March 2, 2021

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The Rivers State Chapter of the National Human Right Commission, joined the world to commemorate this year, 2020 International Day on elimination of violence against women and girls, and launch of the Take-off of the 16 days of activism on violence against women which ran from November 25 to December 10, 2020.

Mrs. Chinwe Okoroji, Coordinator, Rivers State National Human Rights Commission spoke with EDITH CHUKU in this exclusive interview where she urged victims of various forms of violence, including rape, sexual assaults, domestic violence and other forms of inhumane treatments to speak out.

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Excerpts:

Since the 1993 official declaration by the UN General Assembly, the National Human Rights Commission has continued to mark 16 days of activism on the elimination of gender based violence against women and girls. How much has been achieved so far?
Well, for these 16 days, it’s just a grand success. Truly, activism continues, creating of awareness, sensitization of women, girls, in schools, churches, markets, hospitals, compounds, homes continue. We are not giving up considering the very close interaction we’ve had. We have entertained so many questions; so the journey of activism has yielded tremendously. It’s a grand success.

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You said it’s been a tremendous success, but we know women aren’t too comfortable to speak out when it comes to sexual abuse. Have you had difficulty trying to make them understand that they have to and yet they prefer to shut you out?
Yes, many people don’t know their rights and they don’t know that most of these things are crime, so it’s not about leave it, it’s a family thing, leave it, is it not my child? It’s a crime that has been perpetrated against a state. It’s a bad behaviour that should be stopped, that should be penalized, but is it not my daughter, leave her, is it not my son, my brother, my relation, leave him; and they forget that as it has happened to this person, the person will continue doing it, thinking there is nothing wrong in it. So that’s what we want them to understand that such an act is beyond them and they need the perpetrators to be penalized.

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How do you intend convincing them; women, girls and even men that they need to report these crimes?
You see, as we are moving, especially here in Rivers State, we are finding it very, very difficult to crack because whatever you are doing here if you are not giving people money, they are not ready to listen to you. If I tell you the efforts we have made towards these things, this is press I don’t want to call names, you will be surprised. Highly placed people, call your community, let’s talk to them free of charge, they say, what are you going to give to them? You go to the market, you say this is free for all, let me tell you people, they say ah! Abeg leave me, don’t disturb me I want to sell my market! Abeg make una comot, una go give us money, are you understanding me? So it’s just a difficult thing, when they reach a state of no return, they start coming to us. I am telling you here, places like Lagos, they are really, really informed long ago, those people are informed. That’s why I am telling you, after the whole thing, we realized that the best place to go is the schools. Let us catch them young, they are really responding, even the questions they ask is quite encouraging.

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Between March and June 2020 alone, the commission claims to have received and treated about 232 cases of various forms of violence against women and girls?
(cuts in)… I tell you in this office, if I bring my paper to show you, you will see that sexually gender based violence is three quarter of the complaints we get every day and horrible ones, horrible.

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What measures has HRC put in place to cater for victims of this inhuman act?
Yes, even when we went to administrative chief judge, when we went to women affairs, the handicap that we are having is, most times some parents don’t want. There is this issue we are still looking into, we don’t know where they have relocated to now… this girl was molested by the husband of the woman that took her in as a house help. The wife went and made sure that the girl aborted the pregnancy and now gave back to the person that brought this girl, and the person sent her back to her parents. It’s people living in the estate with them that reported this matter, now they have run away, both the man, the woman, the family have vacated, even the person that gave them the child, they’ve all vacated the place. See the problem we are having, we are still on them. Some of them the parents say they don’t want, that it’s not by force, asking us to leave their child for them, that’s the same thing Women Affairs were telling us. So, coming to women, that’s where we are succeeding greatly, especially these widows that they have taken everything from at least they have known, three quarter of everywhere have known that you can’t do that to a widow. Like most men just chase away their wives, some women their husband will die, the relatives, maybe you don’t have a male child, they will collect everything and chase them away.

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Human Right Commission is actually at war with the tradition, because the issue of a male child inheriting everything, nothing for the female. In fact, a female child has no right in her father’s house is a traditional ideology, how equipped are you to…?
(cuts in) right away, it’s against the law, and what the law says is that, as far as, my dear, husband and wife they are one, and the law says that human beings are human beings, they don’t know who is a man and who is a woman. That is the law. So you cannot come and differentiate, that’s the issue. So it’s wrong to do that, it’s against the fundamental human rights. Even here, you see some parents have changed their way to put in their female children in their will, and let’s come to it, let’s forget about this law. You know that in the family, it is the women that take care of the parents. So why is it that they can’t get something out of it? It’s their fundamental right. The law does not know, having a male or female does not matter, that is the issue we want to let the whole world know and most of them are listening and some are making amends. It’s not a day thing but gradually it will get into them and there will be a change. Change is constant, but they don’t want to create the avenue, what we are giving them is life, we are removing them from perpetual injury, if you see what it means to have this kind of injury in your heart. Now, if a man marries you when he had nothing, or immediately you come into a man’s life whatever you people get as you come in belongs to two of you, so it’s not a matter of ‘I am not going to marry you again, go back to your father’ and you expect the person to just go like that, you people are one.

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For the sake of shielding the family from public disgrace, some wives watch their own husband defile daughters. What is your advice to them?

Okay, you see what happened in Etche a few days ago, you see the woman saying ‘I love my husband,’ God! First time, second time, third time, you love your husband, the man said he was bewitched, the mother bewitched him. You see, when it comes to husband and wife issue the earlier women know that without them there will be no man, the better for them. Women need to know who they are. If they do, they won’t allow men to subdue them and when the man is no more, no one from his family will chase them away empty. Just like that, even a graduate, after your family trained you, suffered to give you a certificate so that you will be useful to yourself in future, you marry a man that says don’t work and you abandon that certificate and stay at home knowing that anything can happen tomorrow, let your husband, let everybody know that you and your husband are one. We shouldn’t cover evil, for no reason, it might be anybody’s turn, even churches do cover, that’s why we are in the mosque, in the churches, everywhere talking to them, don’t cover because it has to do with a pastor, an Imam, no. Who told you? Expose the devil and the devil will run away, expose it. It’s high time we parents talked to our male children the way we talk to our girl children, because the male thinks that they have the world, do whatever they like, no. They can do anything and get away with it, no. Some people talk about what they wear, no, let’s look at it naturally, if you see something disgusting you remove your eyes, you won’t go for it

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Do you agree that some cases like that of the man who impregnated his three daughters might have spiritual undertone?
Well, that is possible, but if the man only realizes it, or brings up that excuse after the evil act has been perpetrated, then he is a wicked and heartless father. Those acts don’t just happen, it starts from nursing feelings, if a man starts feeling sexually attracted to his daughters, he should immediately seek help before it is too late.

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