So, they’ve enacted these laws, but the extent to which they have followed through is the question.  Now in Lagos State, actually, the law that we have is not called a Violence against the Person (Prohibition) Law,  What happened was that in 2007, which is thirteen years ago now, Lagos State enacted a Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law.  And they didn’t just enact the law, they also established a Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team; and that team, by the way, says that – and I’m going to quote from its website.  It said that it’s:

“… a collection of professional service providers and officials that respond as a group and in a timely fashion to the … needs of domestic and sexual violence survivors by providing legal, medical and emergency assistance, Counselling and psychological and psycho social support.”

And there’s also a list of Police Stations that have a Family Support and Domestic Union … Unit, and centres where victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence can receive free medical treatment.

Now this is certainly better than nothing, but as I said, that law is  thirteen years old, and recently, Lagos State has been having consultations on what it needs to do to fill the gaps in the Law and its implementation.  I could also say that in Ekiti State, where as we know, the First Lady, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi, is a well known advocate for women’s rights, they’ve also recognised the importance of implementing measures like free medical care for victims and in fact, for compensation.

But in other parts of the country – even where there has been some form of Violence Against the Person (Prohibition) Law enacted, there hasn’t really been the same follow through.  Although, listeners in Ogun State will be glad to know that the State Government now seems ready to set about implementing the Law which it enacted in February 2018; they’re going to establish the necessary statutory committee and of course, that should have funding to go with it.  And even further afield, it seems as though more states in the North are ready to debunk that myth about religious prohibition on … interfering in these matters.  But I don’t think we should delude ourselves that the problem is a North-South one.  Yes, it is true that – for now – there’s a solid wall of states which have neither Violence Against Persons Prohibition  nor Child Rights legislation, in the north.  But states in the south shouldn’t pat themselves on the back either.  And that may not just be because of what the legislators have or have not done.  But I think that we also need to recognise that when we talk about Accountability on Sexual and Gender Based Violence, it’s important for us to distinguish between the Accountability of the State for curbing the menace and bringing the perpetrators to justice, and actual Responsibility, because at the end of the day, the criminal responsibility for rape, sexual assault or domestic violence has to lie with the perpetrator.

AgO: Mmmm, mmm, mmm.  I know the Governors Forum, this hasn’t been a great week for them, especially when you have had the Governor of Rivers State call them a “toothless bulldog”.  But what do you think … the Declaration of Emergency by the Governors Forum – whether it will improve Accountability on Sexual and Gender Based Violence Ayo?

AO: Well as I said, we have to pay attention to the distinction between fine words and follow through, because if you don’t follow through, then you are raising questions about your Integrity.  But … and we also need to recognise too, Aghogho, that the Nigeria Governors Forum declaration of a State of Emergency on Gender and Sexual Based Violence did not just emerge out of thin air.  It was actually the result of sustained advocacy by Nigerian NGOs, individuals and women’s groups, and … because they had sent a memorandum on the subject to the NGF.  And anyway, since I think that you’re going to be speaking to Dr. Abiola Afolabi Akiyode in the Public Square later … 

AgO: Right

AO: … I will leave it for her to set out the concrete practical steps that that memo called for.  But it’s enough to say that obviously, states which haven’t passed a Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) law need to do so.  But we also need to emphasise that, simply passing a law, or declaring a State of Emergency isn’t the end of the process, it’s merely the end of the beginning.

But also Aghogho, I can’t let the matter pass without saying that the giggling and the trivialisation that many of our legislators bring to this issue of Gender Based Violence, or Equal Opportunities … that doesn’t reflect Integrity or Ethics either.  Because what it means is that our legislators are telling us that the concerns and priorities, and safety and security of half the population are not their own priority, or their own concern.  I mean, we’ve seen this horrible reaction by some of our legislators hiding under the cover of religion, to refuse the security offered by the Child Rights legislation to children in their states, but they can’t explain why conduct and practices that would not be acceptable in Saudi Arabia, or in fact, in nearly all other countries which have a Muslim majority, are still being clung to by our own supposed leaders.  Because quite frankly, the sad reality is, that as wealthy, educated men, some of our own legislators can afford to indulge their own appetites, and so, in order to keep the men and boys who their own marital practices are depriving of wives and life partners, to keep them quiet and happy, they throw underaged children to them for abuse and exploitation.  So I think that it’s not just at the level of the states, but also, it’s the public reaction of some of our legislators.

AgO: You know Ayo, Accountability is huge and one of the key components of IDEAS bringing perpetrators to justice, and if the Police is a key actor in this, they should be on the front line.  And you know the IG met with the Human Rights Commission as well as NAPTIP, Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons on Thursday to map out a common front against rape, human trafficking and sexual violence.  You think this is the way the Police is living up to its accountability objective?

AO: Well, it’s interesting Aghogho, because in his Democracy Day address, the President said (quote):

“I am particularly upset at recent incidents of rape, especially of very young girls.  The police are pursuing these cases with a view to bringing perpetrators of these heinous crimes to swift justice.”

So it appears that there is some awareness that it’s important to end the idea of the impunity that such crimes are normally treated with.  And as I mentioned, Lagos State is supposed to have a list of police stations which have Family and Domestic Support centres.  But I’m afraid that the problem in the Nigeria Police Force goes a bit deeper than that.  Because what we find is that Sexual and Gender Based Violence ought to be a matter of both the general training of every person who is recruited into the police, and a field for specialisation.  You’ve heard me before, say that there was in 2012, I chaired a Civil Society Panel on Police Reform.  

AgO: Right.

AO: That was now eight years ago, and I’m going to refer to it again, because it found that lack of specialization has … robbed the police force of the capacity to develop its personnel to become experts in different fields of policing.  And that gap impacts on its ability to solve complex crimes.  And so they found that … if an officer chooses to specialise in the field of Gender Based Violence then, there … it’s as if they’re being put into a cul-de-sac, or, if they get the training in Gender Based policing, from, maybe NGOs, then when the time comes, they’re just posted to another state, to another … they might be in gender based violence today, and tomorrow, they’re doing financial crimes, or … or anti-robbery.  So it doesn’t make sense.

And in fact, the Panel said that the lack of career trajectory in the Nigeria Police Force had turned most police officers into ‘jacks-of-all-trades’ who were in the end, not able to master any.   So the panel recommended that the ‘general duty policy’ should be abolished, and that every police officer should actually be given five years within which to specialize after recruitment, in order to be a promotable officer.  Or they should go home, And that – just as in the military – you join as a professional, you’re allowed to specialise and practice your profession, and still be promotable within your area of expertise. 

But I should also say Aghogho, that the Panel found that police insensitivity to the plight of victims of Gender crimes such as domestic violence and rape was a major cause of lack of public confidence in the police.  And I’m going to quote again.  

“Not only do the police ridicule and trivialize cases of domestic violence and rape reported to them, they go further and blame the victims for their victimization.  The result is a very low rate of reporting what are known as gender crimes.  The Panel found that [the] police personnel lack the knowledge and skills to respond sensitively to gender crimes or deal with vulnerable groups such as children …” 

Now the problem is Aghogho, that this report was produced eight years ago, and you might think that some progress should have been made since then, but you only have to consider what happened in the case of Busola Dakolo who accused a Pastor of rape last year – the police attempted to arrest her and her husband, although of course, they later claimed that they were just quote and unquote ‘inviting’ them.  So I suppose we need to file that under the heading of “an offer you can’t refuse”!  But even more recently, a young lady accused a popular musician of a 2018 rape, and she was arrested by the police as well.  Or, again, the police denied arresting her, so we should say that she was apparently in police custody during which time she deleted all her tweets accusing the musician of the assault, and then she was released!  And in fact, that young lady has been sued for libel by the musician.  And I should say that that shows that if a rape allegation is to be made, it ought to be made to the appropriate authorities, because when you report to the appropriate authorities …

AgO: Alright.

AO: … you are protected against a libel allegation, since it’s covered by qualified privilege, in other words, if you’re not making the allegation … out of malice, then you cannot be found liable for defamation (which is libel).  But … when the police are exhibiting more energy about pursuing the complainant, you have to wonder how it is going to work out, because as I said, there’s already this low rate of reporting.  Although, we need to recognise, as you mentioned, that there are other agencies like the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, or the Nigeria Human Rights Commission …

AgO: And shockingly, that NAPTIP,  which is responsible for the sex register … sex offenders register which was put up in 2019 … such low number of cases reported on the website in the last six months, and I mean, it’s … underwhelming to imagine that this is what … these are the number of cases, whereas in reality, a lot of people aren’t speaking out about sexual assault and violence against them.

AO: Well I think that’s actually the point.  That people need … they … people need to make them live up to their obligations.

AgO: Trust the system.

AO: You know, you can go directly to them, or you can go to … like Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, or you can even go to an NGO and they can guide you through how to make your complaint appropriately, but it has to be said that Twitter is not the place where you make … where you set the machinery of the law in motion, because then you’re not covered by privilege, and you can find yourself – as I said – facing a libel case.

AgO: Ok Ayo Obe  thank you very much.  Any final thoughts before we call it a day on IDEAS?

AO: Well, I would just say that the President has recognised that one of the areas where the government has responsibility is awareness creation, and I think this is really important, because  we can’t continue a situation where we only allow ourselves to feel outraged when the victims are murdered or, to use the words of the President: “very young girls”.  So awareness creation needs to drive home the message that the victim doesn’t have to be a saint or a baby before the complaint is taken seriously, because in a Democracy, politicians respond to the demands of the public, but if the public is busy assessing victims and so on, then I don’t … we have a   problem.  I would also say that those maps showing the states that enacted the relevant legislation, and saying the ones that are on the side of the angels and then the ones that are on the show of shame, we need more of that to change public opinion and get people to respond, so that in a Democracy, elected representatives will also feel obliged to respond.

AgO: Alright.  We’ll leave it at that.  Thank you very much Ayo Obe, host … IDEAS.

AO: Thank you Aghogho.

But what are the IDEAS issues in the declaration of the State of Emergency on SGBV?

Ayo Obe: I have often repeated that crime should be investigated and the perpetrator brought to book no matter the identity of the perpetrator, or of the victim, so that also ought to take care of Gender Based crimes, but the reality is that we haven’t been living up to that principle when it comes to Gender Based crime.  So the current concerns – what I have called elsewhere a “moral panic” – offer an opportunity for us to live up to that ideal.  Certainly IDEAS issues are raised.  First, it is one thing for the Governors to declare a State of Emergency on SGBV, but if these fine words are not followed through with action, then that failure raised Integrity and Ethics.   If we look at the picture across Nigeria, we see that many states have enacted a Violence against the Person (Prohibition) Law and a smaller number have enacted Child Rights Protection …  I should explain the difference between an Act which is made for the federation by the National Assembly, and a Law which enacted for an individual State, by the State House of Assembly, and I should also state that the bulk of criminal offences in Nigeria are created under state laws.  But to what extent have they followed through?

Here in Lagos State, the relevant law is not called a Violence against the Person (Prohibition) Law, rather Lagos State enacted the Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law of Lagos, State Law about thirteen years ago, in 2007, and then, to give effect to the law, the State Government established a Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team which it says is 

“… a collection of professional service providers and officials that respond as a group and in a timely fashion to the various needs of domestic and sexual violence survivors by providing legal, medical, emergency assistance, Counselling and psychological and psycho social support.  The state also keeps a list of Police Stations which have a Family Support and Domestic Unit, and centres where victims of SGBV can receive free medical treatment.”

Now this is certainly better than nothing, but as I said, it has now been operating for thirteen years, so the state has been holding consultations on what needs to be done to fill the gaps in the Law and its implementation.  I may also mention Ekiti State, where the First Lady, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi, is a well known advocate for women’s rights.  It has also recognised the importance of implementing measures such as free medical care for victims and compensation.

In other parts of the country – even where a species of VAPP law has been enacted, we cannot say that there has been the same follow through.  However, listeners in Ogun State will be glad to know that the State Government now seems ready to set about implementation of the Violence Against the Person (Prohibition) Law which it enacted in February 2018, by at last establishing the necessary statutory committee to drive it through and to provide funding.  Further afield, it seems as though more states in the North are ready to debunk the myth of religious prohibition.  However, we shouldn’t delude ourselves that the problem is a North-South one.  Yes, it is true that there is – for now – a solid wall of states which have neither VAPP nor Child Rights legislation in the north.  But states in the south should not pat themselves on the back either.

Lastly, Aghogho, I think that when we talk about Accountability on Sexual and Gender Based Violence, it’s important that we distinguish between the Accountability of the State for curbing the menace and bringing the perpetrators to justice, and Responsibility for SGBV, because at the end of the day, the criminal responsibility for rape, sexual assault or domestic violence lies with the perpetrator

AgO: Will the Declaration of Emergency by the NGF will improve Accountability for SGBV?

AO: Well as I said, we have to recognise the distinction between fine words and following through.  In fact, it should be said that the declaration of a State of Emergency on SGBV by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum didn’t just emerge out of thin air.  No, it was the result of sustained advocacy by Nigerian NGOs, individuals and women’s groups, which sent a memorandum on the subject to the NGF.  I believe you’ll be speaking to Dr. Abiola Afolabi Akiyode on the subject later, in the Public Square, so I will leave it for her to set out the concrete practical steps which that memo called for, but suffice it to say that obviously, states which have not passed a Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) law need to do so.  However, simply passing a law, or declaring a State of Emergency isn’t the end of the process, but merely the end of the beginning.

I think that we should not see this as a matter for only the executive.  It’s also relevant to say that the giggling and trivialising with which our legislators behave when asked to address issues of Gender Based Violence, or Equal Opportunities is not a reflection of either Integrity, or of Ethics.  Because what it means is that our legislators that the concerns and priorities, or the safety and security of half the population are not their concern or priority.  We’ve seen the really horrible reaction of legislators hiding under the cover of religion to refuse the security offered by the Child Rights legislation, but they can’t explain why conduct and practices that wouldn’t be acceptable in Saudi Arabia, or in fact, in nearly all other Muslim majority populations are still clung to by our own supposed leaders.  The sad reality is that because as wealthy, educated men, some of our legislators can afford to indulge their own appetites, they seek to keep the men and boys whom their marital practices are depriving of wives and life partners quiet or happy by throwing them underaged children to abuse and exploit.

AgO: If accountability involves bringing perpetrators to justice, then we can say that the Nigeria Police are on the front line.  Indeed, on Thursday, the IGP held meetings with the National Human Rights Commission and NAPTIP to map out a common front against rape, human trafficking and sexual violence.  Do you see this as a way of living up to its accountability in this area?

AO: Well, in his Democracy Day address, the President said:

“I am particularly upset at recent incidents of rape, especially of very young girls.  The police are pursuing these cases with a view to bringing perpetrators of these heinous crimes to swift justice.”

So there would appear to be some awareness of the importance of ending the idea of the impunity with which such crimes are treated, and as I mentioned, in Lagos State there is supposed to be a list of police stations which have Family and Domestic Support centres.  But I’m afraid that the problem in the Nigeria Police Force goes a bit deeper than that.  Because what we find is that Sexual and Gender Based Violence ought to be a matter of both the general training of every person who is recruited into the police, and a field for specialisation.  You’ve heard me before say that there was in 2012, I chaired a Civil Society Panel on Police Reform.  That was now eight years ago, and I’m going to refer to it again, because it found that lack of specialization has … robbed the police force of the capacity to develop its personnel to become experts in different fields of policing.  And that gap impacts on its ability to solve complex crimes.  And so they found that … if an officer chooses to specialise in the field of Gender Based Violence then, there … it’s as if they’re being put into a cul-de-sac, or, if they get the training in Gender Based policing, from, maybe NGOs, then when the time comes, they’re just posted to another state to another … they might be in gender based violence today and tomorrow, they’re doing financial crimes, or … or anti-robbery.  So it doesn’t make sense.

And in fact, the Panel said that the lack of career trajectory in the Nigeria Police Force has turned most police officers into ‘jacks-of-all-trades’ who were in the end, not able to master any.   So the panel recommended that the ‘general duty policy’ should be abolished, and that every police officer should actually be given five years within which to specialize after recruitment, in order to be a promotable officer.  Or they should go home, And that – just as in the military – you join as a professional, you’re allowed to specialise and practice your profession, and still be promotable within your area of expertise. 

I should also say Aghogho, that the Panel found that police insensitivity to the plight of victims of Gender Based crimes such as domestic violence and rape was a major cause of lack of public confidence in the police.  So I’m going to quote again.  

“Not only do the police ridicule and trivialize cases of domestic violence and rape reported to them, they go further and blame the victims for their victimization.  The result is a very low rate of reporting what are known as gender crimes.  The Panel found that police personnel lack the knowledge and skills to respond sensitively to gender crimes or deal with vulnerable groups such as children …” 

Now the problem is Aghogho, that this report was produced eight years ago, and you might think that some progress should have been made since then, but you only have to consider what happened in the case of Busola Dakolo who accused a Pastor of rape last year – the police attempted to arrest her and her husband, although of course, they later claimed that they were just quote and unquote ‘inviting’ them.  So I suppose we need to file that under the heading of “an offer you can’t refuse”!  But even more recently, a young lady accused a popular musician, of a 2018 rape, and she was arrested by the police as well.  Or, again, the police denied arresting her, so we should say that she was apparently in police custody during which time she deleted all her tweets accusing the musician of the assault, and then she was released!  And in fact, that young lady has been sued for libel by the musician.  And I should say that that shows that if a rape allegation is to be made, it ought to be made to the appropriate authorities, because when you report to the appropriate authorities …

AgO: Alright.

AO: … you are protected against a libel allegation, since it’s covered by qualified privilege, in other words, if you’re not making the allegation … out of malice, then you cannot be found liable for defamation (which is libel).  But … when the police are exhibiting more energy about pursuing the complainant, you have to wonder how it is going to work out, because as I said, there’s already this low rate of reporting.  Although, we need to recognise, as you mentioned, that there are other agencies like the National Agency for the   NAPTIP or the Nigeria Human Rights Commission

 …

AgO: And shockingly, that NAPTIP,  which is responsible for the sex register … sex offenders register which was put up in 2019 … such low number of cases reported on the website in the last six months, and I mean, it’s underwhelming to imagine that this is what … these are the number of cases, whereas in reality, a lot of people aren’t speaking out about sexual assault and violence against them.

AO: Well I think that’s actually the point.  That people need … they need … people need to make them live up to their obligations.

AgO: Trust issues.

AO: You know, you can go directly to them, or you can go to … like Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, or you can even go to an NGO and they can guide you through how to make your complaint appropriately, but it has to be said that Twitter is not the place where you make … where you set the machinery of the law in motion, because then you’re not covered by privilege, and you can find yourself facing a libel case.

AgO: Ok Ayo Obe  thank you very much.  Any final thoughts before we call it a day on IDEAS?

AO: Well, I would just say that the President has recognised that one of the areas where the government has responsibility is awareness creation, and I think this is really important, because  we can’t continue a situation where we only allow ourselves to feel outraged where the victims are murdered or, to use the words of the President: “very young girls”.  So awareness creation needs to drive home the message that the victim  doesn’t have to be a saint or a baby before the complaint is taken seriously, because in a Democracy, politicians respond to the demands of the public, but if the public is busy assessing victims and so on, then I don’t … we have a   problem.  I will also say that those maps showing the states that enacted the relevant legislation, and saying the ones that are on the side of the angels  and then the ones  the show of shame, we need more of that to change public opinion and get people to respond, so that in a Democracy,  elected representatives will also feel obliged to respond.

AgO: Alright  we’ll leave it at that.  Thank you very much Ayo Obe, host … IDEAS.

AO: Thank you Aghogho.