By Evelyn Usman
The 16th International Symposium of the World Society of Victimology, WSV, held at the City University of Hong Kong, may not have attracted much publicity in Nigeria but it certainly came with some lessons for developing countries like ours, where restorative justice for victims of crime is still very much absent.
The summit tagged, ‘Victims and Victimisation: Moving Towards an International Victimology’ , which attracted about 198 participants from different parts of the world, featured expert discussants with deep knowledge in victimology related areas, from various countries.
Nigeria was represented at the event by Mrs. Gloria Egbuji, a lawyer and victims’ rights activist, who was invited on the platform of her non-governmental organisation – Crime Victims Foundation of Nigeria (CRIVIFON) – where she is the Executive Director.
Her participation at the one-week Hong Kong symposium could not have been unconnected with the recognition of the tenacity with which she intends to improve human rights culture in the Nigeria Police through the training of 20,000 policemen across the country on human rights.
In this interview with Vanguard’s Asst. Crime Editor, Evelyn Usman, the CRIVIFON boss shares some lessons from the historic one week event.
What is WSV all about?
WSV is a non-governmental organization holding special category consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations as well as with the Council of Europe. Its international membership includes front-line victim service providers, academics and researchers in related social sciences, government representatives, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement and emergency service personnel, students and members of the public. The purpose of the WSV is to advance the research of victimology and improve the practices at the international level; improve collegiality and cooperation in the field, and to promote cooperation among global, regional, national, and local organizations and agencies which serve or work with victim issues.
Historically, the triennial symposium of the WSV had its maiden editions in Boston, United States in 1976 and Munster, Germany in 1979 when the society was officially founded. According to the President of the society, Marc Groenhuijsen, in his welcome remarks at the Hong Kong event, held between 10th and 14th of June 2018, all the previous editions of the symposium had one thing in common and that is the fact that all discussions centred on issues relating to victimology. The symposium had brought together a large number of academics and practitioners who shared some interest in victims of crime, reported empirical findings from various source disciplines and exchanged experiences in day-to-day practical work. Together, participants had produced many relevant papers, some of which have been published in symposium proceedings. These findings, globally, have assisted in initiating further research efforts or improving on victim support schemes.
At the 16th edition of the triennial symposium, no fewer than 21 sub-topics were discussed by experts. They include Advancing Theories in Victimology; Fear of Crime Victimisation, Conflict, Oppression, Injustice and Inequality; Victims’ Rights and The Criminal Justice System, Mediation and Support Victim. Other sub-topics are Victims and Restorative Justice; Victimisation and Terror; Human Trafficking and Slavery; Policy and Prevention of Victimisation; and Victimology in late life.
As Nigeria’s representative, what was your paper centred on and what was its impact on the conference?
Within the sub-topics, as Nigeria’s representative at the event, my paper was listed among those for discussion. I spoke on ‘Kidnapping-for-ransom’ – a negatively trending crime that has, in recent years, left many victims helpless and hapless. With benefit of hindsight from my book on kidnap for ransom which is soon to be publicly presented, my discourse revealed the criminal culture of holding innocent people hostage with demand for ransom that runs into millions of dollars in some cases. Participants were worried at such development, as they noted that kidnap for ransom in developed societies could largely be for politically related reasons without demand for cash ransom. They raised argument of running an economy that largely encourages the use of huge cash as they wondered how possible it could be for families of kidnapped victims to raise millions in cash to secure the release of their loved ones. Such easy access to large quantity of cash was considered antithetical to the global tendency towards cashless transactions as what obtains in advanced countries. Obviously, what this calls for is a paradigm shift for the government of Nigeria with regards to its monetary and fiscal policies. This means that the cashless policy initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria a few years ago must be re-evaluated with a view to checkmating the culture of cash misuse.
What lesson did you take home from the conference?
One lesson from the symposium was the fact that participants from other climes could not understand why, in many circumstances, it took security agents in Nigeria days and even weeks to know that someone had been kidnapped and to track the kidnappers’ location becomes a Herculean or impossible task in many cases. To the participants at the Hong Kong victimology conference, the factor responsible for the kidnap for ransom regime in Nigeria was attributed to the huge inequality among the citizenry where a few are stupendously rich at the expense of the large down trodden population. To stem the tide of this incidence of kidnap for ransom, government must shift emphasis from the law enforcement perspective, to adequate planning for youths in the country who are more in number from the primary school stage to the tertiary level, so that they can be gainfully employed soon after leaving school, without a resort to idleness which invariably leads to criminality. Another lesson for Nigeria is to realign its criminal justice system with those countries that promote restorative justice where emphasis is more on assuaging the feeling of the victims of crime than the pursuit of punitive measures against the offenders. At the symposium, there was a general view that victims of crime in many parts of the world are the forgotten ones within the criminal justice system of their countries where they cannot get justice. The consensus was that advocacy groups would have to do more to explore alternatives to get justice within the criminal justice system since the system is largely retributive. The advocacy for restorative justice is simply to get some financial or material compensation for the victims of crime who may have lost so much to the perpetrators of crime. It was observed that some countries like Hong Kong, Eastern Europe and parts of Africa practice some form of restorative justice than punitive which ultimately makes both parties to an incident happy at the end. Other countries of the world have therefore been encouraged to explore more ways of applying same system in other to jettison the punitive approach if not totally but substantially in place of restorative measures.
So, how do we change the narrative?
Since data or statistics are inevitable in the fight against criminality, developing countries like Nigeria, where lack of data or inaccurate date are in place, have been encouraged to make a paradigm shift by emulating the work of a centre like the European Institute of Crime Prevention and Control. The work of such institute would be to continuously do research on crime related issues by collating data and knowing what type of crime is coming up and as a result of what. In contemporary times, we have cybercrime, kidnapping-for-ransom, cultism, bullying and so many others.
Participants agreed that research and more research would throw more light on the crimes, their modus and create the ability to feed law enforcement agencies with information that could aid in fighting crime pro-actively. With the level of exposure attained at the Hong Kong Victimology event, I have resolved to advance the cause of victims of crime in Nigeria, using CRIVIFON as a platform. However; since a tree does not make a forest, there is need for the Nigeria government to look in my direction with a view to tapping from the experience garnered so far in my effort to create a better Nigeria that seeks to humanly assuage the feelings of victims of crime, rather than concentrating more on punishing offenders.