As Nigeria joins other countries across the globe to celebrate the “16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence” under the global theme, “#Hear Me Too”, it becomes pertinent to reflect on the incidences of violence against women and girls in our society and the need for a united front to fight this menace.
The international campaign “16 Days of Activism on Ending Violence Against Women” linked with the UN Secretary General’s UNITE campaign, starts on November 25 (International Day to End Violence Against Women) and ends December 10 (International Human Rights Day). This campaign provides an opportunity to reflect, review and bring together stakeholders in the community of all that are concerned about the work to end violence against women, promoting a change in mindset and culture where violence is no longer accepted.
Recently, the Nigerian media became agog with news of Miss Ochanya Elizabeth Ogbanje; a 13-year-old girl who died of Vesico Vaginal Fistula, (VVF) and other related health challenges because of severe torture. Prior to her death, Ochanya had been repeatedly raped since she was eight years old by her aunt’s husband and son. Andrew Ogbuja, 52-year-old, was a lecturer at the Catering and Hotel Management Department of Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo while his son Victor Ogbuja, was a final year student of Animal Production at the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi (UAM). Ochanya found herself in this unfortunate situation due to a quest to further her education in her aunt’s house.
When news of the incident broke, it garnered a lot of sympathizers, as many called for the immediate prosecution of the perpetrators. Intense protest rallies were held and candle light events organized by civil society organizations across the country. Gender Based experts and activists alike fervently condemned the act, calling for justice. Government representatives also criticized the appalling incident and even named a street in remembrance of the victim. However, after the celebrated incident, more rape cases of minors have been reported in the news.
WANEP community level early warning reports validated by media reports have recorded devastating stories of issues of violence against women and girls. Major highlights include a 51-year-old electrician, Folurunsho Oluwaseun’s alleged sexual assault of his 17-year old daughter for over six years; two-year-old girl allegedly defiled by her father, Peter Adeda, in Lagos State; a nine year old girl reportedly raped to death by one Eedee Tombari in Rivers State, etc. The list remains unending as incidences of violence have become a daily feature in the Nigerian news media.
While Ochanya’s story was rife in the media, one pertinent question raised was: “Where was her aunt amidst these predicaments? Was she not aware of the sexual abuse of the ward while under her watch? Newspaper reports reveal she was aware and reported to her priest in the church but the case was shrouded in secrecy. This only enunciates the culture of silence and culpability of religious leaders in supporting and reinforcing acts of violence especially against women and girls.
The growing trend of violence against women and girls as replete in media reports in Nigeria calls for more urgent action now. While the voices of survivors are amplified and the culture of silence is being doused, continuous campaign on safeguarding and protecting the child as become imperative. Incidents of sexual abuse and defilement of minors are unacceptable and neither should result in death before actions are taken.
In Nigeria, there are legal frameworks that protect women and girls against violence such as the Domestic Violence Law of Lagos State, the Violence Against Persons Prosecution (VAPP) Law, the Child Rights Act (2003) etc. However, proper mechanism and structures need to be instituted by relevant government agencies to ensure effective implementation of these laws. Efforts to stop violence against women and girls should be intensified, as there are many survivors who need help and rehabilitation. Parents, guardians, caregivers and the public needs to be sensitized on their roles and responsibilities towards ensuring adequate protection for women and girls in our society.
Effective strategies that will become standard practice should be developed and adopted on reporting, which is usually the first thing to do when a woman or girl experiences any form of violence. Such guidelines should address for instance questions like: How should reporting be done? Who should the victim report to when violated especially if the perpetrator is a recognizable person who the victim should naturally trust? Culture of silence that frequently stalls justice can easily be broken when cases of violence in homes and communities are reported.
As we celebrate the 2018 16 Days of Activism, we should take into cognizance the fact that there are many Ochanyas crying to be heard; there are many girls who yearn to be saved from rape, defilement, and maltreatment in our families, neighbourhood and communities at large.
We all have a role to play to stop violence against our women and girls.
Signed: Bridget Osakwe
Country Coordinator, West African Network for Peace, WANEP.