REGARDLESS of various laws aimed at protecting the rights of women, rape has become an epidemic in Nigeria lately. Across the six-geopolitical zones, newspapers are full of reports of numerous cases of rape, especially of minors, teenagers and elderly women. With the trend becoming alarming, CHARLES KUMOLU asks: Why the sudden increase in rape incidents?

DESPITE coming from a family where no one can boast of having a secondary or tertiary education, Blessing Monday, was not discouraged in her quest of acquiring a university degree. It is with this determination for higher education and to conquer the abject poverty which she was born into, that she faced her life diligently for 19 years.

This made her the pride of her family, as everyone supported her dreams of attaining golden heights in her education. But, while she lived each day working towards her dreams, Blessing was unaware that fate would on March 10, 2012, unleash a mortal blow on her dreams. She  was reportedly gagged to death, after she was raped by a man, who identified himself as Ime Friday at Epe area of Lagos.

Interrogation by detectives

Ime, who is presently being interrogated by detectives at the State Criminal Investigations Department, SCID, Panti, Lagos noted that he gagged her to stop her from shouting but the helpless girl tried all she could to save herself by even biting his fingers until her strength failed her. But he continued and this resulted in her passing out after which he carried out the act unperturbed.

Similarly, a 15-year-old girl is lying critically ill in an undisclosed hospital in Port Harcourt after she was allegedly gang-raped. The incident occurred on Tuesday evening in Rumuodumaya in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.

*Women protesting against rape and violence at Ogbozara community of Nsukka.

Raped for not passing exams: Already, no fewer than seven boys in their early 20s have been rounded up by the Police in connection with the incident. It was gathered that the girl (name withheld) had gone to the nearby Rumuokoro market to make some purchases in the evening of the fateful day.

In addition, an Arabic teacher in Ibadan, recently raped a 15 year old student for not passing her exams. Siaka Salimonu, 43, who teaches Arabic, allegedly promised to give Yetunde holy oil for prayers to improve her academic performance, and raped her when she came for the oil. Salimonu is also an Imam and regularly conducts Friday Jumat prayers in the local mosque.

As it is in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan,  so is it at Gombe, where a water vendor, Ahmed Manu, 22, of Tudun Wada quarters, Gombe, was recently remanded in prison custody for allegedly raping a 26-year-old mentally deranged woman. The principal judge of the court, Malam Mohammed Usman, gave the order when the accused pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The complainant, Malam Mohammed Hassan, who is a traditional herbalist, told the court that the accused person had on February 24, raped one of his patients who was being treated for mental problem. He said the accused person was involved in hawking water during the dry season and had supplied water to the home.

Another pathetic incident of rape recently was that of a 16-year old girl, who was raped by three police men.

Policemen jailed for raping 16-year-old girl: The policemen were subsequently convicted and sentenced by  Kano State High Court  for abduction, conspiracy and rape.

The policemen were former Insp. Dantalle Muhammed, who was convicted on three counts of abduction, conspiracy and rape and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in addition to a fine of N100,000 for rape. He was also sentenced to eight years in prison for abduction with a fine of N50,000 and six years in prison with a fine of N50,000 for conspiracy.

The other convict,  former Insp. Yusuf Ibrahim, was sentenced to 14 years with a fine of N200,000 for abduction,  eight years and a fine of N100,000 for conspiracy and  six years with a fine of N50,000 for rape. The third convict, Mahmuda Muhammad, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for rape.

In her judgment, Justice Tani Yusuf expressed dismay over the action of the three former policemen of Kwalli Division, who conspired, abducted and raped the girl while they were on duty. That these cases of raped happened this year, says much about the rising incidents of rape across Nigeria lately.

Following the fact that these cases happened across the six geo-political zones, it would be safe for VanguardFaetures,VF, to state that rape, which is sexual assault initiated by one or more persons against another without that person’s consent, is becoming a national disaster. Although, various societies have had to live with it, all through the ages, its sudden increase in Nigeria, is spreading fears across the land.

In fact, there is hardly any week lately without rape cases making the headlines. As gathered, this malaise, is usually in form of  child rape, gang rape and serial rape. Like most countries in Africa, it was gathered that official statistics on rape in Nigeria is scanty.

But some from  rights’ groups like CLEEN foundation, indicated that 2,241 cases of rape and indecent assault were reported in 1999; 1,529 in 2000; 2,284 in 2001; 2,084 in 2002; 2,253 in 2003; 1,626 in 2004 and 1,835 in 2005.

Another report by Project Alert against Violence against Women, a Lagos based non-governmental organization noted that: in 2003, 32 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported, and 46 cases were reported for the period covering December 2004 to November 2005.

Minister worried: Only recently, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, decried the alarming rate of rape cases across the country. She said her ministry was overwhelmed with series of such cases requiring urgent legal attention.

The minister said: “An overview data of Gender Based Violence generated for 18 states of the federation and covering the six geo-political zones in 2010 revealed that out of four hundred and seventy nine (479) reported cases, the result is as follows, 21.08 percent of sexual violation, 44.25 percent of physical violations, 18.37 percent of domestic violence, 11.48 percent of harmful traditional practices (HTP) and 2.92 percent of economic violations.”

While condemning the acts as barbaric and gross violation of human rights, she said efforts are on going to get the National Assembly to pass into law the CEDAW Bill (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) which is the overall instrument on the enforcement of the rights of women.

Why the sudden rise?

Despite the minister’s position, VF gathered that the pertinent question across the country, remains: Why the sudden increase of rape in Nigeria? Providing her response to the question, the President of Gender Alliance, Mrs. Adenike Atoyebi, fummed thus: “Yes, we have lived with rape since the beginning of our existence, but the manner in which it is happening in Nigeria now, is worrisome. But I have to put this sudden surge on the socio-economic situation in the country, which has left many jobless and hungry. But for idleness, what would make someone to rape a three year old girl or a 60-year old widow?”

Particular reason for rape

Atoyebi was, however, quick to add “I think there’s no particular reason for rape. I consider it an act of immorality and madness. I once heard a story about a teenager who was raped on her way home. The offender said he had simply acted on his impulse, claiming he was aroused by the girl’s dress sense.”

Similarly, Executive Director of Women Arise, WA, Dr. Josephine said: “Impunity is on the rise because of our inability to bring the perpetrators to book. Rape and sexual violence have become a regular occurrence, a norm in Nigeria. Women don’t think they will be believed. So, they won’t openly give their side of the story.”

Failure of Child Rights Act: She said it is worrisome that despite the passage of the Child Rights Act, incidences of rape and assault on the girl child is still prevalent in the country. She added that it is unfortunate that 18 states are yet to pass the Act, noting: “According to recent reports, more than 20 girls are raped and daily subjected to other forms of violence. It is also observed there is no equal access to education for girls and boys, everything works against girl’s education and there is no intervention to encourage access to education.”.

Another person, who is also sad about the situation is Mrs. Jumoke Adenowo, founder of Awesome Treasures Foundation, ATF. Disclosing her disgust for the rising rape incidences to VF, she observed: “We are not secure in a country where a young girl is bathed with acid for daring to say “No” to a man’s advances and the government does not see the crime for what it is – a crime against the state, and the perpetrator walks free as the victim lives in daily mental and physical anguish.

“It’s worse than slavery! No woman, no matter how personally comfortable, should be apathetic about such outrageous incidents. What happens to one sister can happen to any. So in essence, we are being told that even our bodies do not belong to us and random “admirers” can lay claim to our bodies?”

Rape of women and girls endemic in Nigeria: Deploring the manner in which rape victims act unchallenged, she said: “They can even upload their crimes on Youtube while the victim is told by law enforcement officials: “You caused it!” This is the worst sort of human rights abuse possible. No matter how many females we have in leadership positions today, the fundamental problems of the Nigerian female are yet to be addressed. Nigerian women are not even safe.”

The stance of the duo on the matter, was also strengthened by an Amnesty International report titled Nigeria: Rape – The Silent Weapon. It observed that “rape of women and girls by both the police and security forces, and within their homes and community, is acknowledged to be endemic in Nigeria – not only by human rights defenders but also by some government officials at both federal and state levels.

The government, however, is failing in its obligation to exercise due diligence: The perpetrators invariably escape punishment, and women and girls who have been raped are denied any form of redress for the serious crimes against them”.

It also stated that: “Government’s response has been, and continues to be, woefully inadequate. Rape is a crime under Nigerian national law and is an internationally recognised human rights violation. Despite this, the government is failing in both its national and international obligations to prevent, investigate and prosecute rape, whether committed by state actors or non-state actors, and to provide any reparations to the victims.

Further, Amnesty International has discovered that the Nigerian government has failed in its international obligations to take action against agents of the state who have committed rape and sexual abuse, and has failed to amend discriminatory legislation that guarantees impunity from charges of rape.”

Urgent review of laws: Regardless of this indictment, further investigations revealed that for these rising incidences of rape to be curtailed, government should as a matter of urgency, review  laws on rape, control the use of hard drugs and the rampant abuse of alcohol, among others.

Elaborating on this, Atoyebi said “there are laws that needs to be reviewed urgently, so that it would serve as a deterent to rapists and would be rapists. You could remember that it was because of the spate of rape that made the Federal Government to constitute a Committee on the Review of Discriminatory Laws Against Women, which operated under the auspices of the National Human Rights Commission with a mandate to review discriminatory legislation, including rape.

“There are also the penal code, criminal code and the sharia law,” she stated, adding that, “What I am saying in essence is for these laws to be review, to meet up the rising rape cases, because the crime is taking another dimension lately.”

Still harping on the way out of the malaise, she said: “Some of these laws are most times outdated, and not enforced, so you find people perpetrating  the crime because they know they would not feel the full weight of the law. If the current rate of this madness must be curtailed, government must wake up to its responsibilities.”

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