By Denrele Animasaun
‘Now that you know, you cannot feign ignorance. Now that you’re aware of the problem, you cannot pretend you don’t care. To be concerned is to be human. To act is to care’ -Vashti Quiroz-Vega
We have a festering nefarious, most insidious menace in our midst, a known dark secret that often not spoken about, but we all know it exists and lurks in all the corners of the nation. Until we are honest with one another, these dirty secret and mendacious cretins would not go way and it would continue to dig deeper in every fibre of the society. Sexual abuse is severely impacting and killing the nation’s most vulnerable people.
The dirty secret has to be faced head on: Nigeria has an epidemic of sexual predators preying on the most vulnerable in particular, the very young. It is no surprise but for far too long, it is kept under wraps, because it has always been the mantra that no one should know one’s business.
This is the reason why such evil crime is allowed to take hold and the victims are unable to find refuge or a safe haven. Society had better sit up and take action as this known secret is not going away anytime soon by wishful thinking or sweeping it under the carpet. Unfortunately, a 13-year old child, Ochanya Ogbanje is one of the latest victims of this epidemic that plagues our society.
She died as a result of sustained sexual assaults by Andrew Ogbuja, a lecturer with Benue Polytechnic, Ugboko and his son, Victor. The horror that this child endured one cannot begin to imagine.
This father and son evil duo have been molesting this young child for over three years since she was eight years old. Their depravity in any civil society is unimaginable but this is Nigeria and sadly, it happens more often we care to admit. Up and down the country is more common place.
This defenceless girl succumbs to the internal damage that this monster caused. Her death rocked the media and mobilised groups to demonstrate and protest.
The repudiation by several groups is laudable but sadly it is little too late. Up and down the country there are millions of minors who are reliving the nightmare and actions to rescue them is not a moment too soon, and the country does not have an effective structure to protect them as of yet.
As a country, Nigeria has to have a national discussion on how to lace this evil boil that lurks within most households, institutions and establishments.
This is difficult to write on so many levels. Sadly, challenging a society that does seem to value young girls is an uphill struggle but that is what is going to take, a change in the national mind-set. It is to everyone’s benefit as we all have daughters, sisters, mother, aunties, and grandmothers and so on.
Sexual abuse victims and their trauma lasts a long time and it colours the way they develop, act and interact with the world around them.
The country is incubating an epidemic as millions of young people are affected by sexual abuse, the impact does not only affect their physical but mental health, and it also impacts their immediate family. So it is in everyone’s best interest to help get rid and reduce sexual abuse in the country.
This is not a subject matter that titillates or excites, it is not meant to. It is the uncomfortable truth and not one that people want to talk about or address. For victims, it is very painful and if this affects anyone reading this, please seek support, talk to someone, who would listen and not judge. Most importantly, it is not the fault of the victim and they should not blame themselves.
For perpetrators; the truth will come out and there is no hiding place for them and eventually, they would be found out and ultimately will get what is due to them.
It is important to be this frank, that there are monsters amongst us, they look normal and some are stalwarts in the community like one of the abuser, Andrew Ogbuja, a Knight in a Catholic church in Ugbokolo as well as his wife (the cousin of the victim). This defenceless child was in their charge; her misguided parents felt she will get a chance of an education. Even if they had inkling, they did not act or were convinced that they were doing the best for their child. This archaic arranged servitude is the problem, it leaves vulnerable children open to all forms of abuse and exploitations.
Sadly, the avoidance and denial will continue and thus, enabling these evil predators to continue to perpetuate their pernicious activities.
Until every decent Nigerian makes the conscious decision to stand up, be aware and act, there will be sadly, more victims like Ochanya Ogbanje.
The worse culprits are the enablers of these sex offenders, those close to them but who turn a blind eye, they are far worse than these monsters. They are complicit and there are no excuses or circumstances that can warrant their behaviour. Maybe, just maybe the death of Ochanya Ogbanje will serve as a catalyst for all well-meaning people and existing civil societies to come together with the legal arm to ensure that young people get the protection they desperately need to be free from sexual abuse and exploitation or abuse of any kind.
Crucially, unless the nation addresses the cause and not just the symptoms, sexual abuse of minors will remain prevalent.
The nation cannot afford to be reactive; it does not help the victims. It is only serves as a sticking plaster until the next time. This is the time for decisive actions and commitment.
The media is full of evidence of protests: the mobilisation of various civil society groups, the National Council of Women Society (NCWS), Federal of International Women Lawyers, Civil Society Organisation, women and youth activists as well as human right activists helped to raise the profile and keep the momentum going.
As a result of their involvement, the police took this crime more seriously and it led to the re-arrest of one of the accused, and subsequently, charges amended accordingly from rape to criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide, following the victim’s death.
It is everyone’s responsibility to take the politicians, police, judicial, legislative arms as well as the media to task and hold them to account to ensure that victims get help, treatment and perpetrators go through a cast iron due process and get a hefty sentence that fits their crime no matter who they are.
‘Do the best you can until you know better? Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.
- Millions of Nigerian children suffer some form of physical, emotional or sexual violence.
- Six out of ten Nigerian children experience at least one of these forms of violence before they reach 18(The National Population Commission, UNICEF and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention,2014).
- Child sexual abuse in Nigeria is so prevalent that the abuse begins long before the survivor turns five.(World Health Organisation)
- 95 % of child sexual abuses go unreported because of fear of stigmatization, and 90 per cent of child abuse victims know their abuser.
- Child Sexual Abuse in Nigeria at a glance-4035
- The number of child rape cases reported in Lagos in 2017 – 1000
- The number of child rape cases reported in Kwara State in 2017-600
- The number of child rape cases reported in Gombe State in 2017 – 1200
The number of child rape cases reported in Rivers State in 2017- 115
The number of rape perpetrators tried in Anambra State in 2017. 589
The number of child rape cases treated in Lagos in July, 2017- 32
Mrs Tope Abiara, founder of Love Clinic, revealed that the cases are more rampant in Oyo and Lagos States. She said, “Most of the cases are not even reported. Parents need to protect their children because they are the ones that can protect their children very well”.
The number of rape convictions in Nigeria’s legal history so according to human rights lawyer, Evans Ufeli: despite an overwhelming reported cases of sexual assaults, Nigeria has recorded only 18 rape convictions in its legal history!
How to help
Do not judge, listen and continue reassure the victim that the sexual assault is not their fault. Take it seriously!
- Do not rush them to tell the whole details, be patient and be supportive.
- Offer immediate practical support; find professional or medical support or refuge
- If you promise to help, it is important to follow it through.