Gender rights activists have called improved law enforcement and justice delivery in respect of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in Nigeria.
The call followed the recent outcry for justice and improved response to incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, after the brutal rape and murder of Miss Vera Uwaila Omosuwa, a student of University of Benin, last week.
Uwaila’s case was one of many reported SGBV cases reported by the Nigerian media between May 25, 2020, and June 1, 2020.
There was 18 years old Barakat Bello, also a student, who was raped and murdered in her home in Ibadan, Oyo State, on Monday, June 1, 2020, while her father and her sister were away.
The two cases were among the seven reported, which included the violation of infants aged between four and 12 years, by adults and adolescents.
In response to the development, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu, ordered the Strengthening of the Gender-Based Unit of Nigeria Police Force, Frank Mba, the Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Officer, announced in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“The IGP has ordered the immediate deployment of specialised investigators and additional investigation assets to all the Gender Desks, Offices and the Juvenile Welfare Centres across the country.
“This is to strengthen and enhance the capacity of the units to respond to increasing challenges of sexual assaults and domestic/gender-based violence linked with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and other social ills within the country,” Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, explained.
He said the IGP called on members of the public to provide the police with useful information that could aid investigations into ongoing cases of sexual assault and domestic/gender-based violence across the country.
According to Mba, the IGP has ordered the transfer of investigations into the sexual assault and death of Uwaila, which occurred in Benin, Edo State, on May 27, from the State Police Headquarters in Benin to Police Force Headquarters, Abuja.
Reacting to the development, Khadijah Muhammad Awwal, a lawyer and women rights activist, said, “I believe there is a lot more that needs to be done at the investigation level in the police stations, we need gender desks to be created or revived at the police stations to be manned by specially trained police officers.
“This would be the first step in easing the trauma and confusion with which victims of sexual and gender-based violence, SGBV, and their relatives go through in these stations to report such cases.”
Gender-sensitive response to SGBV incidents is a major concern, gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate Sarbyen Sheni said.
“The government should include an SGBV component in the training curriculum of law enforcement agents rather than completely depend on SGBV agencies to carry out interventions.
“There should be training and re-training of law enforcement agents to change their cultural perceptions on rape and learn better ways on how to handle SGBV cases as sensitive cases,” Sheni said.
Awwal added that the issue of collecting money from victims and their relatives prior to commencement of investigation into their reports must be addressed as this practice discouraged victims and their relatives.
Sheni, who doubles as the coordinator of the African Young Women’s Leadership and Advocacy Alliance, said that law enforcement agencies should work hand-in-hand with Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) and civil society organizations focused on SGBV.
She also said that the government should ensure that there were SARCS in the country and available shelters made functional to support survivors.
Low prosecution and conviction rate of sexual assault is a problem. For instance, between, July, 2014, and February, 2017, no fewer than 2,252 rape cases were reported at the Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre but the centre recorded less than 20 convictions in all the cases, according to the Centre Manager, Juliet Olumuyiwa-Rufai.
Sheni urged law enforcement agencies to work with lawyers and the justice system to get pro bono services because most survivors were people from very poor backgrounds.
“Cases of violence should not take long for justice to be served. For example, the Ese Oruru case took about five years before the perpetrator was sentenced. Justice delayed is justice denied,” Sheni pointed out.
Investigation and trial stages must be fast-tracked to ensure speedy dispensation of justice, Awwal added.