On May 28, Vera Uwaila Omosuwa, a 22- year old microbiology student at the University of Benin, Edo State was raped and brutally assaulted after she went to study in a church, according to reports received by the National Human Rights Commission.
She died two days later.
But even while this brutal incident shook the country, media reported the harrowing case of a 12-year-old girl gang raped by 11 men in Jigawa state, generating further outrage. The Police have arrested the 11 suspects.
Violence against women and girls is all too familiar, prosecutions and convictions are not.
Nigerian media regularly carry stories of gruesome violence against women and girls, and an ensuing lack of justice. An estimated two million Nigerian women and girls are sexually assaulted annually, according to Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, but few of these cases are reported, let alone prosecuted, due to the stigma associated with being a rape survivor, fear of reprisals, and distrust of the authorities.
In 2015, the Nigerian federal government enacted the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, a law aimed at banning all forms of violence and providing justice for such crimes. Its adoption marked the successful completion of a 14-year-long campaign by women’s groups and gender activists seeking better legal protection for women and girls.
But five years on, the law is only applicable in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and in the 9 out of Nigeria’s 36 states that have ratified it. While some states have relevant domestic violence laws, violence against women is still disturbingly pervasive and survivors continue to face formidable barriers, from reporting to police, to getting health care, counseling, and legal aid.
A female student should not have to think twice about her safety when studying in a church. Women and girls in Nigeria have a right to live in dignity and free from violence. The authorities should adopt and enforce laws to ensure they can do so. Reform also requires police accountability, a more sensitive and responsive criminal justice system, and a concerted public campaign to address gender-based violence. The authorities should start with ensuring #JusticeForUwa.