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SGBV survivors struggle for justice in Borno

SGBV survivors struggle for justice in Borno
March 02
09:40 2024

BY RUKAIYATU IDRIS

It was a steamy afternoon in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, Nigeria—the kind that makes people uncomfortable. I found Hassana Ibrahim smiling at Maimuna, her six-year-old daughter, while sitting on a mat.

Ibrahim raised her head with a smile as she welcomed me, offered me a seat beside her, and was halfway laughing with her daughter. Suddenly, her face changed, full of anger, as I explained why I visited her. Her cheery face turned gloomy as she started narrating her daughter’s story.

Maimuna was sexually abused at the age of five. “I reported to the police immediately, before even taking her to the hospital. With all the evidence gathered, the police said it was confirmed that Modu, who molested my daughter, was 16 years old, so he cannot be convicted,” Ibrahim said.

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Modu lives in the same neighbourhood. Ibrahim lamented how she watched him get away with sexually abusing her five-year-old daughter because he claimed to be 16.

“I cried over what happened to my daughter almost every day; her smile broke my heart, knowing that I was helpless to get her justice,” she added.

According to Ibrahim, Modu continued stalking Maimuna and harassing her because his family was supporting and protecting him. They are not influential, but they are more financially privileged than Maimuna’s family. Ibrahim told me how the family attempted to beat her up when the incident occurred.

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“Whenever Modu sees Maimuna, he calls her ‘Kamunyi’, which means my wife in the Kanuri language. I reported it to the state National Human Rights Commission and the police again but no action was taken,” Ibrahim said.

Sadly, Modu raped five-year-old Maimuna a second time, and Ibrahim furiously lamented how the community and the system are failing Maimuna and other children by enabling Modu because of the age limit.

“I was sweeping in the house when some boys ran into it, carrying her in their arms. She was unconscious and bleeding. I felt like dying at that moment as I listened to them tell me how they found her lying under a tree. I quickly rushed her to the hospital. The doctors examined her, and I still have the three pants that I changed for her because I do not want to make the mistake of losing any evidence,” she said.

CASES DELAYED 

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The police seem to be relaxed in their investigations, and Ibrahim no longer has faith in the system that should protect her and her five-year-old child. Ibrahim expressed her anger and disappointment at how the police managed Maimuna’s case.

“At the police station, I was assured that I would get justice for my daughter, but I have started losing faith in the police and what they are doing with the case. They still did not forward the case to the court, and it is now 7 weeks after the incident, though Modu is still in the custody of the police,” she said.

I found out that Modu’s family took legal action against Ibrahim, accusing her of slander.

“I was summoned for a court hearing on August 10, 2023. I thought it was about my daughter’s case, but the story was different as the family said I lied against their son. The court sitting was adjourned to September 5. I was confused as to why the court would even consider their allegation that I lied against their son. I can feel my daughter’s pain, and I am afraid of what she must face in the future because of this. I desperately need justice for Maimuna,” Ibrahim said. She noted how a friend suggested contacting the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and how the organisation’s swift action helped her.

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“I told my friend about the court sitting, and she suggested that I look for FIDA. She got one of the barrister’s phone numbers for me, and I called. On September 2, FIDA sought intervention from the Borno State Ministry of Justice, and the ministry notified the chief judge that there was a criminal case against the boy. When we arrived at the court on the fourth day, the chief judge dissolved the case,” she narrated.

‘I WAS A VICTIM TOO’ 

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Ibrahim was sexually assaulted at the age of three in the Baga LGA in Borno state, where she was born. She got married at 17, and now at 30, she is suffering from vesicovaginal fistula (VVF).

“I dropped out of school and was divorced two weeks after my first marriage because of VVF,” she said. Ibrahim ran helter-skelter in search of a remedy. She travels frequently from Bauchi state to Maiduguri for routine checks at the hospital, spending the little money she has on medical care and transportation with no solution to her predicament.

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“This is my deepest secret, but if it will help me find justice for my daughter’s ordeal, then I will expose it for the world to see. Maybe someone will come to my aid,” she lamented.

Hassana Ibrahim’s hospital handcard (scanned), still receiving treatment at the National Obstetrics Fistula Centre, Ningi, Bauchi state

Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) highlights: “Governments should make sure children are protected and looked after by their parents or by other people when this is needed. Governments should make sure that people and places responsible for looking after children are doing a respectable job.”

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“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

This means that all children and young people should be prioritised in all levels of society and that their rights should be respected by people in power. Article 3 is related to other articles that affirm the right of the child to life, survival, development, and participation.

According to section 38 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, “every victim is entitled to receive the necessary materials, comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance through governmental agencies and/or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance…Victims are entitled to be informed of the availability of legal, health and social services.”

In 2021, the Guardian newspaper reported that the Borno state government recorded 4,104 cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in 7 months, with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Borno, disclosing that 3,805 of the victims were females. In 2022, the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) recorded 495 SGBV cases in Borno state.

On May 26, 2023, Premium Times Nigeria reported a record of 15,299 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) in Nigeria from the national GBV Data Situation Room and Dashboard, out of which 674 people died, 4729 cases were opened, 825 cases were closed, and 33 perpetrators were convicted as of April 24. Nigeria’s national GBV Data Situation Room and Dashboard was initiated by the Ministry of Women Affairs, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative.

COMMUNITIES LACK AWARENESS

Zainab Isa, 16, shared a bitter story of how her life was in turmoil following abuse at an early age.

“I was raped at 15 by a man called Bana in 2022 when I was growing up at Bula-Bulin Garanam in Borno. I became pregnant. Bana ran away from the community, and my parents rejected me,” she said.

Zainab had no one to support her financially as she was unable to take care of herself and the pregnancy. She became traumatised when her parents sent her out of the house when they found out she was pregnant. Zainab lost interest in associating with her agemates.

She had no shoulder to lean on when this disheartening incident happened. She was naïve, alone, and distressed.

“My grandmother, Iyya, was the one who accommodated me. Iyya is incredibly old and could not even take me to the clinic. We could not gather evidence or seek any authoritative intervention through the available non-governmental organisations (NGOs),” she said.

“Three months later, a woman came to our house and told my grandmother that there was an organisation called Save the Children that could help me seek justice. Iyya did not hesitate to take me there, and she pleaded with them to help us find justice, but they said it was impossible because we did not have any evidence to prove I was raped. They enrolled me in weekly counselling sessions and orientation on how I can take care of my pregnancy.”

Although Iyya is ready to fight for her granddaughter’s rights, she is more concerned about the lack of money and confidentiality if she is to take her granddaughter to the police station.

Zainab Isa was abandoned by her parents after she was raped in 2022

Grace Yakubu, a GBV case worker with Save the Children at Bulabulin Garanam, Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), said throughout the activities for over a year in the community, she did not come across any social workers who are supposed to be at the field as the state government agents.

“The people living in this community are partly ignorant of many things regarding SGBV including how they can secure evidence and the process of reporting. They have continually expressed their concern about community leaders not wanting them to report SGBV cases to authorities. So, I believe community sensitisation would have helped, but there are no social workers here,” Yakubu said.

INACTIVE SOCIAL WORKERS

The lack of social workers in Borno is not limited to the ones in MMC, other resettled communities also do not have any active social workers supporting victims of SGBC. A social welfare field worker in Bama LGA, who only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, disclosed that he has not been to work for over seven years because of a lack of engagement and poor functioning of the social welfare unit.

“After the resettlement, I didn’t go out to work. Besides, I am not engaged in doing anything except for emirate meetings sometimes, but my salary is flowing,” he said. Similarly, Ya Hajja, a serving social worker at Jere LGA, confirmed that she has not been to work for about nine years while trying to justify her actions with a lack of support from the government.

“I stopped going to work around 2013–2014, but I am not to blame. The last time our hazard allowance was paid was around 2011. We also need welfare and other support. Do you expect us to use our salaries to manage sensitisation or go up and down on people’s cases?” she questioned.

I spoke to Lucy Dlama Yunana, the executive director of Women in the New Nigeria and Youth Empowerment Initiative (WINN), who stated that the lack of social workers makes their work complex, hence a contributing factor to an ignorant society.

“This has been a great setback to our various interventions in Borno because the social workers are supposed to be there permanently for these communities. We are supposed to be handing over cases to them as government agents, which I believe will reduce our workforce needs and help in achieving our goals to reduce SGBV among displaced persons and other communities,” Lucy said.

I also spoke to Aishatu Shettima, the social welfare director at the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Borno state. She identified the lack of social workers as a challenge faced by her department.

“Most of our workers have aged. Many have retired and we didn’t have any recruitment for a very long time. One social worker is managing three locations and we do not even have available social workers,” she said.

Shettima informed me that to work as a social worker means to sacrifice one’s time, energy and resources to ensure public welfare is delivered. She appealed to the government to help them by recruiting social workers who will give efficient welfare services to the community.

“We are calling on the state government to consider recruitment in this department and ensure their welfare as workers is prioritised, though we have been supporting some that are active with transport fare from our end,” she said.

THE LAW NEEDS EVIDENCE

There is a need for the public to be informed and educated on how to take legal actions in cases of abuse, violence and any form of harassment. Fatsuma Salihu, the secretary of FIDA, Borno state branch, said, “It is of great importance for the public to know where to report, when to report, and to whom SGBV cases should be reported to. Many of our people follow the wrong channel and before the redirection takes place, they lose some vital information that will be needed in the court because the law works in due process and need comprehensive evidence to convict offenders.”

Hassana Ibrahim told me that despite having all the evidence of abuse, her case has not been heard in the court yet.

“I have all the required evidence. What else do they want from me? This has happened twice. So, I made sure I didn’t lose any of the evidence including the medical report. I am tired of the process because with all that has been happening, my case didn’t reach the court yet. We need help,” she appealed.

CALL FOR ACTION 

Maimuna’s medical report from the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital

Stakeholder have recommended that the Borno state government consider recruitment of active social workers in other to achieve an SGBV informed society. Also, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and the court should ensure transparency while managing cases for survivors to be aware of the processes and available justice. We hope Ibrahim and her daughter get the justice they deserve in the end.


(Some names in the story were changed to protect the victims.)

This story was done with support from the Women Radio Centre and the MacArthur Foundation.

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