Is'haq Modibbo Kawu

May 23, 2013

Nigeria’s troubling epidemic of rapes

13-year-old girl in agony after attempted rape

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
LAST week, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, an NGO, reported that in 2012, no fewer than 1, 200 girls were raped in Rivers state.

The state Project Officer of the body, Michael Gbarale, who is also the chairman of the Child Protection Network, added that: “of this figure (of 1,200), gang rapes were more frequent”.

49 cases were reported to the Network, while 800 others, were treated by ‘doctors without border’. Out of the 49 cases taken to the Child Protection Network, 11 were gang rapes; 44 were ordinary rape cases.

In another survey to investigate high HIV prevalence and lower age for sex among adolescents between 10 and 19 years, carried out by the Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA), it found out that: “forced sex was the third main reason for sexual debut” after love and peer pressure. It said that more than 31.4 percent of girls, many of them living with HIV, reported “forced sex” or rape as the basis of first sexual encounter.

Doctor Morenike Ukpong who presented the study at a national dialogue on adolescents living with HIV in Nigeria, told DAILY TRUST, that “if 31.4 percent of females can report their first sexual debut as rape, I think it is an epidemic…We have an epidemic called rape that we are not addressing. It is something to weep over”.

Dr. Ukpong went on that “for many of those who are HIV positive, their exposure to HIV is because of rape. It is a risk factor for HIV infection and we are not dealing with that”. Some of those in the study were as young as seven: “the man said if I tell my mum or dad he would kill me.

He showed me a knife and I was afraid, I was just seven years old then. He was sleeping with me everyday and I was fearful to talk to anybody. I bled, my sister saw it but I could not tell her what happened…” Stories like these are in the media almost on a daily basis in Nigeria.

There was a report from Auchi, where students at the Polytechnic, kidnapped their classmate, raped her for days and later killed her. There are postings of horrific pictures of young men, somewhere in Rivers state, who raped a girl and then buried her alive, but were discovered by military men.

They were forced to exhume the corpse and the video was posted on the internet! Or the girl that was raped and a huge staff was stuff into her as she laid dead.

A few years ago, I noticed that in WEEKLY TRUST, we were carrying regular stories from around Northern Nigeria, of the rape of minors, between two and eight years.

I put a reporter on the trail to be able to do an investigative piece, while I also did a column. In the period since, there has developed almost a boom industry in rape all over our country.

There are several cases of fathers abusing their children too and in many of the cases, these rapists would blame their act on the devil! Clearly, there is something fundamentally broken in our country. The epidemic of rape has deep sociological and even biological factors.

In a society of deep-seated male chauvinism, reinforced by the erosion of economic power, there is a serious crisis of virility and esteem, which is falsely reclaimed in acts of violence against women. Rape has been studied in many places as part of a package of false consciousness, where a rapist imagines himself as expressing male power in domination of the victim.

There is also the breakdown of the family and the ability to have healthy sexual life in marriages, in societies where it has become difficult to marry, due to economic reasons. This is especially true in Muslim communities in Northern Nigeria, where religious restraint is also breaking down, especially in the urban setting.

People have grown up in a culture of separation of the sexes and rape is one of the avenues for encountering the woman, who might just be a minor as we have seen in many media reports in the North and even beyond.

Even economic hardship has hamstrung individuals’ ability to seek the comfort of commercial sex workers; and a few weeks ago, the press reported a young man, somewhere in Eastern Nigeria, who “specialised” in raping very elderly women! Arrested, he confessed that he couldn’t get young girls, so he targeted the elderly.

We have not by the narrative underplayed the serious criminality that rape represents and as we have seen from the study of adolescent sex and HIV infection, the consequences of the epidemic of rape that we live with today, are very grave!

Nigerian sociologists, other social scientists, religious bodies and social workers, the state and society at large, must become far more conscious of the seriousness of the issue rape. We must not bury our heads in the sand, because even our children, loved ones and neighbours can become victims!

There is no gainsaying the fact that something is broken in the Nigerian society today and the epidemic of rapes merely reflects and reinforces the desperate social situation in contemporary society. The epidemic of rapes damages the humanity of the victims and dehumanises all of our society; we must not let it roll us over completely!

The Anohu-Amazu bill: Amending legislation just for an individual

LAST week, the House of Representatives suspended debate on the Pension Reform Act because of the controversial request embedded in the Act. The request was asking for the REDUCTION of qualification requirements for the post of director-general of the National Pension Commission.

Under the existing law, the MINIMUM requirement for the position is 20 years experience; but the emendation wants that to be reduced to 15 years. The reason for this absurd demand is simple. The acting DG is a certain Chinelo Anohu-Amazu.

She has only 15 years experience in service, but those who rule the roost want to confirm her DESPITE the extant law, so they came up with the absurd decision to amend the Pension Reform Act, to achieve their purpose!

When the bill came up for second reading last Wednesday, it was stepped down following protest by a lawmaker, who frowned at a bill that was being amended just for an individual.

Ali Ahmad (PDP Kwara) who raised the motion that led to the stepping down argued that: “you don’t make laws for individuals at the expense of the larger society. Laws are meant to uplift development and standard of the nation and its people and it is not supposed to be subjected to individual whims and caprices” (Not forgetting that in the Kwara state where Ali Ahmad comes from, the House of Assembly had passed a law “subjected to individual whims and caprices”, when a pension package was approved just for the creature comfort of Bukola Saraki, Ali Ahmad’s principal and mentor!). Similarly, Rep Ibrahim Bawa Kamba (PDP Kebbi), said there was no way members could entertain the bill given that it seeks to lower the PenCom DG bar to favour a certain individual: “…reducing the age experience requirement for the PenCom DG is not in good faith”.

One of the hallmarks of contemporary Nigeria is the lowering of standards and the promotion of mediocrity on the basis of an in-your-face impunity.

The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) became very controversial because in so many ways, it morphed into a law to satisfy the tall ego of Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison-Maduekwe. Those who promote these individualisation of laws clearly do not care about the fate of Nigeria; the health of the state system and the continuity of tradition.

For them, their act resembles what the Hausa describe as “sha yanzu, magani yanzu” (literally, taking an advantage now without bothering about long term implications!).

Those pushing  Chilnelo Anohu-Amazu’s candidacy as DG of PenCom, know that she is NOT qualified for the position, but a combination of ethnic solidarity and exploitation of their placement within the system today has pushed them to the recklessness of seeking an emendation of the law.

I hope the National Assembly will resist this inordinate, irresponsible and unpatriotic effort to amend a law just to promote the candidacy of an individual, which has become so much part of the notorious baggage of the Jonathan administration.

These ridiculous steps have accumulated to deepen the incompetence which dog the administration and by extension, the country. With due respect, when Pius Anyim was appointed the SGF, it represented a lowering of standards, even when the effort was to satisfy the Igbo constituency.

The truth was that the man was too inexperienced to hold the position. Everybody knew that fact, but out of ethnic solidarity; the opportunistic penchant to hope that an opportunity to “chop” has opened to a kinsman, people would not comment.

Yet, they will hope against hope, that things would carry on and somehow, work well. People conveniently forgot that it was the same Anyim, whom the late Chuba Okadigbo, dismissed wittily, when he asked: “what has he achieved? Nothing!”

He then added that he was a mere level twelve officer in a refugee organisation! The same man was promoted above his station as Senate President and today he is SGF. What effect has his place had on governance?

All Nigerians can offer an answer. But that impunity is still very much with us and the latest expression of that ethnicity-sourced absurdity, is the attempt to amend the Pension Reform Act, to lower the minimum qualification from 20 to 15 years, just to ensure that Chinel Anohu-Amazu is confirmed as DG at PenCom. That is the sorry pass that Nigeria has been pushed into!

The Nigerian Media and the State of Emergency

SECTION 22 of the Nigerian Constitution explicitly obliges the Nigerian media to hold government accountable to the Nigerian people. In the wake of the declaration of a state of emergency in three Northern states, I have been giving myself the pause on the obligations of the media.

Our newspapers are presenting almost the SAME set of stories, written nearly word-for-word on the operations of the security forces. It is very close to having “embedded journalism” writ large on all of us.

But how are we sourcing our stories of what is happening in the theatres of operation? Have we become PR outlets for the security forces and the state? Do we really know what is happening in the different places?

What about the human rights of people in these communities? May we be acquiescing in actions that will not stand scrutiny? Might we eventually regret our gung-ho, uncritical reportage which tell only the side of the security forces?

These questions have crossed my mind as I think about Section 22 and the state of emergency. We will still ask these questions sometime in the near future.