Confronting rape, SGBV, related vices

Confronting rape, SGBV, related vices

Nigerians have taken to the streets in most parts of the country last week to protest the rising cases of rape and other sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Statistics, including those from the police, present a frightening reality of the challenge. ERIC IKHILAE examines efforts being made by some state agencies to address the problem.

The times are changing. Tales, usually associated with distant climes, are being recorded daily in our communities. Acts, once considered as misnomers and taboos, are gradually assuming the status of the norm. Nothing seems strange anymore. In recent times, Nigeria has been confronted with an alarming rise in cases of sexual molestation of minors by adults and sexual exploitation of children by parents, among other cases of gender-based/domestic violence.

On June 15, this year, the police in Maradun Local Government Area of Zamfara State arrested Aminu Bala for allegedly raping and hacking to death his elder brother’s wife Hauwau Iliyasu.

The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mohammed Shehu, a Superintendent of Police, said the suspect confessed to have raped and killed the woman.

Shehu said: “On June 15, 2020, a report was received by the police that a housewife, Hauwau Iliyasu, 25, a resident of the Damba area, was raped and killed. The police, upon the receipt of the information, rushed to the scene and met a woman lying in a pool of her own blood.

“The whole body was butchered with a machete and she was evacuated to the Yariman Bakura Specialist Hospital, Gusau, where she was confirmed dead.”

On June 8, this year, the police in Kano State arrested 32-year-old Mohammed Zulfaralu of Gidan Kwana, Kwanar Dangora Village for allegedly raping an 85-year-old woman.

The police at Kwanan Dangora Police Division in Kano, who effected Zulfaralu’s arrest, said he trespassed into the house belonging to the mother of the complainant at Unguwar Rimi Kwanar Dangora and had sexual intercourse with her.

In a two-count charge of criminal trespass and rape, brought under Sections 344 and 283 of the Penal Code, the police alleged that before his case with the old woman, Zulfaralu had been involved in 39 rape cases.

The police in Suleja, Niger State, on June 5, arrested 50-year-old Peter Ayemoba for allegedly raping his two daughters for the last six years.

The victims said to be between 20 and 22, were said to have been repeatedly subjected to sexual molestation by their father since 2013 until recently when the children found the courage to confide in a relative, who reported to the police.

Onyebuchi Ezema, 35, is being held in custody after he was arrested for allegedly raping his four-year-old daughter.

Ezema was, in a one-count charge filed by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), said to have raped the daughter at his residence in Lugbe, a suburb of the Abuja metropolis. In the charge before the High Court of the Federal Capital territory (FCT), Lugbe, Abuja, Ezema was said to have committed the offence between April 15 and 16, this year.

Although victims of the cases presented above are females, it remains that rape and related crimes are not only directed at women and girls. Boys and men have also been victims.

A recent case involving Mrs. Udeme Otike, who was said to have had a disagreement with her husband at their Diamond Estate in Ogombo, Ajah residence in Lagos State.

According to police report, while the husband – 50-year-old Odibe Otike – was asleep, the wife allegedly stabbed him multiple times with a kitchen knife, ripping his stomach open to expose the intestine and then, severed his genital and placed it on his right hand, while he gasps for breath. Otike did not survive the attack.

Possible causes

Observers argue that although cases of rape and related crimes have been with us before now, the frequency of occurrence and the seeming pervasiveness in recent time are troubling.

Speaking last week, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, offered an insght into what may be responsible for the sudden jump in cases of violence against persons.

Adamu said: “It has come to the public knowledge now that because of the COVID-19 restrictions, we have a surge in cases of rape and gender-based violence.

“Law enforcement agents have been dealing with these cases and, in most, members of the public are not aware of the actions that the law enforcement agents have been taking.”

Beside the observation by the IGP, a recent report by the Centre for Gender Protection (CGP) identified some factors that expose children to molestation to include poor parenting, child labour practice and the operation of baby factories. CGP observed that sexual abuse of young girls in Nigeria was linked to child labour. It argued that the introduction of young girls into street trading increased their vulnerability to sexual harassment.

It added that poor parenting, which resulted from poverty and lack of funds for parents to take care of their wards, contributed to child sexual abuse.

The group noted that the growing number of baby factories in the country, encouraged by religious and communal stigmatisation associated with surrogacy and adoption, also contributed to the rising cases of girl-child molestation.

“A large number of female victims in the baby factories are young adolescents. Operators of the baby factories exploit pregnant young girls, who are from poor households, unmarried and are afraid of the public stigma associated with teenage pregnancy. Though, majority of the girls who enter the factory are pregnant, some in the factories were kidnapped or sold to the operators, and are subjected to constant rape for the purpose of bearing children,” it said.

Some have also attributed the rise in cases of rape and related crimes to pervasive poverty, increased drug abuse and hopelessness among the youth. They argue that people, who ordinarily patronise prostitutes, are becoming too poor to indulge in such leisure in view of the rising unemployment rate and the coronavirus-induced movement restriction.

The ease with which illicit drugs and other behaviour-modifying substances could be accessed in most parts of the country make them ready option for the army of unemployed and idle youths, who are becoming hopeless in their approach to existence.

The reality of rape and SGBV

Despite the devastating consequences of rape and related crimes on the population, many still appear not to appreciate the gravity of the challenge that these harmful activities pose to the society.

The Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Anthony Ojukwu, shed more light on this when he stressed that rape and SGBV constituted a gross violation of human rights and a crime.

According to him, they constitute “a violation of the right to dignity, right to life, right to sexuality, based on discrimination. It is not only an abuse by the perpetrator, but also a violation when the responsible authority fails to take action to ensure redress and accountability to victims and survivors.

“Rape and SGBV affect different categories of people, especially the most vulnerable like children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and men.

“Rape and SGBV have devastating consequences not only on the victims or the survivors, but on the society, therefore, the effects are not only personal, but socio-economic as well. This calls for all hands to be on deck in order to address this pervasive crime in our society”.

What the figures say

Unfortunately, there are no accurate data to illustrate the frequency of rape and SGBV in the country. But, a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2015 stated that one in four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before 18. It added that six out of 10 children in Nigeria experience emotional, physical or sexual abuse before 18, with half experiencing physical violence.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBC), in a 2016 report, stated that there were 45,554 cases of “offences against persons,” which included murder, manslaughter, infanticide, concealment of birth, rape and other physical abuse.

The body was, however, more specific in its 2017 report. It said 2,279 cases of “rape and indecent assault” were recorded by police across the country the previous year.

Figures from the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) on “prison admission by type of offence” indicated that in 2013, 5,797 suspects were held for “sex offences,” while it dropped to 4,436 in 2014, and stood at 1,621 by the second quarter of 2015.

The IGP presented a more-recent data on the issue last week. He said: ”The Nigeria Police so far, from January to May 2020, has recorded about 717 rape incidents that were reported across the country. About 799 suspects have been arrested, 631 cases conclusively investigated and charged to court and 52 cases are left and under investigation.

“The police, other security agencies, and Non-Governmental Organisations have been collaborating to see to it that these cases of rape and gender-based violence are dealt with.”

According to the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, no fewer than 80 rape cases were recorded in various parts of Anambra State during the COVID-19 lockdown between April and May.

She added: “I’m sure you are aware that, for the past few weeks, the country has witnessed a lot of outrage and outcry because of the pandemic we are facing.

“I know before COVID-19, we have always had pandemic of rape cases and gender-based violence. But with the lockdown due to COVID-19, women and children are locked down with their abusers and the number has escalated three times. There is no state that is an exception.

“This has reached an embarrassing situation that a memo was presented in council, calling for immediate intervention, legal and prompt dispensation of justice in the cases. Because, from the statistics we have and from the meetings I had with the 36 state commissioners of Women Affairs, we have hundreds of cases within our courts that have not been addressed,” she said while addressing reporters after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on June 10.

Observers are, however, not convinced that the figures provided represented the actual state of affairs. This challenge, they said, results from the culture of silence mostly associated with cases of domestic violence and abuses.

Why victims keep silent

An opinion poll conducted in 2019 by an Abuja-based polling agency – NOIPolls – indicated that underreporting of cases was also a problem in Nigeria.

It has been estimated by the CGP that only two of 40 cases of rape (five per cent) are reported as a result of difficult legal requirements needed to prove the cases and the associated societal stigma.

The group noted that, for various reasons, including the fear of stigmatisation, police extortion, and a lack of trust in the criminal justice system, the vast majority of sexual assault victims do not present themselves at police stations for investigation and prosecution.

Ojukwu explained the dilemma when he noted, with dismay, that survivors of rape/SGBV cases were usually stigmatised and humiliated by the public, including some officials of the law enforcement agencies.

He added: “When such cases are reported, they ask suggestive contributory negligence questions like, what she was wearing, what time of the night was she outside, what was she doing in a hotel room, what she went out to do etc. Such questions discourage victims from reporting violations thereby, making perpetrators get away with their crimes.

“It is, therefore, highly imperative to train senior officials, who prosecute such cases in order to change the narratives. We will also engage them in a monthly meeting where we will bring up all rape/SGBV cases that require prosecution before them for their immediate action; this will encourage survivors to report more cases which will in turn give them hope; this is crucial for their survival.”

The Director-General, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Dame Julie Okah-Donli, noted that because of cultural practices and fear of stimatisation, victims treated rape and related crimes as family affairs.

Okah-Donli advised that people should desist from treating rape, spousal battery, sodomy and other aberrative behaviours as family matters, but rather to treat them as crimes against the state, which they are.

How adequate are extant laws and criminal justice system?

There have been divergent views on whether the problem is with the law and the trial process. While some lawyers have suggested a modification of existing laws and the court system to ensure prompt trial of suspects and easy conviction in cases of rape and related crimes, others think otherwise.

They argue that the laws are sufficient, but that a change in orientation and enhanced commitment on the part of investigators, prosecutors and the administrators of the criminal justice system are needed.

A lawyer and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a rights advocacy group, Stand for Rights Initiative (SRi), Sunday Essienekak, argued that the laws should not be blamed, but the implementers.

Essienekak noted that public prosecutors, who were paid with tax payers’funds were hardly as committed to their duties as private legal practitioners. He said state lawyers and the judicial officers need to change the way they handle such cases to ensure diligent prosecution and secure conviction.

He observed that, although the Penal Code, which is operational in northern states and Criminal Code, used in Southern states,  may be said not to have given broad definitions to rape and related offences, because of their age, such shortcomings have been taken care ofx by the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015.

“The VAPP Act 2015 to me, is an improvement on the Penal and Criminal Codes as it relates to violence against persons This Act now ensures that sexual violence against persons is not only restricted to the female gender. Both male and female are now protected by this law. The law has made adequate provisions to protect the human persons against any form of abuses.

“It has provided for rape. It has provided for spousal battery. It has provided for forceful ejection from home, female circumcision and genital mutilation, incest and even, indecent exposure. Under Section 19 of this Act, it further defines rape to include penetration of the anus, penetration of the mouth or any part of the body.

“So, if a man puts his organ in any opening in somebody else’s body without the person’s consent, he has committed rape under this Act. So, why are we crying that the law is not sufficient.

“I think people should apply existing laws and stop complaining. Where I see a little challenge is at the state level where most state governments are reluctant to adopt this VAPP Act, so that where rape is not properly defined in the old codes, the suspect can the charged under the new Act,” Essienekak said.

On his part, Ojukwu urged governments at all levels to put in place laws, policies, and programmes directed at addressing and eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, children, persons with disabilities and men.

“Laws, such as the VAPP Law and Child Protection Laws, should be tailored to address the issues around rape and SGBV, particularly, to prescribe remedies and punishments for survivors and perpetrators.

“We need to take a second look at the laws to ensure it is easy to ensure prompt prosecution and conviction in cases of rape and related offences.

“The government should strengthen institutions, such as the police and the judiciary, tasked with the provision of these services and accessible essential services to survivors as well as ensure an accelerated disposal of cases on rape and SGBV.’’

Okah-Donli suggested the need for the harmonisation of all laws against rape and related vices to ensure that the punishment against rape is life imprisonment as prescribed by VAPP Act 2015.

Ray of hope

Angered by the turn of events, governments at all levels and relevant state institutions have started to take steps to address the challenges of rape and related vices.

On June 10, this year, the Federal Government expressed its resolve to take decisive action against rapists, especially given the upsurge in reported cases.

Mrs. Tallen said the FEC, at the meeting, also resolved to call on  states to domesticate the VAPP Act, which is only operational in Abuja.

She added: “Out of the 36 states of the federation, only nine have domesticated the VAPP Act. The VAPPA defines rape as when a person intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his/her body or anything else without consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent.

“Consent can be incorrectly obtained where it is obtained: by force/threats/intimidation; by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, by the use of substances capable of taking away the will of that person; by a person impersonating a married woman’s husband in order to have sex.”

She also read the provision of Child Rights Act (CRA), which states that sex with a child is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction.

While the Federal Government was devising its own measures, the governors, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) resolved, held a teleconference meeting on June 10, to declare a state of emergency on sexual and gender-based violence.

In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, the governors  condemned violence against women and children and committed to ensuring that offenders faced the maximum weight of the law;

They urged members that have not already adopted relevant gender-based protection laws to adopt the VAPP Act, the Child Rights Act and the updated Penal Code to increase protection for women and children and ensure speedy investigation and prosecution of perpetrators in addition to creating a sex offenders’ register in each state to name and shame.

The governors equally resolved to invite the commissioners of Police to provide a detailed report on the actions taken to strengthen their response to sexual and gender-based violence through the Family Support Units and Force Gender Units at the state and local government levels.

They promised to commit additional funding for the prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence through appropriate ministries, departments and agencies(MDAs).

Throughout last week, the NHRC engaged in series of activities to drum support for the fight against rape and related vices.

Ojukwu said his agency decided to put together a week-long activism, with the theme: “Equality and dignity for Nigerian women: Join the fight against rape and SGBV”, to create and maintain visibility on the issue of rape and conscientise the public on the dangers of rape and other SGBV.

Ojukwu called on stakeholders, such as the executive, legislature, judiciary, traditional and religious gate keepers, political opinion leaders, and wives of governors, to live up to their responsibilities by putting in place enabling environments for the protection of the dignity and lives of women and girls in Nigeria.

During the week, the NHRC, the NAPTIP, the Nigeria Police and the Federal Ministry of Justice also agreed to collaborate on ways to address the challenges posed by rape and related crimes.

The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), outlined the measures he intended to adopt. Last week, he announced the inauguration of an inter-ministerial Gender-Based Violence Management Committee that will comprise functional and skilled officers drawn from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Federal Ministry of Health, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, National Human Rights Commission, Nigerian Legal Aid Council, Nigeria Police Force,  Civil Society Organisations, among others.”

Part of the duties of the proposed committee, Malami said, would be charged to proffer a synchronised approach to addressing violence against women and children, reviewing the laws and proposing to the National Assembly legislative changes to ensure that the offences of rape and child defilement were dealt with in consonance with international best practices; and ensure speedy processing of stalled and pending cases of rape and child defilement that got delayed due to closure of courts and government institutions during the COVID -19 lockdown.

The AGF also hinted of his engagement with heads of courts “for the establishment of specialised courts for speedy and seamless trial of rape and gender-based violence offences in Nigeria”.

He added: “The aforesaid specialised courts, when established, will necessarily create a timely/speedy trial of all pending and incoming rape and other related gender-based cases and facilitate their conclusion within record time.

“My office has commenced the review of existing laws and policy instruments relating to offences of rape, child defilement and gender-based violence in Nigeria.

“This, in essence, will enable holistic review aimed at proposing relevant legislative changes required to bridge the gaps between policy guidelines and implementation mechanisms for effective prevention and investigative counter-measures.”

Malami also hinted of plans to bring together the 36 state Attorneys- General to consider effective support to stem the growing tide of rape and sexual assault. He added that a meeting of the stakeholders, including the Attorneys-General would be carried out through a scheduled virtual conference soon.

Malami also spoke of plans for the “introduction of sexual offenders’ registrar in various police formations, including all security agencies.”

The minister said the measure was “for the collation and publication of the data of all sexual offenders in Nigeria, aimed at facilitating public humiliation and deterrence to such conducts.”