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Covid Hero Campaign interview with Bola Tinubu

The Luxury Network Nigeria’s COVID Heroes campaign to celebrate extraordinary men and women helping the fight against Covid-19 in Nigeria is underway. The campaign aims to applaud outstanding individuals, whose work is critical to the survival of Nigeria in these unprecedented and challenging times. It is driven by the company’s ethos of partnership and collaboration for greater impact – especially in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus.

The first spotlighted hero is Mrs. Bola Tinubu, a corporate lawyer and the founder of Cece Yara Foundation: a foundation aimed at supporting children who have been a victim of abuse, alongside a plethora of prevention awareness programs for adults and children. During this pandemic, the foundation has continued to render it’s unequivocal support to children who have, and are being affected by the national lockdown because they live with their abusers.

Read her fascinating interview with Cas Ojo, the MD of The Luxury Network Nigeria below:

Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a Corporate Lawyer. I lead the Corporate Practice of Olajide Oyewole LLP (A member of DLA Piper Africa) and I have spent the last 25 years advising companies. Growing up I was acutely aware of child sexual abuse, and the initiatives that countries like the UK had put place. However, a few years ago, I learned about the horrific scale and impact of child sexual abuse in Nigeria, with 25% of girls and 10% of boys experiencing sexual violence before they reach the age of 18. I realised that nothing was really being done to help child survivors in Nigeria, and that they didn’t have a voice. So I established The Cece Yara Foundation in 2017 to change that. We now provide a national child helpline and support services to children who have experienced abuse from three locations, and provide prevention awareness programs for adults and children.

Please share some of your career highlights to-date, to give us a picture about your professional background.
My professional knowledge and skills lie in corporate law and leadership, as a Chartered Director and Chartered Governance Professional. I enjoy my work immensely and have real professional fulfilment being a lawyer. Alongside that, is the personal fulfilment that I have, being able to make a difference through the work of the foundation and making an impact. We established the first free national child helpline in Nigeria as well as three Child Advocacy Centres in Lagos and Abuja providing support services. We have received over 12,000 calls to our helpline, we have attended to about 700 cases of abuse, provided counselling to 2500 children and adults, and trained over 30,000 children on how to protect themselves. We also provide of establishing the first purpose-built state-of-the art Child Forensic Interview Suite in Nigeria as well as the training of Child forensic Interview Experts.
A career highlight for me was the real honour to be recognised by the BBC in 2018 as one of 100 inspiring and influential women around the world for my work with children.

How have you been affected by the covid-19 crisis?
While we were able to run the 24-hour helplines and online counselling services, it was initially very difficult to provide direct support services, like emergency rescues, medical evaluations, legal and investigative services – because these are all personal services that require physical connection with the survivors and their families. Unfortunately our services were originally not regarded as essential services, so no social work could take place. We usually visit communities and schools to implement our prevention awareness programs for adults and children. We had to pause this, and while we have started developing and implementing our online programs, the majority of adults and children we need to reach do not have the digital access required.

Read also: Covid-19: Nigeria’s cases cross 20,000, as 436 more added

What challenges have you faced personally during this pandemic?
Funding is the main challenge, as we depend on donations and grants to keep our doors open, and I have been very concerned about how to maintain the quality of our services within the constraints of social distancing and remote working. However, we have an amazing team, and everyone has pulled together to ensure that we maintain our service quality. Friends and family had also continued to be supportive to us at this time.

How has the viral outbreak impacted your business/career/work?
We have seen an increase in the number of reports of child abuse during the pandemic, as a significant amount of cases of child sexual abuse takes place within homes. The lockdown meant that we were initially not able to carry out emergency interventions, but we have been able to resolve this, and our intervention services are getting back to normal. Also moving our prevention awareness programs for children and adults online was a great worry for us because we know that majority of our communities do not have digital access. We are now in the process of revamping our programs to ensure that we are still able to reach these communities post-covid.

In what ways has your organisation adapted to this season?
We were lucky that our helpline technology also had the capability to provide services remotely due to the fact that it is a 24-hour service. So we were able to expand the remote capability to ensure that the helpline service was seamless, and adults and children were able to reach us for help, advice and counselling at any time of the day or night.
We out child protection network partners, we were able to advocate for services for gender-based violence to be categorized as essential services, suspects were able to be arraigned in courts, and we were able to go out to carry out our service. A great outcome was the increased collaboration between civil society organisations like us and government and law enforcement agencies in carrying out emergency interventions.

What inspired your covid-19 response?
We knew that we just could stop providing services because of the lock-down, because child sexual abuse is a public health crisis that robs children of their innocence and has a serious array of short- and long-term consequences. What makes this even worse is that the lock-down measures resulted in many children being isolated at home with their families. Sadly, for so many children, home is not a safe place to be, as 90% of child sexual abuse is carried out by people that are either part of the family or close enough to the family to have legal and unrestricted access. Thinking about these children was a driving force for us.

What is your daily motivation and the driving force that keeps you going?
What motivates me is the fact that I actually get to see the difference we make in the young children who have been rescued from hellish circumstances. Some of these children are recuperating in our special children’s shelter for children who have been abused. These children now know that they will never experience that kind of abuse again. It’s a powerful driving force.

What has the general response been to your project?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but there is a huge lack of awareness about the scale and dynamics of child sexual abuse, and about the fact that there are no social, economic, cultural, religious or geographical barriers. There is also a lack of consciousness about the responsibility we have as adults to protect children and to prevent abuse. Unfortunately, our social & cultural biases and stigmatization result in the underreporting of abuse and the accountability of the abusers and allow the sexual abuse of children to continue unabatedly.

What has been the most testing or challenging part of the process to-date?
The socio-cultural complexes attached to prosecuting perpetrators, especially the family members which often intimidate survivors and their non-offending family members from holding perpetrators accountable and following prosecution diligently. Regrettably, cultural values and poor parenting skills on the part of parents in protecting the children is often sacrificed for the reputation of the family and the community. Funding is another challenge for us as it is quite capital-intensive to maintain a safe environment and professional teams to support our survivors.

What are the positives you will take away from this experience?
There are many, including obtaining convictions and ensuring that perpetrators will no longer have the opportunity to abuse children. But nothing can beat the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life.

What is the end goal for your vision and what would you like your legacy to be?
Our vision at the Foundation is to create a happy childhood for Nigerian children free from sexual abuse, with access to healing and justice. This is our goal, and if I wished to be remembered for anything it would simply that I did my best to make a difference.

What advice do you have for the public and/or government with regards to the current crisis and its impact on the citizens of Nigeria?
The Governors have achieved a huge first step by declaring a State of Emergency against gender-based violence. It is a very significant milestone in our history and marks a signal that we are finally ready to address it in real terms. Beyond this, we need a to develop and implement federal strategy for the prevention of abuse. We need to prevent it before it occurs. This will involve the coordination of all the relevant government ministries as well as a grassroots communication strategy to change our values and stamp out the culture of silence and acceptance. A strategy for addressing child sexual abuse must include the establishment of a child advocacy centre in every single state in Nigeria.

How do you feel about being called a hero?
The real heroes are the children who we see every day, and who are able to rise up from the horrific abuse they have experienced, and who are able to heal and put the abuse behind them.

What are your hopes for the future of Nigeria post-covid?
I truly hope that we, as a nation, are able to put into action the lessons learned by COVID-19 and address the incidence of child sexual abuse with the appropriate amount commitment, diligence, and funding required to end child sexual abuse and to provide a safe environment for the Nigerian child to grow and develop. This should not be a pipe dream.

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