AT CONTINENTAL HOTEL, ABUJA, ON TUESDAY, 17TH JANUARY, 2023
Let me start by welcoming our Hon. Justices and all our distinguished guests to this special occasion of capacity building workshop for Justices of our law Courts. The workshop is second in the series being organised by the Federal Ministry of Justice for key sector players involved in the investigation, prosecution and trial of offences on the very complex and vexed issue of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).
Sexual and Gender-based violence has become a disturbing phenomenon across all countries of the world. It is a problem occurring in every culture, community and across social groups, often manifesting in different forms. As a result, discourse on SGBV has continued to be on the front burner in various fora, as it has become a menace that can no longer be tolerated.
The Federal Government of Nigeria has in response, initiated far-reaching policy, institutional and legislative measures to curb the growing menace of SGBV offences in our communities. Firstly, on the 25th of May, 2015, the Federal Government, through active collaboration with women groups and gender rights activists, enacted a landmark legislation, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015 (VAPP). The objectives of this law are to eliminate violence in private and public life, prohibit all forms of violence, including physical, sexual, psychological, domestic, harmful traditional practices, discrimination against persons and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders. This legislation has now been passed and adopted as State Laws in 34 out of the 36 States of the Federation.
Secondly, in 2020, the President directed a targeted government response to the SGBV problem, predominantly in the area of access to justice with the Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation taking the lead. It is this presidential directive that resulted in other collaborative initiatives which led to the:
- Establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Management Committee (IMC) on the Eradication of SGBV;
- Establishment of the SGBV Response Unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice to facilitate access to justice to victims of SGBV related offences;
- Setting up of the Prosecution Hub consisting of selected investigators and prosecutor from relevant MDAs to ensure a coordinated and effective investigation and prosecution of SGBV cases at the Federal level;
- Creation by the Inspector General of Police, of Gender Desks at all police commands and stations, to attend to cases of gender-based violence;
- Designation by the Hon. Chief Judge of the FCT of four special Courts for the trial of SGBV cases; and
- Development and signing of the Practice Direction and Guidelines on the trial of sexual and gender-based violence cases and ancillary procedure (Practice Direction) under the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act.
Against the background of these initiatives, it became imperative for justice sector stakeholders to provide additional support structures in form of sensitization, support for victims of SGBV offences, as well as specialised training for key sector players involved in the investigation, prosecution and trial of SGBV related offences.
This capacity building programme is therefore organised in recognition of the central role that the judiciary plays as drivers of the machinery of criminal justice administration in Nigeria, as well as the need for dynamism on their part in expeditiously performing their role as envisaged under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015).
The judiciary plays a critical role in the criminal justice response to SGBV. It is uniquely placed to ensure that relevant criminal laws on SGBV are interpreted and applied with gender sensitivity and in appropriate language having regard to the victim’s age, educational level, cultural background, physical or mental disabilities.
Part of the objectives of this mutual learning workshop therefore is to support our judicial officers in tackling gendered violence by improving access to justice for victims of SGBV, and in the process, reduce the risk of their secondary victimization. The workshop is also expected to aid effective prosecution, ensure access to justice for victims and ultimately reduce the prevalence of SGBV offences in Nigeria.
The capacity building programme will further aid our Judges in developing insights into the emerging SGBV challenges namely: Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) and School Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV). CRSV in Nigeria occurs in the context of the Boko Haram war which is being prosecuted as terrorism (a federal offence) in North-eastern part of Nigeria. However, the underlying conducts that constitute the CRSV are triable as rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and other SGBV offences at State level under the extant criminal laws. There is therefore the need to train judges from the States in the conflict-ridden zone on the nature and context of CSRV offences for a gender sensitive adjudication of these type of cases.
SRGBV on the other hand, are perpetrated in schools. It is fostered by gender stereotypes and enforced by unequal power relations. SRGBV is highly pervasive in schools in Nigeria across all region today. It has resulted in massive human rights violation and increased the number of out of school children particularly, the girl child. There is therefore the need to bring our judiciary and other law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities to the knowledge of these dimensions of SGBV offences, as well as the nuances and dynamics of how to handle the cases.
In this regard, the Federal Government will continue to seek ways to support the Judiciary in developing its capacities, particularly to invest in technologies that are necessary to automate vital aspects of court operations and implement a digital justice delivery system. The expectations are that the judiciary must innovate and grow with the times. Part of this expected innovation entails imbibing dynamism in the application and adjudication of our laws and cases.
I am therefore impressed by the rich assemblage of experienced and competent Resource Persons who shall address some of these issues over the next few days. It is my expectation that this workshop will come up with solid proposals on how to continuously engage and improve the knowledge base of our judges in tackling the recurring challenges of SGBV in Nigeria.
I thank you all for your attention and wish you a most fulfilling workshop.
ABUBAKAR MALAMI, SAN
Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice