The disturbing news of the alleged rape of a 14 year-old girl in Onitsha by a policeman went viral last week. In This piece, David-Chyddy Eleke takes a second look at the incidence, the cry for justice by concerned individuals and groups and the move by the police to purge itself of criminal elements
Okpoko in Ogbaru local government area near Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of the South east is unarguably the most dangerous slum in the town. It has grown to be a notorious neighborhood where everything bad seems to thrive. The area is mostly habited by low income earners, and this is evident in the shanties that dot the area, which serve as residential place for families.
Crime, drug, prostitution and gambling are not hard to find here. A visitor to the area does not need to look too far to find these out. The area is also notorious for the production of fake household items including soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, soap and others items which are all faked in shanties around the neighbourhood. The area alone is serious trouble for security agents including the police, national drug law enforcement agents, Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control(NAFDAC) and other regulatory agencies who storm the area frequently to arrest drug peddlers, fake manufacturers and other criminals.
Perhaps, the nature of the area may be the reason some of the toughest and most courageous police officers are posted there to help combat the level of crime in the area. Corporal Barau Garba with force number 275601, who is attached to 7PMF Sokoto is one of such officers. He was on what the police force call special duty, which usually entails the transfer of mobile policemen to places across the country to help maintain peace in troubled areas.
For a policeman who stays and works far away from his family, it would be understandable that officer Barau may have need for sex; especially as Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist had in his hierarchy of needs stat
ed that sex was one of manâ€™s basic need in life, but Barau in the quest to fulfill that need picked the wrong person.
In major towns across Anambra State, government had abolished commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as Okada from plying some major roads, while they are also restricted from carrying out their business after 7pm. In Onitsha, police take advantage of these in two ways; first those on duty make brisk business arresting stubborn okada operators who insist on continuing their business after 7pm. The operators always â€˜settleâ€™ them to avoid their motorcycles being impounded.
Secondly, police officers who are not on duty take advantage of the restriction to put their motorbike to commercial use, ferrying stranded passengers to parts of Onitsha where buses do not ply. Most of the police officers are known to have bikes, and are usually not arrested by their colleagues for working during the restricted time, and since passengers are usually stranded at such times and do not have a choice than to board whichever commercial motorcycle they see, the policemen working as okada operators charge higher and makes cool money before dawn to augment their pay.
It may have been in this way that officer Barau was strolling on his bike sometime last week when he sighted Miss Amina(not real name), a 14 year-old girl whose father had sent on errand from Hausa Quarters, Asaba, Delta State to Onitsha, which is a short distance just across the River Niger Bridge to buy a few things for him.
Amina had lost her transport fare back home and was stranded on the streets of Onitsha, probably thinking of how to get back to Asaba when she was accosted by Barau. Amina must have heaved a sigh of relief being accosted by Barau, who she must have considered as a big brother, having come from the north like her, and probably been sure of that by his speaking Hausa language to her.
It must however have been in full trust that she climbed the officerâ€™s motorbike and he sped off. Though it was not reported if Barau had told her she was taking her to her house or to his, but he sped to his house, located inside the Okpoko police division, where he dumped her, and allegedly satisfied his sexual desire with her for days. How he managed to conceal her for the six days he allegedly had her without the knowledge of his neighbours was a surprise.
A visit to the Okpoko Police division showed that police officers, especially those on special duty lived in shanties constructed with wood inside the barracks. These shanties THISDAY learnt were transferable to other police officers in the case of transfers. Barau inherited and has also been living in one of the shanties, the same place he had allegedly locked Amina in for six days, and always coming back from work to satisfy himself with the little girl.
THISDAY gathered that the little Amina was able to work for her freedom one night when her abductor was deep asleep, probably after feasting on the innocent girl; she took his phone and dialed her fatherâ€™s number, alerting him of her whereabout, which helped her subsequent release.
There have however been a huge outcry over the action of the police officer, with groups and individuals calling for sanction on him. A human rights group, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) first accused the police of attempt to cover up the crime. The group in a statement signed by Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, the groupâ€™s Executive Director warned, â€œHer case is just one of many instances in which the Police have been unwilling to act when young girls have been violated. The failure of the Police to move against sex offenders has encouraged rapists across the country to get bolder with their hideous conduct. It is not tenable that the nationâ€™s law enforcement institution has to wait to be pressured before taking action over cases like this. The case offers an opportunity for the Police to prove its critics wrong; the public will be watching to see its next steps,â€ said the group.
The call however may have yielded fruit as Anambra State police commissioner, Mr Garba Umar has confirmed the arrest of Corporal Barau Garba on Sunday. CP Umar told journalists that the command moved in on hearing of the disturbing news and arrested the culprit, who he said is currently facing police internal disciplinary procedure. He described the action of the police officer as a very sad one for the command and police in general, which does not reflect the core values of the Nigeria Police force, while vowing to ensure that justice is done.
He said, â€œThe command wishes to confirm the arrest of force number 275601, Corporal Barau Garba attached to 7PMF Sokoto but deployed to Anambra State on special duty for the alleged abduction and defilement of a 14years old girl of Hausa quarters in Asaba, Delta State. The erring policeman was arrested, defaulted and detained accordingly; and is facing police internal disciplinary procedures. He will be arraigned before the appropriate court of the land as soon as the criminal investigation against him is concluded,â€ Umar said.
Though the errant police officer was not paraded before journalists, the commissioner said that confession from the culprit was that he picked up the wandering minor in Asaba and took her to his house, but never had sex with her. THISDAY also gathered that Barau insists that he kept her for only two days as against the six days he is being accused of.
Umar insisted that even if he did not have sex with her, he is still culpable for taking her home instead of the usual procedure of reporting lost persons. â€œNigeria Police Force is one organisation that does not spare one of its own in things like this, and I can assure you that justice will not only be done, but seen to have been done.â€
THISDAY gathered that medical examination on Amina showed that she was raped repeatedly for six days by the police officer who abducted her, to the point of sustaining a ruptured private part.
A source told THISDAY at Okpoko that allegations of rape involving police officers in the police division were not new. The source said police men, especially those on special duty see their posting out of their stations as opportunity to enjoy themselves and satisfy their immoral quest.
THISDAY Gathered that a similar incident concerning a nursing mother with a five months old baby who was allegedly raped by a police officer in one of the shanties in Okpoko police station was swept under the carpet on the grounds that the lady could not prove that she was raped as she was in the station on the invitation of the policeman.
A journalist, Mr Nweke Nweke told our correspondent that the brothers of the raped lady had threatened to deal with the culprit, but his colleagues who also hail from Benue State and were serving in the division dismissed the siblings of the victim with a wave of the hand, saying that as far as the DPO of the station was their brother from Benue State too, nothing could be done to bring the errant police officer to book.
But CP Garba reacting to allegation that lots of such atrocities, including extortion has been happening in Onitsha axis, with his men as the culprit said, â€œThat is speculation. We cannot work on that. If you have a case against a policeman, bring it to us and mention the particular case and the person involved, and I can assure you that we will not spare that person. I tell you, the police does not spare its own that does the wrong thing. Look at the case of the girl that was raped, it is being handled, and justice must be done. So it is not wise to just say our men are doing this or doing that without saying exactly what they have done.â€