By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, SAN, has called on Nigerian women to campaign vigorously for the establishment of a state Police in the country as a means of ensuring their protection and that of their children against abuse saying women issues in crime management had been subordinated by the challenges of insecurity in the country in recent times.
Fashola, who spoke at the Eko Hotel and Suites venue of the 14th National Women’s Conference with the theme, “Embracing and Managing Change”, organized by the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO), said the nation’s policing capacity requirement would never be sufficient to enforce the numerous laws and policies made to protect women and children against abuse without the institution of state Police.
Recalling that his administration instituted the Child Rights Law, the first in Nigeria, the Criminal Justice Act for pregnant women and made post-partum depression a criminal defence under the state’s law, among other laws for the protection of women and children in the state, Fashola, however, said without sufficient policing capacity, government can only hope that those entrusted with the enforcement would “act voluntarily”.
Other laws and policies made by the state government to protect the rights of women and children and promote the rights of women in the state, the governor said, include; Law Against Domestic Violence and Abuse which led to the establishment of a Transit Home in Alimosho for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and the extension of maternity leave for nursing mothers from three months to six months with full pay.
He also recalled the recent historic event in the state Judiciary where a retiring female Chief Judge of the State, Justice Ayo Philips, handed over to her sister, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade as Chief Judge of the state saying not only was the incident the first in Nigeria and beyond, it also reflects the significant esteem in which his administration hold women in the state.
“Now, if you appreciate that quite a number of our women suffer post-partum depression and because that defence was not available, a woman who has been traumatized also ends up either in jail because society did not understand what was wrong with her, then you will appreciate the importance of this law”, the Governor said.
He also noted with pride that his administration had redefined its commitment to parenting, to healthy babies, to family life and its advocacy for breast feeding by extending the maternity leave for nursing mothers from three months to six months with full pay adding, “If you want to know how ground breaking this policy is, just check to know what is happening in other parts of Africa, in Europe and America, to see what others are doing”.
Stressing that all of the aforementioned policies confer right on women and children and which are expected to be implemented voluntarily by those charged with the duty Fashola added, “But we must ensure that where they do not act voluntarily, the coercive authority of state is able to protect them from rapists, from wife beaters, from child molesters”.
“This, for me, is the strongest case possible that can be made for state policing and women must take up the challenge and campaign if their rights are really to be well protected”, the governor said adding that local sanitation laws, traffic laws, stealing, child rights law, domestic violence laws are all matters which should effectively and comfortably sit within the jurisdiction of a State Police.
The governor commended COWLSO and its leadership for the many laudable projects it has initiated and implemented adding that since her inaugural Conference in 2007 till date the Committee “has moved in great leaps and in great bounds”.
Noting that COWLSO has supported his administration in no small way; “by prayers, by physical presence, by advice and in many more ways than I can recall”, the Governor declared, “My gratitude is deep; my gratitude is profound to COWLSO.
“Truly I could talk about the many life changing initiatives that COWLSO has initiated and implemented. I could speak about the various community centres and about the Retiree Village. But I will not. I will only remind you of the work that lies ahead”, he said adding, “We will reward you in the special Lagos way by giving you more work. That is the spirit of Lagos. But as you do that, rest assured that the Lagos State Government remains truly committed to promoting and protecting the rights of women and of children”.
While declaring the Conference open, Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, also commended COWLSO for its commitment and continuity which, according to him, had enabled the committee sustain itself over the years adding that for an organization to be alive and very active for 14 years was not a mean feat.
He said in order to continue to remain relevant and move forward, the committee must engage in continuous self evaluation and keep abreast with issues that will keep them constantly in high esteem in public estimation by embracing change when they should do so.
“The truth about intervention is that issues and challenges will continue to arise and the ability of COWLSO to confront, resolve and overcome these issues and challenges will ensure that the committee will continue to grow from strength to strength’, the governor said.
Earlier in her welcome address, the First Lady and Chairman of COWLSO, Dame Emmanuella Abimbola Fashola, said aside from sustaining the platform provided by the conference to exchange ideas on Family and women issues.
COWLSO has also, over the years, ensured the judicious use of the funds generated from the conference fees and donations on people-oriented projects and programmes.