By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, has alleged that about three thousand, six hundred girls were raped during the period of lockdown, explaining that her ministry received reports of more than one hundred rape cases from each of the Commissioners of Women Affairs in the thirty six states of the Federation.
The Minister stated stated this when she paid a visit to the Deputy Senate President of Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, at the National Assembly complex yesterday.
She commended Senator Omo-Agege for sponsoring the Sexual Harassment Bill in the Senate, saying it will go a long way to protect the rights of women in Nigeria. She noted that by this development, lawmakers of the 9th Senate have written their names in gold.
Tallen however condemned the upsurge in rape cases nationwide, expressing shock that reports she received from Commissioners of Women Affairs across the 36 states of the Federation revealed the need to urgently tackle the social problem.
She also applauded the Nigeria Governors Forum for declaring a state of emergency on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, even as she called for more legislation to protect the girl-child and women in the country.
In his remarks, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, said the approval of the Sexual Harassment Bill by the Senate is in furtherance of its Legislative Agenda, which seeks the protection of women’s rights.
He noted that when signed into law, it would not only send a strong signal to those who may want to abuse women but ensure that students are not at the mercy of ‘sexual predators’, especially in the higher institutions of learning, where the vice has become prevalent.
Omo-Agege commended his colleagues for looking beyond cultural, ethnic and religious differences to approve the bill, just as he called on the Minister and her entourage to equally reach out to the House of Representatives to immediately concur to the Bill.
He said, “This bill was conceived in the Eighth Senate. The reason we did it then is not any different from the reason we pushed it again in this Ninth Senate. But let me just say that we received overwhelming support of our colleagues who came to the conclusion that it was right that we did something about this because this is not an epidemic but a pandemic.
“For most of us who went through higher institutions, we know what happened. It is just that some would rather see it as business as usual. But having convinced my colleagues that this should not be business as usual and we needed to arrest the situation, we had to rise above our cultural, ethnic and religious differences to be able to make the case that an attack of this nature on our daughters, sisters, wives in Warri is not any different from an attack in Sokoto, Maiduguri or anywhere.
“And we needed to move past that culture of lecturers who see our young women as perquisites of their offices. And we thought we should put a stop to that. The bill is one of the few bills that was sponsored almost by all the senators in the Ninth Senate. This is not necessarily an Omo-Agege bill but a bill of the Ninth Senate. We took this decision in furtherance of our Legislative Agenda which includes, amongst others, the protection of women’s rights.
“We are also in support of strengthening our anti-rape laws both under the Criminal Code and Penal Code. We will also make it in such a way that there will be better appetite for enforcement of the laws, once we create the enabling environment that encourages the prosecutors to prosecute it, the better for us”.
On Affirmative Action, he said the Senate would examine what obtains in other jurisdictions and make informed decisions.
Female parliamentarians who joined Senator Omo-Agege at the meeting include the Chairperson, Senate Committee on Women Affairs, Senator Betty Apiafi; Senator Stella Oduah and Senator Akon Eyakenyi.
Note that the Bill to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions, 2020, which was passed by the Senate at its sitting on July 7, 2020, prohibits sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions and prescribes jail term ranging from two to 14 years for various degrees of offences.
Sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate and 106 other senators, the proposed law also prescribes N5million fine for offenders.
When signed into law, any educator who whistles or winks at a student or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique would be liable to two years imprisonment or a fine of N1million, if found guilty.
This comes on the heels of commendation by the United Nations Women (UN Women) on the approval of the Bill by the Senate.
In a letter dated July 7, 2020, signed by Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS and addressed to the Deputy President of the Senate, she noted that “UN Women stands ready to support federal and state level efforts to implement this important legislation in the period ahead, working closely with women’s constituencies, students, educational institutions and other relevant stakeholders”.