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At NICO forum, scholars, others canvass stringent legal instruments against rape offenders

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja
28 June 2020   |   4:10 am
It was a gathering of scholars, traditional rulers, security operatives as well as civil society organisations recently at a forum organised by the National...

It was a gathering of scholars, traditional rulers, security operatives as well as civil society organisations recently at a forum organised by the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) over the alarming rate of rape cases across the country.

The meeting, which lasted about three hours, availed participants the platform to air their views on the issue, which they all described as aberration. While some blamed the police for failing to protect lives and properties, others have held generational subjugation of women responsible.

Their position drew from the belief that over time, women were perceived to be objects created merely for men’s pleasure.

But all accepted the fact that lack of legal instrument for stiffer punishment against offenders has remained a serious challenge to the fight against rape.

In a lecture titled, Rape as Anti-culture in Contemporary Nigeria, Professor Mabel Evwierhoma of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja, expressed the need for constitutional provisions against rape.

It was believed it is only commensurate punishment and not options of fine as captured in Nigerian penal code that can serve as deterrent for offenders

The academic stressed that as a cultural abhorrence, rapists through their actions challenge the collective conscience of the people to accept what should be considered an aberration.

According to her, that rape thrives on the culture of silence and the subordination of women make it imperative for the society to support survivors, especially those who summon the courage to speak out against it.

Since charity begins at home, Evwierhoma suggested, “young men should be told folktales that depict the rapist as an emasculated man.”

Beyond parents, she believed that everyone has a role to play in the fight against rape including writers and artists.

“Here, writers, artists should create icons of male integrity, which are not like the proverbial cock, available for any hen. African culture, nay Nigerian culture, has no respect for rape or rapists, as rape does not signify respect for persons.

“This is the auspicious moment to highlight the right culture that projects a good family, national name and image.”

Describing rape is therefore an attack on culture and should be treated as such, the presenter listed the implications of rape to include psychological scar mental disorder like post traumatic stress disorder or depression, derailed morality that may lead to reprisal, fear, horror, lack of trust, denial of the act, in pretense that it did not take place and low self esteem.

The don went further to state some of the likely challenges of rape mitigation. These, she noted, include lack of formal report lack of hospital records, culture of secrecy and silence as well as stigmatization and victim blaming.

Others challenges are, institutional conspiracy against victim lack of investigating agency, lack of dignity of survivor, lack of justice for victims as well as the use of religion to cover gender assault and dehumanisation.

To tackle the issue of rape however, the presenter preferred some solutions. She said: “There are steps to be taken from the home, at school, places of worship to prevent rape. Sensitisation programmes to enlighten school pupils. Self control education for boys especially should be given formally and informally. Once sex offenders’ registers are publicised, prospective rapists are deterred.

“Some mitigating factors need to be considered from the cultural perspective. Where the victim or survivor often lapses into depression as a result of triggers that bring back memories of the assault, it is pertinent to resort to familial or community help,” she said.

Recall that cases of rape, particularly minors have been in the news lately. While government and traditional leaders appeared confused on the best steps towards curbing the menace, perpetrators often go away with the crime, leaving victims physically and psychologically traumatised.

Unfortunately, the main actors in rape cases are often those entrusted with the care of the victims such as fathers, colleagues, academics, fellow students, the police, custodial officers and even staff of detention and correctional centres.

Worried about the consequences of the ugly trend on the socio-cultural lives of the people, the only Cultural Orientation under the Ministry of Culture, NICO, decided to engage national stakeholders with a view to finding likely remedy to the crime of rape.

While Professor Muhammad Ndagi of the Department of Linguistics and African Languages, University of Abuja, chaired the meeting, the Executive Director Institute of Strategic and Development Communication (ISDEVCOM), Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Professor Emmanuel S. Dandaura, handled the technical session.

Welcoming guests to the forum, the Acting Executive Secretary of NICO, Mrs. Brigitte Yerima, who was hosting one of her first events since she assumed office in April, stated that the cultural institute was highly concerned about the rising cases of rape across the country.

Noting that no culture or religion in the country condones rape, she said the meeting aimed at exploring the cultural dimension of rape with a view coming up with a blue print that would guide policy directions on the issue.

“We know that our culture generally does not condone rape. We were wondering where that was coming from.

“The meeting aimed at exploring the cultural dimension and the implications of the topic, not only because it is trending but also because in recent times, the cases of rape has been on the increase.”