By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Once again, the death of the 22-year-old Nigerian university student Vera Uwalia Omozuwa has shifted the discussion about rape to the forefront. Uwa died on Saturday, May 30, three few days after being physically and sexually assaulted by unknown individuals.
According to reports, the student had gone to a quiet church near her residence to study. Unfortunately, a place that was supposed to be a sanctuary for all, was where the activities that led to Uwa’s attack and death in the hands of low life criminals started. Her death is another number in the statistics of Nigerian women sexually attacked and killed.
Unfortunately, a death as gruesome as Uwa’s has to take place for us to initiate another discussion on rape and sexual assaults. It is saddening that a subject that should be an everyday discussion on the lips of all Nigerians is only brought up after avoidable incidents.
Rape and sexual assaults remain everyday crimes in Nigeria, yet, it is the least discussed in the country. The absence of official statistics should not be an excuse for these crimes not to be kept on the front burners of national priorities.
The thought of being raped or killed in a church could not have crossed the mind of this young lady. She thought of the church as the safest of all places to be at that time.
None of us would think otherwise, as the church represents a shelter from all the evils of the world. The tranquillity of the building and how we reverence the physical church rather than divine words could have confidently influenced Uwa’s choice of place of study.
Uwa made a sensible decision, especially in a country where public libraries are non-existent. If there was a public library on a street not far from Uwa’s residence, she would have preferred this.
But as an ambitious lady who knew she had to push herself to make any mark in a country where the leaders think of nothing but themselves,
Uwa had to “sort herself out.” She knew advancing herself is the only way to be respected. She lived in a country where success is expected without any support from the government.
It is a harrowing story to tell, and one that has sparked sympathy and demand for actions from all over the world. The death has brought us together to talk about these crimes in our villages, towns, and cities. The anger and discussions currently going on are amazing and quite symbolic.
The words on the lips of every Nigerian are “Justice For Uwa.” She has become the platform of justice for all victims of rape in a country where silence is still the norm. The national outrage and condemnation of rape and sexual assaults should signal an “end of the game” to all the criminals.
The first step to show commitment in stopping rape in our society is a show of commitment by the police to apprehend the killers of Uwa and bring them to justice as swiftly as the possible.
Rape and sexual assaults are two under-reported and least solved crimes in Nigeria. They are rampant crimes, but we express surprise every time a rape case breaks. The call to arms every time is astonishing. It has always been the same cyclical situation and at the end of it we quiet down and life continues until another victim becomes a major story again.
If we look into history, we will see that this has been the same pattern. No key step has been taken at the national, state or local government levels to commence a journey to see an end to these dastardly acts.
We should advance a step further this time around by making sure Uwa’s death is not in vain. We should sustain these discussions and campaigns and ensure it does not end here. This is how we can deliver justice to the victims.
They are not only crying for justice, but they also want to see action plans drawn out and laws sponsored and enacted to make these crimes unattractive to everyone in the future. They are calling out that all must be done to bring this crime of passion to an end or reduced considerably. Justice for Uwa is justice for all unborn girls, ladies, and women in society.
I agree with the perception that it is never late to take action. When we merely talk about the crimes and feebly express anger the more emboldened the perpetrators will become. The death of Uwa is unfortunately sad, and it will be an understatement to say the action that caused her death is reprehensible.
Rape or sex crimes are by themselves attacks that ruin the lives of many victims. For Uwa, these criminals not merely took advantage of her sexually, but they also terminated her life in a bid to keep her mouth shut forever. They made a mistake this time around. Uwa may be quiet, but many people are screaming for justice on her behalf all over the world.
Rape is rampant in our society because of the level of poverty. Sexual assault is commonplace at every stratum of the Nigerian society. There is no age restriction or barrier as it is inflicted on children in kindergarten classes to students in universities, employees of government, private and multinational companies.
The lines between consenting sex and assaults are blurred in Nigeria and the victims barely recognize their rights.
It is no secret that millions of Nigerians endure sexual assaults to keep their jobs. They undergo these daily in the hands of their employers, bosses, political office holders, etc. but they have to keep their mouths shut if only to hold on to their jobs or to continue enjoying favours.
They have to bear the pain silently because nothing is clearly defined in the laws of the country. Ask the few ones that dare to raise their voices; they narrate you shameful stories of their “rebellion.” The stories are full of oppression for speaking out.
For want of not repeating myself, I will conclude by an excerpt from an article titled “Let Us Talk About Rape,” published in this column on September 17, 2017. I wrote: “Rape is a serious issue that needs the urgent attention of every reasonable man and woman.
Human beings are created to be just and rational, but atrocities, such as rape have indicated otherwise. If being reasonable is a demand for living rape figures should be nose-diving. One, therefore, wonders, if we are losing the war on sensibility or something is simply wrong with the thought process of individuals.
The rise of cases suggests that rather than use brains some individuals are controlled by their sexual cravings.”
“While governments, especially in developed countries, have made progress, the journey is yet to start with developing countries.
These governments have sensibly criminalised this act, and the question is, are they doing enough compared with the scale of the occurrences? The consensus, however, is that no matter the prevailing culture supporting or encouraging rape acts, governments, leaders, and all right-thinking human beings should campaign for tougher sentences.”
“There is a hope rising in the horizon though, as individuals, charities and non-governmental organisations are giving voice to the victims of rape. They have, in their capacities, been waging wars on rape.
These are not vigilante groups to stop the perpetrators, nor are they parading the streets looking for rape victims. No. They are kind-hearted and patriotic citizens using their private resources to campaign for a change of perception towards rape victims. They are determined to ensure victims of rape get justice.”
This is a good start to getting Justice for Uwa.