Nigeria’s women pursuing justice against GBV

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What are the causes of gender based violence? The documentary “Pursuing Justice” by Babatunde Okunlola tells the story of 3 Nigerian women in the era of covid.

Mary Sunday, light skinned, in her late 30’s, quiet and withdrawn, her oval face and head now covered with a silk brown scarf to hide the scars caused by a boiling pot of soup thrown at her by an angry, jealous and possessive then fiancée and a police officer insecure about his sterility issues in 2012 says:

“He picked up the boiling pot of soup alongside the stove and threw it at me.  It was boiling. The stove exploded” 

She tells her story of still seeking for justice 8 years later in the documentary “Pursuing Justice”. Mary’s story while more widely reported than others is one of the few rarely told stories of worst case scenarios in the country.

In Nigeria, there’s been a growing reportage and widespread rage following hash tags and shocking cases involving violence against women and children in recent months, but it dates way back. Many women have gone through this silently, while some have died and never lived to tell their stories. The documentary “Pursuing Justice” by Babatunde Okunlola tells a gripping tale of three women, who have dared to break the code of silence, by speaking up and attempting to pursue justice.

Lagos, Nigeria has had an increasing level of documentation, compared to most other parts of the country. In September 2014, the Domestic Sexual Violence response team office headed by Mrs Vivor Titilola Adeniyi was inaugurated to increase victim safety and offender responsibility by providing a cross jurisdictional responsibility which is uniform in approach and manner in which we handle incidents of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse in the state.  The organization has seen a steady increase in reporting since 2015, when it started keeping data. In 2016, 440 cases were reported, in 2017, 1,045 cases, 2018, the number doubled, 2019 it dipped by 30 cases.

The COVID19 Pandemic which has since spread across the world has also exacerbated an already existing situation. Mrs Vivor Titilola Adeniyi the coordinator of the DSVRT while speaking about the causes of gender based violence, reports that the body saw a sharp spike in GBV cases reported during the lockdown.

She says

“During the lockdown, we were very curious to know, if there would be an increase. We sort of anticipated it, but we obviously did not know the magnitude of what we were about to deal with”.

During the April peak period when there was a total lockdown, 15 new cases were being reported daily. April saw 273 cases reported, In May 189 cases were reported, In June, 264 cases were reported, In July 304 cases were reported; the highest since the establishment of the DSVRT.

She says:

“I was shocked at those figures, and I believe it was because we secured a toll free line by the end of June, July. We must realize that some of these survivors are indigent, they can’t even call, and don’t have the airtime. When you increase access to services, you get more reports”

“Pursuing Justice” also documents the stigma faced by survivors and the lack of support which is often a challenge faced by survivors who tend to face the pains and terrors alone because society tends to put the blame on them, especially when the question about the causes of gender based violence gets asked.  Halimat’s story buttresses this. A single mother, left all alone to take care of her 2 kids, 8 and 11, economically disadvantaged, her 8 year old little girl was raped by the 39 year old male friend of the family who squatted with the couple they stayed with. Initially, she had had to fight alone. Amidst tears she says:

“People I felt were my people, I mean friends that could even help, they could not do anything for us. Instead they are blackmailing us.  They said I was being careless. What could I have done? There was no one to help”.

In Mary Sunday’s case, she also narrates the painful story of months spent lying on her bed and determinedly fighting for her life, while at first no one believed her story, especially seeing as the perpetrator was a law official, and having to convince even close family members about her story.

In June 2020, Nigeria declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence in all 36 Nigerian states, faced with the dilemma of figuring out the causes of gender based violence. Despite this new state of emergency, a culture of impunity persists, making it difficult for victims to hold their abusers accountable.

Mrs Abiola Akiyode Afolabi the director of the Women advocate research and documentation centre Lagos, established in the year 2000, is a women’s rights organization in Nigeria, which provides pro bono legal services for women’s victims of gender-based violence and other women’s rights abuse, was key in handling the case for Mary Sunday; whose jealous fiancée drenched her in a hot pot of soup. The case was filed before the ECOWAS Court in August 2015 by the “Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa” (IHRDA) and her organisation “Women Advocate, Research and Documentation Centre” (WARDC), on behalf of Mary Sunday. In its verdict pronounced in Abuja, Nigeria, the ECOWAS Court found Nigeria in violation of Mary’s right to access to justice, and right to have her cause heard, and ordered the State of Nigeria to pay Mary financial reparation. Speaking on

“On a yearly basis we get about 450 cases, and these cases are not necessarily cases that are in court. We’ve’ gotten convictions for some of them, but the convictions are generally very low, because of a whole lot of issues including community acquisance to violence. So you see a situation where the community themselves just come to persuade the survivor and ask that the perpetrator be forgiven, and things like that”.

In June 2020, Nigeria declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence in all 36 Nigerian states. Despite this new state of emergency, a culture of impunity persists, making it difficult for victims to hold their abusers accountable.

The documentary “Pursuing justice” takes a different approach from just telling the plights from the perspective of victimhood to that of a changing narrative of survivors, while still exploring the causes of gender based violence in Nigeria. It  tells a compelling tale of 3 women survivors of gender based violence who have challenged the country’s justice system and faced society in their quest for justice, and done what few women have the courage to do, seek justice.

The documentary “Pursuing Justice” was supported by the Civic Hive; an initiative of the Budgit foundation, Nigeria.

Click on the link below to listen to the full programme:


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