Although Gender-Based Violence (GBV) affects people of all genders, women and girls remain the worst-hit in society. According to the World Health Organization 2021 report, one in every three women has experienced some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. As women and girls struggle with GBV in the University of Jos (UNIJOS), several factors exist that limit their chances of securing justice.
One Sunday evening in November 2021, Amina John (real name withheld), a final-year student of the University of Jos, left her hostel for the main campus to study ahead of her final year examinations. It was the last semester in the year, and John was looking forward to the end of her stay at the University.
A short while into the journey, John was accosted by five men, who forced her to an unknown location and raped her. Her assailants also stabbed her in the back and left her in the bush where she lay in a pool of her own blood.
“At a point, I felt as if I was at the end of my life; the ordeal is better imagined than experienced,” she said.
John was rescued 3 hours later by a passer-by, who took her to the UNIJOS clinic hospital where she received medical treatment.
Her treatment took about two weeks and during this time, John missed her final examinations at the university, resulting in an extra year in school.
“In the hospital, while trying to recover from the ordeal, each time I reflect on spending an extra year in school, it throws me off balance with much pain and psychological trauma.”
Despite her pain and loss, John told this reporter that she could not pursue justice, particularly because she could not tell if there were reporting mechanisms put in place by her institution to address such issues.
Like John, many students have had similar experiences. However, many of them go unreported and this may not be unconnected to the absence of adequate reporting channels for GBV in UNIJOS.
Nemi Ngbade (real name withheld), a computer science student of UNIJOS, was attacked on September 2022 on her way to the school premises for a 7.00 AM class.
She had flagged down and boarded a commercial vehicle headed her direction. However, the occupants of the cab were criminal gangsters masquerading as transporters to lure and attack unsuspecting passengers, popularly known as “one chance” operators.
She did not know that what seemed like a routine ride would turn into a terrifying ordeal, and she entered into the car, innocently believing it was just another ordinary commute.
As the vehicle moved towards the main campus, the young men struck up a conversation about campus life and events, luring Ngbade into their seemingly friendly banter. She felt at ease, thinking she was among fellow students. However, as they neared the campus, the driver veered into another route, leaving Ngbade puzzled and anxious.
Concerned about the unexpected change of route, she repeatedly asked the driver for an explanation, but there was no response from the driver’s end. At that point, she realised that she was in the wrong car. Panic set in as she attempted to escape, but one of the men seized her by the neck, while another brought out a knife, threatening to kill her if she dared to scream.
Overwhelmed by fear, Ngbade pleaded for her release, but her captors showed no mercy. She struggled to free herself from their grip, but they were relentless.
“Till date, that harrowing incident remains fresh in my memory. I had heard of such tales from afar, but I never imagined it happening to me,” she said.
As her tormentors sensed her growing weakness, they forcibly took her phone and bag, inflicted a stab wound on her neck, pushed her out of the vehicle and sped away, leaving her stranded on the roadside, gasping for breath.
She was fortunate enough to have been rescued by a driver, who spotted her from a distance.
Ngbade was swiftly rushed to UNIJOS Teaching Hospital, where she received urgent medical care. Her recovery took a grueling month, during which she missed numerous lectures, tests, and her industrial training defense, resulting in a heartbreaking drop from a first-class to second-class.
According to an online survey by this reporter, female students are more vulnerable to GBV on campus than male, a reflection of previous studies that establish the disadvantaged position of female students in institutions of learning.
Source: Online survey conducted by David Arome. Oct 2023 No of respondents: 72
The survey was conducted through the use of Google forms and shared to a total of 72 respondents, consisting of UNIJOS students. The respondents numbering 33 males and 39 females all attested that female students are the most prone to GBV within the campus.
GBV remains a form of human rights violation and discrimination against women and girls in the society that is grossly underreported. GBV survivors on campus undergo pain and trauma that throws them off balance and causes instability in their academics and health.
Students condemn absence of reporting mechanisms
Many students of UNIJOS have condemned the levity with which GBV cases are being handled at the institution.
Damilola Sodiq, a third-year student of Quantity Surveying at the University of Jos, disclosed that there is no dedicated desk for GBV on campus but rather a general complaint desk, which negates the effort for proper follow-up with GBV cases on campus.
“As long as I can remember, since I have been on the campus, they have not been any programs or activities on GBV prevention,” he said.
According to Damilola, survivors of GBV are often reluctant to report as they are sometimes threatened by their oppressors.
He added that the way forward is proper awareness of GBV among students, prevention strategies, creating a special GBV desk in the student affairs and security units to effectively handle GBV cases properly, and providing a safe space to protect survivors.
Jennifer James, a 200-level student of Science Laboratory Technology at the same institution, noted with displeasure that the university system is not making adequate effort to safeguard students from GBV. She said survivors are exposed to threats, insecurity, and mental trauma that affect their health and academics in the long run. She added that there is not a dedicated unit or desk to handle GBV cases on campus.
“GBV situation is not getting any better, as nothing much has been done to stir up awareness and sensitization among students to keep them up to speed with trends in GBV matters and put a model in place to checkmate such occurrences in the school,” Jennifer noted.
Many students in the UNIJOS who responded to the survey believe that GBV is witnessing an upsurge in the UNIJOS. Of the respondents, 34 indicated that GBV had gotten worse, followed by 28 respondents who indicated it was still the same, 10 respondents who indicated it was the same as last year, and none of the respondents said it was better.
Source: Online survey conducted by David Arome. Oct 2023 No of respondents: 72
Speaking further David Chukwuka, who is a student and member of the Man O’ War at the University of Jos, shed more light on GBV on the campus.
The Man O’ War is an interdisciplinary function that is saddled with the responsibility of handling any kind of student’s case on campus. He noted that there is no special unit in the organization dedicated to GBV handling; it’s just a general complaint system in which the organization function.
According to Chukwuka, “there are procedures for filing complaints on campus; they start with us, then we forward them to security, and then they are transmitted to the school senate for action. Within the senate, there is an interdisciplinary committee that handles complaints and metes out appropriate punishment. The female students are more prone to GBV, based on the complaints received so far.”
He said students felt more comfortable sharing their plight with Man O’ War members, and suggested that the school management should clearly spell out what constitutes gender-based violence.
Chukwuka also stated that priority should be given to the thorough handling of GBV cases, and students be made aware of the punishments attached to such issues.
“Prevention of GBV starts with addressing the norms that tolerate GBV. Prevention and elimination of GBV remain key elements in the quest to create a balanced society where girls, women, and students can achieve their full potential and contribute positively to the growth and development of society,” Chukwuka said.
Lecturers identified as perpetrators
In UNIJOS and other Nigerian universities, GBV is not only perpetrated by unknown assailants. Many female students also have to deal with sexual advances from lecturers.
The online survey also revealed that a significant number of students at UNIJOS identified lecturers as the primary perpetrators of gender-based violence (GBV). Out of the 74 respondents, 65 pointed to lecturers as the main culprits, while 4 respondents attributed GBV to cultists, and 5 respondents ascribed the perpetration to fellow students.
Source: Online survey conducted by David Arome, Oct 2023
A BBC Africa Eye investigation into sexual harassment by a UNILAG lecturer in 2019 attested to lecturers as key perpetrators of GBV on university campuses in Nigeria.
Also, several female Law students in the University of Calabar (UNICAL) staged a protest within the school premises against sexual harassment by the Faculty Dean, Cyril Ndifon.
Ndifon was accused of sexual harassment and assault, and was suspended by the school authorities over the allegations.
Although he described the allegations as lies and the handiwork of his enemies, Ndifon had been suspended in 2015 for similar reasons, after a final-year student accused him of raping her in his office.
Research carried out on GBV at Nigeria University further established that lecturers remain one the major perpetrators of GBV on university campuses in Nigeria.
In the quest to change this long-aged narrative of GBV on our campuses, more is needed from the University management, NGOs, and CBOs in advocacy and sensitization of students on GBV, prevention strategies, reporting platforms, creating safe spaces for survivors, setting up GBV support desks on campuses, strengthening and push for assenting to the Anti-Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Bill 2019.
This story was supported by the Media in Gender Project of the CJID, in partnership with NWTF