Murdered in the Church

The rape and murder of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, an undergraduate of the University of Benin, inside a church premises evokes the memory of ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, a 1978 rape and revenge horror film. The gruesome fate of Omozuwa inside a space that is supposed to be sacred is similar to the criminal debasement that the female central character suffered in the movie once listed by TIME magazine as one of the ten ‘most ridiculously violent’ movies of all times. That is why the perpetrators of that most heinous crime in Benin must be caught and brought to justice.

That we have not done enough as a nation to combat sexual violence against women and girls is evident from the growing number of rape cases, including of little children. Perhaps the reason why this particular tragedy has attracted national attention with prominent people in the society wading in is because of the crime scene: a house of God. According to Ms Osai Ojigho, the director for Amnesty International in Nigeria, rape now happens “even in the spaces that women and girls should be safest from gender-based violence, the home, the schools and now places of worship”.

The real challenge in Nigeria is that there is hardly any institution that victims can trust with their plight, leaving them with neither comfort nor protection. That explains why many shy away from drawing attention to their pain due to the stigma of reporting such incidences. Even at the police station, they are often derided with stupid questions that are only meant to further ridicule and dehumanize them. The society offers little comfort either. Most often, victims are made to ‘settle’ with their tormentors. Lawyers and family members have been known to moderate such agreements.

These cases are rampant because perpetrators know they can easily get away with their vile acts, which has unwittingly encouraged our culture of impunity that manifests in several dimensions. I highlighted one of those dimensions in my latest book, ‘NAKED ABUSE: Sex for grades in African Universities’. But there are more sinister ones. With the growing number of girls being lured or forced into ‘baby factories’ where they are constantly raped to impregnate and give birth, we must do more as a nation. So, when the anger over the latest tragedy in Benin has simmered and the hashtags are forgotten, policy makers must sit down with critical stakeholders in the gender sector to find solutions to curb these sexual crimes that continue to create unsafe spaces for our women and girls in Nigeria.

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