6th Network Conference Of Sexual Assault Referral Centers Organised By The EU Funded Rule Of Law
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AT THE 6th NETWORK CONFERENCE OF SEXUAL ASSAULT REFERRAL CENTRES ORGANIZED BY THE EU FUNDED RULE OF LAW AND ANTI-CORRUPTION PROGRAMME, IMPLEMENTED BY THE BRITISH COUNCIL, DECEMBER 9 2020
Thank you very much for inviting me to the 6th Network Conference of Sexual Assault Referral Centres to review progress made in ending sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria.
I think we have a good opportunity here to commend the British Council and its collaborating institutions for the incremental establishment of 29 Sexual Assault Referral Centres for survivors of sexual assault in 17 States, including the Federal Capital Territory, under the DFID funded Justice for All Programme, the EU funded Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme and the Managing Conflict in Nigeria Programme.
The state of affairs today remains quite dire. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown appear to have exacerbated sexual and gender-based violence cases, not just in Nigeria but across the world. There is at least anecdotal evidence that pre-existing gender biased social norms, combined with increased isolation and economic stress, rendered vulnerable women and children even more vulnerable to abuse.
In June 2020, the Inspector General of Police disclosed that the police had recorded about 717 rape incidents across the country between January and May 2020; and that 799 suspects had so far been arrested, 631 cases conclusively investigated and charged to court while 52 cases were still under investigation.
Also, between March 23, 2020–May 29, 2020, the FCT Sexual and Gender Based Violence Response Team received an overwhelming 105 reports; an average of 13 reports per week, up from the usual 5 to 6 reports per week, pre-COVID-19.
As worrisome as these figures are, it is a comforting fact that as long as people have access to justice, they can report. Increase in reporting does not necessarily mean an increase in crime, it could also mean an increase in trust in response agencies and an increase in the belief that the appropriate investigative actions will be taken.
It is for this reason that on June 11, governors, under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors Forum, agreed to declare a state of emergency on rape and gender-based violence against women and children. They also renewed their commitment to ensuring that offenders faced the full weight of the law. Similarly, Mr. President has consistently reiterated government’s determination to fight Gender Based Violence through the instrumentality of the law and awareness creation.
We must applaud the 17 States across the nation have adopted our most revolutionary gender-responsive law. However, to further tackle gender-based violence, we need to look beyond legislation and focus on the deep, systemic dysfunction of cultures and social norms that not only enable gender-based violence but also allow it to fester.
A consistent effort to utilize and translate data into policy and program through enhanced capacity building, is critical to addressing the cultural norms and systemic phenomena that result in sexual and gender-based violence.
We must all take part in creating safe spaces where all can thrive. I am told that the Sexual Assault Referral Centres are equipped to provide survivors of sexual abuse with emergency medical treatment; forensic medical examination; counselling; and support in contacting the Police and social welfare, for free. Support services need to be available not only during times of crisis but also in the days, weeks, months and years that follow an assault.
It is our expectation that these referral centres will help increase the conviction rates of rape and other sexual assault conviction cases in Nigeria through the provision of forensic evidence to support prosecution in court or help preserve evidence, even where survivors are not ready to report.
While we make certain that perpetrators are identified and punished, the greater part of our efforts should go into ensuring that we do all in our power to prevent the abuse from happening in the first place. This we can do by identifying risk factors and intervening decisively to deal with them before abuse happens. And where abuse does happen, we must ensure an effective and coordinated response.
Since 2016, the Rule of Law Advisory Team in the Office of the Vice President has been taking a range of steps towards achieving a strong justice response in supporting survivors.
Recognizing that a comprehensive multi-sectoral service is fundamental to the effective response to sexual and gender-based violence, the Team, with the assistance of strategic partners like the EU Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, supported the establishment of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Response Teams across the country to ensure effective coordination of responses to cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
To enhance access to justice, in November 2019, we secured a toll-free emergency number and Short Code for the FCT- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Response Team, with the generous support of Airtel.
The Team continues to work closely with key line ministries, donor partners and civil society organizations to implement practical solutions, models of excellence and standardized operations that support survivors and punish perpetrators. We are committed to advancing effective approaches to keeping women and girls safe through evidence-based interventions.
We must commend the incredible strength and courage shown by women who have experienced gender-based violence and called out the perpetrator; and also, those who, for many understandable reasons, have not shared their experiences. They have our empathy and understanding.
To all our frontline actors in this enormous task, thank you for all that you do, and for the great work that you continue to do over the years, and for the invaluable support you provide to people when they are at their most vulnerable; for delivering so much and through your efforts, for creating a better Nigeria.
Thank you very much, God bless you.