NIGERIA AND INCREASING INCIDENCE OF RAPE
All the major stakeholders should unite to fight the menace
Last Sunday, some residents of Farin-Gada community in Jos, Plateau State, staged a protest following the killing of Ruth Yakadi, a 400-level student of the Department of English, University of Jos. She was raped to death by suspected hoodlums. Last month in Awka, Anambra State, a 13-year-old girl was gang-raped by four men after an altercation with the teenager’s father. Unfortunately for them, they were caught by some vigilantes in collaboration with members of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons. The State Commissioner for Women and Social Affairs, Ify Obinabo lauded the victim for speaking up after the incident and assured her that she would get justice.
While we join other stakeholders in demanding justice for the victims and the society at large, we are also calling on the relevant authorities to devise effective measures and strategies to checkmate the growing menace of sexual assaults across the country. Even our university campuses ordinarily considered as sane and safe havens for the acquisition of knowledge and inculcation of character have been turned into hideouts for gang-raping, sexual gratification and sex hawking. Yet rape is a violation of the most demeaning kind that scars many victims for life. No society should condone rape which regrettably is fast becoming a social epidemic.
In Nigeria, police insensitivity and the fear of stigma (or persecution) discourages targets of violence from formalising the reports of incidents involving them. This reluctance, however, has only contributed to the rise in a culture of impunity on the part of the perpetrators. There have also been several reported cases of abuse of children, some of them as young as three years. Yet the Child Rights Act, so far adopted by 24 states, clearly mandates that a specialised unit in the Police Force should handle cases involving children. Unfortunately, even the few trained and specialised, police officers get routinely transferred and deployed to other beats, without given the opportunity to implement their newfound skills. The need for a review of existing strategies and the strengthening of mechanisms, including for documenting these incidents, has therefore never been more urgent.
But beyond those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting life and property, the society also needs to be alive to its responsibility. A police force is as good as the society that supports it. A point of safe, protective and comforting recourse must exist for victims of sexual violence to address their immediate needs as well as to enable them summon the courage to pursue the ends of justice. While better training on a wider scale, diligent prosecution and swift and exemplary sanctions would certainly send a strong signal to the perpetrators to desist, the media remains a necessary partner in sustained efforts to curb these wanton acts of evil.
Our courts must also be more proactive and stringent in applying sanctions. We commend the swift manner an Ilorin High Court, last Tuesday, sentenced two students to death for the murder of Blessing Olajide, a 300- level undergraduate of the University of Ilorin. Olajide was raped and killed last year in the Kwara State capital.
Besides, our private network providers should readily donate help-lines with free calls for victims of violence, while our hospitals and the legal profession should be prepared to offer pro bono services to the victims. We must all be ready to stand up to fight this menace which violates the dignity of our girls and women. The message the society must send out is that on this issue, our women do not stand alone.