By Marie-Therese Nanlong
IT is no longer news that cases of rape are on the increase across various states in Nigeria and communities in Plateau State are not isolated from this menace. Reports abound of cases where grown adults rape very young children including a three-month-old baby who needed surgery to correct the harm done to her system.
Indeed Police divisions across local government areas in Plateau State have an average of 11 cases reported within a month. But the situation is worse in Jos North and Jos South, the major cities which have not less than five cases in a week.
Although various reasons like the influence of alcohol and drugs, indecent dressing, keeping late nights, the influence of peers, among others, have been deduced for engaging in rape, activists maintain there is no justification for rape and are canvassing stiffer punishment for perpetrators.
However, Arewa Voice finding reveals that some cases of rape in communities in Jos North and Jos South local government areas occurred when the victims were defecating openly in the bushes and some passersby pounced on them and raped them.
For instance, just last week at Rukuba road area of Jos North, a teenage girl with sickle cell disease was waylaid and raped while defecating in the bush. She said that when the perpetrator, who is on the run, saw her: “He picked a big stone, held me on my neck and vowed to smash my head if I raised an alarm. I was too scared to shout as he had his way and left. I managed to get home and tell my family what happened.”
At Dong area of the same local government area within the same period, a middle-aged woman who was heading to the market in the early hours of the morning but decided to defecate in the bush, Arewa Voice learned, was waylaid by a young man who robbed her of her money and also raped her. She too could not shout because “the road was quiet”.
She said: “I don’t have a toilet in my house and always use the bush while on my way out. I met the boy and was thinking he was jogging but as he made to pass me, he stopped and asked what I was doing; he just showed me a knife, collected my money and not minding my age and the pains, he forced himself on me and within a twinkle of an eye, he was gone. I felt so bad and had to return home. I could not tell anyone about the shameful act but my moody disposition aroused my daughter’s suspicion and I had to tell her so that she too would not be a victim.”
The story was not different at Kwang community in Jos South as young girls go for open defecation in groups to avoid being molested by drug consuming lads walking aimlessly in the open fields.
A resident, Precious Gar, noted: “This area is a new settlement and very quiet. Often you see boys just walking about aimlessly oozing out odour of cheap drugs; at other times you see groups of women and young girls moving about in the bushes seeking where to defecate. I asked a group of them why they always go about in groups and they said they watch out for one another while defecating so that no one would molest them.
“It is true open defecations encourage rape. Something must be done to end open defecations; all homes should ensure they have a toilet. In the villages, we have cases of people being bitten by snakes while defecating in the bush; this is also a problem. Relevant agencies should work towards ending open defecation.”
The State Chairperson of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ, Mrs Jennifer Yarima, agreed that such is happening, thereby swelling the statistics of rape victims as she has been working at ensuring communities end open defecation and providing toilet facilities to protect young girls and women.
Mrs Yarima who approached the office of the State Commissioner for Environment, seeking synergy on the provision of a safer and cleaner environment for defecation said: “Yes, it is true that open defecation is contributing to rape cases; girls and women are being raped in the bushes when they go to defecate. It is quite frightening the increase in the cases of rape and this happens to young people and older women, and the question is why? We have actually followed up cases of rape even to the point of prosecution of perpetrators.
“We need synergy with different groups, people and organisations to end this menace. I am glad that the attention of governments at different levels is being turned to this; we believe enabling laws would be strengthened and domesticated so that perpetrators would be punished severely.”
However, the State Commissioner for Environment, Yakubu Idi, confessed that he knew other factors, including robbery, were connected to rape, but the trend where girls and women were raped while defecating openly calls for immediate action to stem the tide.
He said: “Rape is a condemnable act; it has been on the increase and may gradually come to the point that control may be difficult if we don’t act now. There are other factors fuelling this and there is the general increase in cult activities and a general decline in religious activities, especially in the Jos/Bukuru metropolis. It is not normal for a young chap to rape an elderly woman.
“Open defecation is a big problem; we looked at it from the health perspective but even armed robbery and rape are linked to it. The Ministry, in conjunction with the Plateau Environmental Protection and Sanitation Agency, PEPSA, has called on the Water Resources department through the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, which is saddled with the responsibility, to end open defecation.
“The environmental laws we have are not helping the matter because if you take someone to court, it would depend on the discretion of the judge to give judgement. So, we are on the issue of reviewing the environmental laws in the State and we are at 80 per cent completion so that we will be able to enforce sanitary laws. Public toilets are to be built and run on a commercial basis based on environmental laws.
“Some people have toilets but still practise open defecation, claiming that they are used to it. We will work with PEPSA and inspect communities so that we can encourage them to get toilet facilities and curb this ugly trend in the communities.”