Regular reports of sexual abuse across Nigeria are concerning and require a national response, writes Demola Ojo
There has been widespread outcry over the past few weeks in Nigeria following almost daily reports of incidences of sexual violence across the country.
Last month’s murder of a 22-year-old Uwavera Omozuwa, a 100-level university student, who was brutally raped by some men and bludgeoned to death in a church, where she was allegedly studying in Benin, the Edo State capital, turned out to be a tipping point, with an online petition signed by thousands, as well as street protests.
Days after that gruesome incident came reports of the gang rape and murder of an 18-year-old Barakat Bello by unknown assailants in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. These two cases were among the most prominent in a multitude of reported cases in just the past month.
From the Nigerian police last week arresting a man for the rape of 40 women in the space of a year in Kano State, to reports of 11 men arrested in Dutse, Jigawa State, for the rape of a 12 year old, the gory reports kept coming.
Many of the dreadful incidents included the defilement of minors. A recent victim is a 12 year old, who was raped by four masked men in her home in Ajah, Lagos State, penultimate Thursdays.
Everyday is another heart-rending report. Of great concern, however, is the repulsive act of incestuous rape of daughters by fathers, from April’s narration by a 13-year-old girl in Akwa Ibom, on how her father raped her daily, to last week’s report that Anambra recorded a scandalous 80 cases during the lockdown alone.
The Scourge of Shaming the Victim
According to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), most of these cases are father-daughter rape. NAPTIP Director General, Julie Okah-Donli said during a press conference in Abuja that, the issues include society’s cover-up of cases. This is a recurring problem that emboldens perpetrators and silences victims.
In December 2018, the We Rise Initiative held an event in Lagos tagged Hear Me Too, as part of a 16-day United Nations campaign against gender-based violence.
From the accounts at Hear Me Too, the silencing of victims is rampant, and cuts across different strata of Nigerian society, from the underprivileged to the well-to-do.
According to one of the speakers, a talented artiste with hit singles on Nigerian airwaves, “I have gone through sexual assault. I was much younger and it was with a bunch of my brother’s friends. I was about eight. I couldn’t tell my mum, because when I tried to, she really didn’t pay attention.
“It happened at school but because they had well-to-do parents, nothing much was done apart from apologies. I was between 8 and 11, while they were between 14 and 17,” she recalled.
Someone else shared a story: “I was raped by a neighbour when I was about eight. He was a teenager then. Another neighbour – after hearing my screams – came through, beat the boy, cleaned me up and told me not to tell anyone.”
These accounts buttress the fact that others, apart from the rapists, are also complicit in perpetuating this horrific crime. This should be reflected in future legislation. Accessories to cover-ups should be liable to punishment.
The Numbers Are Frightening
Among the guest speakers at Hear Me Too was Dr. Kemi Dasilva-Ibru of Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF).
She said, “I’ve been warned, I’ve been told to go back to my country, which is here by the way,” said Mrs Da Silva-Ibru, recounting how communities don’t just try to silence victims of sexual abuses, but also those trying to help them.
Bemoaning the culture of victim blaming, she revealed that about 10,000 women are violated every day in Nigeria. “The youngest I’ve treated is two years but the youngest age on record is six months,” she said.
Last week, Okah-Donli expressed worry with the rising rate of rape across Nigeria. She said Sokoto State recorded over 600 cases of rape in 2019, among several other ones that were not reported.
“These do not capture the unreported cases of those violated and killed in dark alleys, buried in septic tanks in remote areas yet undiscovered, those cases handled as family issues out of public glare among several others,” she said.
Further statistics extrapolated from different sources show that the occurrence of sexual violence in Nigeria is an epidemic that needs to be frontally confronted by both government and NGOs.
According to a 2014 UNICEF study, 25 per cent of Nigerian girls have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18, compared with 10 per cent of boys.
The results of a survey published by NOI Polls in 2019 suggested that up to 33 per cent of girls living in Nigeria could have experienced at least one form of sexual assault by the time they reach 25.
Of Education, Legislation, Enforcement
The recent trend of prominent personalities lending their voices to the cause is one of the ways to combat this menace. Education of what constitutes sexual assault, statutory rape, the age of consent in Nigeria (which is 18), and the fact that a minor cannot legally give consent, should be at the forefront of discussions.
Those in positions of authority should also lead by example. In this regard, the zeal of the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in combating this societal menace is commendable and worthy of emulation by his peers.
Penultimate weekend, the governor signed into law the compulsory treatment and care for child victims of sexual violence bill. The bill is meant to strengthen the Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law, 2012. Fayemi 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.
He directed the office of the attorney general and commissioner for justice to always oppose bail applications and plea-bargaining for rape offenders and promised to use his position as Nigerian Governor’s Forum chairman to declare a national state of emergency on rape.
True to his word, the governor’s forum last week called on all states to set up a sex offender’s register and sign on to two federal laws, which punish rape and violence against women and children.