Rape is a conscious process of intimidation wherein perpetrators keep women and children especially, in a state of constant fear. Rape devalues the victim. It is a crime which stigmatizes the emotions, a crime of insult, oppression and revenge that needs to be punished because a rapist is a criminal and all crimes and their beneficiaries must be punished. Rape and other forms of sexual harassment need the urgent and serious attention of family, institutions, civil society groups, government and international community if we really want to ensure a violence-free society for all.
Cases of sexual violence have increased all over the world. The Stanford rape case involving a 20-year old former Stanford University student who was sent to jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the school campus is a case in point. The judgment generated a lot of negative responses on social media and from the public against the Judge mostly because the sentence – a mere 6months and 3 year probation – seemed like a slap on the wrist for the rapist.
In Nigeria as well, there has been an increasing number of rape and sexual harassment cases on a keen keel. A total number of 150 reported cases of sexual and physical abuse were recorded in Lagos State for one year period as at April 27, 2016. Also the Lagos State commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Mrs. Lola Akande, said the Ministry in the last one year treated about 589 cases ranging from sexual abuse, physical abuse and child labour.
There was the case of a 52-year old builder who confessed to having carnal knowledge of a 12-year old girl in Suleja local government area of Niger State. As a matter of fact, another 33-year old teacher of Government Girls Secondary School, Minna, Abdullahi Shaba was remanded in prison Custody for allegedly raping a 16-year old senior secondary student. Two teenage girls were violently raped to death by a gang of young men in Bayelsa state. While this was going on, two other cases of child abuse occurred in the State, and this included the death of a 7-year old girl after being raped and infected with HIV/AIDS. There was also a report of a 15-year old girl who was gang raped in Ebonyi State on her way from a wake-keep.
If nobody is alarmed at the frequency of these occurrences, we are. They seem to have grown in frequency maybe because our institutions are not addressing these crimes by dealing with the perpetrators. There was a case of a 44-year old man from Ini local government area of Akwa Ibom State who was alleged to have defiled his daughter and actually confessed to have had sexual intercourse with her severally. What then can we make of the man in Enugu who raped three of his children aged five, seven and nine and another 10-year old girl who cried out after constant defilement by her father for a period of 18months in Lagos State? What can we say about that? Rape in Nigeria has also been festering in our universities. We are not likely to easily forget the Cross River State university rape matter between the Dean, faculty of Law, Prof. Cyril Ndifon and a 20-year old 400 level student; the part-time lecturer of the University of Lagos, Afeez Baruwa who allegedly raped an 18-year old girl seeking admission to the university of Lagos. Another case of rape involving a certain Dr. Mohammed Sani Idiagbon and it took place at the department of English in University of Ilorin.
Just recently, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai revealed that the 19 governors in the northern states are set to review the Penal Code which will address the issue of rape and penalties. He also said a bill to that effect is currently before the State House of Assembly. We are gladdened by this but wish that the governor was not merely reacting to the case of one Haruna Tukur who allegedly raped a five-year old girl in Kaduna recently.
In a survey we have carried out on rape in Nigerian universities, we discovered that in one of the top Federal Universities in Nigeria, 100% of rape/sexually harassed victims are female students. Of that number 67% did nothing after they were raped while 33% made some kind of feeble report of being raped to friends, a Course Adviser and others made reports to their parents or guardians. Nearly 88% of respondents have heard of sexual harassment with 66% being aware of more than two cases of rape. Of that number, 90% of the students agreed that there should be centres in all Nigerian universities where incidences of rape are reported and investigated.
If that number of students in our tertiary institutions would decide to keep quiet after they have been raped by lecturers and fellow students, it means that we have one hell of a problem on our hands. Keeping quiet after being raped may just be one very good reason why the crime is on the rise in Nigeria. We found out as well that most people keep quiet because they do not have confidence in the institutions that should champion their cause. This lack of confidence can make students and the larger society begin to resort to self-help in the resolution of incidences of rape and sexual molestation in all strata of our lives. In Ughelli, Delta State, an alleged rapist was burnt to death by an angry mob.
Whilst speaking at a public hearing of the Sexual Harassment Bill organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, National President of the National Female Students of Nigeria, Comrade Idongesit Micah said: “It is either we enact this law and send predators lecturers to prison for correction or we provoke helpless parents, husband or guardian to someday pick a loaded gun and deal with this problem in a barbaric manner”.
But violence will not be the way to handle this. We believe that everyone – the raped, parents, the universities and security institutions – all should join hands together to delete the menace of rape from Nigeria and from our higher institutions. Just last month to be precise June 2016, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) released a short documentary on sexual violence. ANEEJ came out with that short documentary as a result of the never-ending reports of rape cases in different part of the country. In our skit title BUSTED, we tried to suggest a non- violent and legal ways of tackling the issue of all forms of sexual assault in the society. We sought to highlight the various acts of sexual violence, ranging from harassment to defilement and rape of persons especially females. We decided to include children because they are mostly the silent victims along the first tier of education.
We also use this opportunity to call on the judiciary to intensify effort to removing the delays in prosecuting rape, being fully aware that rape cases is hard to prove. We believe that the law must no longer be lenient with rapists and perpetrators at all levels in the community so as to deter perpetrators in the society.
Sandra Eguagie, programme officer and Rape Watch Coordinator, ANEEJ.