National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

Harry Obe [PHOTO: Twitter @NhrcNigeria]Harry Obe [PHOTO: Twitter @NhrcNigeria]
Harry Obe [PHOTO: Twitter @NhrcNigeria]

PREMIUM TIMES:
Sir, let me start like this: Are we winning the battle against SGBV?
Harry Obe:
It depends on what we want to achieve. If winning the war means total eradication, then, we are not winning the war. But, if we look at winning the war in the context of what the war really is and that is seeing it as a human problem that must be exposed, dealt with, and then reduced to the barest minimum, then we are making progress. I said so because there is an increase in visibility, which means the exposure is happening and there is also a lot of talk and recommendations as to how to end it, it means we are making process towards winning in the context of reducing it to the barest minimum, but if the war is seen from the context of total eradication, then we have not started the fight.
PREMIUM TIMES:
The argument is that fighting this war means everybody to collaborate, from the stakeholders and everybody pushing the same direction, the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are doing their best and the other stakeholders like the religious leaders and community leaders, what do you think they need to do?
Harry Obe:
The CSOs are doing their best. Other stakeholders like religious leaders, cultural and traditional gatekeepers also need to be up and doing. We really need to focus our attention on them because the violence or discrimination is embedded in their constituency – culture and tradition. And so, to make any headway they must be fully brought on board and be seen to be leading the fight or the advocacy for its reduction or total elimination. So, they may be coming on board gradually, but they need to do much more than what we are seeing now so that we can all work together with the CSOs. The government is also trying their best because if you look at the government from the perspective of MDAs like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) and the Ministry of Women Affairs. They are also doing their best by talking about it. But, at the end of the day, the success story of one person can only be complete if others complement what that person is doing. So, there is a need for all hands to be on deck if we must win the fight against SGBV.
PREMIUM TIMES:
Is the media spotlighting the problems enough? Are we doing the best we can to ensure that the issues around SGBV are highlighted as you said and increase media advocacy to see that Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act is domesticated in the states yet to do so? Is the media paying enough attention?
Harry Obe:
The media needs to do more. I must use that as an entry point for discussing the media role in dealing with the issue of SGBV in Nigeria. I understand what the challenges are and there are a lot of competing interests. Practitioners within the media circle in Nigeria are as challenged as any other component of Nigeria, in terms of remuneration, adequate funding and all that. There seems to be a competition for space in terms of visibility. So, we know very well that victims and the survivors of SGBV in Nigeria do not have the resources to compete with anybody in terms of visibility.
We really need to encourage the media to devote adequate time to bring visibility to bear on issues of SGBV in Nigeria. They are trying their best; we have one of the most vibrant media in Africa. If they are to deploy all their skills and resources to deal with issues around SGBV in Nigeria, I can bet on it, that we would have been far, far higher or we would have made better progress than we are making now. Not giving enough coverage to issues of SGBV in Nigeria, for the constraints I have outlined is understandable. But the media needs to focus more and also mainstream SGBV into their community and social services. What I am trying to say is that the media needs to see it as a moral obligation or social or community services scheme to the victims of SGBV and society at large. Let’s look at focusing on SGBV as part of our own contribution to society.
PREMIUM TIMES:
I now want to zero down to the NHRC, which is where you work. How easy has it been for people to report SGBV cases and what is the success story in terms of conviction rate and what are the constraints to that?
Harry Obe
For NHRC, from our own side, it is very easy to encourage people to come and report because the Commission does not charge people anything to render our services. And we also look at it as a human rights issue. We do not have any doubt that SGBV issues, particularly rape, are human rights issues, and so for us, it falls directly within our mandate.

But, we also need to get people to make the complaints. There has been some form of response or some improvement with regards to the reportage of complaints with regards to SGBV in Nigeria. I gave you an example the other time, and I will reiterate it again. But, if we are to judge by the data of complaints that have come into the Commission, between 2020 and March 2021, we got over 130,000 complaints on SGBV alone. I mean between January 2020 and March 2021 that is barely a year and a few months, the Commission received one hundred and thirty-nine thousand, seven hundred and eight (139, 780) cases of SGBV. Out of that, we have been able to work on some of them; we have concluded over thirty-nine thousand (39,000) cases and over ninety-seven thousand (97,000) cases are still ongoing.
It is ongoing because SGBV cases are not cases you conclude quickly. You cannot rush it because there are human rights components, protection components and criminal components. So by our law, the law says that in the course of protecting human rights, if we come across any form of crime that is believed to have been committed, the Commission is obliged to refer such crime or criminal action to either the Attorney General of the Federation or the Attorney General of the states or to the Police or any other relevant government agency that has the mandate to deal with the criminal component of it. After the referral, we now wait for feedback. So, some of these cases that are still ongoing are such cases that have been referred by the Commission. We would have dealt with the protection aspect of it by removing the survivor or the victim from the violating environment to a more protective environment, by proving either shelter or providing some medical services or facilitating access to some social security services.
I think it has been easy in the context of an increase in the number of people that are willing to come out and complain, but it has been quite challenging with regards to providing the requisite environment for some level of comfort. Now we are working on stabilizing the arrangement for our shelter and even if we have one shelter, that is one, it will be one out of 36 states of the federation. There is no way we can even say that ten (10) shelters per state is adequate, not to talk of when we are working on having just one.
We can also give kudos to the level of collaboration we have with the Civil Society Organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations and even the media is trying to leverage each other’s areas of strength because we have some Non-Governmental Organisations that have some of these services like shelter and we refer cases to them and they take them in. We also work with professional bodies like the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) or FIDA which is the female wing of the NBA or the Federation of the Female Lawyers in Nigeria. And they take up these cases on behalf of the victims and survivors.
In the area of collaborations and partnership, it has been very good. Looking at the factor that exercabated the issue of SGBV in Nigeria, that is COVID-19, we have taken the opportunities COVID-19 provided to penetrate some areas that were hitherto neglected.
What am I talking about? We had ICT and technology to leverage, but we never took full advantage of it until we were constrained by space or lack of movement that COVID-19 brought upon us, to now utilise those hitherto available opportunities. In homes, there was actually an improvement or an explosion of opportunities so we developed or were forced to develop technology applications, to connect victims or survivors of SGBV to the respondents across Nigeria. There was an application that was developed for the Commission. We call it the UNSUB. The UNSUB is a technological application that connects the victim of an SGBV to the respondent.
Second, we also took advantage of telecommunication facilities by establishing a fully automated call centre, fitted with a toll-free line, where people can call in from anywhere from Nigeria and outside Nigeria to lay complaints or flag SGBV violations. And they operate 24 hours. The Commission went further, to also leverage the provision of partnership with the Nigerian Telecommunication Commission, so we met with them and discussed the possibility of working together and creating a handshake between our automated call centre and the National Emergency Call Center. You know the National Emergency Call Center has this number 112, whenever there is an emergency, you call 112, it goes there automatically. The arrangement is such that whenever any case that has to do with SGBV goes to 112 because it is easier for people to memorize 112, it is automatically routed to the Commission’s call centre and it is picked up. Now, we are also trying to harmonize or create an interface between that 112, our call centre and the UNSUB so that nobody is allowed to fall between the craft. We believe leveraging these opportunities that COVID provided, will now help us to work better in dealing with issues of SGBV, going forward.
PREMIUM TIMES
Do the numbers prove that really there was a pandemic within a pandemic?
Harry Obe
Yes.

PREMIUM TIMES
What was the difference in terms of percentages of reported cases of SGBV before and during the pandemic?
Harry Obe
I wish I have, or I could lay my hand readily on what the report was in 2019, 2018. It is a far drive from what is available now. In fact, before then we did not have up to 50% of what we had or got within this period. So, you can easily understand that SGBV is a human problem. And it occurs because it is a human problem. It does not discriminate on the basis of status or class. What it means is that once human beings are locked up together in a place, there is a bit deep negative tendency.
The only thing that can curtail, suppress, or deter a human being from exhibiting this negative tendency is the culture of accountability. Once, the laws are effectively applied and people know that there is a certainty of accountability,they will refrain, from carrying out such sensations whenever it comes up. It is sickening, there was indeed a pandemic within a pandemic because COVID constrained us and locked us down. And because there was nowhere else to even expend the energy positively, people got into actions that we can interpret and say that it was debasing for humanity to have gone to that level.
It appears that you cannot factor that a full-grown adult will go to the level of raping a 3-month-old girl. And we must also add that SGBV is not a one gender problem. The victims cut across gender lines. We hear of boys being actually molested and girls as well have been molested, women; young and old, 80 years old, 90 years old. What is happening to humanity? It is really, really what should be of great concern to all of us and I tell you some of the definitions of SGBV in our laws, have become inadequate to deal with the current trends in violations with regards to Gender-Based Violence. A lot of times, we try to focus more on the physical, without minding the emotional and psychological effects of some of these issues. So, we need to actually and creatively interpret what is available to be able to deliver wholesome protection to victims and survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.
PREMIUM TIMES
You have spoken as an administrator, spoken as an advocate and as an official of NHRC; as, a man, what do you have to say to fellow men? Because, of course, most crimes of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence are committed by men. How do men become allies in this fight against SGBV?
Harry Obe
To my fellow men, I can tell them that, it is not evidence of power or strength for you to debase a woman. It is actually a sign of deficiency and psychological sickness for you to debase a woman. The sign of power or your being masculine is your ability to protect a woman. I told people in those days that when society was arranged and they say that a man is the head of the home, the headship of that man, how he proves it goes with the responsibility to protect the woman and so, if a man is visible in his effect to protect a woman, that man is proven to the whole world that he is a man, indeed. But it is a sign of weakness for any man to debase a woman. And we need to work with women, and every other person to deliver a protected environment. If a woman in a society is not saved; nobody is saved. If one is unsafe and unprotected, everyone is unsaved and unprotected. The women are our wives, girlfriends, daughters; they are our mothers and our sisters. Without them, there is no complete society, so we need to work with them.
PREMIUM TIMES
Any last words or parting shot?.
Harry Obe
My last words are with everyone out there. We have a responsibility from God and a universal arrangement of society to be our brother’s keeper. Let us know that one that is violated, loses the ability to protect him or herself. You have to flag your energy and look up; lookout all the time to see that you help someone that is in need, in the area of this violence at all times. By that, we will have a human rights friendly community, a human rights friendly nation and a human rights friendly world. And once that is done, everyone will be happy, the insurgency will reduce, and crime will also reduce. We will be more prosperous and productive.
That is my final word, and you have here a National Human Rights Commission, available for you. Our services are free and all over the federation. When you get there, ask for the office of the National Human Rights Commission in any state and tell them about what you want to report. You can also call from the comfort of your homes on our toll-free line, which is 08006472428 or NHRCSGBVNHRCGBV if you have a standard app. The toll-free number again is 08006472428.
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