Dear Nigeria: What To Understand About Gender Based Violence? Lessons For Federal, State And Local Governments
For far too long, across continental Africa it is almost culturally and socially acceptable to abuse a female in her capacity as a wife, fiancée, mistress, girlfriend, student, co-worker, patient, worshiper, inmate, or stranger. Nigeria which is the focus of this writing is a place where gender-based violence remains a common problem.
In Africa and across the globe, males have been victims of abuse and violence by females but remains rare compared to female victimization by males. About 97% of abusers in gender abuse incidents are men with women and girls as victims. In general, every 15 seconds across the world a woman is assaulted or beaten. Domestic violence is most likely to take place between 6 pm and 6 am. Women and children exposed to gender-based violence have been known to experience depression, anxiety, trauma, aggression, controlling behaviors, pregnancy and birth complications like disabilities, substance abuse, eating disorders, insomnia and even suicide attempts.
In Nigeria, there are various laws addressing gender-based violence/violence against females. Historically, the criminal code applied in the South, and the Penal Code in force in the Northern part of Nigeria.
Both laws did not adequately protect females from various kinds of abuse and violence as patriarchal attitudes, customary rules, traditional customs, and religious terms generally prevailed in matters of males and females’ relationships.
Under both codes, a wife cannot claim marital rape or sexual abuse as it is traditionally considered the right of the husband to sexually use the wife at any time.
In the penal code, which is applicable in the North, husbands are allowed to beat wives as a form of punishment. Which is also observed in duos in cohabitating relationship. In both codes, civil remedies which could be helpful to women were realistically not available.
To make some improvements in these regulations, a federal law, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, was passed in 2015, yet only 16 or so of the 36 states, many of which are in the North have thus far adopted the legislation.
Despite the modernization of gender-based violence laws, cases of abuse and violence against women continues to rise.
While the phenomenon of gender-based violence is pervasive around the world the cultural psychology of the "battered wife" continues to play out between Nigerian men and women not just in Nigeria but in abroad. Men have this habitual mindset of entitlement through which women are perceived as domestic secondhand helpers or secondhand aides, as embodied in the African customs.
In our present age of social media which serves as agent of social change, females are now more aware of their natural and human rights. They advocate for themselves, empower themselves, and they are continuously speaking out against domestic and sexual violence in their various roles and across communities in very bold ways.
Gender centered violence experiences in general comes in form of what I illustrate as physical, sexual, financial, and psychological abuse (PSFPA, pronounced as pspa) at the hands of males (e.g., husbands, boyfriends, clerics, coworkers, classmates, teachers, family members, bosses, authority members, officers, and others).
The most common acts of violence against women in Nigeria include sexual harassment, dating violence, verbal abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, physical violence, harmful traditional practices, emotional abuse, monetary deprivation, physical rejection, abandonment, isolation, abduction, victim blaming, accusations, and cultural anguish.
The challenges of domestic/gender-based violence not only include female victims and their families, but the fear of stigmatization also remains. The criminal justice system hardly holds perpetrators accountable which is complicated by police extortion, and distrust for the courts as such, many victims choose not to report cases to the authorities.
As a reminder is a 2020 reported horrific case of rape and murder of 22-year-old Uwavera Omozuwa, a 100-level student of Microbiology at the University of Benin. The victim’s sister in a live video stated how her family informed the police of the rape and murder of Omozuwa at a Christian church in Benin city only to be shocked by the police response. The police at the station reportedly made a sarcastic comment and demanded bribes before investigating the case. “They asked my father if he was the first person (whose) daughter would be raped.”
There is the recent case of Ini-Ubong Umoren, a 26-year-old, a philosophy graduate from the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom who was lured through online by a 20-year Ezekiel Akpan to his residence, under the guise of giving her a job only to rape and kill her by his own admission.
Within a few seconds of her abduction, Umoren sent her friend, Ms. Umoh Uduak a one-second audio record on WhatsApp, where Uduak heard her screaming. She then immediately raised an alarm on Twitter and alerted Umoren ‘s sister, Ifiok who quickly went to the police station to report the case.
Shockingly to the sister the police reportedly told her it had not been up to 24 hours since she disappeared. A wrong assertion by the police, as she was taken hostage, and not missing as the general location was known to the sister who provided it to the police. Umoren 's sister returned back the next day only to be told by the police that they couldn't go with their van, that she has to rent a van and buy fuel.
There is the case of Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi now a women’s rights activist. While serving with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 2011 stated that for refusing to take bribe to register underage children for voting purpose she was set up and raped by a community member. When she reported the incident to the police about her sexual assault, “what they requested for was bizarre…they asked to see blood still gushing out from my private part and some other irrelevant…” The police station she said did not have a rape kit or any other collection method required to confirm rape had occurred. So, no police investigation or arrest took place even when she knew who raped her.
Just a few days ago, a pastor in Akwa Ibom State, Ukechukwu Enoch Christopher reportedly killed his wife, Patience Christopher. He secretly buried her remains in a shallow grave inside the church which is a rented apartment. His little children became curious about their missing mother who supposedly travelled according to their father and raised an alarm to neighbors, who then informed the youth president of the area. He then led other youths to conduct a search and discovered the shallow grave and presented the pastor to the police. He confessed to the police to have beaten her to death because of the unresolved differences between them.
We can continue to do better in terms of reducing intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and violence against women especially. I therefore strongly suggest the following points.
Federal, State and Local governments will need to provide resources that communities can use to provide speedy re-housing for survivors of gender-based violence, that include emergency transportation and safe emergency shelter especially in domestic cases.
There is need for official policies regarding gender-based violence especially domestic violence or intimate partner violence. There is need for legal hotline that is a free helpline with a 24/7 confidential and anonymous presence to make available free crisis support, legal advice, and referrals for victims of domestic violence to safe environments.
Education about dating and sexual violence, stalking and information regarding injunctions for protection, and other civil legal matters are needed.
Non-English speaking hotline callers should also have access to language interpreters and pidgin English assistance.
There is need to create emergency shelter, supportive residences, safe environment as well as counseling staff.
There is need for advocacy programs, prevention counseling and intervention programs, health facility or crisis center with trained staff that will know how to care for survivors of sexual assault and offers services like sexual assault forensic exams.
Hospitals both public and private must be governed by legislation to provide emergency access and care to victims of rape, domestic violence, or other related offenses.
Hospital staff must not ask for payment in such emergency periods as the State government will reimburse hospitals.
Attending medical and nursing staff will need training on forensic examination for evidence collection and preservation. In other words, there is need for designated hospitals that will “do rape kits” — the forensic exams performed after a sexual assault. A rape kit serves as a package of items used by medical employees for gathering and preserving evidence. (e.g. clothes worn at the time of incident, saliva swabs for DNA analysis, semen, blood, hairs, fibers, and other debris from the crime scene).
In all cases of any type of gender-based violence or abuse against women and girls, police officer response in terms of swiftness is crucial. Immediate emergency helpline, such as a three-digit number to help reach the dispatcher and police for urgent help need to be fully developed and efficient.
There is need for education and outreach programs in the communities for rural and urban dwellers, community and traditional heads, and people with mental and physical disabilities.
Superstitious beliefs-triggered violence is widespread in African societies with women and girls as suspects leading to stigmas and accusations, therefore educational information is needed for reorientation purposes.
There is need to create training on fairness and gender violence for judges, magistrates, defense lawyers, prosecutors, police, and other criminal justice staff. Training that should include positive attitudes towards sexual assault and its victims.
There is need to establish offender’s preventive and corrective mandated anger management skills counseling programs. For gender-based violence convicts, there is need for the courts to give stronger sanctions against domestic violence especially. The courts need training and encouragement regarding issuing civil harassment restraining orders to reduce threats to life.
There is need for domestic violence information and resource guides or brochures for public education.
There is need for child support training for judicial officers and family services programs in terms of guidance and procedures for child support payments and child custody.
This type of services will reduce tension between two contending parents, in terms of non-custodial parent payments to the custodial parent and visitation arrangements.
Gender based violence like including rape, battery, sexual assault, gender-related killing, stalking, teen dating violence, and harassment of females continue to be most under-reported set of crimes in Africa. We need to tie all the information stated in this writing and let us use them so we can make progress in the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls especially.
Prof. John Egbeazien Oshodi, an American based Police/Prison Scientist and Forensic/Clinical/Legal Psychologist. A government Consultant on matters of forensic-clinical adult/child psychological services in the USA; Chief Educator and Clinician at the Transatlantic Enrichment and Refresher Institute, an Online Lifelong Center for Personal, Professional and Career Development. The Founder of the Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi Foundation, Center for Psychological Health and Behavioral Change in African settings. In 2011, he introduced the State-of-the-Art Forensic Psychology into Nigeria through N.U.C and the Nasarawa State University where he served in the Department of Psychology as an Associate Professor. The Development Professor and International Liaison Consultant at the African University of Benin, and a Virtual Faculty at the ISCOM University, Benin of Republic. Author of over 36 academic publications/creations, at least 200 public opinion writeups on African issues, and various books.
Prof. Oshodi was born in Uromi, Edo State, Nigeria to parents with almost 40 years of police/corrections service, respectively. Periodically visits home for scholastic and humanitarian works. [email protected]