Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

The Latest NOIPolls Tells Me More About Nigeria & Biafra Than Buhari’s Popularity

November 10, 2015

Latest governance poll results released by NOIPolls have revealed that the President’s approval rating for October 2015 stood at 80 percent.

This represents a 2-points increase from September 2015 (78 percent) and a 10-points increase from June 2015 (70 percent) when his first job performance was appraised.

Findings indicate that the increase in the President’s job performance is mostly centred on the perceived ‘improved electricity supply’ (21 percent) and ‘improved security’ (17 percent).

Analysis on the President’s performance by geo-political zones indicated that the North-West zone (92 percent: 57 percent + 35 percent) and North-East zone (87 percent: 48 percent + 39 percent) had the highest percentage of respondents who approved of the President’s job performance.

On the other hand, the South-South zone (17 percent: 13 percent + 4 percent) and South-East zone (13 percent: 8 percent + 5 percent) had the largest proportion of respondents who disapproved of the President’s job performance.

Analysis by geo-political zone revealed that the North-West (82 percent: 47 percent + 35 percent) and North-East zones (69 percent: 42 percent + 27 percent) accounted for the larger proportion of Nigerians who experienced an improvement in electricity supply, whereas the South-East (33 percent: 24 percent + 9 percent) and South-South zones (30 percent: 23 percent + 7 percent) accounted for the larger ratio of Nigerians who reported a poor state of electricity supply to their households over the past month.

In conclusion, 8 in 10 Nigerians approved the President’s job performance in October 2015. Also, the President achieved an average (3) rating in terms of his performance in National Security, Education, Healthcare, Infrastructure, Conflict Resolution, Agriculture and Food Security but he performed poorly in Job creation. Finally, majority (62 percent) of Nigerians surveyed reported that electricity supply to their household has improved over the past one month.

Note the geopolitical differences and think about it in the context of the current agitations in the South East.

the people of the region are expressing their grievances. Nigeria needs to start listening. WE really really need to talk about the Nigerian Civil War and start calling it that too. When peaceful change is impossible, violent change becomes inevitable.

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Have You Heard? Every Woman Has A Right To Virginity!

October 16, 2013

A proposal in a South Sumatra district of Indonesia to make virginity tests mandatory on all girls entering high school has been rejected by the education minister and members of Indonesia’s civil society. The chief education officer justified the proposal saying ‘every woman has a right to virginity’. Read more about it here.

Did they reject the proposal too quickly? I like the sound  it  – ‘every woman has a right to virginity’. We could do things with that. Think about it, think about the implications of making virginity every woman’s right. Would that be like the right to life? Would it mean that you’re not allowed to take it from a woman or that you are somehow expected to provide the conditions for her to protect and exercise that right?

So women wouldn’t have to get married and have children ever again and no one can make them or if someone did they would be violating their right to virginity? Good bye to consensual sex forever? After all euphanesia and suicide are still murder right?  So if its a human right you can’t marry off your daughter, niece or house girl or ask them to marry. If a woman is raped it won’t only be a crime but a violation of her human right to her virginity and she should be entitled to compensation.

If female virginity is a right  who can we sue for loss of virginity? fathers? husbands? schools? Because if they check a woman’s virginity before she enrolls they must check it before she graduates too and be held responsible for its loss while a student. They can’t be allowed to return damaged goods can they now and if they do they will be held accountable and made to pay.

Thinking of female virginity as a right is both empowering and demoralizing. if you had thought of it as a right before you lost it wouldn’t you have protested on the streets before letting some one take it from you?  I see it now, millions of women across the globe marching in solidarity proclaiming their right to their virginity while men stand by and wonder when if ever they are going to get some sex again.

Why do I find this image more ‘feminist’ than the slut walks and the naked exhibitionism of liberated pop stars? Perhaps because it just strikes me as so much more you know anti-man. My dated internal picture of feminism still thinks of it as a revolutionary street movement against the patriarchy, what we once called ‘women’s lib’ (I am after all a child of the 70’s)

The first case will definitely be interesting, which body will have jurisdiction? National courts? Regional courts? Special tribunals? Of course it will take many years maybe even decades before a treaty can be drafted, signed and domesticated (progress on CEDAW is an example) but it will keep women busy and help them build essential advocacy, administrative and leadership skills in the mean time. Win win.

Nigeria Are We Really Listening Or Just Reacting With A Knee Jerk

October 2, 2013

When I read some of the comments to local articles on Nigeria, Boko Haram and religion what strikes me is the depth of bitterness that a lot of people from the south feel towards the north. Lets forget for a minute what the politicians are saying, politicians are politicians because they’ve learnt to speak out of both sides of their mouths at once and be politically correct.  Meanwhile most of the responses to those bitter comments are down right dismissive, disrespectful,  as hostile and antagonistic and provocatively insulting.

Dare I say it? It sounds like the language commonly used between the formerly oppressed and the former oppressor. What does it say about our history or as some would insist to point out the perception of it? And what does that portend for our nation?

I know when Jonathan was elected a lot of people voted for him simply because they felt that an Ijaw man to have come so far in our dysfunctional nation with its decades of lop sided leadership  was too much of a feat to go unappreciated and unsupported. I heard these sentiments from simple people, unsophisticated people that  don’t think in complicated Big Picture concepts of nation building, political economy and global imperialism.

Many of these simple folk also  asked how they were supposed to trust a northerner to develop their own communities and regions when they had so glaringly underdeveloped their own. This was long before the upsurge in Boko Haram activities that has led to our current appraisal and appreciation of the north’s underdevelopment and the relationship it has to this violent insurgency.

I’m not questioning or judging the right or wrong of these sentiments, I merely want to look at what they mean and what we as the so called leaders of this nation are making of the people’s sentiments. Some people obviously perceived the status quo of leadership as it was as an oppression rightly or wrongly and see Jonathan’s presidency as a triumph against that oppressor and oppression and act and speak accordingly. It doesn’t help that their perceived oppressors seem more intent on returning to the status quo than sympathetically addressing those very real concerns.

A national identity is impossible until all Nigerians feel like equal citizens. Any sympathy for the north will be overwhelmed unless the causes real or imagined of this bitterness are addressed and sincere efforts made by all to build a truly federal republic where all nationalities (and I think it will be well to stop calling them tribes or ethnic groups) are recognized as equals, as capable, as important and as contributors. A national conference is a good step if only its members aren’t only the people tat say what we want to hear. Maybe a truth and reconciliation conference is what we need.

Just saying.

Report Abuse Button on Twitter Campaign?

July 30, 2013

This landed in my inbox today

Add a Report Abuse Button to Tweets

I wish I could have a button in real life that would make abuse go away. While I get the arguments for this button I’ve heard some critics say the button itself will end up abused. When I meet someone abusive on Twitter I report, block and move on

Of course I have not experienced as much twitter abuse as Caroline Criado-Perez did so I won’t be too quick to say how I would respond if I had numerous strangers threatening to rape me or whether I would still think existing protocols are adequate.

Still I don’t know, I’m not convinced. Can anyone help me here for or against?

#ChildNotBride Campaigns, Yerima & Dysfunctional Gender Discourse in Nigeria

July 22, 2013

I find it disingenuous for some male and female northern Nigerian leaders to try to belittle and even ignore the growing national disaffection with the socially regressive practice of child marriage. For Yerima to even proffer that it may be the solution to Nigeria’s social problems is gross.

As a woman, a lawyer and an social activist I am tired and increasingly resentful that issues arising largely from treatment of the Muslim girl child and woman are dominating the national gender discourse.  And it is mostly southern non Muslim women that are leading the advocacy ignoring or sidelining the issues that face the southern and non Muslim girl child and woman.

Child marriage, high maternal and infant mortality, VVF, general access to health care and education, social and economic marginalization, are mostly (not exclusively but mostly) problems for Muslim predominately northern women.

We talk of getting the girl child to school and ignore that in southern states the issue is retention, quality of education and appropriate career counseling and support, we talk of letting women work while in the south the issue is really about access to capital to grow female led businesses, conditions at the work place and child care for working mother etc etc etc.

Yerima says he can marry his daughter at 6 if he chooses, because he does not recognize her personhood. She is a girl he can ‘ give her out’ like his chattel. He says early marriage would end prostitution and fornication exhibiting a total lack of understanding about the social causes of both but choosing to make it a morality and a religious issue instead

While I empathize and support my Muslim sisters I would like to remind my non-Muslim mostly southern sisters that our women constituency has a unique set of problems that need advocacy. We have been overwhelmed by an agenda that ignores our needs for growth.

I do not think the cause of Nigerian women is best served by marching in place waiting for our sisters to catch up. We can and should give them a hand while also continuously moving forward, consolidating and increasing the gains we have made.

That said I recognize the fear of many of my sisters that their daughters could become prey to these religious pedophiles. Mariam Uwais has written eloquently and at length on the issue actually before the senate, pointing out the errors the campaign assumed and the possibilities for Islam in Nigeria to take a more progressive view.

Some have said and it may be true that it is only Yerima’s involvement that made this issue go viral. He is after all the poster child for and against child marriage in Nigeria. What the outpouring of sentiment has shown is that there are a whole lot of Nigerians against child marriage.

The Child Not Bride campaigns should quickly adjust and restrategize accordingly to fight the real fear of women and criminalize child marriage so that’s its never an issues in our country again. This is not a time to give up, it is time press forward.

The White Savior Industrial Complex & Sexual Harassment of African Female Aid Workers. Pls Take Our Poll

July 14, 2013

The following was originally posted on this blog in March 2012 about an incident that happened in 2010. Since then there has been no further developments in my case against Oxfam GB who have maintained that they acted appropriately and that no assault occurred.  I have  neither the time nor the money to pursue legal action even while I still struggle with the physical, emotional  and professional fall out of the assault that I experienced. Meanwhile, I continue to hear stories of sexual harassment and exploitation of female workers in African country offices of major international aid agencies including Oxfam. I have heard enough such stories to warrant a fuller investigation of the phenomena. Are international organizations  ignoring sexual harassment  and assault of local hires?  Are male managers in African INGO offices getting away with behavior that would not be tolerated or go unpunished in head office?  If you have been or if you know anyone who has been a victim of such harassment please write confidentially to me at lesley.agams@gmail.com. Comments are welcome.

October 2009.  I’m the new country director for Oxfam GB in Nigeria.

August 2010. I’ve been with Oxfam GB 10 months. I finally go to Oxford for Orientation. Its my first time in the UK.  Almost 60 CD’s from all over the world are in Oxford. There is a 3 day CD convention after the week of orientation.

I’m in the hotel lounge with the other CD’s from English West Africa talking shop. Our line manager joins us. He just arrived. We’re talking shop, programs and development. He refers to a document he wants me to see several times. It’s in his room he says. ‘I’ll pick it up on my way up to my room.’

It occurs to me going to his room may be a bad idea for all those reasons your momma ever told you. I dismiss the thought. We’re professionals. He’s my boss. He has never shown any inappropriate interest in me. Or vice versa. If I were a man I would go without hesitation. I go.

In his room he brings out the document, it’s a concept map. I don’t sit down; we discuss it briefly. I don’t want to stay long. A woman’s ability is always in doubt.  I don’t want my work to be devalued by rumors I may have been closer to the boss than appropriate. If I were a man I would stay. I go.

I walk towards the door. Turn to say good night. He grabs me. Pushes his tongue in my mouth. Pulls me back into the room, pushes me onto the bed. Grabs and fiddles with my belt buckle with one hand. My heart is pounding. My head is reeling. I clasp my teeth shut. Try to push him away. ‘No, no, no!’ Not strong enough but the space I create between us gives room for his hands to unbuckle my belt.

So I pull him closer. Relax. Play dead for a minute. For a split second it occurs to me that giving in would be easier. Let him have his way. Keep my job. Keep good working relationships. He’s lying on top of me. His smell fills my nostrils. This is not what I want. I rally all my strength and push him off.

‘How are we supposed to work together after this? I met your wife! What have you done? Why?” I rush out of the room. Downstairs. Sit in the cold outside. Smoke a cigarette. Try to compose myself. My thoughts race frantically. Not again. Not now. I thought I had outgrown this. I worry about my job. Not myself. Not yet.

I’m a Nigerian. Lived and worked in Nigeria all my adult life. It’s hard enough to report and prove a rape. An attempted rape? I don’t even think about it. My job is at risk. How do I protect my job? If I report how will I work with the West Africa team? Almost 90% of senior staff are male. I’m the only female CD in the English speaking countries. Only one female CD in the French speaking countries. Only 2 women on the regional management team.

Eventually I calm down and go to sleep. I see him at breakfast the next day. I shudder, I gag, I can’t eat. I note my reaction with some surprise and curiosity. I avoid him for the rest of the day. For the rest of the trip. I hear Oxfam GB has a head shrink for staff. I go see the shrink the next day. He calls in HR. I tell her my story.

‘Do you want to file a formal complaint?’ she asks.

‘I’m worried it will affect my working relationships in West Africa.’

‘Have you spoken to him? Told him how you feel?’

Huh? Lady I can barely look at him without a violent reaction.

‘Did you tell him ‘no’?

Huh? Didn’t I say that already?

‘Does he know his action was not welcome?’

Huh? Are you suggesting I led him on?

‘We handled a complaint recently. Two employees that had an affair that went bad.’

Huh? Are you suggesting this is an affair gone bad?

Is this a preview of a formal hearing?

‘Look. I don’t know what I want to do right now but I want you to know in case he tries to victimize me.’

’You should talk to him. Tell him how you feel.’

But I can’t. Not yet.

In September I finally call him and follow up with an email. He takes my call but ignores my email. I go to regional office in October, try to act normal. I’m still communicating with HR in Oxford, still looking for a way past this. Still worried, still confused, still devastated. I still have flash backs.

On the 23rd  of November he arrives Abuja from Dakar after closing hours, hands me a letter terminating my contract. I have two days to clear out of the office. Transitions plans already in place. Reason given? An online ad to fill the positions of the troublesome program staff. One was sacked the other resigned rather than answer a query. But the ads weren’t authorized by me and I withdrew them.

I lose my appeal. Oxfam GB says he acted within Nigerian law. Says there is no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault. What of my report to the shrink? To the HR? What of my email to the accused? He admits I came to his room but denies the events, says I hit on him, that he ‘sent me away’. That my email ‘baffled him.’ They believe him not me. What corroboration is there for his version?

I hear stories from other women that worked in international development. Similar stories. From West Africa. From East Africa. From South Africa. Randy expatriate boss. Getting away with things he wouldn’t even try in his home country. The local women always lose their jobs.  One is still in court 5 years later, her savings exhausted.

I eventually I do make a report to the Thames Valley Police. They believe me, record a crime, investigate, even though too much time has passed and they don’t find enough evidence for a trial. Still it will be evidence if he’s ever reported again. They consider extraditing him for questioning.  He resigns abruptly.  I feel a bit better but how to fix the bigger problem?How do I fight a cash rich behemoth like Oxfam GB in court? I’m still working on that problem.

The White Savior Industrial Complex & Sexual Harassment of African Female Aid Workers

May 31, 2013

The following was originally posted on this blog in March 2012 about an incident that happened in 2010. Since then there has been no further developments in my case against Oxfam GB who have maintained that they acted appropriately and that no assault occurred.  I have  neither the time nor the money to pursue legal action even while I still struggle with the physical, emotional  and professional fall out of the assault that I experienced. Meanwhile, I continue to hear stories of sexual harassment and exploitation of female workers in African country offices of major international aid agencies including Oxfam. I have heard enough such stories to warrant a fuller investigation of the phenomena. Are international organizations  ignoring sexual harassment  and assault of local hires?  Are male managers in African INGO offices getting away with behavior that would not be tolerated or go unpunished in head office?  If you have been or if you know anyone who has been a victim of such harassment please write confidentially to me at lesley.agams@gmail.com. Comments are welcome.

 

October 2009.  I’m the new country director for Oxfam GB in Nigeria.

August 2010. I’ve been with Oxfam GB 10 months. I finally go to Oxford for Orientation. Its my first time in the UK.  Almost 60 CD’s from all over the world are in Oxford. There is a 3 day CD convention after the week of orientation.

I’m in the hotel lounge with the other CD’s from English West Africa talking shop. Our line manager joins us. He just arrived. We’re talking shop, programs and development. He refers to a document he wants me to see several times. It’s in his room he says. ‘I’ll pick it up on my way up to my room.’

It occurs to me going to his room may be a bad idea for all those reasons your momma ever told you. I dismiss the thought. We’re professionals. He’s my boss. He has never shown any inappropriate interest in me. Or vice versa. If I were a man I would go without hesitation. I go.

In his room he brings out the document, it’s a concept map. I don’t sit down; we discuss it briefly. I don’t want to stay long. A woman’s ability is always in doubt.  I don’t want my work to be devalued by rumors I may have been closer to the boss than appropriate. If I were a man I would stay. I go.

I walk towards the door. Turn to say good night. He grabs me. Pushes his tongue in my mouth. Pulls me back into the room, pushes me onto the bed. Grabs and fiddles with my belt buckle with one hand. My heart is pounding. My head is reeling. I clasp my teeth shut. Try to push him away. ‘No, no, no!’ Not strong enough but the space I create between us gives room for his hands to unbuckle my belt.

So I pull him closer. Relax. Play dead for a minute. For a split second it occurs to me that giving in would be easier. Let him have his way. Keep my job. Keep good working relationships. He’s lying on top of me. His smell fills my nostrils. This is not what I want. I rally all my strength and push him off.

‘How are we supposed to work together after this? I met your wife! What have you done? Why?” I rush out of the room. Downstairs. Sit in the cold outside. Smoke a cigarette. Try to compose myself. My thoughts race frantically. Not again. Not now. I thought I had outgrown this. I worry about my job. Not myself. Not yet.

I’m a Nigerian. Lived and worked in Nigeria all my adult life. It’s hard enough to report and prove a rape. An attempted rape? I don’t even think about it. My job is at risk. How do I protect my job? If I report how will I work with the West Africa team? Almost 90% of senior staff are male. I’m the only female CD in the English speaking countries. Only one female CD in the French speaking countries. Only 2 women on the regional management team.

Eventually I calm down and go to sleep. I see him at breakfast the next day. I shudder, I gag, I can’t eat. I note my reaction with some surprise and curiosity. I avoid him for the rest of the day. For the rest of the trip. I hear Oxfam GB has a head shrink for staff. I go see the shrink the next day. He calls in HR. I tell her my story.

‘Do you want to file a formal complaint?’ she asks.

‘I’m worried it will affect my working relationships in West Africa.’

‘Have you spoken to him? Told him how you feel?’

Huh? Lady I can barely look at him without a violent reaction.

‘Did you tell him ‘no’?

Huh? Didn’t I say that already?

‘Does he know his action was not welcome?’

Huh? Are you suggesting I led him on?

‘We handled a complaint recently. Two employees that had an affair that went bad.’

Huh? Are you suggesting this is an affair gone bad?

Is this a preview of a formal hearing?

‘Look. I don’t know what I want to do right now but I want you to know in case he tries to victimize me.’

’You should talk to him. Tell him how you feel.’

But I can’t. Not yet.

In September I finally call him and follow up with an email. He takes my call but ignores my email. I go to regional office in October, try to act normal. I’m still communicating with HR in Oxford, still looking for a way past this. Still worried, still confused, still devastated. I still have flash backs.

On the 23rd  of November he arrives Abuja from Dakar after closing hours, hands me a letter terminating my contract. I have two days to clear out of the office. Transitions plans already in place. Reason given? An online ad to fill the positions of the troublesome program staff. One was sacked the other resigned rather than answer a query. But the ads weren’t authorized by me and I withdrew them.

I lose my appeal. Oxfam GB says he acted within Nigerian law. Says there is no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault. What of my report to the shrink? To the HR? What of my email to the accused? He admits I came to his room but denies the events, says I hit on him, that he ‘sent me away’. That my email ‘baffled him.’ They believe him not me. What corroboration is there for his version?

I hear stories from other women that worked in international development. Similar stories. From West Africa. From East Africa. From South Africa. Randy expatriate boss. Getting away with things he wouldn’t even try in his home country. The local women always lose their jobs.  One is still in court 5 years later, her savings exhausted.

I eventually I do make a report to the Thames Valley Police. They believe me, record a crime, investigate, don’t find enough evidence for a trial. They consider extraditing him for questioning. He resigns abruptly.  I feel a bit better but how to fix the bigger problem? What are my chances fighting a cash rich behemoth like Oxfam GB in court?

 

If It Leads You To Sin Cut It Off

May 21, 2013

The elite globally hail Angelina Jolie for her courage and bravery in having an elective double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. I love Angelina Jolie but I’m growing weary of all  the hype.

Like one New York woman pointed out, it doesn’t change anything for working women in a country where medicare and insurance doesn’t cover elective mastectomy or reconstructive surgery.

It changes even less for African women. Only a few elite African women can afford the tests that will forewarn them if they have BRCA1 gene. Fewer still can afford the surgery. Most African women can’t afford treatment for cancer even.

Angelina acknowledges in her op-ed that “Breast cancer … kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries.”

So now we are more aware about the gene and about the things we can do to prevent the cancer if we find out we have the gene and we can get even less sleep worrying about not being able to test for the gene or having preventive surgery.

And wondering who to blame; the government, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, the trans Atlantic slave trade, corruption, international finance, Brenton Woods, IMF, the World Bank, development?

Makes you wonder sometimes just how bad your karma must be to be born African, female and economically disadvantaged. And please, do not come charging in with your free tests. We still can’t afford treatment.

I’m happy for Angelina. Like she said “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.” Can I and millions of African women say the same thing?

I’ve worked in development a long time. All we’ve ever done is attack the symptoms, never the causes. If there is one thing I have learnt in my recent and personal health battle is that symptoms will always come back until you deal with the causes.

 

I Am So Glad that I am Not in London Right Now

April 1, 2013

 

the-bull

I have just had the most amazing night at a very very English pub in the English country side. There was folk music  that sounded very Irish and there was amazing beer that sounds very English. Local beer. The first I tried was ‘Curious Brew’ by Chapel Down in Kent.

IMGP0028

Then I had the ‘Blonde’ by Hepworth  Co in Sussex. You have to try the local brews to know that you have been to the local pubs.  Then I had the ‘Yakima Red’ by Meantime Beer.

 

Being the evil person that I an I also had to try the whiskey that they had on offer. Single malt no less; once you have had a single there is no going back, it is so  different from those blends that one has become used to drinking in Nigeria. Ewwwww.

 

Taste the real McCoy. ‘Laphroaig an Islay single malt 10 years old and ‘Glenmoragnie’ a Highland Single Scotch Whiskey. Na wa o, We dey suffer for Naija sha. So three beers and two scotch whiskeys later I bid you a good night.

Laphroaig_Distillery

Prosecuting Rape in Nigeria III – The Updates

February 6, 2013

 

‘Another rape’ I thought to myself, when I first heard about the rape of an Indian medical student in New Delhi last month.  ‘Will the perpetrators be punished?’ We were shocked and repulsed by the brutality of the attack on the victim. Everything decent and good and holy and sacred in us screamed against the outrage.

Every day we looked for updates on her condition, we were devastated to hear she eventually died in a hospital in Singapore. We know she died simply because she was a woman, because a few men had decided they wanted ‘some fun’ and she was their randomly- chosen, savagely -used and callously- discarded plaything not a person, a daughter, or a sister.

Meanwhile, contrast our outrage at the Indian gang rape to our judgmental dismissal of the student who was repeatedly gang raped by the local football team in Steubenville, Ohio, in the United States. Did you even hear that story?  The Indian student was described as the ‘perfect Indian daughter’; the Ohio victim was said to have been ‘drunk and disorderly’.

Search through the online content of any of Nigeria’s major dailies and you will find numerous reports of rape and rape/murder that attracted no reaction. In July 2012, a 23-year-old lady raped and murdered in Awka Etiti, Idemili South Local Government of Anambra State.  In October 2012 Henry Edewo, and Emmanuel Isikhuime  arrested for kidnapping, raping and murdering Mercy Peter in Auchi. On January 1, 2013, sixteen year-old student, Titilayo Adija raped and murdered in Lagos.

‘Rape culture’ in India, Pakistan, Nigeria and the United states are under scrutiny again. A cultural media war has started, the east blames ‘westernization’, the west blames ‘primitive’ misogynistic traditions in ‘less developed’ countries. My feminist sisters blame patriarchy, patriarchy blames feminism for making women want to be independent, for coming out in public and for being attractive.

When I imagine the young woman’s state of mind during the attack it doesn’t matter who or what is to blame. I just want the perpetrators caught and punished. I imagine her fear, her anguish. I imagine her fighting desperately for her life, till someone hits her over the head and she sinks into blackness, stunned, and only vaguely aware of the violation to her body. ‘Am I going to die? Will someone rescue me? Is there anybody out there?’.

In 2011  the Lagos state government with a population of almost 20 million reported 283 cases of rape out of which only 10 were prosecuted and convicted. Studies suggest more than half and sometimes as much as 84% of the female population have experienced sexual assault, rape or molestation in childhood.  That is less than a 10%  conviction rate and less  than 0.0001% of the at risk  female population.

While I appreciate the reason victims rarely report we need to start doing a better job of prosecuting the few cases that are reported. I’ve read many reasons  given why rapists don’t get prosecuted or convicted. Victims don’t report; they withdraw charges; they settle out of court, investigators are incompetent and corrupt; prosecutors are ill- prepared or don’t appeal; judges are biased against women. Fixing the systemic problems will require a long term multi-sector strategic approach but we can contribute to the effort by holding the Director of Public Prosecution accountable for the performance of his department.

Some lawyers and prosecutors still think that corroboration is required for a rape conviction under Nigerian criminal law. Yet, in March 2011 the Supreme Court in Ogunbayo v. the State upheld its 2001 decision that said corroboration was a principle not a law and that the trial court need only caution itself before convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of a rape victim.

In that case, Fabiyi JSC said the 1989 Supreme Court decision that it was a principle of law that an accused cannot be convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of the victim and accuser removed from victims of rape the protection of  s. 179 of the Evidence Act, which specifically prohibits the mandatory imposition of  the number of witnesses to prove a crime. In many cases, the 1989 decision was interpreted to mean that there had to be another witness to the offence.

A number of rape convictions have been overturned recently on appeal based on section 12 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The CPC applies to the Penal Code  in force in northern Nigeria. Section 12(1) says;

“Subject to the provisions to this Criminal Procedure Code any offence under the Penal Code may be tried by any Court by which such offence is shown in the sixth column of Appendix ‘A’ to be triable or by any Court other than a native court with greater powers.”

The offence of rape is contained in the Sixth Column of Appendix ‘A’ to the CPC.  In other words, the only court vested with jurisdiction to try rape is the High Court and not the Upper Area Court –  or any other court for that matter.  So why are rape trials routinely brought before lower courts by prosecutors’?

Jurisdiction also needs to be clarified in the south of Nigeria where the Criminal Code and the Criminal Code Act are in force.  The maximum sentence for rape in the criminal code is life imprisonment. Since only the High Court can impose the maximum sentence for felonies punishable by life imprisonment in the criminal code, doesn’t that mean that the High Court has exclusive jurisdiction  for rape?

The Evidence Act was  recently amended. Section 234 of the amended Act (Assented to on July 22, 2011) states:

“Where a person is prosecuted for rape or attempt to commit rape or for indecent assault, except with the leave of court no evidence shall be adduced, and, except with the leave, no question in cross examination shall be asked by or on behalf of the defendant about any sexual experience of the complainant with any person other than the defendant.’

Prior to this amendment a person accused of rape could bring evidence of a woman’s past sexual history as evidence of her ‘immoral character’ in defense to a charge of rape (Section 211 Evidence Act 2004).  Does this new provision have the effect of a ‘rape shield law’?

These and other legal decisions and laws affecting rape need to be cited, applied and tested in the courts by prosecutors because they are the only ones who can arraign an accused person for rape in Nigeria. The offices of the Director of Public Prosecution DPP and the Attorney General of the Federation AGF have an obligation to the victims, their families and to the nation to provide justice for rape victims and ensure timely punishment for offenders.

Prosecutors in India and Nigeria need urgent support and training to improve their skills and legal knowledge. The perpetrators of last month’s dastardly rape in India have been arrested and charged. The Indian government has fast tracked the trial but it is just one case out of thousands still stuck in judicial limbo.  The best tribute to the New Delhi student and other rape victims in India and in Nigeria would be ensuring that rapists/murderers are punished and that the people responsible for punishing them are able to do so.

While we continue to address our national apathy towards violence against women and work collectively to develop practical solutions, we should also count and celebrate our baby steps of progress; the first and only rape hotline set up in 2011 in response to citizens protests against the ABSU rape, last year’s celebrity rape walk and anti-rape protests by women in Osun and Enugu states,  restrictions on the sale of the date rape drug Rohypnol in the fall out of Cynthia Okogu’s rape/murder and the work of organizations like Media Concern For Women And Children, Project Alert, Delta Women, CLEEN, and my own Women’s Crisis Center among numerous others.

January 21, 2013

 

Lesley Gene Agams Esq. is a feminist lawyer practicing in Abuja. You can find her on Twitter @MzAgams and at http://www.lesleyagams.com

 

(This article appeared in ThisDay Newpaper Law Page  on Tuesday January 29, 2013)