Lemmy Ughegbe is a Child and Gender Rights Advocate. He is the Executive Director, Men Against Rape Foundation (MARF) and Make a Difference Initiative. He spoke to JIDE OYEKUNLE in Abuja in this interview on the reasons for the rising cases of domestic and gender-based violence in the country. He also said there is a need for government to provide psycho-social support for every family to curb the menace. Excerpts:
Why was responsible for the increase in domestic violence in Nigeria?
As you have noted, domestic and gender-based violence are on the increase in the country today. All over the newspapers and social media, you will see that there are so many cases. There are various dimensions to it. When you say domestic violence, you even have the one spousal violence and we also have violence against child by parents and violence against domestic help because they are within your domain in the house.
But in our country today, there has been an emphasis on issues of domestic violence against children and domestic help. We could see in the recent time, especially the celebrated case of Mrs. Osinachi Nwanchukwu who died and there have been a lot of hues and cries about her husband allegedly battering her and being violent. Her case is just one out of many. The reason the case was widely reported was that she was a celebrity.
This morning, I woke up to a post on Facebook where a woman and two children ran out of her house under the heavy downpour and she said she doesn’t want to be another Osinachi.
Social media helps a few people to find their voices to raise alarm but when you look at it and say what are the causes I tried to say there is no excuse for violence against your spouse or intimate partner violence.
What are the causes?
This is a reality we have come to face. Sometimes depression is a factor and you know economy is such that people are unable to meet their needs not to talk about wants. Because of that people are on the edge, they are very temperamental, easily irritated and easily angry. So you find that just a little thing could be a trigger. Many people are suffering from one form of mental health condition or the other.
In this clime when you talk about mental health they think you are like a mad person on the street, no. Mental health is an early stage that makes you find not to be at your best in terms of your conduct and emotion and able to keep it in check. World Health Organisation (WHO) came out recently that about 50million Nigerians are suffering from mental health challenges. I think the WHO is too scared to be very factual with its statistics because we will say over 100million Nigerians have mental health challenges.
In an economy where you have to provide food, water, road, electricity and shelter at cutthroat prices definitely you will be under tension. I doubt if any average family can genuinely and legitimately afford these things we are talking about.
So you find that there are a lot of pressure on spouses. So it has its toll on intimate partner violence which is domestic violence. We are in a society where we don’t know how to channel our emotions. You are tensed up and stressed thereby leading to depression and all sorts of mental health conditions where you can be at your best.
What are the basic roles of government in curbing the menace?
The usual thing in society that is more realistic and practical is addressing these things. The government will have psychologists all over the accessible. There are a few psychologists in Nigeria which you have to pay through your nose to get. There are also a general notion that you have a problem of sanity.
Government needs deliberate effort and provide psycho-social support for every family. That means when you have passed a Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP ) as they have passed which part of the target was to address the issue of domestic violence of all forms against persons.
When you have done all of that, you also need to make facilities available, for instance shelter. Government also needs to enforce the provisions of VAPP Act that if you met violence upon anybody, you should pay the price as stipulated by the provisions of the law.
But we are having a situation where even the states where VAPP Act have been passed, there is no genuine political will to make sure that anybody is brought to justice. And once there is nobody brought to justice, there is no deterrent. The failure to implement the provisions of VAPP Act 2015 emboldened violators and perpetrators of the violence.
Also provisions of Section 38 and 39 of the VAPP Act also make it necessary for the government to provide support for the victims (survivors) of this violence.
These things are not being complied with. You are virtually on your own as a victim or survivor. Government must do a lot of enlightenment campaigns, engage development communicators who are specialists in this field to do a lot of orientation and enlightenment talks, jingles on radio and television that speak to these and that also help people who are in trouble to seek help.
The government only wait for one celebrity case to happen then they will be jumping about to appear like they are doing something. It has to be a celebrity before the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development Secretariat of Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA ) do something.
Nobody is doing anything. So there is so much that need to be done but above all we must have people in place of authority who are passionate and care more about people and humanity than politics.
What can be done to reduce challenges faced by the civil society’s organisations and gender activists?
Government should create enabling environment, for instance, gender activists are rendering essential service to the country. They respond when there are issues of gender-based violence. Government cannot meet up in responding to this, so you have civil society responding. But you get to the police station that you have a young lady who have just been violated and molested and you introduce yourself and the policemen become hostile.
This is because the government itself does not care enough to have taken out a clear national policy to say when it comes to this issue you are even more important than a lawyer in the work you render. So the police must work in tandem with gender activists and violence responders. There are a lot of hostilities. You also have to be bullied otherwise they ( police ) will intimidate you and push you away and leave the victim vulnerable because what they do is to get you who have been given her support off the case so that they can tell her (victim) to negotiate with the violator and settle it. It is a major matter and there are so much to be done. But the government must make a national policy that will make every police personnel and even NAPTIP to work with any gender activist once there are cases like this.
Culled from Independent