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Hitting hard on paedophiles with stiffer, speedy trials

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On July 2, 2018, an Ikeja Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Court, Lagos sentenced a 48-year-old man, Adelaja Olaide, to 60 years imprisonment for defiling a seven-year-old primary two pupil.

Justice Sybil Nwaka, who convicted the paedophile, described him as an ‘animal.’

The convict, Olaide, a driver who resides at 17, Itun Oluwo Street, Ketu, Ejirin, Lagos, was convicted of a charge of defilement, which according to prosecution was committed on June 27, 2015.

Reviewing the case, the court stated: “This defendant can best be described as an animal without conscience.

He has destroyed the life of this girl-child and she can never remain the same mentally, physically and emotionally.

This defendant is not fit to walk on our streets; he is best described as a predator and should be locked up.

I hereby sentence him to 60 years in prison without an option of fine.”

The rash of child sexual molestation in Nigeria is worrying.

According to a 2015 UNICEF report, one in four girls and one in 10 boys in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18, while six out of 10 Nigerian children experience some form of physical, emotional and sexual violence before they reach the age of 18.  

Although child sexual abuse is an offence under several sections of chapter 21 of the country’s criminal code, child sexual molestation continues to suffer a considerable neglect.

Another survey conducted by the Child Protection Hub (CPHub) shows that only 27 per cent of all respondents who admitted to have witnessed child abuse confirmed to haven reported the case to the authorities, mostly the police.

Sadly, there seems to be no reprieve in sight for the victims as children’s right advocates complain of weak child protection structures in Nigeria.

Nigeria is among the 194 countries of the United Nations (UN) that signed the Convention to the Rights and Welfare of the Child, but not much has been done by parents and guardians, school authorities and the government to protect children from sexual abuse.

In a country like Nigeria where only a few victims and their family members would damn the stigma associated with being a rape victim and speak out about it, perhaps only one in 10 cases become public knowledge.

Yet, on and on go the gory stories of rape and trauma. Lagos State is not exempted.

In an unprecedented bid to eradicate the scourge of child sexual abuse in 2013, the state set up a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in collaboration with Justice for All Programme of the Department for International Development (DFID) of the British Council, and funded through UK Aid called the Mirabel Centre.

In the report produced by the centre in March 2017 to mark its four years of existence, it revealed that a total of 2,342 survivors of sexual assault were helped by the centre in the four-year period between its opening in April 2013 and 31 March 2017, adding that the number of clients had increased significantly each year.

According to the centre, clients accessing the centre increased by over 80 per cent on the previous year in the second and third year of operations, and by over 40 per cent in the fourth year.

This last year, ending March 2017, saw more than 1,000 survivors of sexual assault assisted, equating to nearly three new cases every day of the year.

The depraved indulgences of paedophiles, who prey on children for their primal urges, pose serious threat to society, as they alter the psychology of children and predispose them to be troubled adults in future.

Much as there are laws to curb this deplorable behaviour, not many governments have mustard the will to address it head-on.  

 
Buoyed by the success story in Lagos in spite of a few incidences, the past couple of months have been torturous for paedophiles in Edo State because of the war against paedophiles by the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led administration, which is yielding tremendous result across the state.

Disturbed by the increasing incidences of child molestation in the state, the state governor launched the war to rid the state of paedophiles and create a safe society where children can pursue and actualise their dreams.

At one of its weekly Executive Council meetings at Government House in Benin City, after listening to a report of the abuse of a pupil by a grandfather in a primary school in the state, Obaseki immediately ordered the arrest and prosecution of the grandfather.

Consequently, a visibly worried Obaseki gave a charge for the arrest and prosecution of any person found to be molesting children in primary schools, kick-starting a state-wide campaign against paedophiles. 

Ever since, the state has initiated unrelenting campaign against adults who molest children, taking the mandate even to the hinterlands.

Children have the right to survival, the right to develop to the fullest; right to protection from harmful influences and abuse and exploitation and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

At several fora, stakeholders in the education sector have advocated the need for parents and guardians to teach their wards sex education at an early stage in life and vet schools before they enroll their children.

A critical measure proposed was the urgent need to adopt a stricter penalty against paedophiles.

This would serve as a deterrent to others and help stem the rising cases of sexual molestation in the country.

Although Edo has the child rights law in place, the governor constituted an inter-ministerial committee to give bite to the campaign against paedophiles in the state.

The committee is made up of representatives of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Edo SUBEB, the media, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), among others.
 
It is charged with the task of coordinating efforts to arrest and prosecute those caught in the act of molesting primary school pupils.

In the few months that the committee has been in existence, a number of arrests have been made and other cases are still being investigated.
 
It is this policy-driven strategy the Edo State government is employing to stem the tide of child molestation.

The strategies include a mandate handed to the Edo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) to train teachers in its Edo Basic Education Transformation (Edo BEST) programme to identify children who are being abused emotionally and physically; shame the paedophiles and hand them over to the law enforcement agencies for prosecution; and set up an inter-ministerial committee to drive the campaign, amongst others.
 
The thinking is that the pupils will not fully benefit from the good-intentioned programmes of the state government if they are continuously exposed to paedophiles, whose actions alter the psychological and emotional balance of the pupils.

One of the cases that have been unraveled is that of a 65-year-old Matthew Omokhafe, who was arrested for allegedly defiling and impregnating a 13-year-old Primary Four pupil in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State.
 
At the time of the arrest, the Acting Chairperson of Edo SUBEB, Dr. Joan Osa Oviawe, disclosed that Edo SUBEB played active role in the arrest, adding: “We took a course of action by visiting and ensuring that the case was transferred from the Akoko-Edo Area Division of the Nigeria Police Division to the State Criminal Investigation Department in the state capital, Benin City.”

With the collaborative efforts of the Child Protection Network (CPN), SUBEB was able to handover the child’s custody to the State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.

Assuring that the culprit will be charged to court, she said the state government would make sure that justice is served in the case.

Another milestone in the campaign against child molesters in the state is the arrest of 70-year-old Francis Ezomo, and his two sons, Nosa Ezomo, 26-year-old and Festus Ezomo, 29- year-old. They were subsequently handed over to the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Johnson Kokumo, for allegedly defiling a nine-year-old girl, who is a relative of Francis Ezomo’s wife.
 
The development came to the notice of the state government when the headmistress of the school the minor attends, reported the incident to the Acting Chairperson of Edo SUBEB, Dr. Osa Oviawe
 
“The issue came to the limelight when the headmistress of the minor’s school noticed a change of behaviour in the minor and decided to ask her what the problem was.

The nine years old girl narrated her ordeal to the headmistress who then informed the Education Secretary of the local government council where the alleged crime took place.

We then swung into action and got the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development involved,” Oviawe said.
 
She continued, “when we could not get the necessary action required from the police, the state government swung into action and these three men were apprehended almost immediately.”

She explained that the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development has taken custody of the child who is now in a safe place and assured that SUBEB would ensure that her education is not truncated.

Oviawe said the reason for parading the culprits of child defilement is not only to shame them, but to communicate the state government’s avowed stance against what they have come to represent in society.
 
A 58-year-old man, Lambert Ighodaro, who was publicly paraded, was handed over to the police command for prosecution for allegedly raping a 12-year-old girl in Benin City.


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