That violence continues to manifest itself in new forms and trend against women and girls in Nigeria is now a source of serious concern to stakeholders. In the past three weeks, there have been demonstrations by many gender groups on the rape pandemic, with the Inspector- General of Police, Mohammed Adamu stating that in the first five months of 2020, over 700 cases were reported. More disturbing is the absence of justice for victims. In 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, there were 2,279 reported cases of rape and indecent assault in the country. But there was not a single conviction! In one state, there was no report of sexual violence made to the police throughout the entire year.
The number of brutal assaults on our women and girls is simply startling, though it is noteworthy that the federal government and the states now seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation. Every form of sexual assault against women and girls, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who held a virtual meeting with stakeholders on the ‘Scourge of Rape, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria’ on Friday, “are blemishes on the collective humanity and dignity of Nigerians as a people and a nation.” He pledged to use the platform of the National Economic Council to encourage states yet to domesticate the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act of 2015 and the Child Rights Act of 2003 to do so.
It is indeed imperative that the authorities make more efforts to understand the underlying causes and dynamics of this growing menace, if only to redeem the stability of the family unit, and consequently, the larger society. We cannot continue to ignore the societal upsurge in these occurrences, for the implications on our collective psyche, as citizenry, and our development as a nation, are ominous. More disturbing is that complaints of violence and abuse (against family members) made at our police stations, where girls and women can summon the courage to do so, are often dismissed as domestic matters, especially where such violence occurs between spouses.
Assault and battery, even though serious offences in our law books, are hardly ever perceived as crimes by many of our law enforcement agencies, unless the act ultimately culminates in death. In some instances, the police are extremely insensitive when dealing with the sexual abuse of minors, adding to the trauma of the survivors and their families. Besides, a pattern where survivors of sexual violence become targets of intimidation with the aid of law enforcement agents, according to the Nigeria Feminist Forum, is unconscionable and needs to stop. “Nigerian women and girls are not safe if the police that are meant to ensure our safety and security are being used as a tool to suppress and silence survivors who speak truth to powerful abusers,” they said in a statement at the weekend.
Gender activists are rightly demanding from the authorities a road map to show what will change about the police management of sexual gender- based violence and when. The frequency of these incidents in our immediate environment vividly demonstrates that we are teetering towards a lawless society. For several years in the Federal Capital Territory, some unscrupulous officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board Task Force have hidden under the authority of law enforcement to abuse, rape and dehumanise innocent women and girls in the name of morality which they themselves lack.
The media should continue to bring to the fore these incidents, if only to arouse our collective outrage and compel serious actions to stop gender-based violence. We also need an institutional structure where these incidents (including the perpetrators and victims) could be analysed with a view to strategically addressing the challenges in a comprehensive and structured manner. Finally, our governments, at all levels, need to sit up to address these concerns. That is the only way to assure the women and girls that we care about their welfare and wellbeing, and the health and prosperity of a nation.
The frequency of these incidents in our immediate environment vividly demonstrates that we are teetering towards a lawless society