By Ese Awhotu
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said that the Federal Government will collaborate with state governments and other stakeholders to deal decisively with the problem of rape and gender-based violence in Nigeria.
Osinbajo noted that every form of sexual assault “are blemishes on the collective humanity and dignity of Nigerians as a people and a Nation.”
He stated this Sunday at a virtual meeting organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the Scourge of Rape, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria.
According to a statement by Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Osinbajo said “We will work with all actors to detect and punish the perpetrators of these sickening acts and work even harder to prevent their occurrence.”
Specifically, the Vice President further said the fight against rape and gender violence would be driven down to the states through the National Economic Council (NEC), which he chairs.
“We will continue to use the platform of the National Economic Council to encourage States yet to domesticate the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act of 2015 and the Child Rights Act of 2003 to do so.
“Gender-based violence, rape and sexual assaults are a blemish on our collective humanity and dignity as a people and a Nation,” he added.
“While violence against women has always been a challenge in Nigeria, the COVID-19 lockdown has occasioned a steep increase in sexual and gender-based violence across the country.
“I am told that between March 23, 2020 – May 29, 2020, the FCT Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Response Team received an overwhelming 105 incidents; an average of 13 incidents per week, up from the usual 5 to 6 incidents per week, pre-COVID-19.
“Also, a few days ago 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 are still under investigation.
“What these figures show is an escalation of an already disgraceful trend of violence against women and girls in the country,” Mr Osinbajo observed.
He referenced the rapes and murders of Queen Igbinevbo, a pregnant woman in her home in Edo State on May 20, 2020, and Vera Omozuwa, a 22-year old student of University of Benin on May 27, 2020.
According to the VP, there is also the case of Barakat Bello, an 18-year old female student of Federal College of Animal Health and Production in Ibadan on June 1, 2020, among others, saying these assaults “should never have happened and must not be allowed to continue.”
Prpfessor Osinbajo reassured that President Muhammadu Buhari and State Governors recently undertook to take drastic actions against gender-based violence.
“On June 11, State Governors, under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), agreed to declare a state of emergency on rape and gender-based violence against women and children, while renewing their commitment to ensuring that offenders face the full weight of the law.
“Similarly, the President, in his June 12 address to Nigerians, reiterated government’s determination to fight gender-based violence through the instrumentality of the law and awareness creation,’’ he said.
According to him, there is need to look beyond just legislation to fix the problem, but rather, interrogate the deeply dysfunctional cultures, the systemic flaws in our institutions and the perverse social norms which enable sexual and gender-based violence.
Present at the virtual meeting was the Women Affairs Minister, Dame Paullen Tallen, the Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, representatives of the United Nations and Civil Society Organizations.