Tuesday, February 27, 2024

THE PUBLIC SERVANT WITH A HEART FOR THE WEAK- Adeniyi Lola Vivour

On December 1, 2014, Babatunde Fashola, then executive governor of Lagos state, signed an executive bill to officially open a sex offender register in the state. It was the first of its kind in the country and the move was widely applauded by various stakeholders in Lagos state. In the room with the governor that day was Mr. Ade Ipaye, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos state, and several staff from the Ministry of Justice who had spent the last two months working on the sex offender register. One of them was a young, smart and passionate public servant, Titilola Adeniyi Vivour.

Titilola remains nostalgic of that event. “I was elated,” she recalled with a grin. “Now, if you dare rape anyone, your name will be condemned to the sex offenders register for life.” For the most of her career, Titilola has always been a fierce advocate for justice in favor of victims of rape and domestic violence. Explaining her drive and passion to seek justice for women, she said: “I feel everyone has dignity and when that dignity is trampled upon, it stirs up a rebellion in me.”

It was this sense of duty and commitment to the service of humanity that inspired her return to Nigeria in 2007 after the completion of her studies in France to participate in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps Scheme as a fresh lawyer. She would also turn down various offers to work with top private companies for a place in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice where she would eventually build an inspiring career in public service.

A ministry staff who spoke anonymously when interviewed for this story described Mrs. Adeniyi as a ‘brilliant lawyer with a heart for the weak.’ They had both worked together in 2011 as part of a committee set up to amend the criminal code. He told me that “She worked long hours on her brief which was to look into the laws concerning rape.” Titilayo, then an assistant in the secretariat recalled how exciting it was looking at the laws around rape. In her attempt to put forward sensible recommendations, she reviewed several rape laws around the world to come up with what could be regarded as best practice while reflecting local peculiarities. Some of her recommendations was to expunge the time frame in which rape could be reported and ensuring that the age of consent was pegged at 18. Making an argument for her recommendation with regards to the age of consent, she said “if someone who is below 18 cannot vote, why should she be able to give consent to sex?”

In 2014, the Lagos State Government, through the Ministry of Justice put together a special response team to attend to cases of rape, domestic violence and abuse. Titilola Vivour Adeniyi was appointed to head and coordinate that response team known as the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT). Since 2014, the team has secured about 70 convictions ranging from life imprisonment to 25 years jail term. They have also populated the sex offenders list with about 200 names till date. More importantly, that has encouraged a lot more women to report cases of abuse, violence and rape. They now receive as much as 300 new cases monthly.

While the achievements of the DSVRT has been more than modest so far, Titilola hopes to see some of the reforms she and her team have led institutionalized. “We would like to see the provision of sexual assault management services across primary health care centers in Lagos,” she says. “We also need to ensure that we continue to empower select police officers by establishing family support desk so that such officers can effectively deal with cases of rape and domestic violence,” she went on to say. So far, DSVRT has set up Family Support Divisions in 12 police stations across Lagos state and are hoping to expand soon.

Born in the mid-1980s, Titilola Vivour is the fourth of five children. Her father, Olawale Rhodes Vivour is a lawyer from Lagos state and her mother, Nkechi Rhodes Vivour, is also a lawyer and a bilingual secretary from Abia state. Titilola attended Chrisland primary school in Lagos where she was appointed the library prefect in her final years. Her family would then move out of the country where she would get her secondary education in France and tertiary school education in England. Asked if her passion for service and her drive to fight for abused women comes from the influence of western culture where she lived in her formative years, she smiled and responded “my history tells me women led wars. Women were merchants and they determined commodity prices. So, where did our culture of subservience come from? It is more western and religious.”

Adeniyi Vivour has served with three administrations in Lagos state and makes the point that “Lagos has been fortunate to have amazing governors who care about the rights and dignity of women.” According to her, the sad part of her job is when women who suffer domestic violence go into depression after series of abuse but are unwilling to walk out of such abusive relationship. Her core passion and weakness are for children. “I have a weak spot for children. Children who suffer violence and abuse. I want to protect them all.”

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