In the last three weeks, the spate of sexual violence and brutality against the female gender has hit an endemic state in the country. IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI examines how the ills have exposed the systemic failings of the Nigerian criminal justice system.
TWENTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD Vera Uwaila Omozuwa had hoped to become an evangelist due to her passion for the gospel of Christ. Since the lockdown and closure of places of worship occasioned by the dreaded coronavirus pandemic began, the young lady had always sought the quietude of her church premises to study, as there was no public library in the area she lived in Benin City, the Edo State capital.
However, on that fateful Wednesday, she went but never returned. Unknown to her worried family who had been looking for her, she had been gang-raped and clubbed to death by yet-to-be-identified assailants. Her death sparked outrage and indignation across the country.
While Nigerians were still reeling in shock over her mindless murder, another rape incident took place two days later on Monday, June 1. This time, it was a younger victim: an 18-year-old student of the Department of Science Laboratory Technology (SLT), Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Ibadan, Barakat Bello, who was also gang-raped and killed by other yet-to-be-identified persons.
The hoodlums, who were reportedly on a mission to rob the household, surprisingly met the young lady alone at home taking her bath. Her brother and only sibling, Abdulazeez, had gone to a Quranic school for lessons, while her dad had gone out in search of daily bread.
Even before Uwaila’s murder, a 12-year-old girl had also been gang-raped by twelve men in Jigawa State which equally sparked widespread indignation across the land.
The three cases simply depict the height of sexual violence that had hit an endemic state in Nigeria over the years, a situation largely aided by the systemic failings of the Nigerian criminal justice system as most of the perpetrators of the crime rarely face prosecution.
The Inspector-General of Police Mr Mohammed Adamu’s assertion on Monday lent credence to the current endemic level of rape cases in Nigeria. IGP Adamu, while speaking to State House correspondents in Abuja after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, said the country had recorded a total number of 717 rape incidents in the last five months.
But while the IGP’s response might have appeared politically correct, ample evidence would suggest a failure of the country’s justice system, beginning from the police.
Commenting on the deluge of rape cases that have almost drowned the country in recent times and the indifference of the general public to it, founder of Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF), Dr. Kemi Ibru, was quoted by American Cable News Network (CNN) as saying, “We cannot look away as our young girls and women endure horrific acts of rape and sexual violence perpetrated against them. Our silence has made us all complicit and now is the time to speak out and put an end to our rape culture.”
In a similar vein, Amnesty International, in a statement issued on its official Twitter page, said, “Rape is a crime in Nigeria, but the government’s response to it continues to be woefully inadequate. We are deeply concerned that the perpetrators of rape in Nigeria invariably escape punishment.”
The Director of International Rights Commission in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, added that, “The method the state has been using over the years clearly has not moved with the intensity required to deter rapists and potential rapists and to protect women and girls.”
Lending credence to this in a conversation with Sunday Tribune, President of Women Arise, Dr. Joe Odumakin, attributed the rising rape incidents to the general lopsidedness prevailing in the country. She said: “There are so many disturbing issues; the economy is in bad shape, it’s so difficult for people to pay their bills. Also, unemployment is biting hard as a large number of young men are jobless and just walking aimlessly around in all our communities. A sizeable number of them, especially the young ones, do drug rampantly now. There is a worrisome increase in drug abuse in recent times.
“Now COVID 19 has compounded the problem; people that are already frustrated and are in bad shape are now locked down without palliatives and no social safety nets. I think the transfer of frustration and aggression led to the recent increase in rape cases.”
Corroborating Odumakin’s views, the Oyo State coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mrs. Oyindamola Bamgbose, said that by confining people to their homes, “COVID-19 has caused significant increase in poverty and boredom. Some of them now have more access to pornography which they want to experiment with innocent victims. These are just some of the reasons.”
Effective legislation… enforcement
But a legal practitioner, Mr Omobayode Okelola, sees the situation differently. According to him, “the surge in rape cases cannot be conclusively explained as the act defies all reasonable thinking being one that by judicial intervention is considered to be heinous and heartless.”
“However, I think we are [now] hearing more about the cases because victims are voicing out possibly because of the success of the #Metoo campaign against notable sexual predators. Also, it may be argued that idleness has contributed to the situation but in many of the stories we have read, the persons who perpetrate the act are not necessarily jobless. Some even commit the offence in the course of work.
“A friend of mine who is a behavioural psychologist said she believes that falling societal standards may be responsible for the increasing cases. But even at that, most perpetrators do not deny being aware that rape is bad. They often claim that they just could not resist the urge. So, I think the crime is soaring because people cannot exercise self-control. They allow their passion to overrun their senses. So, the society may need to focus on teaching its constituents the virtue called self-control,” he stressed.
He added that “in a decided case where a court had perversely awarded just five years imprisonment, the Supreme Court in unmistakable terms often condemns this stating that rape should be next to capital offences in the order of crimes.”
He noted that “sadly, the judicial process is not as helpful as you would expect as a number of cases are withdrawn before they are concluded. Victims are often thrown under the bus by their families who claim they want to protect family names by keeping the story under wraps. Sometimes, the offender is allowed to marry the victim and this, for me, is a heinous practice. Most importantly, our laws focus more on the offender and leave the victim out in the cold.”
Also speaking on challenges in pursuing rape cases, Odumakin said, “The wheel of justice grinds slowly here in Nigeria. Our justice system is very slow and this allows for loss of interest. Another challenge is the technicality of the law as regards rape cases. We must be able to prove beyond every reasonable doubt that the offence was committed with undisputable evidences and these evidences are often very hard to get in a case of rape.”
The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in a statement addressing the spike in rape cases in the country stated that, “The government needs to declare a state of emergency on gender-based violence. We call for the implementation of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, the Child Rights Law and other related laws in all states.
“An implementation committee provided for by the law should be set up for the Act. The police who have the responsibility to arrest, investigate these cases must be well-equipped to fight this menace diligently to secure convictions that will serve as a deterrent to offenders, while a ‘Gender desk’ should be put in place in all police stations for gender-based violence cases.”
Also reacting to the issue, the Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice Ladipo Abimbola, said FIDA and other related groups must put more pressure on the legislative and the executive arm of the government because the creation and enforcement of relevant laws needed to give maximum protection to women from the two arms.
He added that, “If we have strong laws and good prosecution, there won’t be difficulty in getting the deserved justice because the judiciary is a creation of the law and as judges, we are bound to treat every case based on the facts as presented and the applicable laws to it. Much as we have sympathy for this cause, there is absolutely nothing we can do if the legislation and investigation on the case has not been thoroughly carried out,” while charging the various human rights groups to embark on massive sensitization of women at the grass roots and monitor rape cases effectively because many of them are won and lost right at the police station.
Rape victims need help…
Offering a psychological perspective, a clinical psychologist, Chinelo Olayimika said, “According to the social learning theory, people engage in rape to put into practice what they have seen in pornography and other movies where women are handled roughly and which depict women as personal property.”
Speaking further, Olayimika said rape often affects the mental health of young victims, stressing that after being raped, victims most times become emotionally disturbed because their self-esteem had been bruised while their thoughts and lifestyle had also been distorted which is why they often commit suicide due to shame and fear of stigmatisation.
Olayimika added that, “It will also affect the economy because in tackling the menace, the government often expends a lot of money. The worst of all is that it would wreck the public image of the country and this would discourage investors as they might consider the country insecure. Finally, it can degenerate into societal breakdown.”
Speaking from police perspective, the new Commissioner of Police in Oyo State, Mr. Nwachukwu Enwonwu, said there is need for caution in prosecuting rape cases in order not to miss vital leads.
“Meanwhile, when these dastardly acts are perpetrated, they often take 48 hours before they get to the police. By then, the fundamental evidence needed to nail the culprits might have vanished or evidence might have been destroyed,” he said, adding that, “the victims should also be encouraged to speak out because by not giving proper evidence efforts of the police is often frustrated, making them look as if they have compromised.”
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