Justice for Vera Omozuwa

Even going by the dastardly details of rape cases, the story of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa is unusually brutal. According to reports, the 100-level microbiology student of the University of Benin, Edo State, was raped and killed inside the Miracle Sanctuary Mega Parish, a branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God located in Ikpoba Hill, Benin City, where she had gone to study on May 27. It is doubtful that even the Nobel Laureate, T.S Eliot, author of the epochal Murder in the Cathedral, a play which dwells on the quest for martyrdom, could in his keen modernist imagination have imagined such brutal profanity. Naturally, a deluge of reactions have greeted the incident, with virtually the entire country calling for speedy resolution of the case. There have been protests in Benin, Lagos and Abuja, while the hashtag, #JusticeForUwa, is trending on the social media.

Reacting to the incident, President Muhammadu Buhari, while condoling with Omozuwa’s family,  called on the Nigeria Police to speedily investigate the case and ensure that the culprits were brought to justice. On its part, the Senate canvassed stiffer penalties for perpetrators of rape and brutality against young women in the country, calling on the state Houses of Assembly to amend the penal and criminal codes to make the penalties for rape and sexual assault stiffer so as to serve as a deterrent to would-be offenders. Happily, the police in Edo State have arrested a suspect linked to the case. According to the spokesperson for the Edo State Police Command, DSP Chidi Nwabuzor, the suspect was arrested after an analysis of the fingerprint on the fire extinguisher used in bashing the victim’s head. Nwabuzor added that the suspect was arrested within the neighbourhood where the incident took place.

It is indeed distressing that rape cases are showing no sign of abating in the country in spite of the outrage generated by previous cases. For example, on December 28, 2019, the Ugwulangwu community in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State was thrown into mourning when a herdsman, Laulo Isa, 20, raped a 54-year-old woman, Mrs Mary Okereke, to death, hinging his gruesome action on alcohol and anger.  According to reports, the victim was returning from her farm on the fateful day when the suspect ambushed her, dragged her into a nearby bush, and raped her to death. And only in February, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member posted to Grace Life International School in Oghara-Efe in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State was reported to have been sexually violated by the proprietor of the school on the first day of her resumption at the Place of Primary Assignment (PPA). In April, three young innocent Nigerians, namely Joy Adoki, Nelson Nwafor and Fortune Obemba, were killed by kidnappers in cold blood even after their relatives had paid ransoms.  One of the suspects, Friday Akpan, confessed that two of his accomplices gang-raped Adoki before killing her.

In the instant case, the tormentors of Vera Omozuwa did not just violate her, they also bashed her brains in with a fire extinguisher, and not even the fact that they were in a sacred spot dedicated to religious activities could deter them. Apparently, those who killed her derived pleasure in doing so, as we noted in the case of Gracious David-West, the serial killer and rapist arrested by the police in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in October 2019. As we have said time and again, most of the horrendous cases that have outraged Nigerians from time to time have their roots in the collapse of family and societal values. It is therefore time the Nigerian society reordered its priorities and came up with programmes to reinstate family and societal values and place premium on building a generation of mentally and culturally stable young people.

The foregoing notwithstanding, it stands to reason that if rapists, kidnappers and other felons are made to pay for their crimes at all times in accordance with the laws of the land, such crimes would reduce significantly. But it is often the case that criminals with well-connected and influential family members get away with rape, murder and other grievous offences by offering pecuniary rewards to corrupt law enforcement agencies. A major step towards averting or at least rendering cases like Vera Omozuwa’s highly unlikely is to ensure that the law takes its course in all cases, regardless of the social standing of those involved. This, in our view, cannot be achieved unless there is ethical and professional reorientation in the police and other agencies, with mechanisms for weeding out corrupt officers and men heightened.

Due to no fault of hers, Vera Omozuwa, apparently a serious-minded young lady, is no more. But it is significant that she lost her life while undertaking one of the cardinal activities that make societies great: reading. She apparently had a dream and took steps to actualise it. We are proud of her even in death. We commiserate with her family and friends and share in their pain. We commend President Buhari, the National Assembly and the Edo State government for their active interest in the case. They must however use their collective resources to ensure that cases like this are reduced to the barest minimum. On their part, the police must do a thorough job in this case and ensure that the perpetrators of the dastardly incident are given their just deserts.




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