Professor Patricia Donli, a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maiduguri is the Executive Director of Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre and Zonal Coordinator, Gender and Constitutional Reform Network (GECORN). She spoke at a two day training workshop organised by West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) – Nigeria, for journalists in Abuja, where she revealed disturbing emerging phenomenon in the North East as a result of the Boko Haram emergence.
What do you consider emerging challenges in the North East?
There is increase in sodomy against boys in Borno state, one research we did recently for an organisation called PO1, survival focussed policing, where we asked people the various type of Gender Base Violence that operate in their places. Everybody agreed that sodomy against boys is actually on the increase and something needs to be done about it. Though I don’t have the actual figure or statistics, the perception of the people who were interviewed was that it is on the increase.
Are there still challenges with the female folks?
With regards to the girls, we have a lot of rapes, from about 5 years old, rape by elderly people, incest where parents are sleeping with their daughters, raping women living in brothels, who were forced into prostitution because they are internally displaced persons. We have worked with a group of them when their brothel was demolished, we worked with them to build their capacity to be able to mobilise, empowered them with money and grant for businesses after training. So, what we did now was to form a movement which is call Barka De Zua Girls.
What do they do for these victims of rape and violence?
What they do is that they stand for the girls who were raped; they go to the police stations and ensure that the police do what they need to do. So they are empowered to defend the rights of the people, and from what they told us recently, the girls are expanding, they are increasing in numbers. I mean those living in brothels, even if their brothels is demolished, you find out that they spring up in other places and unfortunately there is no shelter within Borno State to be able to cater for those girls who were resident in those demolished brothels to stay for sometime to find something for them. So, you find that the owners of the brothels, once one is demolished here today, before the following week, they will be able to find another location for them and the girls are getting younger everyday who are residents of these places.
Is there nothing relevant authorities are doing to arrest the development?
There was a time that lorry loads of young girls were picked up by police, eventually they released them because there was no place to put them. As an organisation, we don’t have a shelter, the only shelter there is in Maiduguri is the NAPTIP shelter which can only house them for two weeks and then we have a Sexual Assault and Referral Centre, just one in Borno state. So, if a rape occurs in a local government area, they will have to transport the victim to Maiduguri for various tests and others. So, you find out that there is a lot of complications. But, one thing that is happening now that is quite good is the fact that, people are becoming aware of their reporting channel, they are beginning to report cases even though there is still stigmatisations that stops people from reporting, parents too are not helping matters by telling their children that if they report they will not get married.
But there are laws guiding against such phenomenon?
A law was passed in Borno State on January 10, 2022 and then an organisation working with us and other women led organisations developed and translated those laws into local languages and English. We have been sensitising communities on that. My organisation did that recently in three communities in Moba, Gwoza and Galaram, in all, about seventeen communities were sensitised and the people are saying this is the first time they heard that there was even a law like that and they committed that when they go back, they are going to mobilise other people to stop what is happening especially with regards to rape of young girls and boys. So, those are some of the things that are being done from creation of awareness to issues of training and law enforcement because if you don’t train the law enforcement agencies on the new law, implementation may become a problem.
Did you notice any gap in all of these?
The gap that I see for me apart from this creation of awareness, training of the law enforcement agencies, distributions of IAC materials, what really needs to be done, is the fact that the government has to build shelters, because take for instance intimate partners violence, when it occurs you have nowhere to go, as a woman your husband beats you anytime he feels like. The woman has nowhere to go even for cases to be settled, so you stay with him even if he rapes you like what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic when we noticed a huge increase in intimate partners and domestic violence which we then called a shadow pandemic. So, the provision of shelter is very critical if we are going to reduce such cases of violence.
How has the media fared in reporting these disturbing issues?
That is another gap we noticed as a huge concern. For me I am not satisfied with the amount of time and commitment by the media is not good. I don’t know what is happening, maybe all these that are happening from gender based violence, child theft that is becoming rampant as a result of the political era that we are now and rituals, there hasn’t been any form of investigative journalism carried out as far as I am concerned to be able to find out the root causes of these menaces. When we were growing up, the journalists was seen as a moral compass of the society, whatever they say was seen as the bible for the society, but this days if you pick one paper, it is assumed that you have read all the papers, it is just the same stories you find in them. They are just press statements everywhere, you could see different headlines but same storyline and I started wondering where then is the value of journalism that we knew in those days as the conscience of the nation and I don’t see the media playing those roles now. You people need to look inward to what has really changed from the time the media was accorded the most important position as the fourth estate of the realm, people were afraid of the journalists because they spoke the truth to authorities and whatever they said was believed to be the truth. What has happened between that era and now, I think the media need reorientations. They must look for ways of educating the people even though we know that they must please their owners first, it is about educating the people, creating awareness and information. Thank God that the social media is there, they can utilise the social media by putting something out there on issues that are burning within you and let people begin to make contributions or develop a template. For instance, if you want to find out about the cases of sodomy, send out the template to organisations and before you know it, information and data is coming and you can publish those information received. For me this is a gap that we need to fill.
What are the NGOs doing?
The INGOs are trying as well as the local NGOs because eventually the INGOs will go but, now there are issues of localisation where the INGOs are trying to use the local NGOs to be able to reach out because they know that they will have to leave the scene one day, a lot of them left during the COVID-19 and it was the local organisations that were there. There are so many things that we need to tackle.
Are there communal efforts to tackle challenges of poverty?
Poverty is a huge contributory factor. For example you go to a community where poverty is a challenge, you find out that families are marrying out their children off for as low as two thousand naira, which sum might be something for them to be able to survive and then these are underage children, meaning their right to education is scuttled.
How about street children?
You also look at issues of children on the streets. A child without education is a cannon folder for nefarious politicians. Politics is around now and they are beginning to give these little ones guns and what have you, that will lead to political violence. Another issue that we have is the issue of HIV-AIDS is on the increase in Borno state as a result a lot of survival sex, sexual exploitations and abuse from community leaders, from people around the camps, humanitarian workers and security agents and also a lot of teenage pregnancies resulting in a lot of abandoned children. What do you do with those children? These are things we have not programmed for and the government must start looking into these phenomena as well as organisations.
What is the future of the country with such children on the street?
There is a generation of children that were born in Boko Haram, they do not know any other thing apart from violence, the challenge then for the society is how do we deconstruct this culture of violence among these children and entrench the culture of peace, these are areas we need to look at because if we do not do that, a state will come that if it is not boko haram, anybody that come will find children that are readily available to carry out any nefarious acts and of course the arms are available, the influx of small arms and light weapons, unless we begin to programme to cater for those children by immediately deconstructing the predominant culture of violence in their psyche and bring them into the mainstream of what children should be because they are losing their innocence very fast and that is one thing that needs to be tackled.
What is your advice to the youth looking at the coming elections?
One thing I will firstly say is that I am very happy about the participation of the youth in politics, I think they suddenly woke up and realised that this is our country; we must wake up and be able to say who rules this country and how they rule the country. I have met with a group of youth and told them they must not allow themselves to be use by any group of politicians, firstly the children of these political gladiators are not going to be in this country during the elections, they will take them abroad to safe locations and then give the youth here guns, drugs to take and then turn them to killing weapons by instructing them to turn barrels of guns at opposition citizens. I told them not to allow themselves to be use for any violence act, they have a future and must not allow that to be scuttled, their life is precious, they should go out and vote for their preferred candidates and return home, even if they are going to protect their mandate, the youth must ensure they keep away from problems.
What have you noticed as a challenge ahead of the elections?
Let me tell you, the hate speech that is already coming out and what we are seeing suggest that the coming elections isn’t going to be an issue base elections but, rather a personality attack elections, if you will permit my choice of words because politicians are not just ready to tell us what they intend to do for the country. Nigerians are sceptical and afraid of the elections judging from the altercations by supporters of the various political parties. Some even doubt if the elections will hold, these are questions only God can answer for us now.
What is your message to the women?
The women must unite across all fault lines and divide across all parties. We have the numerical strength but unfortunately right now, at the national level only very few women were able to win the primaries. Wherever those women are standing, I expect women to unite and be able to support themselves. Let them forget whichever platform the female candidate is contesting on, what is important is that she is a woman and they must ensure the candidate emerges victorious in order to be able to champion their cause while in office, we need more women in key positions to be able to make decisions on what affects women. It is said that those that wear the shoes know where it is pinching. A man can talk about women’s issues but, it is the women that know where it is paining them. Therefore, let our women arise and vote in representatives that will be able to make a lot more difference from what we currently have. For example it is a woman who actually moved for special seats in the national assembly. When women went out, we put up our bills and other things. Again, we had a huge media gap, I didn’t see the media supporting the women in those instances, it is not a matter of what women are going to do, it is what we are going to do collectively as Nigerians. We know that it is important for women to be able to participate in politics, so, we must ask ourselves what are we doing, what are we putting out there as women? How are we going to support the few women that won the primaries? How is the media going to utilise their influencing capacities to be able to promote those women? We don’t have the money because the media is all about money these days but, is there no Corporate Social Responsibility assignment for the media that can give spaces for women to be profile so that they can be voted into offices in the coming elections. We women are doing all these fights for the future of our children and the nation because women bring different perspectives to issues. A woman does not bring the winner, takes all mentality to the table. A woman brings issues of maternal mortality, children education and so many things that affects the family and affects the nation. You realise that without women we cannot even have a nation.
And to politicians?
For the men politicians, the earlier they realise and recognise that, the better it is for this nation. I don’t know who is afraid of women because it looks like they are afraid of women. Anything about women they just throw it aside and out completely most times. If we are going to make progress in this country, I tell you that women must be brought into the mainstream.