- ‘ Cases of rape rise to 84% in Nigeria’
- Dana air crash update: 23 aircrash victims’ families yet to receive compensation
- Mimiko inaugurates new Mother & Child hospital today
- N4.56b pension scam: Female accused hospitalised,trial stalled
- Construction workers hail FG’s decision on Lagos-Ibadan expressway
- Senate adjourns plenary for 1 week, dissolves to Appropriation committee.
- Blackout looms as Egbin power plant breaks down
- FMBN, NEXIM, BOA, IB lose N47bn in 6 months - CBN
- FirstBank wins Nigerian Bank of the Year award
- PDP tackles ACN over Tukur’s comments
- Electricity workers threaten strike over Wamakko
- ‘NDIC prosecuted 55 directors, staff of micro finance banks in 2011’
- Judgment in Oni’s appeal stalled, re-fixed for Jan 8
- Slain banker: Deceased had only 3 wounds -Accused’s father
- Appointments: S/West not marginalised —FCC
‘Violence against women is responsible for high rate of divorce in the society’
Funmi Falana is not just married to a popular human rights lawyer and activist, she is also a lawyer and human rights activist, who fights the cause of women and children. In this interview with Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare, the women rights activist, who is also the founder of Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA) speaks on provisions of the law on domestic violence, the implications of domestic violence on children, child rights and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of human rights in Nigeria?
Well, when you say assessment of human rights, which aspect are you talking about? Human Rights generally, rights guaranteed under chapter 12, right to information, liberty, and dignity. All these are encompassed under our human rights law in Nigeria. Freedom of expression however has improved unlike what we have under the military; you can speak out your mind without fear of being sent to detention. But that is not to say that the right to fair hearing, dignity and liberty are perfect though we have the laws protecting these rights.
How well are the law enforcement agencies obeying and enforcing these laws?
That is the question to ask. The laws are in place but most times, these laws are violated. Who do we point accusing fingers at, most of the time, the practitioners, law enforcement agents sometimes, on one or two occasions, you also see government infringing on the rights of citizens. But you would also agree with me that it may not be as rampant as it is under the military rule, because today under democratic structure, things are a little better than it was before.
What is your reaction to the recent sack of 788 doctors by the Lagos State Government?
The sack of doctors is violating their rights. Rights of expression, right to determination and right to work, which is a socio-economic right, it is the right of every citizen. These rights have been given to people. There is also the right to determination, right to decide what happens to you in your place of work, to have your input in the governance of your society, the right to decide who governs you and the right to have an input in the condition of service in your place of work. These are rights guaranteed to citizens of this country. The strike action of doctors is not a violation of any law. The law of this country provides for this and the best thing that the government should have done is to declare a trade dispute and go to the National Industrial Court.
How has the fight for gender equality been in Nigeria?
We have been trying as much as possible to get all women to realize all these rights. The laws of this country confer equal rights on men and women. The practice is far from this expression however. Most women need to realize that they have equal rights with their male counterparts before they can try to enforce it. And so we have been trying to see how we can enlighten and educate them to realize these rights. We have programmes to enlighten our women, there is one on Choice FM on Wednesdays, that deal with rights of women and children, you must get to know that you have a right before you can move to enforce it.
Is there a relationship between domestic violence and high rate of divorce?
Violence against women is responsible for the high rate of divorce in the society. One of the consequences of violence against women in the society are domestic violence that lead to capital offences. It should be noted that domestic violence is not peculiar to our society. it is not peculiar to any race, tribe or any nation. It is an international phenomenon. It happens in America, Asia and other continents just as it happens regularly in Africa. The only difference is that the degree of occurrence in this part of the world is rather high. The degree of occurrence in America can in no way be compared with what we have here in Nigeria. Because so much struggle have been waged in the past in America against this ill in the society, so culture dramatically over the years have been changed. Values placed on women can almost equal that of men in those communities. We also need to wage our struggle in this era, against this domestic violence. We discovered that women do not even get to report cases of violence because of cultural issues. Society closes its eyes when you say you want to divorce and they want you to continue to remain in a home without peace, what happens eventually, is either one of the couple kills the other. In Kirikiri prison, at the women section we discovered almost 95% of women awaiting trial for murder were women who fought with their husbands in domestic violence situations. More often than not, they get fed up and fight back and in the process, kill the husbands. In other words, their cases are an aftermath of domestic violence and they are quite many.
What has been done in the campaign against domestic violence?
One of the strategies is that laws had been made against violence. There are laws legislated against violence in the home. There is a specific law initiated in Lagos State against domestic violence in the home and other connected offences. Likewise in Ekiti, Akwa-Ibom and Ogun states, they have enacted similar laws. We are on campaign to other states, the law is not to disturb marriages but to remove perpetrators from the home, we get court injunctions against them to stay away, social workers monitor for a particular period .it is assumed that over a period of time, the person may be rehabilitated and peace will be restored. When rehabilitation cannot be achieved, the marriage breaks down
How do you rate government efforts in curbing this menace?
Government is not doing enough but also I must say that the ill is so much embedded in the society to the extent that the effort of the government is almost negligible. It is not only a woman that can be a victim of domestic violence but also a man, a child or even a domestic servant, anyone can take advantage of the law. The Lagos State government under the initiative of the Deputy Governor have set up a home, victims of domestic violence have the opportunity to stay in the home for a period of three months during which they go through vocational studies and it is expected that during this period, the home front would have settled down as the parties would go through series of counselling during this period.
What effect does domestic violence have on children?
The impact is terrible, one man impregnated a woman and abandoned her, the woman had to remarry and take the child to her new home, making the child live with someone who isn’t her father and the step-father raped her. Most children that are picked up on the road, most times; they are children from broken homes. There was a time we picked up one Bunkunmi from the gutter because the mother left the father, the boy left his father’s house in Ilesa and according to him because he was being abused by his step-mother, he ran from home and we had to pick him and keep him for 10days after reporting to the police and we contacted the father who later came when we threatened to report the matter to the government and we talked to him and reconciled him with his son. Issues like that we discover normally have effects on children, usually on the product of the marriage it tells much more on the children. We have had cases of domestic violence as it cuts across different sections of the society, the uneducated and educated, old and young, poor and the rich, lower and the upper class as well as the middle class. You will remember the ambassador that beat his wife and had to be recalled, a King in Ondo state, Deji of Akure that beat his wife Adebola, who later died and the young man that allegedly killed his banker wife. It is a matter that has no regard for class and it affects children more.
How are Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) responding to this challenge?
NGOs unfortunately are chasing shadows otherwise; they would have been able to achieve more results that we are seeing. There are quite a lot of NGOs but they are doing little so there is little development. Some NGOs like ours however, have taken the struggle to court rooms. Most of the time, we fight cases on behalf of the victims. We have many cases in day, an average of 10 women come in here daily to complain of domestic violence. We invite the husband and they respond most times, some children have been reconciled with parents, couples reconciled through our mediation and arbitration so it is not only in court rooms that we settle our matter, we also advocate out of court settlements.
How can the right of children be enforced?
This can be done through Child Rights Law and it is the responsibility of the government in power. In any state where there is no child rights law, the child rights act applies so there is no vacuum, we have written a letter to the Deputy Governor and she has taken action on this. Every day you see children on the streets wiping windscreens, street trading and all other activities prohibited by the law. And there is a Section of the child rights law that empowers the government to set up a body to monitor the implementation of the child rights law, take the children away and install them in schools, there was a particular time we instituted an action during the Tinubu administration that empowers us to take the children off the street, section 15 of the law provides for right to free education which should be guaranteed to every child, an action was filed to compel the Lagos state government to remove children from the street and put them in schools. The matter unfortunately was thrown out because we were told we had no Locus Standi. The fundamental right law had not been enacted then but now with the new rules of fundamental right, that issue was removed completely. Now, I can go to court for any child or for anybody and you can do that too as you are supposed to be your brother’s keeper.