BARELY a week after we ran an editorial on the menace of sexual violence in the country on the heels of the unfortunate case of Favour Okechukwu who was raped to death by some cold-blooded sexual predators in Ejigbo area of Lagos State, another chilling incident has brought us back to the same turf. A young girl, Adepeju, a 13-year-old JSS 3 student resident in the Igando area of Lagos, has also been violated by gang rapists. Her attackers did not murder her but she was reportedly left paralysed after an uncontrolled sexual assault. And unlike Favour who was attacked while running errands for her mother, the criminals who gang-raped Adepeju reportedly went to her house, apparently when there was no adult around, to lure her into a hotel room which they had earlier booked for the criminal end within the vicinity of her residence. In other words, the felons certainly had a grand plan mapped out to attack their target; they were not just prowling the street or lurking in a corner for a prey.
It is difficult to fathom what sexual attraction a 13-year-old girl that has barely reached puberty, if at all, possesses to make male adults have sensual feelings towards her to the point of raping her. The rapists, numbering more than three young men, allegedly took turns to violate the young girl. They reportedly ignored her complaints of excruciating pain in her groin and left her only when she was bleeding profusely from her private part and found it impossible to move her body. Even at that, they did nothing to help her by way of getting her medical attention. Rather, they waited for night to fall, and used the cover of darkness to bundle and dump the victim in front of her house.
Since these outlaws surely come from some homes, certain questions really become imperative. Why or how did they become criminals of the vilest hue in the society? Did they have any home training or were they simply incorrigible and un-teachable? And if indeed the girl was not rail-roaded but lured into the hotel where she was violated, her informal education is suspect. The management of the hotel at Igando, Lagos State, where the criminal act took place, may have questions to answer too: why did it allow more than three young men and a female minor to lodge in a room without asking questions? Did the staff not see, observe or hear anything unusual? How were the young men able to ferry the almost lifeless body of the victim out of the hotel without the hotel staff noticing it?
Were the young men working in cahoots with the hotel staff? Or did the hotel management’s single-minded pursuit of patronage/profit blinds it against its normal obligation of carrying out a duty of care? It should be noted that the residents of the area reportedly alleged that untoward activities are perpetrated in the hotel and the police authorities are urged to endeavour to make good use of that information during their inquiry into the criminal act at issue. We enjoin the police to carry out a thorough investigation and take the suspects and their accomplices, if any, to court and ensure diligent prosecution so that the culprits can be served their just deserts.
Fortunately, in the instant rape case, the attitude of some residents of the neighbourhood of the victim is encouraging and heart-warming: many of them reportedly went to the nearest police station at Igando to register their displeasure over what they termed ‘a despicable wicked act to a minor’, and the police too were said to have responded promptly. The action of the residents and the police’s timely response reportedly led to the apprehension of the ring leader of the vicious gang. The level of decadence and erosion of values in the society is worrying, yet Nigeria has a duty to protect the girl-child: it must make a point and send warning signals with strict handling of sexual assault cases.
As we have consistently maintained, the real issue is not that of a need for stricter laws as the extant laws are adequate: the problem is lax enforcement or no enforcement at all. The police should ensure that everyone that is reasonably suspected to have committed sexual assault has his day in court. There should be no room for police negotiation with criminals. This often allegedly creates an avenue for taking bribes and freeing the suspects while the victims are given little or nothing but left to lick their wounds, including being psychologically maimed for life. It is also imperative that State Counsels and public prosecutors charge cases of sexual assault under the apposite codes so that judicial officers’ power to apply maximum sanctions for acts of sexual violence is not circumscribed.
Cases of rape will reduce if the law is diligently applied to serve as an instrument of deterrence and the chances of reining in the incidence of sexual violence promise to further improve if the society takes a holistic look at the challenge from its roots and attacks it headlong. In this regard, we advise that the initiative should lay emphasis on prevention/avoidance and should begin at the family level, while more effective official application of deterrence should be instituted.
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