Inching Closer to Winning War against Sexual Abusers

Campaigns for sexual abusers to face legal consequences have been raging on for years. With the recent sentencing of the medical doctor who sexually abused a teenager and the charges filed against the University of Calabar’s professor, Nigeria appears to be finally experiencing its ‘#MeToo moment,’ in a bid to win the war against sexual abusers, Vanessa Obioha writes

For years, movements worldwide have sought to hold sexual abusers accountable for their actions. In 2017, a #MeToo movement began in Hollywood, exposing high-profile celebrities for their sexual abuses. This movement led to powerful figures facing legal repercussions, including Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein and singer, R. Kelly. 

In Nigeria, similar cases have often faced obstacles in the pursuit of justice due to cultural, legal, and social complexities. Victims frequently face intimidation to withdraw charges, and influential figures often evade accountability. However, recent events, such as the sentencing of Lagos-based doctor Olufemi Olaleye to life imprisonment for sexually assaulting his spouse’s niece, and the criminal charges brought against the suspended Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar, Prof. Cyril Ndifon, by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), signal that the country may be gradually approaching its #MeToo moment.

Olaleye, who heads a cancer clinic, Optimal Cancer Care Foundation, was arraigned in November 2022 on two counts of rape between December 2019 and July 2022. He was accused of sexually assaulting the girl for over a year before his wife, Aderemi Olaleye, found out and reported him to the police.

During the trial, Aderemi, one of the six witnesses who testified, revealed how she uncovered the abuse after the girl, now 18, confided in her aunt and the family’s driver. Aderemi provided details of how the doctor repeatedly abused her niece and threatened to kill her if she disclosed his actions, even forcing her to watch pornography.

Olaleye also testified in his defence, supported by his forensic physician, who disputed the medical evidence presented by the prosecution. However, during the verdict on October 24, Justice Rahman Oshodi of the Lagos Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court, Ikeja, emphasized that the evidence “strongly incriminates” the defendant. The judge labelled Olaleye a “dangerous” offender devoid of remorse. He cited Olaleye’s prior confession to the police as proof of his guilt. As a result, the doctor received a life imprisonment sentence, and his name was added to the Lagos State sex offenders register, signifying Nigeria’s judicial stance against sexual violence.

A few days after the doctor’s verdict, the ICPC pressed criminal charges against Ndifon, following an investigation into allegations of his sexual harassment of students. The anti-graft commission is arraigning the lecturer on a four-count charge, involving sexual harassment, official corruption, and abuse of office contrary to Sections 8, 18 and 19 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.

One of the counts reads, “That you, Professor Cyril Osim Ndifon (M), between June and September 2023, at Calabar, within the Jurisdiction of this honourable court, and while being a public officer charged with responsibility for the certification of students as fit in learning and character, as a prerequisite for the award of Bachelor’s degree in law and admission into the Nigerian Law School, used your office and position as the dean, Faculty of Law, University of Calabar, to gratify yourself by soliciting nude photographs and videos from one Ms. ABC (not real name), a Year 2 Diploma student of the university, through WhatsApp chats on your telephone number, 0803*****, and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.”

Ndifon, a law professor, was suspended as dean of the faculty after female students of the faculty held a protest rally on August 14, accusing him of sexual harassment. This led to a public outcry, prompting the university to form a panel to investigate the professor.

The lecturer, denying the allegations, claimed that some colleagues, uncomfortable with his leadership style, instigated the students against him. 

However, the panel’s report in early October outlined Ndifon’s abuse of power, intimidating and seeking sexual favours from female law students. One student, testifying before the panel, recounted an incident where the professor allegedly coerced her into oral sex in his campus office.

Consequently, on October 4, the ICPC, in collaboration with State Security Service personnel, arrested the professor after he allegedly evaded multiple invitations.

This is not the first instance of such accusations against Ndifon at UNICAL. In 2015, he faced suspension for allegedly raping a 20-year-old law student in his office but was reinstated a year later under unclear circumstances.

Ndifon’s case highlights the pervasiveness of sex-for-grades in Nigerian universities, a troubling trend addressed in Eedris Abdulkareem’s 2003 song ‘Mr Lecturer.’

A 2022 research report and advocacy strategy conducted by the Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa revealed under-reported incidents of sex for promotion and other sexual and gender-based violence among staff.

“The major reason for not reporting is a lack of knowledge of where to go and who to tell, the expectation of not being believed, followed by fear of negative consequences. In some quoted instances, reporting did indeed lead to further injustice for the victim,” the report reads.

The data collected from 20 universities with 7,178 participating students indicated that the main perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence are predominantly students and academic staff, including instances of non-academic staff sexually harassing students during admissions and accommodation processes.

 Last July, the Nigeria Police Force, Lagos State Command, said it recorded 111 sexual assault cases between April and June 2023.

The command’s spokesperson, Benjamin Hundeyin, expressed concern about the increasing number of sexual assault cases in the state, noting that within the same period, 14 rape cases and 56 domestic violence incidents were recorded, leading to 99 suspects being charged to court.

Also, the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency revealed that the state recorded 5,624 cases of sexual abuse between August 2022 and July 2023.

“The agency now receives an average of 250 clients every month. For adults – 91 per cent of survivors were female, and nine per cent were male; while for children – 45 per cent of survivors were boys, 55 per cent were girls,” said the Executive Secretary of the agency, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi.

The prevalence of sexual abuse cases in Nigeria continues to draw attention, advocating for justice for the victims and addressing the urgent need for societal change. The recent judgment on Olaleye and charges against Ndifon signal progress but highlight the ongoing journey towards a comprehensive #MeToo movement in Nigeria. The significance of these cases lies not only in the legal ramifications but in their potential to spark social change.

Continued advocacy, reforms, and societal support are crucial as Nigeria navigates a pivotal moment in addressing sexual abuse and harassment.

The imprisonment of Olaleye and the prosecution of Ndifon will send strong signals to sexual predators that the government is determined to win the war against sexual abusers, no matter the social status of the personality involved.

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