Nigerians Call for Stiffer Punishment As Reported Rape Cases Increase

Nigerians gather to protest sexual assault and violence against women and girls on June 1, 2020.

For the Bellos, life will certainly never remain the same again and every Monday will always strike a sad chord in their traumatised hearts for years to come.

Last Monday, a group of yet to be identified men stormed their home located at Akinyele Kara Market along Old Oyo Road, Ibadan, leaving death and sorrow behind.

Initial reports indicate that the hoodlums, who apparently were on a mission to rob the household, met a nearly empty home. The rampaging criminals met 18-year-old Barakat, who was taking her bath.

Upon seeing her at the bathroom, the hoodlums raped the young lady. Not done and perhaps to 'hide' their crime, they macheted her till she gave up the ghost.

According to her father, Kasimu Bello, the incident occurred when all other members of the family were not around. The only person at home at the time of the attack was her younger sister.

About a week earlier, Vera Omozuwa, a 100-level student of microbiology at the University of Benin died days after she was beaten and allegedly raped right inside a church by yet to be identified men.

The undergraduate was bludgeoned to death in a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, (RCCG) Ikpoba Hill, Benin City on May 13, where she went to study.

She died on May 31, 18 days after, at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, the police said.

She was 23 years old.

Harvest of rapes

The story of Hadiza Saidu's daughter and niece is rather traumatic. Both girls were raped by a neighbour.

"His name is Abubakar Musa. He used to sneak into our house when none of us was around to sexually abuse the children. According to the kids, he used to finger one of them while directly having sexual intercourse with the other one.

"We took the matter to Metro police station and his colleagues called me aside to beg me that I should let the matter die for the sake of his job.

"I asked why were they not concerned about my own kids that have been abused? I insisted that justice must be served to my daughter and her little cousin who is the daughter of my younger sister," said Ms Saidu, a distraught widow said.

There was also the report of a father who repeatedly raped two of his daughters "at gunpoint".

Perhaps not to be left out, a soldier was also recently arrested by the police for raping a university student.

PREMIUM TIMES also reported how police operatives arrested 11 men who reportedly took turns to rape a 12-year-old girl.

A 13-year-old girl also stunned Nigerians when she narrated how her father raped her on a daily basis.

Another 13-year-old narrated her own sordid tale of how she was raped by three men.

There was a tinge of morbidity when a tenant was exposed for reportedly raping the two-year-old daughter of his tenants.

Nigerians were also alarmed when a university lecturer was accused of raping a 17-year-old student and how investigations were stalled at a point.

A few rape cases turned tragic for the alleged perpetrators. There was a case of a teenager who killed the assailant that tried to sexually molest her.

There is hardly a day when reports of rape or sexual molestation do not make the pages of Nigerian newspapers. But the manner victims are now killed after the crimes are committed is now leaving Nigerians more horrified.

'Cancerous'

"Rape is like cancer, it has no respect for age, sex or race. It starts from a spot and then gradually spreads to the entire body system," says Julie Mogbo, an activist, also known as The Family Bond Nurse. "While spreading, it steals a victor's pleasurable desires, purposeful drive and prospective dreams and in many cases, life. It causes one to start questioning their beliefs and reasons for existence."

"Without any invitation, a feeling of worthlessness creeps in. Rape is like a song track placed in repeat: the incidence keeps on happening long after it has happened. With each replay, the hands and the words turn to blades cutting and creating an indelible scar long after tissue healing may have taken place."

"I do not think that Nigeria as a whole is doing enough to reduce the brazen attitude with which these dastardly acts are committed," Ms Mogbo said.

Ineffective laws?

Gender activists argue that the reason the menace of rape has not been effectively curtailed over the years is not the absence of relevant laws to bring culprits to book but the weakness in implementation.

In Nigeria, there are at least five legal provisions which provide access to justice for rape victims.

There is the Criminal Code, applicable in all the southern states; the Penal Code, applicable in all the northern states and the Criminal Laws of Lagos - applicable only in Lagos State.

There is equally the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, (VAPP) applicable only in the FCT and the Child Rights Act applicable in the states that have domesticated it

Under the Criminal Code, rape is when any person has sexual intercourse with a woman or girl, without her consent, or incorrectly obtained consent.

Under the Penal Code, rape is also when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman against her will, without her consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent. Further under this law, sex with a girl under 14 years of age or who is of unsound mind is rape, irrespective of whether there is consent. However, the Penal Code states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, even if forced, is not rape.

Under the Criminal Laws of Lagos (CLL), rape is also when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman or girl without her consent, or with incorrectly obtained consent.

As with the PC, the CLL explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife cannot be unlawful, and therefore a man cannot rape his wife.

VAPP Act 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.

Unfortunately, the law is only applicable in the FCT, Abuja. It does not apply in other states of the federation, for now.

The controversial Child Rights Act (CRA) provides that sex with a child is rape, and anyone who has sexual intercourse with a child is liable to imprisonment for life upon conviction.

Sadly, not all the states of the federation have domesticated this law.

These legislations prescribe from up to 15-year jail terms to life terms for convicted rapists.

PREMIUM TIMES recently outlined the inability of these laws, especially the VAPP, enacted in 2015, to effectively serve justice.

The analysis beamed a searchlight on some of the grey areas in the provision of the laws, loopholes in implementation and excesses of implementing agencies.

Other climes

The seriousness of the crime has made many nations across the globe enact and implement tough laws to curb the menace even as far as meting out the death sentence.

The Supreme Court of India awarded death penalty to the four men convicted of fatal gang rape of Jyoti Singh in December 2012, a case that fuelled global outcry and radically overhauled the country's rape laws.

In Saudi Arabia, rape is punishable by death under circumstances of grievous and aggravated rape or in the case of serial rapists.

In Bangladesh, the Supreme Court in 2015 ruled in an appeal challenging the mandatory death penalty for rape. It said that death sentence will remain as an option alongside life imprisonment although depending on the gravity of the crime.

In Japan, 20 years is the penalty for rape. If it is fatal rape at the scene of any other crime like robbery, then death penalty applies.

In Iran, under Article 224 of the Islamic Penal Code, "fornication by force or reluctance is punishable by death".

In Pakistan, gang rape, child molestation and rape are punishable by death. Statutory rape by a man of a girl under 16, especially gang rape, is also punishable by death.

And in Cuba, death penalty is the penalty for rape resulting in serious injury, especially by an offender previously convicted of the same crime or by an offender who knows that s/he suffers from a sexually transmitted disease. Rape of a child under the age of 12 is punishable by death.

Some states in the U.S., such as Louisiana and Florida, have awarded capital punishment in cases of child rape.

A Nigerian activist wants tougher laws enacted in Nigeria to curb the crime.

"By my estimation, less than 10 per cent of this crime (in Nigeria) actually gets into the media space or gets to the attention of law enforcement agencies," says Ariyo-Dare Atoye, Executive Director, Adopt A Goal For Development Initiative. "What this means is that, with many sexual predators on the prowl, and rapists on the loose, the safety and well-being of our women, girls, daughters, wives and daughters can no longer be guaranteed."

"At this point, we should get tougher and commence a #CutItOff campaign in addition to other measures that government and other stakeholders are putting in place," he adds. "What this means is if your manhood will make you to commit rape, we must encourage potential rapists to #CutItOff, it is not a Sin. If you cannot restrain your manhood from committing rape, #CutItOff, it is a right. But if you are caught, the society will #CutItOff."

"I will urge that we should start advocating for a #CutItOff legislation to be included in our legal codes, so that our courts can be legally empowered to make the appropriate pronouncement."

Concerned but cautious lawmakers

The House of Representatives, in the wake of the rape and killings of Barakat and Uwa lamented the spike in the crime but voted against a motion seeking castration as a punishment for rapists.

A lawmaker, James Faleke, had recommended that persons found guilty of rape should be castrated. The House adopted the motion condemning sexual violence but rejected his prayer.

The lawmakers, however, called for stiffer penalties against persons found guilty of rape, as did the Senate.

A senator, Sandy Onor, who is pushing for stricter legislation against the crime said any approach must be holistic and effective.

"The change has to be holistic. It has to be a total campaign," he said in a recent interview. "It involves the girl-child, the boy-child and the man. The society needs to be properly educated."

He adds: "For instance, globalisation has a way of toning down morality. But as Africans, we need to operate by our own ethos and laws. A typical African girl should dress properly. There should be propriety in dressing. We should not globalise to the extent of aping what is clearly offensive to all. You can't be showing parts of your body that are not supposed to be shown. Having said that, that is not enough reason for any boy, or man to rape a woman. Our boys must be taught to show a sense of responsibility. They must hold to the tenets of who a gentleman should be."

Not enough

Some activists are, however, not impressed with the legislative overtures.

"Nigeria is not doing enough to tackle rape cases and this is why the incidences have increased at an alarming rate," says NkasiObim Nebo, founder, PeachAid Medical Initiative. "There may be skeletal laws and policies already passed, but have they been implemented? There is little or absolutely no policy that has been put in place to help rape victims, rather they are stigmatised and humiliated."

"Rape has assumed a threatening dimension and I am afraid every day for my life and that of my daughter. Our government needs to intervene urgently," she added in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

Also, Edoamaowo Udeme, Founder, Movement Against Domestic Violence, said Nigerian authorities are not doing enough to curb the crime.

"We are not doing enough to tackle the issues of rape in the country that explains why victims keep quiet instead of speaking out," she said. "The painful part is that women are blamed even by the so-called law enforcement agencies as if it is their fault, the resultant and psychological effect drives some to suicidal tendencies."

"Some rape victims lose their womb or their source of sexual pleasure while some carry the burden wherever they go and refuse to speak up," she added.

She advocates stiffer penalties like long prison sentences for the perpetrators. Delay in justice fuels sexual abuse, she adds.

The odds are stacked against the girl child, says the president, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Ruoda Tyoden.

"The problem we have is right from the police desk where the complaint is made. Thank God today we have gender desks in all the police stations but more needs to be done," she said in an interview with AIT. "From what the victims go through, you will find out why most victims don't want to go through with the case. Even when it gets to court the victim is made to go over and over what took place. The prosecution counsel will ask questions, the defence will ask, as if it is her fault. She is further victimised."

She said the problem is the ineffective implementation of the existing laws.

"We have enough laws but these are not effectively implemented. You know in the criminal and penal codes, the law prescribes life imprisonment for convicted rapists, but since I was born till now, I don't think I have seen anyone going to jail for life for rape. The most we have had is the recently enacted VAPP where rapists have been sentenced to several years."

Police react

Police force spokesperson, Frank Mba, did not pick calls to his phone requesting comments to the report. He also did not respond to text messages requesting same, Saturday.

But addressing a group of protesters in Abuja, on Friday, Mr Mba said "we understand the rationale, emotions, pains and frustration driving this protest".

Mr Mba stated that "the police is with Nigerians in the quest for a rape free country as every member of the police force has a woman/girl in their lives and would not want them to be victims of sexual abuse or rape."

"We will work with you if you will work with us to drive this advocacy to further extent", he said adding that "one of the ways to fight against sexual assault against women is to end the conspiracy of silence".

"We have seen mothers who have compounded cases of incest committed against their daughters, therefore we must work together to build a generation of women who will be bold enough to report cases when they happen."

He added that "Nigerians must work together with the police to educate the people, a lot of investigations of such cases are mishandled."

He alleged the connivance of relatives to shut down police investigations and prosecution.

Mr Mba said "the police will continue to build the capacity of police officers, build a generation of officers who can empathise with women, show tact and understanding, work with victims, victim's family, activists, lawmakers and other well-meaning citizens to fight rape."

Despite Mr Mba's assurances, there appears no end in sight to the rising rape cases.

A few hours after Mr Mba issued his statement, a 12-year-old girl, who was taking an online class in the comfort of her home, was again brutally raped and brutalised by four masked men.

Despite the dark clouds, Mrs Mogbo says there is hope. "In the past, Victors (I would rather not call them victims) were gripped with fear of stimatisation and exposure to more harm and so they would not voice out," she says. "In recent times, the culture of silence is being broken and voices are now being raised in a passionate call for justice and advocacy for more severe judgment by the law.

"That is the reason rape recovery program should be widely available and accessible with ethical codes to ensure that survivors and their families feel comfortable to approach the programme," she said.

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