Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Aisha (not real name) was nine years old when she lost her father to insurgency in 2014. Her father was one of the victims in Bama town during one of the attacks that hit the town.
The insurgents eventually declared the town their caliphate, forcing Aisha, alongside her mother and four other siblings, to flee to Maiduguri, Borno State, some 87 kilometres away, where they have been living in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in the outskirts of the city.
Over the years, life in the camp has been very difficult as foods and other eatables are either insufficient or are sometimes unavailable to the residents. Aisha, now 14, has since taken to hawking of local seasonings with the money a relative offered her mother to support the family against the challenges of living in the camp.
Cases of sexual inducement, harassment, abuse, rape and other forms of gender-based violence are commonplace in the North-East, particularly in states affected by insurgency. With breakdown of the family institution in the affected areas, women and girls have become even more vulnerable to inducement, sexual harassment, abuse and sometimes rape.
A pro-gender justice campaigner, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), estimated that about 45,000 women have been widowed by the crisis while about three million people were dislodged from their homes. Against this background, the group recently took its advocacy to Borno State, the epicentre of insurgency, with a view to building the capacity of women community leaders, aids workers and leaders of associations on how they can identify moves of sexual harassment, abuse and rape.
The group simultaneously trained lecturers and administrators of academic institutions on the increasing cases of sex-for-mark phenomenon in the university in Maiduguri. WARDC Executive Director, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said: “We are training about 70 people mostly women leaders, community leaders and association. Sexual harassment is on the increase in our society and the northeast is peculiar because of the violence.”
She explained that the two trainings were held simultaneously though in two separate halls with different participants, since they both deal with gender-based violence. She maintained that sexual harassment was rampant in most Nigerian tertiary institutions: “The essence of talking to the lecturers and administrators is to provide more information on the challenge and ways of addressing this embarrassing situation.”
She said societal values and morality, which form the fulcrum of academic excellence in universities, have been undermined by sexual harassment either by teachers/lecturers against their female students or by female students against their teachers/lecturers.
According to her, some participants at the training had attributed the causes of the the problem to poor economy or to poor remunerations, insisting: “Such an excuse cannot be justified. Sexual abuse or sex-for-marks on campuses, according to her, caused by inadequate hostel accommodation for students, overcrowded classes as well as gaps in the legal system.
“The classes are inadequate and overcrowded. Most students don’t get to hear what the lecturers teach and attempts to seek clarifications from their teachers in their offices make them to be vulnerable to sexual inducement. Similar situation occurs when female students look for accommodation in the hostels. They become susceptible to sexual advancements from potters because of inadequate accommodation.”
Prof Patricia Donli, one of the facilitators advocated the establishment of a support system for female students and the establishment of referral for rape cases. Donli, a former head of a disciplinary committee on examination malpractices and misconduct at the University of Maiduguri also recommended an improved sensitization of students on the incident of rape and other forms of violence.
Speaking on Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Abdiel Kude, disclosed that the training followed previous engagements with some sections of women in the state, earlier in the year: “Rape cases are highly prevalent, there is sexual harassment at the IDPs camps. Most young girls are sexually induced either by aid workers or security personnel when they are given aids.”
A participant, Mrs Mary Hassan, said: “It has helped us to be conscious of these issues at stake and to train others at the IDPs camps.” “We know a lot of things about these challenges. We were very ignorant before,” Fatima Abbas said.
Mrs Victoria Philibus, a woman leader at IDPs camp, said the issue of child labour was more prominent in some camps: “Some parents encouraged their female children to go out and meet men so that they could come back with some money or food because of poverty and hunger. Government should improve on the well-being of IDPs.”