In a room of 10 Nigerian women, at least 3 have experienced some form of sexual abuse by the age of 25. This is a disturbing enough statistic that should give everyone pause even before the global pandemic swooped in last year and possibly made a bad situation worse.
The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) announced that 717 cases of rape had been recorded between January to May in 2020. That is approximately 5 rape cases per day in a country of 200+ million people. This should be grave enough to warrant the declaration of a state of emergency on sexual and gender-based violence, particularly considering that this number – 717, represents only those cases that made it to the desk of the NPF and were in fact treated by the Police. 100s of rape cases go unreported in Nigeria.
The rising cases of rape in Nigeria might have given the nation pause to ponder this enduring menace, but it wasn’t until the rape and murder of 22-year-old Vera Uwaila Omozuwa that social conscience boiled over into a needful prompt to action. This too was the turning point for the Nigerian Governor’s Wives Forum, as stated by Ekiti State governor’s wife Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi in a recent interview on Rubbin’ Minds’ International Women’s Day Special powered by Lipton and hosted by Bolanle Olukanni
“Last years, because of the COVID-19 lockdown a lot of women and girls were trapped in their homes and communities with predators and violators, every day we kept getting reports about one form of sexual violation or other,” she said, “It all came to a head with the rape and murder of Uwaila and by that time a lot of us were just fed up.”
Fed up is exactly the phrase to describe the agitation that followed. The Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum had to do something, and it did, with the formation of Nigerian Governors’ Wives Against Gender-Based Violence (NGW-AGBV) – a pressure group that prevailed upon Nigerian governors across the country to declare a state of emergency on issues of sexual and gender-based violence.
Agitations by their very nature eventually taper off, but laws once set in place with the singular purpose of bringing succour to victims of violations can be eternal. The NGW-AGBV understood this from the get-go.
“We need laws and the political will to enforce them,” said Mrs Fayemi.
Laws however have a way of coming up against cultural and religious bottlenecks, especially in Nigeria where disparate nation-states with often contrasting interests and priorities make up the federation.
Dr Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu, wife to Kebbi State Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, understands this.
The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act which many states, especially in the North, continue to take their slow time in passing has been a victim of these differences in priority.
“We have had to bring in the council of Ulama, who are the religious leaders that usually oppose the laws,” she said, “we can’t be a country that tolerates sexual violence.”
While legal measures are put in place, a cultural revolution that ensures men and boys, as well as women and girls, understand and stand their ground on the bodily autonomy of one another is sorely needed for Nigeria.
We are still in a state of emergency with regards to sexual and gender-based violence but we need to act like it even beyond the work that NGW-AGBV is doing. The onus is on everyone.