There has been an increase in cases of violence against women across the country since the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic was put in place months ago.They range from rape, domestic violence, maltreatment of widows and sexual harassment amongst others.
In this interview with The Graphic’s Aisha Audu, the Chairperson of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, Kogi chapter advocates for the establishment of a Sexual Response Center, strict enforcement of existing laws and promulgation of tougher sanctions against offenders as well as the need for victims of rape and other related crimes to break the silence and speak up.
Can we meet you ma?
My name is Ajuma Lillian Okolo. I’m the newly elected Chairperson of Federation of International Female lawyers ( FIDA) Kogi state Chapter and I assumed office in march 2020.
As the newly elected chairperson of FIDA, what will be the focus of the new administration for the next 3 years?
Our mandate is to protect, preserve and promote the rights of women and children. We want to increase the visibility of FIDA in all the nooks and crannies of Kogi state. We want women to have access to justice. That will be our focus for the next three years.
How will you assess the role of FIDA in curbing domestic violence in Kogi state?
We have tried over the years to sensitize women and the general society on the need to bring domestic violence to the barest minimum. I can say that we have tried but we are not there yet. We are still projecting these objectives.
Since your inception in office, how many cases of domestic violence have you handled?
I can say that we have handled about 50 cases both formally and informally since I assumed office in March although not all cases are documented because some people do not want to go all the way. So once we settle cases like this it’s still accrues to us as cases handled. On a weekly basis we get about 5 cases but since the lockdown started the figures has been rising, but we want to thank God that in recent weeks the figures have been decreasing.
Out of these 50 cases, how many has been successfully handled?
I will say about half of these cases because in some of the cases, the men usually don’t want interferences in their households. They even turn us away out rightly. Also since the activities of courts have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve not really taken any case to the court. We hope to do so as soon as normalcy returns.
What do you think is responsible for the rise in rape cases and violence towards women in the past 6 months?
Even though there is out rightly no reason for any individual to rape or assault women, I will still say the economic situation of the country has really not helped matters. The lockdown has also in a way contributed to the rise in such cases as most individuals are idle now which might lead to them thinking of such heinous crimes instead of channeling their energy towards something positive.
There are those who are advocating for stiffer penalties against rapists. Some members of the society are opting for the death penalty whereas others are saying they should be castrated. What is your view on this?
What FIDA has always been advocating for is stiffer penalties. Although we cannot say what form these penalties should take but stiffer penalties should be enacted in order to dissuade other individuals from following suit.
Speaking as a lawyer, I want to hear your personal opinion on what you think they should do to a rapist?
To me, I feel every rapist should be ostracized from the society. The punishment could be life imprisonment. If such penalties are enacted, I think it will serve as a form of deterrent.
A lot of victims of rape and other crimes are afraid to speak out. In what ways can FIDA give a voice to these individuals as a form of support?
FIDA as an association has taken some requests to the federal government and part of those requests is to establish a sexual response centre in every state. I think when this is carried out, women will be bolder to speak out because one of the things that prevent women from speaking out is how will they afford legal fees and also the stigma. But we have been sensitizing the society, this crime that was committed is against the woman and not the man, if as a matter of fact anybody should be stigmatized against; I think it should be the man and not the woman who is the victim.
Why are victims of rape always afraid of speaking out?
They are afraid of stigmatization and the embarrassment their family would face from the society. Most of the time they feel it would be more difficult to win the case if the rapist is from influential family, but we are encouraging them to speak out and should be willing to get help from the right quarters because we are here to stand by them and make sure the culprit is brought to book .
How is Fida partnering stakeholders, Agencies and Ngos to bring an end to this nightmare?
FIDA partners with other NGO’s and agencies through sensitization and campaigns. We did one sensitization just 2 weeks ago and we intend to do more as the lockdown eases off.
What is Fida doing to break the cultural and religious barriers hampering women from actively participating in politics in Nigeria?
FIDA is non partisan but we encourage women to be the best in any field they find themselves and excel whether politics or otherwise.
What is the relationship between Fida and the security agents in the state as regards the handling of all the cases related to violence against women?
We have a cordial relationship with the security agencies especially the police. There is a family unit in the police and we always synergized with them. In fact the police have been very helpful and cooperating in that aspect.
What can you tell us about the Child Act Law that was domesticated in Kogi state?
The implementation of the child rights act has led to the establishment of family court in the high courts and magistrate courts. Many offenders have been prosecuted under the same law.
Are you then saying your relationship with Ngos and Agencies is cordial?
Yes we have a cordial relationship with other NGO’s and agencies; we will also intensify efforts to increase the synergy with us.
What advice do you have for women on how to protect themselves against rapists and other related offenders?
Our advice to women is to speak out against domestic violence and every ill. They should seek for help and justice. FIDA is available to help every woman. Our office is located at Ministry of Justice, State Secretariat. We are always available, our numbers are: 08059518236, 09061789213, 08036353940.ss