Unarguably, cases of rape, child abuse, trafficking in persons and other sexual and gender-based violence, SGBV, have increased in recent times in Nigeria.
No doubt, the statistics of women and girls being raped and abused on daily basis from different parts of the country have been very scary and will continue to spark wild range of reactions.
Figures released by the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, showed that the police received 717 cases of rape between January and May.
Mr Adamu said that 799 suspects were arrested over alleged rape offences, 631 of the cases successfully investigated, 57 persons prosecuted and convicted, while 52 cases are still under prosecution.
Analysts note that the impact of COVID-19 on humanity has become horrifying with unquantifiable damages to all segments of the society.
They said that in situations like this, special attention must be paid to vulnerable groups such as women and girls, persons living with disability and the aged because of their propensity to varying vulnerabilities.
“Lockdowns and quarantines are essential to supressing COVID-19, but they can trap women with abusive partners.
“Over the past weeks as economic and social pressure and fear have grown, we have seen horrifying global surge in domestic violence,’’ United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said in a recent statement.
Unfortunately, many victims have been blamed and stigmatised, while authorities fail to take action to redress the situation and ensure that perpetrators do not go unpunished.
To tackle the abuses, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on June 16, embarked on a five-day activism in collaboration with the Nigerian Police, National Assembly, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Civil Society Groups, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other stakeholders.
The event was meant to intensify efforts in the fight against rape and gender-based violence in the country and ensure equality and dignity for Nigerian women.
During the launching in Abuja, Tony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary, NHRC, condemned the rising incidences of rape and described it as gross violation of human rights.
According to him, it is a crime that requires more effective mechanisms to address the challenge.
Ojukwu pointed out that socio-cultural and traditional factor that inhibit the emancipation of women must be addressed.
He also listed lack of needed cooperation on the parts of victims and relatives to achieve successful prosecution and conviction of violators of rape and SGBV crimes, as well as stigmatisation of victims as factors that must be addressed.
“Others include the culture of silence, ignorance, lack of adequate legal framework and difficulty in the management of SGBV cases in Nigeria.
“In this connection, the need to pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, in every state as well as amend existing laws on rape to ease prosecution cannot be overemphasised,’’ Ojukwu added.
On his part, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minster of Justice, Abubakar Malami disclosed that the ministry is engaging respective heads of courts to establish specialised courts for speedy and seamless trial of rape and SGBV offences in Nigeria.
Malami said that the courts when established will quicken timely trial of all pending and incoming rape and other related gender-based cases and facilitate their conclusion within record time.
He pointed out that the ministry has also commenced the review of all existing laws and policy instruments relating to offences of rape, child defilement and SGBV in the country.
“This in essence will enable holistic review aimed at proposing relevant legislative changes required to bridge the gaps between policy guidelines and implementation mechanisms,’’ he said.
Dame Julie Okah-Donli, Director-General of NAPTIP, on her part emphasised the need for all the states in the country to domesticate the VAPP Act 2015.
She expressed dismay that only eight states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have laws on violence against persons.
Okah-Donli, however, urged Nigerians to be more vigilant and report cases of rape, threat to rape, predatory behaviours and other forms of abuse to NAPTIP or any law enforcement agency.
“Rape, spousal battery, sodomy and other abrasive behaviours should not be treated as family matters or matters to be settled by religious and traditional leaders.
While appealing to Nigerians to desist from interfering with law enforcement investigations, the NAPTIP boss said rape cases should be treated as crime against the state.
She frowned at people withdrawing rape cases and advised rape victims to always preserve evidence.
According to her, preservation of evidence by reporting to security agencies and going for medical examination immediately after the incident is key to diligent prosecution.
“Rape is a crime against the state, it is not acceptable for anyone to seek the withdrawal of a case of rape and other sexual violence on the grounds of family pressure or to say they have settled with the culprit,’’ she added.
Chioma Onyenucheya-Uko, Vice Chairman, NBA, Abuja Branch, explained that in many rape trials, the guilt or innocence of the accused hinges on whether or not the victim consented to sexual intercourse.
“The determination of consent often can lead to distressing cross-examination of rape victims in court.
“As a result, many rape victims choose not to report the crime to police or refuse to press charges against their assailants.
“It is troubling that small proportion of reported rapes make it to court, worse still, few victims come forward in the first place,’’ Onyenucheya-Uko said.
Bukky Shonibare, Founder of African Child, a Civil Society Organisation, suggested that stringent penalties must be applied against rape, noting that it has devastating consequences on the victims.
According to her, rape and SGBV have devastating consequences not only on the victims or survivors, but on the society, therefore its effects are not only personal but socio-economic as well.
She expressed disappointment that the VAPP Act 2015 among other pantheon of extant laws addressing violence against women have not been effectively implemented.
“I will call for effective implementation of all laws against rape and life imprisonment as prescribed by the VAPP Act 2015,’’ Shonibare said.
A victim of sexual assault who pleaded anonymity advocated the introduction of sexual offenders’ register for the purpose of collation and publication of the data of all sexual offenders in Nigeria.
The publication of the register will enable the public know the identities of serial rape offenders.