Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has rallied behind the campaign against sexual abuse and sought a declaration by the governors against the menace. Fayemi said there should be a national response to rape, stressing that it is a more serious issue than the current coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world.
The governor spoke on Friday in Ado Ekiti while signing into law the compulsory treatment and care for child victims of sexual violence bill. The bill meant to strengthen the Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law, 2012, had earlier been passed by the House of Assembly. Its enactment was against the backdrop of a rising incidence of rape in the country.
Fayemi sought partnership with the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and the Minister of Women Affairs, Paulin Tallen, for a coordinated response to rape and other sexual crimes. He said Nigeria might experience a second wave of COVID-19 infections if necessary precautions were not taken.
The governor said COVID-19 could be transmitted through sex, given the spate of rape cases in the country.
According to him, “I have no epidemiological proof that it can be transmitted through sex. However, since it can be passed on through other body contacts, to that extent, it can be linked.
“Rape is a more serious pandemic than COVID-19. The Minister of Women Affairs and Inspector General of police are to address governors on Wednesday at the meeting of the governors’ forum. They are to work with us on this issue and tell us what they have been doing. It has to be a national response. Rape is not a simple issue again.”
The governor disclosed that Ekiti was the first state in the country to open a sexual offenders’ register and enact a domestic violence law in a bid to name and shame offenders. “But it has still not stopped,” hence the need for a national response to the situation, he stated.
Fayemi directed the office of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to always oppose bail applications and plea-bargaining for rape offenders. He said the issue of rape had gone beyond what the government of a state could handle, saying he would use his position as NGF chairman to bring together the 36 states governors to declare a state of emergency on rape.
Speaking to journalists after assenting to the bill, Fayemi said, “The Ministry of Justice is further directed to reaffirm state policy of opposing bail and rejecting plea bargain proposals from perpetrators of rape and child defilement. The state government’s policy of ensuring that convicted sex offenders do not benefit from my power of prerogative of mercy remains in force.
“We will strengthen the Gender Based Violence Management Committee to continue to provide rapid and comprehensive responses to all forms of violence against women and children. In particular, the GBV Management Committee will be empowered to improve collection and analysis of data to monitor our GBV programmes. A state-wide sexual violence prevalence study will be commissioned in the general population to enable us have reliable data on the nature of the problem. I’m proud to sign a law that affirms one of the important policies of my administration.
“The ‘Compulsory Treatment and Care for Child Victims of Sexual Violence Bill, 2020’ reaffirms our commitment not only to prompt medical care for child victims of sexual violence but also supports our resolve to achieve the effective prosecution of sex offenders.”
Fayemi described the new law as timely. “It is fitting that the House of Assembly passed this legislation this week,” he said, adding, “Over the past few days, our country has witnessed acts of extreme violence perpetrated against women and children. In our state, the story is not different. Not a day passes without reported cases of rape and child defilement.”
He decried the dehumanisation of women and children by rapists and called for the declarations of a state of emergency to enable more decisive actions against the scourge.
“While I appreciate the basis for this demand, it is my view that there is a need for a national consensus on the issue. I will be engaging the Nigeria Governors’ Forum at our next meeting to determine what emergency measures can be put in place to address this crisis more effectively and on a national basis,” the governor said.
Listing steps taken by his government to deal with offenders and reduce the incidence of rape, Fayemi said the state had opened a “Register of Sex Offenders” for all persons convicted of acts of sexual violence. Ekiti State has also adopted a policy of publicly naming and shaming convicted sex offenders, aside from enacting a progressive gender-based violence law, he said.
On benefits inherent in the new law, Fayemi said, “By virtue of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Child Victims of Sexual Violence Law, 2020, a child victim of sexual violence in this state will have rapid access to a medical facility that can administer emergency medical care, including treatment to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and counselling.”
He said he had directed the Ministry of Justice to review existing laws with a view to proposing to the House of Assembly necessary legislative changes to ensure that the offences of rape and child defilement attract harsher sentences.
“The Ministry of Justice is already working on measures to clear the backlog of rape and child defilement cases stalled, because of the closure of courts during the COVID-19 period. We are determined to improve conviction rates and provide comprehensive and appropriate support services to ensure survivors of sexual offences are not subject to further trauma,” he said.
Cases of rape in the country have increased dramatically in the last few weeks, resulting in the brutal murder of some victims, a development that has sparked outrage in the country and beyond. Some of the recent cases include those of Uwaila Omozuwa, 22, who was raped and killed in a church in Benin; the rape of a 13-year-old girl by 25 years old Abdulahi Umar in Niger State; the rape of a 12-year-old by 11 men in Jigawa State; the rape and killing of Barakat Bello, 18, in Ibadan; and the rape of a 17-year-old sachet water hawker in Ado Ekiti by three men, two of whom have been arrested by the police.
Meanwhile, Fayemi expressed worry that there might be a second wave of COVID-19 attack in the country, if urgent steps were not taken to contain the current increase in the number of cases.
He said, “I’m worried. We may be in for a second wave. We are not paying attention. This week, we’ve lost two respected Ekiti indigenes to COVID-19. The reality is that this thing is not a joke. People are still putting emphasis on public gathering, when the thing has not subsided. We might have another wave of it.”