By Emeka Nwokocha
The bustling oil city of Warri, headquarters of Warri South local government area of Delta State was alight with a bouquet of placards and banners on October 1, as the members of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in partnership with the Civil Society Organizations in Delta State, staged a peaceful rally, calling for an end to rape, child labour, slavery, child molestation, defilement, violence against women and children and all forms of inhuman treatment prevalent in the Nigerian polity.
The rally, which was dubbed the “mother of all rallies” was very significant in many ways as the members of FIDA and CSOs, conspicuously clad in black attire, matched through major streets in Warri with placards and banners bearing inscriptions such as: “we say no to sexual violence,” “leave me alone means no,” “my hymen is not hi men,” “stop rape now,” “rape is crime,” “stop abusing women now,” “women’s rights are human rights,” “say no to dehumanization,” and “no dey rape.”
Speaking to journalists at the event, the Executive Director of Value Rebirth and Empowerment Initiative (VREI), Pastor Edewor Egedegbe, who doubles as the National Secretary of the Partners for Peace in Niger Delta, said that the main purpose of the rally was to stop all forms of violence in Nigeria that extremely harm the fundamental rights of Nigerians and seriously jeopardize rule of law since Nigeria got her independence in 1960.
He said, “we chose today (October 1) to dress in black attire and match through major streets of Warri – from Mabiaku to Link Road, Ajamimogha, Okere Market, Estate Roundabout and Total Filling Station on Airport Road, with a call on Nigerians, particularly Deltans, to say no to all forms of violence against humanity, as Nigeria marks her 60th birthday anniversary as a sovereign nation. We put on black attire simply to mourn all those that have suffered injustice one way or the other, from 1960 to 2020, and to sensitize the public to speak up against any acts of molestation, maltreatment and violence against women, girls and children with a view to curbing the menace.
“We also raised hope in the people that Nigeria can be a better country if everyone plays his/her part in righting the wrongs in the society. On that note, we are saying ‘NO’ to all forms of violence against humanity; we are saying no to anti-people policies, then we are saying ‘YES’ to good and quality leadership from top to bottom, including good followership.”
Continuing, Egedegbe said “to ensure all forms of violence against humanity are totally eradicated in Nigeria, we are calling on Nigerians who may not have the capacity to seek legal redress when their rights are violated to seek our help in that regard. We have put our helplines in public domain so that the populace could reach out to us whenever their rights have been violated.”
He continued, “I am assuring the Nigerian populace that we are committed to ensuring their dignity is not molested by anyone, no matter how highly placed.”
Egedegbe, expressed gratitude to the Commissioner of police, Delta State, the Area Commander, Warri, and the DPO, ‘A’ Division, Warri, for providing security during the exercise, saying the rally was a hitch free exercise.
Also speaking, Mr. Joshua Omorere, President, Nigerian Child Welfare Fund, said, “the rally was necessitated by the recurring abuse of children which is becoming a worrisome development in our society. We used the rally as a medium to enlighten the public on what they should do to curb injustice in our society, and we distributed our flyers bearing our phone numbers at the rally so they could call for help whenever their rights are being violated.”
Omorere, noted that incidents of child abuse is relatively high in Warri, even as he cited several cases where children had been inflicted with bodily injuries by the people they live with and render domestic services. He seriously frowned at the barbaric act, even as he warned that house helps should not be treated as slaves by their bosses, saying: “if you cannot take care of them like your children, take them back to their parents. He called on government, and stakeholders to join hands to eradicate the rising incidents of child abuse, violence against women, girls and children, including other social vices that put the lives of vulnerable Nigerians at huge risk.
Speaking at the sideline of the event, the Executive Director of Development Initiative for Community Impact (DICI), Mrs. Racheal Misan-Ruppee, who doubles as Delta State Focal pPerson for Women in Peace Building Network, an arm of the West African Network for Peace Building in Nigeria (WANEP), said, “there are numerous incidents of human rights violation in the fledgling Nigerian society, stating that the rally was a proactive step to nip the ugly development in the bud.
She said, “there is a lot of human rights abuses, including molestation of women, children and girls in our society, of which the perpetrators, in most cases walk away scot-free. This rally was on purpose to protect women, girls, children and the entire humanity from all forms of violence.”
She added, “the latest in the trends of molestation in recent times is sexual abuse of boys, otherwise known as sodomy. This is a sad development that brings to the fore, the extent at which our value system has been eroded.”
Ruppee, lamented that violence against women, girls and children is evidently on the increase in our society. She expressed worry that the pervading culture of silence whenever incidents of rape, defilement and other physical violence occur in the society, obviously waters the ground for such heinous crimes to be rampant.
“There is this culture of silence and blame game that is fast becoming a norm among Nigerians when a girl is raped in our society. Instead of condemning the barbaric act and taking steps to ensure the perpetrator of the crime is prosecuted, the victim would be blamed, thus encouraging and emboldening the perpetrator of the dastardly act. That is not good for our societal development,” she stated.
Continuing, Ruppee, emphasized that the rule of law is sacrosanct, stating that everybody is equal before the law. She however, noted that a lot of people are ignorant of the extant laws of the country, as they would perhaps, due to their poor financial background, rather not go to law to enforce their rights when their fundamental rights have been abused.
She said, “many people are ignorant of the laws and don’t know what to do when their rights are being violated, even as many would say they don’t have money to start a litigation. Having understood these challenges, FIDA is assuring the public of legal support to ensure victims of human rights violation get Justice at the court.”
She continued, “as long as your rights have been violated, we will help you get justice at the court. This is the reason we embarked on this sensitization exercise to educate the people on their rights and avail them an opportunity to seek help from our organization when their rights are violated.
In the same vein, the Vice Chairperson, FIDA, Delta State and head of litigation, FIDAN Megbele Jessica, said, “our aim and objective is to protect, promote and preserve the rights of women and children in our society.” She noted that cases of child molestation, defilement, rape, domestic violence, and maltreatment of girls and children are on the increase, saying that FIDA would ensure that the victims get justice.
She said, “we give pro bono services to the victims whose rights have been violated to ensure they get justice in the court. We are committed to be the voice of the voiceless to the vulnerable segment of the society that cannot afford the cost of litigation. Through this rally, we have been able to sensitize the public on what to do when obvious violation of fundamental human rights happen. Going further, we sensitized the public that once there is violation of their rights, they should speak up as soon as possible, but not after the evidence has been tampered with. This is important because when the evidence has been tampered with, we may not have enough proofs to prosecute the perpetrator of the crime in court.”
Megbele, added that with support from the Delta State Ministry of Justice, FIDA is fully armed to wipe out injustice in Delta State, especially Warri.
“lt is interesting to note that the Delta State Ministry of Justice has granted us fiat to prosecute all matters pertaining to rights violation. So we are appealing to the members of the society not to keep quiet over acts of violence in the society. They should always get in touch with us. We are fully ready to wipe out injustice in Delta State, especially in Warri,” she stated.
Other speakers who spoke at the event were Mr. Collins Newuwumi, Executive Director, Peace and Community Empowerment Initiative and State Coordinator for WANEP; and Mrs. Ayo Nefertiti Okotie, Executive Director, Neferok Development Initiative (NEDI). They described the rally as a welcome development in forging a new culture of peace and rule of law in Nigeria. They said, “it has set the pace for vibrant activism towards eradicating all forms of violence against humanity, including rape, molestation, domestic violence, child abuse, and dehumanization of human race.
The following Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs)/Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) participated in the rally: International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA); Nigeria child welfare Fund; Morgan Smart Development Foundation (MSDF); African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA); West African Network for Peace Building (WANEP-Nigeria); International Centre for Women Empowerment & Child Development ( ICWECD); Ideal Women Empowerment Initiative (IWAI); Value Rebirth and Empowerment Initiative (VREI); Environmental and Rural Mediation Centre (ENVIRUMEDIC); Salvaging the Future Stars Foundation (SAFUSF); LIZDON Foundation; Shamar Educational Foundation; Initiative for peace and stability (IPAS); Development Initiative for Community Impact (DICI); Neferok Development Initiative (NEDI); Community Advocacy Foundation (CODAF); Partners for Peace in the Niger Delta (P4P), African Centre for Environmental and Rural Development (ACERD); and Community Empowerment and Development Initiative (CEDI).