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Societal reengineering, not draconian laws, should be used to fight the menace, argues Ayodele Okunfolami
I was still trying to get my head around Zamfara State government’s plans to introduce death sentence for reckless driving when one of its North-Western neighbours, Kaduna, came up with a bill recommending total castration for rapist in the state. Why propose archaic capital punishment for civil offences in the 21st century? Making our laws more draconian only makes matters worse. Death sentence for kidnapping has increased kidnappings. Decupling fine on hate speech has not stopped it but has inadvertently contributed to the inflation rate.
Before the rapists even get their balls chunked off, it is expected that they had gotten a fair hearing in our courts as they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. This is where the judiciary comes in. Beyond the photo ops of signing a bill, is the Bench ready to prosecute the cases in quick enough time and not render it lost in the haystack of unresolved cases? What are the plans of Kaduna state ministry of justice in ensuring cases are tried with the speed of light? Will more courts and court rooms be built so that rape cases won’t be contesting for time, space and slot in the regular courts? Or would a special tribunal be set up for trial of the suspects? Or will it go with a penal code that sentences a 13-year-old to 10 years in prison?
There is arguably no day without a report of a rape in the metro section of Nigerian tabloids and it is good to know that Kaduna State government has chosen not to fold its hands on this irritating disease that is ravaging the nation. However, instead of Governor Nasir el-Rufai signing another extreme legislature that provides surgical castration for males and bilateral salpingectomy for females convicted of child rape, he should be looking for ways of preventing the crime.
In a patriarchal society like Nigeria, rape begins at birth. From the louder hallelujahs and allahu akbars at the arrival of the male child over that of the female, the Nigerian girl is subtly relegated in preference for her brother. The futuristic prayers rendered on her to be a virtuous wife and mother with a modest employment compared to her brother that is expected to have pinnacled career in his industry, political leadership, religion and other alpha male roles.
And this is more prominent in Northern Nigeria where over 50 per cent of mainly illiterate girls between ages 18 and 20 are given out in marriage. Financial Times quotes Leena Hoffmann, a political sociologist at Chatham House, that a typical girl’s life in Northern Nigeria “revolves around marriage and children”.
The Nigerian girl-child grows into a life more demanding on her to be domestic, independent and chaste while her brother is mainly appraised on his achievements outside the walls of the home. In marriage, religion and tradition counsel her to remain with her abusive or cheating husband while the man can get away with adultery. Ironically, it is this boy, whose chores and laundry had been done for him, that is accorded the right to lead the family.
It this sense of entitlement that the boy child surreptitiously possessed while attaining adulthood that makes rape rife. When unlearned, he grows without the ability to discipline his emotions and morals because he had never been asked to do such.
If one now adds the current economic hardship, which is also worse in the north, the man now sees that his Y-chromosome is not an advantage as women are now taking over predominantly male spaces. He now realises Mother Earth is not masculine. His lion share of the economic pie is now being competed by an unexpected rival. Since, he is handicapped in being economically independent, he either despises or is unable to do petty economic activities that women easily fall back to feed their grandchildren. The man is left frustrated leaving him to alcohol and hard drugs that intoxicates him into crimes like rape.
If the Kaduna State government had been more scientific and less dramatic in its approach to stopping this national scourge, they would have noticed that most rapes occur in semi urban and rural areas that are not only at the bottom of the food chain but with women less empowered. What members of the Kaduna State House of Assembly should have done instead of another poorly crafted and verbose bill, is to guarantee those ungoverned bucolic constituencies they represent have feeder roads to transport their farm produce, primary schools to keep those minors that fall victim of rape off the streets, primary healthcare centres to treat their old, electricity to light up their villages from darkness, police post that responds to crimes like rape and internet penetration to be part of the global community. Mallam el-Rufai should also spread across Northern Nigeria the simple admonition of his very good friend, deposed Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, that, “If you really want to help, go and educate a girl child in the village.”
Unfortunately, the overall Nigerian society is highly patriarchal and misogynistic which is being reflected in the male-dominated police force that can’t relate with the raped and abused but blames her for dressing seductively (whatever that means), nocturnal or for not being submissive. And so, while bridging the power gap between the man and the woman, police recruitment should not only be based on geo-political balancing but also gender parity to help with the increasing gender violence. It also makes it easier for the rape victim to be able to open up.
Governor el-Rufai has proven himself to be very cerebral since he burst into the national scene about 20 years ago, he should use his membership of several constitutional reform committees to ensure our policing is restructured to be more communal and less central. It doesn’t make investigative sense when we hear rape cases are transferred to a department in Police Headquarters, Abuja, several miles from the crime scene. This makes another rapist go unpunished, thereby emboldening the next guy.
It is societal reengineering and infrastructural development that is required to end rape in Nigeria. No draconian laws made by Nigerian polygamists will stop rape. When socio-economic practices like almajarai and gang groups that sees the male lacking social interaction with the opposite sex, the Nigerian girl will continue to be seen as another asset to be toyed with rather than the better half in race of life. Kaduna and other states in Nigeria are fighting culture not crime.
–––Okunfolami wrote from Festac, Lagos