Victim reluctance, lengthy trials and out-of-court settlements impede the path to justice.

Family interference, slow judicial process and “public shame” are among the factors affecting successful prosecution of cases of domestic abuses and violations in Benue State. Human rights activists say though they are not discouraged, taking up cases of the abuse is weakening.

Like elsewhere in the country, data shows that cases of domestic abuse and women rights violation are on the rise in Nigeria’s Benue State. According to a study published in BMC Women’s Health, almost one in four women in Nigeria reported having ever experienced intimate partner violence (IPV), which is a type of domestic violence. Experts say even where some of the cases are entertained in court, they are characterized with delays and shortfalls of evidence to convict the offenders.

In April this year, Daily Trust reported that seven cases of sexual abuse were “reported within one month in two Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Benue State.” The report went on to say that “a case of child marriage was also recorded in one out of the many IDP camps in the state.”

Ukan Kurugh is a digital content creator, humanitarian and graduate of the Benue State University Makurdi, who is using the social media platforms to serve as a voice to others and for response to health issues, education, disaster and human rights.

“Ignorance and poverty are at the centre of many human rights violations in Nigeria,” said Ukan. 

Ukan says he has handled several cases relating to physical abuse, child marriage, abandonment, and so on. He specifically mentioned the case of Elizabeth Ogbanje, who suffered sexual abuse in the hands of a man who was supposed to be her guardian, leading to her death.

“She suffered the abuse and couldn’t survive it. We were heartbroken when the court set the culprit free,” said Ukan. 

Ukan mentioned other incidences: the case of a ten-year old boy, who was allegedly brutalised by his guardian in Makurdi, over a pot of soup, a case of a 12-Year-old girl, a victim of rape, the case of a five-year-old girl, who was raped by a 70-year old man who was HIV positive, the case of a 14-year-old mentally ill girl, allegedly defiled by an operative of the Nigeria Police, Benue State Command and the case of physical abuse of a young girl by her stepsister, whom all have suffered persecution due to “pressure from families, prosecution and the judicial process,” said Ukan. 

“The case of Elizabeth Ogbanje has been prosecuted and judgment delivered at the court of first instance. It is sad that in spite of the available evidence, the court did not deliver the judgment in our favour and the offender was left off the hook. It is sad we lost Elizabeth and also lost the battle for justice. It is such a painful experience. 

“Many other cases have been handled in collaboration with Nigeria Police and operatives of NAPTIP. At some occassions, parents or guardians of those who suffer violations later reached out of court settlement, leaving you humiliated.”

Ukan emphasized that the biggest problem lies with the judiciary because of “all forms of adjournment and after a long time in court, your matter is thrown out on technical grounds.”

The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Benue State branch says from 2022 to date, the association has handled 53 cases of violence against women in Benue State. Prisca Ula, the state chairperson of FIDA, who disclosed this during the celebration of the 2023 International Women Day in Makurdi, capital city of Benue State, said though some of the cases are still ongoing in courts, some of the parties involved have decided to withdraw the cases and settle out of court.

“It is important to reflect and focus on the key role innovation and technology play in promoting gender equality and as well stop violence against women,” said Ula. 

She called for gender inclusive, innovation and collective efforts from government, civil society organizations, FBOs, international institutions, and their agencies to help the plight of the Nigerian girls and women by increasing their digital skills to help bridge the inequality and digital gender gap.

The FIDA Chairperson identifies gender gaps in technology-related fields like Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), as part of the challenges hindering women representation in innovation across the country.

Solumtochukwu Ozobulu, Legal/Programme Officer at Lawyers ALert, a civil organisation that protects and supports victims of sexual violence, says the measure challenge in matters of abuse and violation is witnesses or victims’ unwillingness to pursue prosecution. Most times, family and culture interfere with such cases.

“The next thing you hear is we’ve settled or I have forgiven him and they are unwilling to come out and testify, they are unwilling to pursue justice. And when they are willing to pursue justice, there is always this delay in our justice system where cases that shouldn’t last long stay for a long period of time, making victims and survivors recount their traumatic experiences.

“I think something needs to be done about that. Either a special court is set aside to adjudicate these matters so that it will be done once and for all. Maximum in the period of one month for these cases to be dealt with. Then another delay is the concern about investigation and evidence before the court. The court doesn’t work according to our emotions or feelings. So there is this need to gather evidence before going to court,” said Ozobulu.

She that convinced that the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) rather than the penal code should be the main law for prosecuting the offenders of these offences.

Sewuese Anene, a Superintendent of Police and the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for Benue State Command, said “no matter what the public perception is, if victims are not willing to speak up, there is little or nothing the police can do.”

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