Nigeria: Rape and the Uniform

According to the UN children's agency UNICEF, one in four Nigerian women are sexually abused before they turn 18 (file photo).
5 October 2021
editorial

Law enforcement officers who violate the law must be served with the full weight of the law

As sundry criminal cartels prowl the country, an epidemic of rape has emerged as one of the new forms of social deviance. This and other similar forms of psychosocial crimes have compelled the Nigerian Police Force to create and dedicate desks to respond to social crimes. Since urgent and rapid response to reports of crimes is the first step in apprehending offenders and bringing them to justice, we commend the police for their action. However, in a situation where law enforcement agents, specifically the police themselves, are the offenders, society becomes bewildered in its helplessness.

Barely a week ago, in the commercial city of Aba, students of the state-owned Abia Polytechnic staged an angry protest against policemen attached to the Rapid Response Squad who allegedly raped and abused a second-year Ordinary National Diploma (OND) student of the institution. The incident attracted the attention of the wife of the governor, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu, who visited the affected student in hospital. The governor himself has called on the state police command to quickly apprehend the offending personnel and ensure that they are disciplined and brought to justice in line with extant regulations.

While the public awaits the outcome of whatever disciplinary processes that may have been instituted against the Aba rapist cops, this incident like several others that have been reported nationwide, is yet another unpleasant development in a society where the dividing line between order and lawlessness is fast disappearing. But it is also coming at a period when we may need to learn from how other societies deal with criminals in uniform. Last Thursday, a United Kingdom Metropolitan Police officer who kidnapped a woman under the guise of an arrest before raping and murdering her was sentenced to a whole-life prison term.

Reported cases of rape, incest, sexual violation of minors, domestic violence and other psychosocial crimes have of late become quite rampant throughout the country. Some attribute the development to the influence of the social media which now ensures that incidents are reported more frequently than before. Others attributed the development to increased stress and socio-economic pressure. Whatever may be the excuse, an increased number of citizens are being driven into unusual crimes and deviant behaviours.

However, the involvement of law enforcement personnel in these crimes is worrying. In situations where citizens are victims of rape and related crimes, the standard expectation is that they will get help once they report to the police. But a situation where those who wear the face of the law become criminals themselves is an indication of the collapse of order in the society. Police officers who rape helpless citizens are not any better than the several others who engage in armed robbery while in uniform or those among them who rent firearms officially allocated to them to criminals.

When law enforcement officers engage in criminality, the expectation ought to be that they will face even stiffer penalties than regular criminals. The assignment of protecting defenceless citizens from sexual and other predators which the work of the police entails places on their personnel a heavy burden of responsibility. When police officers prowl the streets and college campuses with the intent of violating innocent women and girls, they must be served with the full weight of the law. First, they should be dismissed from the police and subsequently prosecuted. Thereafter, their names should enter a national register of convicted sexual offenders.

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A situation where those who wear the face of the law become criminals themselves is an indication of the collapse of order in the society

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