The Managing Conflict in Nigeria (MCN) Programme supported phone-in radio discussion programmes to address a reported increase in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The programmes were held once a week in three states: Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. They were organised in partnership with four radio stations: the Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation, Yola; the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (Peace FM), Maiduguri; the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (Sunshine FM), Potiskum; and the Yobe State Broadcasting Corporation (YBC), Damaturu.
Participants included members of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Steering Committees, traditional rulers, religious leaders, government officials, security officials, non-governmental organisations (NGO) workers, women leaders and youth leaders. An average of 5,000 listeners tuned into each programme and had the opportunity to ask questions and make comments.
The programmes provided the opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the causes of SGBV, the increase in incidences in the context of COVID-19, and the roles of various agencies and actors in curbing it. High points included publicising the services of the SARCs and Family Support Units (FSUs) and how to access them, including information about hotlines; encouragement to report cases of SGBV by survivors and their close relatives; mobilisation of traditional rulers and religious leaders to warn their members against perpetrating SGBV or abetting it through cover-up and out-of-court settlement; and raising awareness on the penalties for sexual offences.
Some programmes focussed on support for survivors. For example, the programme aired by YBC featured doctors from the SARC who explained the role of the centre in not only providing treatment but also enabling the effective investigation and prosecution of offenders. A key message shared was the need for the timely reporting of cases. This theme was sustained in a follow-up discussion, which featured a panel made up of the Chairperson of the SARC Steering Committee, Chairperson of the Nigeria Bar Association (Yobe State Chapter), and a leader of the Yobe Civil Society Network. The panel discussed laws to tackle sexual offences and issues of child protection.
Immediate results include commitments by council officials, traditional rulers, religious leaders and security officials to breaking the culture of silence and ensuring the conviction of sexual offenders. Some of the participants followed up with their commitments. For example, after participants raised concerns about the increase of SGBV in Potiskum and called for stiffer penalties, the local council authorities organised SGBV sensitisation events and provided contact information for survivors, their relatives or members of the public.
The radio discussion programmes have led to an increase in SGBV cases brought to the FSUs and SARCs. Managers of SARCs have reported an increase in the number of clients who come directly to the SARCs to receive treatment. This is evidenced by data, which showed that FSUs and SARCs attended to more clients in June and July than in the preceding months.
The MCN programme will be supporting stakeholders to continue to raise awareness on SGBV.