By Michael Oche
Recent successes in prosecution of perpetrators of Gender Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH) by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) with support from Solidarity Centre AFL-CIO offers an insight into the torturous journey on the advocacy to end GBVH in Nigeria.
But most importantly, it offers hope for further progress in Nigeria’s bid to end GBVH.
In October, Nasiru Umaru, 44, was remanded in KiriKiri correctional center by a Magistrate Court in Lagos, after he was accused of sexually assaulting a minor. The girl was helping her mother make extra money by selling goods at the popular Mile 12 market.
Last Wednesday, Asiru Mohamed, a 23-year-old man was again remanded in prison custody by a Lagos Magistrate Court for allegedly defiling a minor.
Both men now face a life sentence if found guilty of the crime.
Five years ago, that would seem impossible. Awareness level was low, and the lack of capacity of stakeholders including that of labour leaders was a huge setback to ensure offenders were prosecuted.
“We have a data situation room which we have been using to collect from 2020 till date and we have reported 5,197 cases. Fatal cases are 160 and closed cases are 331 and then opened cases are 972 and out of this huge number of 5,197, only 16 are convicted,” Minister of women affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen said in November when she hosted the European Union (EU) Ambassador, Ms Samuel Isopi
Civil society organizations (CSOs) and feminist leaders pressed the government to do more, but they often lacked the resources to coordinate and reach larger audiences.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated gender-based violence globally and made the case for action even more dire the government declared GBVH a national emergency.
Despite many public pledges by Governors, enforcement of laws that criminalises sexualassault was inconsistent at best, and programs were often underfunded.
Fast forward to this December 2021, many stakeholders, including labour leaders now have deeper understanding of gender based violence and harassment.
Offenders are now getting prosecuted, just as more stakeholders are getting to know further about the meaning of GBVH based on ILO Convention 190; the root causes, impact and forms of gender based violence.
With support from Solidarity Centre AFL-CIO, the NLC has trained a task force on trauma counselling, effective police reporting channels and opportunities for pro bono legal representation.
“These campaigns helped to raise awareness, complementing the work that’s long formed the foundation of progress in grassroots organizing,” admitted Comrade Agnes Sessi, the Lagos State Chairperson of the NLC.
The advocacy has now received a boost, with stakeholders from law enforcement and civil society organizations being incorporated into the advocacy campaign to end Gender Based Violence and Harassment in world of work in Nigeria.
Although prosecution still remains low, but it is no coincidence that three offenders around popular Mile 12 markets in the last one month have been charged to court and now face life jail terms. It is a testimony to the work the NLC with support from its partner, the Solidarity Centre AFL-CIO has put into training women around the market.
It has been a long road, but more Nigerians now know what to do when sexual assault happens and many stakeholders have received training on how to report to the Police. There is hope for further progress towards ending the menace of GBVH.