First Case of Violence Against Women at ECOWAS Community Court
Women Advocates Research & Documentation Centre (WARDC); & the Institute for Human Rights & Development in Africa (IHRDA) have sued the Nigerian government at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice on behalf of a Mary Sunday 30 years, who was a victim of domestic assault by a Police Corporal.
This is the first case of domestic violence being brought to the ECOWAS Community Court after the state has failed in its duties to prosecute offenders.
SDG 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women & girls.
SDG 5.C: Adopt & strengthen sound policies & enforceable legislation for promotion of gender equality.
NARRATION OF THE FACTS BY THE PLAINTIFFS
Mary Sunday is a 30 year old woman and resident of Lagos. She studied at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and was scheduled to report for training at the Police Academy, Kano, as a cadet police officer.
She had been engaged to one Isaac Gbanwuan, a corporal with the Nigerian Police Force attached to the Ebute-Ero police station. After their marriage introduction in 2011, Mary Sunday moved in with Corporal Gbanwuan at the Pedro Police Barracks in Lagos.
On 24 August 2012, Mary and Corporal Gbanwuan had gone to see a doctor over some health issues he had. On their way back from the doctor, Mary made a phone call. When they got back to their residence, Corporal Gbanwuan queried her over the phone call she made and accused her of having called another lover. She explained that she had called her sister and not a lover. In the argument that ensued, Isaac became very aggressive and started beating Mary; kicking and dragging her on the floor.
Unable to take the beatings anymore, Mary tried to escape the scene and ran to the second floor of the two storey building where she and Isaac resided. Despite this, Isaac pursued her. Mary ran to a kitchen on the second floor to seek refuge. However, Isaac broke open the kitchen door and in a fit of rage, carried the cooking stove of the neighbour, with boiling stew and oil on it, and poured all the contents on Mary’s body. The stove exploded, consequently setting Mary on fire.
Mary was rushed to the Christiana Hospital in Bariga, Lagos and was admitted for the serious burns. She was unconscious for two weeks following the attack. The attack by Isaac caused Mary to lose her two ears, her upper neck and arms, glued together by the fire.
In January 2013, Mary was transferred to the National Orthopaedic Hospital in Lagos where she has been undergoing treatment since then. It has been recommended that she go to India for reconstructive surgery. The cost of the surgery has been estimated at US$21, 300. She has no avenues for raising the said money.
NEGATIVE RESPONSE BY THE POLICE & GOVERNMENT
One of Mary’s relatives reported the incident to the police at the Force Headquarters in Ikeja, Lagos State. However, the Lagos State Deputy Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Damascus Ozoani, in a Punch newspaper report dated 18th February 2013, absolved Corporal Gbanwuan of the allegation stating that the police have carried out and closed their investigation into the incident.
The PPRO stated in the report that Mary had intentionally inflicted the burns on herself. However, the Police did not visit or take a statement from Mary Sunday. All efforts to get the Police to re-open investigations into the case have been unsuccessful.
The perpetrator of the crime is still free and has not been brought to justice. The Police, as an interested party in the incident, have hastily concluded an investigation that was not properly done.
SUBJECT MATTER OF THE PROCEEDING
WARDC and IHRDA allege that since the attack happened, the Nigerian authorities have not conducted an effective investigation into the circumstances of the attack, and have refused to bring Gbanwuan to justice.
The Nigerian Police have shielded him from justice as one of their own, and other agencies including the Federal and Lagos State Ministries of Justice have refused to act to bring Gbanwuan to justice. Till date, Gbanwuan remains a free man while Mary Sunday is still in pains and cannot work or walk freely on the streets, as a result of the burns on her body.
The Plaintiffs allege as a result of the lack of effective investigation and prosecution of the offender, the Nigerian government has violated several rights provided for in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights amongst others. These rights include the right to dignity, right to freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to a remedy, the right against gender-based discrimination, the right to work and the right to health.
RELIEFS SOUGHT BY THE PLAINTIFF
Amongst Others – A DECLARATION THAT the attack on Mary Sunday constitutes gender-based violence and discrimination against women, and that by its failure to conduct an effective investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator, the Federal Republic of Nigeria is responsible for a violation of the right to freedom from gender-based discrimination – in accordance with articles 2 and 18 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; article 2 (1) of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa; article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and; article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
AN ORDER directing the Federal Republic of Nigeria to conduct an independent, effective and impartial investigation – into the attack on Mary Sunday on 24 August 2012, and to prosecute the perpetrator with the effect to bring him to justice.
AN ORDER OF SPECIFIC DAMAGES in the sum of Ten Million Naira to cover the cost of reconstructive surgery and other health treatments for Mary Sunday.
AN ORDER OF DAMAGES / MONETARY COMPENSATION in the sum of Ten Million Naira for the pain, suffering and harm to her dignity including physical, mental and emotional trauma.
A favourable outcome in the case will be beneficial to the many victims of domestic violence, not only in Nigeria, but in the whole of West Africa, and will further ensure that the government strengthens her obligations to protect her citizens, particularly women, from domestic abuse.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
Nigeria Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2013
19. (1) Any person who batters his/her spouse commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to fine not exceeding Nl00,000.00 or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Accessory after the fact to spousal battery.
(4) Any person who receives or assists another who to his/her knowledge committed the offence provided for in subsection (1) of this section is an accessory after the fact and is therefore liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or to both such fine and imprisonment.
21. (1) Any person who uses chemical, biological or any other harmful liquid on another commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of life imprisonment without an option of fine.
Accessory after the fact to substance attack.
(4) Any person who receives or assists another who to his/her knowledge committed the offence provided for in subsection (1) of this section is an accessory after the fact and is therefore liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty-five years without the option of fine.
Lagos State Protection Against Domestic Violence Law 2007
16 No Police Officer shall––
(a) refuse to institute a prosecution; or
(b) withdraw a charge, in respect of contravention of Section 15(a)’ unless he or she has been authorized, whether in general or in any specific case, by the Attorney– General of the State as contemplated in Section 195 of the constitution of the Federation Republic of Nigeria,1999.
(g) “Domestic violence” means acts listed below against any person––
(i) physical abuse;
(x) hazardous attack including acid both with offensive or Poisonous substance;
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