By Nwogha Ndubuisi Andy, Abakaliki

Awake of the risen cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence scourge which prompted the setting up of special investigation panel in the country, Enugu, Abuja and Rivers top among the eight other states with the highest cases of the sex abuse.

This was made known to newsmen yesterday by the executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission,Tony Ojukwu Esq. during the second round sitting of the special investigation panel in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state capital.

According to the national Secretary, the panel had in their first sitting received one hundreds and thirteen complaints/ memo across the six geopolitical zones and one hundred and nineteen consecutively in the second sitting with Enugu, Abuja, Rivers, Ebonyi topping the list of states with the highest scourge.

In his speech, the state Secretary noted that sexual and gender based violence are harmful acts directed at a person based on their gender which has its root on gender inequality, pointing out that it has life threatening health and protection implications.

He said that UNHCR has revealed that estimate of one in three women experiences sexual or physical violence in their life time.

Continuing, he stated that the second round of sittings coming in the wake of a resurging pandemic makes it very unique in a number of ways, given the astronomical rise in the number of cases of SGBV and the opportunity provided by the panel to address issues of the pandemic and other SGBV cases from a realistic perspective.

According to him: “In this round, the panel which has already sat in Enugu and Lagos shall be sitting here in Ebonyi, Cross Rivers, Rivers, Sokoto, Adamawa and Abuja”, adding that a total of 119 cases received have been slated for consideration.

The breakdown of the cases, the Executive Secretary noted are as follows: Enugu (28), Lagos (15), Ebonyi (12), Cross Rivers (9), Rivers (16), Sokoto (7), Adamawa (4) and Abuja (27)

It will be recalled that “This panel was constituted as a result of the complaint received on Friday the 26th of April 2019, where armed security personnel led by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, (AEPB) under the auspices of the FCT Joint Task Force raided night clubs and the streets of Abuja. They claimed that the raids were intended to arrest prostitutes in which about 71 women were arrested and held in different police stations in Abuja.

“In these raids, nine or very few men were arrested. Victims of the raid made serious allegations of rape, sexual harassment, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments”.

The Director Civil and Political Rights in the NHRC, Mr. Abdulrahman Yakubu who chaired the panel in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state on behalf of the Executive Secretary said that the aforesaid incident raised an outcry on the SGBV menace in homes, work places, church places, and other places of worship. ” The case of little Ochanya in Benue state can also not be overemphasize”, he noted.

The terms of reference of the panel, include but not limited to review of extant laws and regulations applicable to joint task forces in all the states and FCT in particular, especially the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and whether such laws and regulations are compliant with Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution and other international human rights conventions and protocols applicable to Nigeria.

Others are to identify individuals directly responsible for any violations and abuses and make recommendations for further actions including but not limited to prosecutions, disciplinary proceedings and damages.

The National Human Rights Commission commended the complainants and the public for the courage to lodge and follow up their complaints and submit memoranda to this Panel despite some reported cases of intimidation.

“I want to reiterate the assurance of this Panel and the Commission’s commitment to the principles of fair hearing in discharging its functions”. Ojukwu said.

Similarly, he commended the government for recognizing the mandate of the Commission and supporting the Commission in setting up this panel even as he lauded other partners who had supported this project in the past like OSIWA, PWAN and Rolacetc.

Meanwhile, a cross section of complainants before the panel expressed hope that justice will be done in all the cases.

Though, some of the respondents were absent and the panel therefore directed it’s Secretariat to write to the Commissioner of Police, Ebonyi state requesting him to ensure the appearance of the absentee respondent before the panel.

It was gathered that EU UN Spotlight Initiative is a global multi-year interventions targeted at eradicating sexual violations against women and girl child.

On her part,the chairperson of the International Federation of Female Lawyers,FIDA, Mrs. Grace Iheanacho Chima, maintained that the outcome of the panel would prove that nobody is above the law as erroneously perceived by some persons by stepping on the rights of indigent ones and appealed to traditional rulers and political office holders to join in the fight against gender based violence.