Concern over poor access to justice by SGBV survivors in Benue State.

By Hameed Oyegbade 

A non-profit organisation, Lawyers Alert has expressed concern over poor access to justice for survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Benue State in spite of the passage of Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law 2019.

At the press conference, Lawyers Alert's Senior Legal Officer, Barrister Solumtochukwu Precious Ozobulu said 80 percent of human rights violations in Benue State are gender-based related and that less than 10 percent of these survivors of gender-based violence access justice.

Lawyers Alert called on Benue State Governor Rev Fr Dr. Hyacinth Alia to expedite action on the review of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law and put mechanism in place for the operationalization of the Sexual Assaults Referral Centre (SARC).

Barr. Solumtochukwu Ozobulu said "We call for an urgent review of the VAPP Law in order to enhance access to justice for vulnerable persons especially women and girls. The review of the law will benefit over 100, 000 (one hundred thousand) women and girls who lack access to justice and other benefits of this legislation immensely."

The 8th Benue State Assembly passed the VAPP law 2019 which criminalized all forms of violence against persons. According to Solumtochukwu Ozobulu, Lawyers Alert is working with certain members of the 10th Benue Assembly to see that the law is reviewed. Solumtochukwu Ozobulu said the passage of this law sought to protect vulnerable persons especially Women and girls.

However, the implementation of this laudable legislation has not been as smooth as earlier envisaged. Lawyers Alert said "Despite the passage of this law, violence against persons especially Women and girls has persisted and sadly, survivors of gender-based violence in Benue State hardly access justice owing to limitations and gaps in the legislation."

"It is estimated that over 80 % of human rights violations in Benue State are gender-based violence related. Interestingly, less than 10% of these survivors of gender-based violence access justice."

Lawyers Alert said this situation defeats the aim and purpose of the law as passed because of certain gaps that exist in the legislation. "The law did not provide for the establishment of a sexual Assault Referral Centre and the modus of operation of the centre. No monitoring committee for the Law towards ensuring its effective implementation. Ultimately, no trust fund to be used in implementing the law and protection of victims and survivors."

"Sexual Assault Referral Center (SARC): SARC is typically an acronym for a specialized medical and support facility where survivors of sexual assault can receive medical care, evidence collection (forensic examinations), counselling, and support services including access to justice."

"These centers are designed to provide comprehensive care to survivors while respecting their rights and privacy. After a protracted engagement with the Ministries of Women Affairs, justice and other relevant government agencies, the Centre was finally established and commissioned in January of 2023 with much fanfare and glamour. Apart from the physical structure, nothing is on the ground to facilitate the functionality of the SARC".

" There are no equipment, no specialists, support staff and other important resources that can activate the centre to fulfil its need for survivors of gender based violence as intended. Ironically, as the delay in the take off the SARC persists, the cases and incidences of gender-based violence continue to rise in the face of acute shortage of support for the survivors and victims of sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence. It is pertinent that we ask for the operationalization of the SARC as a matter of urgency."

Lawyers Alert also called on the governor to sign in into the Open Government Partnership to promote transparency in governance and ensure inclusive governance amongst other benefits of OGP.

"The newly elected governor of Benue in his inaugural speech unveiled a gamut of promises including the establishment of Sexual Assault Referral Center (SARC), Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons to their ancestral homes, signing up on OGP for fiscal transparency, tackling insecurity challenges, revival of agricultural production. We want him to expedite action on all these promises", Solumtochukwu-Ozobulu.

"The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international initiative that promotes transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in government. OGP was officially launched in 2011 and has since grown to include over 75 participating countries including Nigeria which signed in 2017.

"As at June 2023, about 25 States in Nigeria had signed up to the partnership. Benue is yet to sign up to the partnership. Signing up to the OGP is very crucial owing to the fact that Benue has weak fiscal accountability and inclusivity systems in governance.

"The signing up of the OGP will create a platform of partnership between the People and government working in tandem in terms of decision making on key governance issues which is the hallmark of democracy. It will also increase accountability, citizen engagement, innovation, trust-building, collaboration, economic development, improved services, inclusive governance, environmental sustainability, and international recognition. These benefits can help create more responsive and effective governance that will better serve the needs of Benue People at all levels.

Lawyers Alert called on the Benue State government to address the issues for the benefit of all the vulnerable persons in Benue state, especially Women, Children, People living with disabilities.

"We thank you gentlemen and ladies of the press and other individual present at this meeting for coming. May the good Lord guide you as you go back to your various media houses and destination", Solumtochukwu-Ozobulu said.

About Lawyers Alert
Lawyers Alert is a Legal Human Rights Organisation that is non-partisan and non-profit made up substantially of Lawyers and other professionals committed to the entrenchment of democracy, rule of law and socio-economic development of residents of Nigeria with particular emphasis on women. Our Vision is “A world where women and vulnerable groups are free from injustice”. While our mission is “To empower women and vulnerable groups through knowledge of their rights and accessible means of enforcing the same”.