Osai Ojigho, a lawyer, is the Country Director of Amnesty International. Prior to joining Amnesty International in April 2017, Ojigho was with Oxfam International, the African Union Mission to Mali and the Sahel, Alliances for Africa and the International Criminal Court. In the wake of the revelation that 700 rape cases were recorded by the police last year, Ojigho spoke with Sunday Sun on the disturbing trend.
Given the rapidly increasing incidence of rape what is the position of Amnesty International?
The position of Amnesty International is simple: sex without consent is rape. Anyone who commits rape should face the law and serve the punishment. While rape is a serious crime that can happen to anyone, women and girls are mostly affected. Rape traumatizes its victims and many are scared to report what has happened to them due to stigma and fear that they would not be believed. To victims of rape, you have the right to be safe and live a life full of no violence. Speak your truth and seek justice.
Now that women are raped in homes, churches, schools and other places, where is the safe place for women now?
This is a problematic question because it contributes to the victim blaming. If we want rape to end in our society, we all should call on the government to prosecute alleged rapists and urge our legislators to strengthen the legal framework across Nigeria, to adopt the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act that became law in 2015. The law is applicable in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). So far only Kaduna, Anambra, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Osun, Ogun and Cross River states have passed VAPP laws. Lagos State has a Prohibition Against Domestic Violence Law and an updated criminal law. Each state should share data and information to NAPTIP for the National Sex Offenders Register.
What punishment should be meted out to offenders?
The law has prescribed punishments. In FCT and the states that have VAPP laws, rape is punished by minimum of 12 years to life imprisonment. Other states also have varying levels of imprisonment based on the Criminal Code and Penal Code. The first thing that needs to be done is to ensure that investigations for rape are prioritized by police and treated with utmost gender-sensitivity. Evidence needs to be preserved and victims supported from their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. This will increase the chances of successful prosecutions. The National Sex Offenders Register was launched in 2019 and all convicted rapists would be publicly named in the register. This will also serve as a deterrent and reduce repeat offending.
Fingers point at careless or indecent dressing as reasons for rape, how true is that?
Dressing is not an excuse for rape.
What do you think about social stigma which makes victims reluctant to open up?
Social stigma sadly discourages victims from speaking up. However, due to campaigns by CSOs and women’s rights activists the shame is being shifted to alleged and convicted rapists. The public is slowly realizing that a rape is not the end of the world for victims and with sustained campaigns there will be more support for victims and survivors.
Tell us a bit about Amnesty International.
Amnesty International is a human rights organisation that campaigns for a world where every person’s dignity and rights are respected. The organisation was created in 1961 and is working in over 150 countries. Amnesty International started working on Nigeria issues since 1967. It opened a national office in Abuja in 2015. In the last 15 years, Amnesty International has released some reports on gender-based violence against women in Nigeria. 1) Unheard voices: violence against women in the family (2005); 2) Rape – the Silent Weapon (2006); 3) “They betrayed us”- Women who survived boko haram, raped, starved and detained in Nigeria (2015). Due to the rising cases of rape in Nigeria and following the vicious rape and death of 22-year old Uwaila Omosuwa and 18-year old Barakat Bello, Amnesty International developed a petition to the authorities demanding justice. The link to the petition is: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/justice-for-uwa-and-barakat/ and all would be sent to the Attorney-General of the Federation to urge him to take action against perpetrators of these horrific crimes and ensure that rape cases are getting much needed support to progress in the justice system.
What has been the high point for you?
One of the biggest highlights for me was the recognition given to Amnesty International Nigeria for the great work that we are doing in the country. The Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) awarded Amnesty International Nigeria the Anti-Corruption Defender Award (Human Rights Specialty) in 2019. When I set out to pursue a career in human rights, I wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Therefore when a person who was unlawfully detained is released or a community is saved from forced eviction, those significant victories are for me and it is the most satisfying part of the job.
…And the low points?
The low point is that despite all the work being done by Amnesty International and other CSOs in Nigeria, the country is still battling incessant killings and insecurity in the country. Community clashes still occur that have led to internal displacements and human rights violations. Impunity can only end with full government commitment to punish perpetrators regardless of status. I would continue to call for a fair and just world and ask others to support human rights and the work of human rights defenders. As the Country Director, I oversee the activities and management of the organisation’s activities in Nigeria. My responsibilities include managing research, campaigns and advocacy interventions. The role offers me an opportunity to help people and be an advocate for good governance, rule of law and accountability. Our ongoing work covers Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR), criminal justice reform including police accountability, rights in crisis, securing civic space and freedom of expression.