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SGBV survivors’ struggle for justice in Borno State

It was a hot afternoon in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri in Borno State, the kind that makes people sullen with discomfort in the month of August. Hassana…

It was a hot afternoon in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri in Borno State, the kind that makes people sullen with discomfort in the month of August. Hassana Ibrahim* smiled at her 6-year-old daughter Maimuna* while sitting on a mat. Mrs Ibrahim* raised her head with the same smile as she welcomed and offered this reporter a seat beside her. Suddenly, her cheery face turned gloomy after she was told of the reason for the visit. 

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

Modu lives in the same neighbourhood and Mrs Ibrahim* lamented how she watched him get away with sexual assault of her five-year-old daughter. “I cried over what happened to my daughter almost daily, her smile broke my heart, knowing that I am helpless to get her justice,” she added.

She said Modu continued to stalk and harass Maimuna because he came from a more influential and financially privileged family. “Whenever Modu sees Maimuna, he calls her “Kamunyi” which means my wife in Kanuri language. I reported to the state National Human Rights Commission and the police again, but no action was taken.” Sadly, she said the suspect raped her five-year-old daughter a second time.

She furiously lamented how the community and the system had failed Maimuna and other children by enabling the likes of Modu due to age limit. “I was sweeping the house when some boys ran into the house, carrying her in their arms, she was unconscious and bleeding. I felt like dying as I listened to them tell me how they found her laying under a tree. I quickly rushed her to the hospital. The doctors examined her. 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 explained.

Cases Delayed

Mrs Ibrahim says she no longer has faith in the system that should protect her and her five-year-old child and accused security agencies of being slow in their investigations. “At the police station, I was assured that I will get justice for my daughter but I have started losing faith. They have still not forwarded the case to the court, and it is now getting to seven weeks since the incident, though Modu is now in police custody,” she said. 

This reporter, however, found that the suspect’s family had sued Mrs. Ibrahim for 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 they said I lied against their son. The court sitting was adjourned to September 5, 2023, and I am confused as to why the court will even consider the allegation that I lied against their son. I can feel my daughter’s pain and I am afraid of what she may face in the future because of this. I desperately need justice for Maimuna,” Mrs Ibrahim* said.  She revealed how a friend suggested she contacts FIDA and how their swift action helped her. 

“FIDA sought intervention from the Borno State Ministry of Justice and the ministry notified the Chief Judge that there is a criminal case against the boy, so when we arrived the court on the fourth day, the Chief Judge dissolved the case,” she said. 

“I was a victim too”

Mrs Ibrahim was sexually assaulted at the age of three, at Baga Local Government Area in Borno State and later married at 17. “I dropped out of school and was divorced two weeks after my first marriage because of Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). Now 30, she still suffers from VVF and frequents Bauchi State for routine hospital checks. “This is my deepest secret but if it will help me find justice for my daughter, then I will expose it for the world to see, maybe someone will come to my aid,” she said.

Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) highlight ‘Best interest of the child.’ It says “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. “Also, Article 3 of the UNCRC, states that “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” and “Victims are entitled to be informed of the availability of legal, health and social services. In 2022, the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) recorded 495 Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) cases in Borno State. On 26 May 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 at 24 April 2023. 

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

16-year-old Zainab Isa* shared a bitter story of how she was abused a year ago. “I was raped at 15 by a man called Bana in 2022 in Bula-Bulin Garanam in Borno, I became pregnant and Bana ran away from the community. My parents rejected me,” she said. Zainab had no financial support and was unable to take care of herself and the pregnancy. 

“My parent sent me out of the house. My grandmother Iyya was the one who accommodated me. Iyya is old and could not even take me to the clinic. We could not gather evidence or seek any authoritative intervention through available Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) at the time. Three months after, a woman came to our house and told my grandmother that there is an organisation called Save the Children who can help me seek for justice.” 

She said her grandmother pleaded with them to help her get justice but that became difficult as there was no evidence to prove the rape case. The 16-year-old, however, said she was enrolled in a weekly counselling sessions and orientation on how to care for her pregnancy.

Grace Yakubu, a GBV case worker with Save the Children at Bulabulin Garanam, Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), explained that throughout their activities for over a year in that community, they were yet to come across any government social worker. “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,” Grace 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 active social workers supporting victims of SGBC. A social welfare field worker in Bama LGA, who agreed to speak on anonymity, disclosed that he has not been to work for over seven years because of 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 confirms that she has not been to work for about nine years. “I stopped going to work around 2013-2014, but I am not to blame for it. 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.

Speaking to this reporter, the Executive Director, Women in the New Nigeria and Youth Empowerment Initiative (WINN), Comrade Lucy Dlama Yunana, stated that the lack of social workers make 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,” Comrade Lucy explained.

The Social Welfare Director at the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Borno State, Mrs Aishatu Shettima, identified the lack of social workers as a challenge faced by her department. 

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

Mrs Shettima explained 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 recruit social workers for them to be able to give efficient welfare service to the community. “We are calling on the state government to consider recruitment in this department and ensure their welfare as workers, though we have been supporting some that are active with transport fare from our end,” she explained.

The law needs evidence

The secretary, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Borno State branch, Barrister Fatsuma Salihu, 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 needs comprehensive evidence to convict offenders,” she said. 

Hassana Ibrahim whose daughter Maimuna was raped explained that despite having all the evidence of abuse, her case has not been heard in court yet. 

“I have all the required evidence, what else do they want from me? This is the second time it has happened, 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 hasn’t reached the court yet, we need help,” she said.

Call for Action

It is recommendable that the Borno State government considers 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, and it is hoped that Mrs Ibrahim and her daughter get the justice they deserve in the end.

*All names with asterisks were changed to protect sources.


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