The Nigerian state and its apparatus are much maligned for a cacophony of reasons. Claims of economic mismanagement and corruption are often levelled mercilessly at the state, something even I myself am guilty of. However the system should be given credit where credit is due, as over the weekend Lagos became the first Nigerian state to open courts earmarked for the specific purpose of prosecuting sexual offences.
It seems that this development has unfolded at a pertinent time. At present approximately 600 pending sexual offence cases are due to be heard in high court of Lagos, not including the ones in the Magistrates’ courts.
Sexual violence and sexism are particularly pertinent issues in Nigeria and for Lagos State to make this step doubles as a symbolic victory for all that is decent as well as being a streamlined, efficient system for prosecuting some of the worst offenders in society. Considering Nigeria is such a deeply religious and conservative country this step is a progressive leap enviable even among the most liberal of democracies.
A study on victims of sexual violence revealed that:
- over 31.4% of girls surveyed said their first sexual encounter had been rape or forced sex of some kind.
- the number of reported sexual assault victims increased by 1000% between 2006 and 2015
- Between 2015 and 2017 the figure increased by 200%
Four Special Offences and Sexual Offences courts have been inaugurated. Two of the courts will judge on economic and financial crimes, while the other two will try sexual offences. Present at the inauguration of the courts was Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who heaped praise on the Chief Justice of Nigeria for initiating the bill, before stating “These sexual offences courts will have trained and experienced prosecutors to interact with survivors, provide support and ensure timely prosecution of the cases.” A sizeable female presence was also notable at the event; Dolapo Osinbajo, the wife of the Vice President, the state’s Deputy Governor Idiat Adebule, and the Lagos State First Lady, Mrs Bolanle Ambode were also present.
The state is also working on expanding the operations of the DNA and Forensic Centre and Chemistry section to operate in tandem with the new courts.
Arguably, this isn’t the coup that it’s being heralded as. After all, Lagos is one state of 36 and there are still large swathes of the country where patriarchy in its most extreme form dominates the existence of women; stripping them of their natural rights, autonomy and dignity. The Northern regions of Nigeria in particular are not culturally conducive with the empowerment of women as individuals and as a group.
Nonetheless, this is a spark that indicates Nigeria’s forward march with regards to human rights. The country has a long way to go. Perhaps the metropolitan hub that is Lagos will set an example for the reminder of the country. A Nigeria where the women are more valued and demonstrably safer is a better Nigeria for everyone.