Nigeria: As Nigerians Grapple With COVID-19 Lockdown, Lagos Witnesses Increase in Sexual, Gender Violence

1 June 2020

Last November, a local television station called AIT broadcast a story about a pregnant woman killed by her husband. Mathew Ankyoor, 37, brutally beat his wife, Doosur--a mother of three children--because she refused to do his laundry and complained of being sick. She was eight months pregnant. Doosur and the baby did not survive. In December, another young man chased his girlfriend in the southern Nigerian village of Buguma, in Rivers state, following a dispute before severely beating her inside the home of a neighbour where she had sought refuge.

Such attacks are common in Nigeria where violence against women remains a problem despite on-going campaigns against it by government and non-governmental organizations. With the COVID-19 lockdown and stay home containment order across the county by both states and federal governments, there was a spike in reported cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV). This was the subject of a webinar organized by the Spotlight Initiative Project, implemented by Project Alert On Violence Against Women, and NGO based in Lagos.

The webinar, titled COVID-19 & Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Response in Lagos, had the key government and non-governmental stakeholders discussing the challenges this spike poses, and the response measures that have been out in place. The government stakeholders who served as panelists during the webinar, were Mrs. Titilola Vivour Adeniyi, Coordinator of the Domestic & Sexual Violence Response Team, DSVRT; and the DSP Bala Elkanah, Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Police Command.

Both officials confirmed the spike in sexual and gender-based violence cases, noting that the restrictions forced vulnerable persons to be locked in with their attackers. Mrs. Vivour Adeniyi said the DSVRT, having anticipated that such could happen, had moved all its services online, with a 24 hours hotline, and active social media presence. According to her, working in collaboration with the police, and other service providers, including NGOs, they were able to respond to several cases. According to her, DSVRT in March alone (the month of total lockdown), the agency received 390 reports, adding that the agency had a 60 percent increase in domestic violence, a 30 percent rise in sexual violence, and a 10 percent increase in physical child abuse. She identified inadequate shelters as one major challenge, along with the suspension of court sittings during the period.

Corroborating Mrs. Vivour-Adeniyi's assertion on an increase in reported cases of domestic and sexual violence in the state, DSP Bala Elkana, Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State encouraged victims to report cases of sexual and gender-based violence to the Family Support Unit, FSU in police divisions. He added that though these FSU units are only located in 12 out of the 110 police divisions, police officers in other divisions are not expected to turn back victims when they come to report.

In her own presentation, Sussan Ihuoma Kelechi, a Nigerian living with disability reminded the audience of the struggle and difficulties that come with living with a disability in Nigeria especially under the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19. She highlighted the triple challenge of living with a disability, being a woman, and having to deal with hunger and abuse from your caregivers. She commended the Lagos State government for the 3000 food palliatives shared to persons with a disability, and Project Alert for the N15,000 cash palliative it gave to 30 women with disability.

Praise Fowowe, an author and anti-child sexual abuse activist, highlighted the importance of male involvement in the campaign to end all forms of abuse against women and girls. Masculinity he said should not be defined by violence. No man is born violent, he said, adding that it is a learned behavior that must be done away with. He expressed his sadness at the fact that some men are terrorists in their homes.

The Executive Director of Project Alert, Dr. Josephine Effah-Chukwuma in her closing remarks, commended the panelists and informed webinar participants that in acknowledgment of the endemic nature of sexual and gender-based violence and the increase in cases during this time of COVID-19, the Spotlight Initiative Project would be taking the anti-violence campaign to community-based male and female groups and associations in 9 LGAs across the 3 senatorial zones in Lagos state. The objective being for these groups to be watchdogs, zero-tolerance advocates; and first responders when any form of domestic and sexual violence occurs.

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