By Victoria Ojeme
The European Union (EU) and other development partners have indicated interest to fund a special sexual and gender-based violence redress court in Nigeria if the government passes law establishing such court.
The move is part of efforts to mobilise action towards fast-tracking prosecution of sexual and gender-based offences in Nigeria and guaranteeing access to justice and remedies for victims of sexual assault.
Through its Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme, implemented by the British Council, and the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, the world’s largest targeted effort to end all forms of violence against women and girls, the EU has been at the forefront of the campaign to stem SGBV and bring succour and justice to victims. Last year, President Buhari and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum declared SGBV national emergency.
During this year’s 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, victims of sexual assault will receive free legal and psychological counselling under a joint effort by RoLAC, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Judiciary and the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
The EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Samuela Isopi, will lend her support for the establishment of special SGBV courts during the seventh Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Network Conference coming up at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel on November 25. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the Minister of Women Affairs, and the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development will all participate in this Conference.
Since Nigeria’s first SARC was established in Lagos in 2013, the number has grown to 32, spread across 19 states of the federation and the FCT. Since 2016, the EU has spent over N1 billion on the SARCs. As of June 2021, the SARCs had assisted over 21,000 survivors of sexual assault. They offered immediate medical emergency and counselling, in addition to supporting victims to access the legal system. Over 70 per cent of the clients of the SARCs are young people under the age of 18. Clearly, this number does not properly represent the scale of sexual assault in Nigeria.
To underscore the importance of reporting and quality data collection in the fight against SGVB, the Spotlight Initiative is launching a report spotlighting 16 facts about SGBV, co-signed by the EU, the UN and the Nigerian government. Despite positive developments in awareness-raising, service provision and data collection, much more needs to be done to address the recognized data gaps.
In spite of the remarkable expansion and spread of the SARC initiative in Nigeria and stronger focus nationwide on the provision of comprehensive medical and counselling services for survivors, cases of sexual assault remains grossly underreported to the centres. Still worse is the proportion of cases that are prosecuted. To make matters worse, even fewer convictions are secured, often after long, tortuous, winding legal processes. Against this backdrop, Ambassador Isopi, says “fast-tracking access to justice for SGBV survivors has become imperative.”
The SARC Network Conference will be followed by mock SGBV courts sitting. This will be modelled on what survivor-centred SGBV court processes and proceedings should look like if they existed in Nigeria.
The mock courts will simultaneously sit at Transcorp Hilton Hotel and the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Meanwhile, the newly accredited EU Ambassador to Nigeria, Samuela Isopi says the European Union is committed to deepening its relationship with Nigeria and engage more stakeholders.
“The EU will continue to engage with the Nigerian government; civil society organisation and all stakeholders to work on the same issue on which both nations have built partnerships.
“We will continue to support Nigerian civil society organisations; democratic institutions; good governance; gender and youth agenda. We will continue to support Nigeria to fight the challenges of insecurity, poverty and other regional issues.”
While saying that Nigeria has remained EU strategic partner in Africa, Isopi said no stone would be left unturned to continue engagement with the country that would turn around its fortune.
She particularly listed some areas of cooperation to include post-Covid reconstruction, climate change, immigration, youth agenda, strengthening of democratic structures, among others.
On the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aimed at arriving at a single market in the continent, the EU ambassador said the pact is a right step in the right direction as it would promote economic integration in Africa.
“AfCFTA is a key development for Nigeria, Africa and Europe. We are convinced that Africa can gain through more integration,” she said, adding that the EU also passed through a similar path.
She assured of the continuous support of the EU to AfCFTA saying “we have been supporting and we will continue to do that.”
Speaking further, Isopi said the EU would also focus attention on programmes that would ensure a better future for Nigerian youths.
“We will build on that partnership, we will work together about opportunities for the youth, opportunities for industries and investments, we work together on a positive agenda,” she said.