It is eating India, South Africa and a number of other countries. It is becoming a monster in Nigeria. How much are we willing to fight the unattractive culture of rape and GBV? Jubal Kanayo writes.
On Saturday, three days after she was attacked and raped by unknown men while she studied in a quiet church somewhere in Benin, Edo, Uwavera Omozuwa could not fight anymore. She died from the injuries sustained in that evil incident.
She was set upon, raped and beaten with a fire extinguisher.
Twitter was awash with reactions. There was uncontrolled outrage. For good reason, too. It happened at a time when the world lost its temper over the killing of American George Floyd.
In 2018, 13-year-old Ochanya Ogbaje could not fight anymore. She died in a private hospital, in Oturkpo (Benue), where she was diagnosed of vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). Before then, she had endured four years of sexual abuse/defilement by a father and his son.
The nation went up in arms, set social media on fire and, even, protesters marched on Abuja. The fire burned and fizzled. There was quiet.
On May 31, 2020, news broke that 11 men have been arrested by the Katsina State Police Command for raping a 12-year-old girl.
The police in the area had received a complaint that one Alhaji Zuwai, 57, from Ma’ai Village in Dutse Local Government Area, was seen at Limawa Market trying to lure a 12-year-old girl to a hidden place to have intercourse with her. He was arrested and the girl interrogated. She disclosed that 11 men had done same to her.
Not even the state governor has said a word about that issue.
In 2017, four male residents of Rafukka Quarters in Katsina, were said to have abducted and gang-raped two teenage girls. The four persons were identified as Ahmed Lawal, Abdulmalik Mustapha, Adamu Khalid and Abubakar Lawal.
No, the focus is not Katsina. Let us punctuate with others.
In 2019, the Lagos State Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on Monday re-arraigned for the third time four undergraduates of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and an undergraduate of Babcock University for allegedly gang-raping a 17-year-old undergraduate of UNILAG. She lived in the same compound with one of them and he was the one who lured her to a ‘high-rise’, where they gang-raped her.
The students – Moboluwaji Omowole, Chuka Chukwu and Peace Nwakanma, all aged 19, James Aguedu and Josephine Osemeka, both aged 20 – were re-arraigned before an Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court.
They did not stop there. They video-taped it and proceeded to blackmail her with it and further gang-raped her on some other occasions, with more of them (every time they got to her, the numbers grew) their accomplices who were then at large.
In 2018, the Katsina Police Command arrested five men for raping and gang-raping minors in different locations across the state. The girls ranged between ages 4 and 9.
Two of them – Nura Ibrahim and his uncle, Sani Haruna – were arrested for conspiring and raping a 9-year-old girl. She sustained serious injuries on her private part.
In 2018, the Katsina Police Command raided Safana town, Katsina State, to arrest a 65-year old man, who had lured a 9-year-old to his house and raped her several times.
In Jahi area of Abuja, a guard was caught in the act with a 12-year-old. It was discovered to be the second time. After her mother and neighbours leave for their respective businesses, he would tell her to help him get firewood. The kind deed done, he repaid with defilement and threatened her to tell no one.
In Ogoja, Cross River, two lads end up behind the police counter. Their offence: they raped a 16-year-old girl and made a video of it. Even when she begged that she was tired, they kept going. They shared the video via Facebook, until people who know the girl alerted her parents who, in turn, alerted the police.
While this chronicle may evoke sadness, it is even more saddening that these are some of the cases we get confronted with daily. Hundreds of others go unreported.
What is sexual violence?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), sexual violence encompasses acts that range from verbal harassment to forced penetration and an array of types of coercion, from social pressure and intimidation to physical force.
“In lay man’s terms, it simply means using force in relation to anything sexual,” said Ajuzieogu Princewill a psychologist.
“Sexual violence is a broad term which can be broken down. The WHO recognises sexual violence as any of (but not limited to) rape within marriage or dating relationships, rape by strangers or acquaintances, unwanted sexual advances or sexual harassment (at school, work etc.), systematic rape, sexual slavery and other forms of violence, which are particularly common in armed conflicts (e.g. forced impregnation), sexual abuse of mentally or physically disabled people, rape and sexual abuse of children and ‘customary’ forms of sexual violence (forced marriage or cohabitation and wife inheritance).
“The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund reported in 2015 that one in four girls and one in 10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence before the age of 18. Findings from a national survey carried out in 2014 on Violence Against Children in Nigeria confirmed one in four females reported experiencing sexual violence in childhood with approximately 70 per cent reporting more than one incident of sexual violence.
“It means that of the 99.1 million estimated number of women in Nigeria, 24.8 million may have experienced some form of sexual violence and, for almost 70 per cent of that number, it was more than a happenstance.”
Unreported cases and the finger of stigma
If it is such an ugly occurrence and there is a high propensity for those who perpetrate to face the law, why do people hold back and not report?
One in four boys and one in 10 girls under age 18 are victims of sexual violence, the United Nations’ International Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF) has said. Health experts say more children and young women are coming forward to talk about the problem as the stigma attached to discussing it slowly subsides.
It is interesting to note that it was found that 24.8 per cent of 14,560,417 (3,610,983) females age 18 to 24 years experienced sexual abuse prior to age 18, of which 5.0 per cent (108,549) sought help, with only 3.5 per cent (126,384) receiving any services.
So, why do people keep mute?
According to Dr. John Uwa, a medical consultant, there are a number of reasons: inadequate support systems, shame, fear or risk of retaliation, fear or risk of being blamed, fear or risk of not being believed, fear or risk of being mistreated and/or being socially ostracised.
“Even worse than the deed is the stigmatisation that follows.
“I recall once in Calabar South, a man came forward and said his daughter had been abused by cultists. This was in the morning. By the time the police was involved and came to make arrests, he said nothing like that happened. Your guess is as good as mine,” recalled Uwa. “People just want to move on with their lives, if it threatens to get complicated.”
The Public Relations Officer, Kaduna State Police Command, Yakubu Sabo, said many rape cases involving children are never investigated because parents want to protect their children from being stigmatized.
“Some families kill the evidence,” he said, maintaining the belief that rape victims will not be able to find a suitor for marriage – especially, if they are girls.
Sabo advised parents to watch their neighbourhoods closely and to be mindful of whom they leave their children with
Not just girls and women
Is this just about women and girls? For many, when this is mentioned, only women and girls come to mind.
The chairperson of the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Kaduna, Barrister Zainab Aminu Garba, said rape has become an epidemic that has affected both sexes.
“In North-western Nigeria, victims are not just women, but men and boys as well.
“Under-aged boys are being defiled. Several cases [have been] reported to us. It’s an epidemic, and I pray and hope that the government will do something very, very fast.”
The Nigerian Criminal Code recommends life imprisonment for the perpetrators of rape and 14 years for attempted rape.
Can the law help?
When the mother of the girl who was raped in Jahi went to report to the police, she was asked to bring money so that the child can be taken to the hospital.
She is not the first or only one.
Most NGOs who wage war against all forms of GBV have always complained about the approach of law enforcement to the issue.
In Ogoja, a source who would not want the source’s organisation or name disclosed stated that it is an issue partners of the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have had to deal with, especially with the police.
“You arrest an alleged rapist or child molester and, the next thing you know, you are being called that they are about to be released. How? This person was accused of raping someone, where are you releasing the person to?
“Many rapists have gone scot-free and, in many communities, rapists roam free, causing havoc and destroying futures because the law cannot rein them in. It is sad,” the source said.
The criminal and penal codes of 1990 are the laws guiding rape justice in Nigeria. But, as has been pointed out many times, the code is deficient in many ways.
For instance, the law defines rape as having unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl without her consent, or with her consent if it was obtained by force or by means of intimidation.
This definition excludes other methods and orifices of penetration, save penile penetration of the vagina. Experts said such is not all-encompassing to help protect citizens.
‘Communities need to arise’
Obla Ofat, a resident of Makurdi, the government and its laws have failed sufferers but there is something that can be done about it.
“If the government cannot give electricity for businesses to grow and cannot give our children good schools or, even, look at this Coronavirus thing; they cannot provide sanitisers and soap or palliatives for people who cannot help themselves.
“We were left to our own devices.
“Is this the government that will give us proper laws to protect women and children? Look, we are not serious I this country.”
He has what he calls a “more efficient” approach.
“There are people who protect rapists; their siblings, wives, friends and, politicians and, even, clergymen. Communities should arise and find out where these people are. We can burn them and those who protect them. That way, they will not go to the police station where they will be released by the police within a day or two.
“We can have riots and demand for justice. We are too quiet in this country. If we have riots and destroy things and get government attention, I swear, they will listen to us,” he assured.
On Monday, June 1, 2020, a mob mobilised themselves and marched to the Edo State Government House to speak their mind over the killing of ‘Vera and demand for justice for her and her family.
They insisted on meeting Governor Obaseki, but for the appearance of the State Commissioner Commissioner of Social Development and Gender Issues Maria Edeko, who assured that the state would ensure justice for the victim and urged the community where the deceased lived to join hands with security agencies to fish out the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the protest group, Stavihn Imediegwu, said they were concerned youths who decided to speak out against rape of the girl-child.
“We did not come here under any banner, we came here with one face to speak against rape, because it [is] a serious crime.
“We cannot allow such vices to continue to happen in the state. We want justice to prevail,” they said.
Perhaps, these are the kinds of actions that will get the attention of the government?
“We have marched for Ochanya, who was raped by a father and his son. We have marched and sought violence for many who have been sexually molested, defiled and abused; still, the government has turned a deaf ear.
“Do we have to burn buildings like they do in other countries and cause havoc to correct more havoc? Do more girls, women and men need to suffer for the government to plug all the technical holes in the law and ensure that perpetrators never get away based on technicalities? Maybe they think that it will never happen to their daughters, wives and children. Also, it is possible that many policy maker still abuse their relatives, siblings, wives and daughters; if not, why do they not consider it such a heinous crime?
“We need water-tight laws to take care of such things when perpetrators are found,” lamented Anoruo Olisema, an Asaba-based lawyer.
The Executive Secretary of the Solid Mineral Development Fund (SMDF) Fatima Shinkafi, who joined the debate via WhatsApp was very forthright with her criticism of Nigerians who will easily join foreign protests but will not let their “charity begin from home”.
She was referring to the death of American George Floyd in the hands of the Minnesota Police Department’s officers.
She typed: “The Floyd case is tragic but our daughters here are in need of our voices, loud.
“The rise of gender based violence is alarming and a loud rejection of it is now crucial. It’s no time to wait for investigation reports.
“Mandela was set free because we in Africa cried out at home and then the world joined. Change in the Middle East started in Tunisia, with a fruit-seller setting himself ablaze.
“One life, one innocent life is all it takes to raise your voice and say ‘no’; a loud, collective ‘no’. I am deeply traumatised.
“I do not believe in the death penalty but I am beginning to wonder ‘how do you kill in a church?’” she asked.
A retired teacher and counsellor, Nonyelum Ugwumba, pointed out that, every time the government fails, people resort to doing things to preserve themselves and their families.
“Why should this be any different? Since the government has refused to fix the loopholes in the law, I always tell my grandchildren to refrain from being alone with adults of any sex.
“None of my grand-children will sit on your laps. None of my grandchildren will be alone with you. None of my grandchildren will share a bed with you. None of my grand-children will go anywhere alone with you. You cannot peck them on the cheek.You cannot touch any of my grand-children just anywhere.
“The most perpetrations have been carried out by close family members, parents, friends, relatives, church members, neighbours, acquaintances etc.
“If you pull your children’s ears and sound these out to them, they will know when to raise the alarm.
“It sounds a little old fashioned, but, see the 21st Century has not offered much in way of raising and protecting our children better. Children need to know what kind of world they live in and how it is that everyone they see is a potential predator. If they have this mentality, they will be guarded. They may grow up to become suspicious and a little unfriendly, but they will be the better for it.
“The government has never stopped failing. It will always fail. But the family must not fail.”
She advised parents to start sex education early and cultivate strong relationships with their children.
“You need your child to be able to tell you everything. You can’t be a stranger to do that. Your children should be able to tell you of every inappropriate touch, advance, word etc that was directed at him or her. That way, if you assure them of your protection always, even when someone threatens to kill them if they tell, they trust you enough to know that nothing will happen to them. These are the family dynamics no law can address,” the grandmother pointed out.
She called for re-orientation of male children in the family advised parents on their conduct.
“If you objectify women, beat your wife, use loose words and abuse your children or paint the picture that it is ok to abuse women, your sons will replicate. If you want them to respect women, you need to respect your wife. If you want them to stand against evil, you must do same.
“The family is all we have now. It is the last frontier. It is all we have. If you make the foundation strong, nothing can breach it. Sadly, the kind of parenting we need to do this is rare or lacking,” she said.