Rape has federal character in Nigeria!
“The phenomenon of rape is all over the country, being reported in all the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory and the 774 Local Government Areas of the nation.” – Dr. Gloria Shajobi-Ibikunle
Fatima Usman could not take it anymore. The grossly traumatised 19-year-old said, her 52-year-old father, Usman Momoh, raped her at age 12 on the kitchen floor in the Owo area of Ondo State.
Fatima in a viral video accused her biological father of having sexual intercourse with her since she was 12 years old. She further disclosed that her father had been sleeping with her repeatedly while her mother did nothing even after reporting the horrific acts to her.
Fatima said, “He would always threaten to kill me while holding a knife if I ever tried to expose him. He normally wakes me up in the middle of the night in our room and takes me to the kitchen to have sex with me. He usually holds a knife during the process.”
The competing reports about sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases, particularly rape in Nigeria have stretched to frightening heights. It has become a daily occurrence and the stories are as gory as they are legion. Sadly, this was how banditry, killings, kidnapping, and the like stealthily crept upon Nigerians; entrenched itself, and became a ‘normal’ part of existence.
Late last month, the Osun State Command of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) arrested a father and a grandfather, for allegedly raping their 13-year-old daughter/granddaughter. About the same period, the Police Command in Ebonyi arrested a University Professor, Felix Anyaegbulam, for allegedly defiling a minor.
Anyaegbulam a Professor of Geophysics in Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, (AE-FUNAI), Ikwo local government area of the State had consistently sexually violated his 13-year-old house help, who hails from Ezza North local government area of Ebonyi. Another Professor in a different University raped the young daughter of his security guard. Pastors and Imams under the guise of praying and casting out demons from girls brought to them for spiritual help have taken advantage of many.
Sometime in May 2020, a 38-year-old man, Simon Emeka, was remanded by a Makurdi Chief Magistrate Court for allegedly raping his seven-month-old daughter. In June of the same year, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps arrested a man accused of raping a three-month-old baby in Adogi Village in Nasarawa State.
In Kano State alone, the WARAKA Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) recorded over 4,000 cases of rape and other violence against women and children in the last five years. Similarly, a recent survey of the United Nations Women revealed that a total of 11,200 rape cases, including children who were raped to death, were reported in Nigeria in 2020.
Undoubtedly, rape has federal character in Nigeria! Age limit, tribe, colour, and class are irrelevant to this heinous crime. The victims’ list is also endless. Dr. Gloria Shajobi-Ibikunle, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Abuja captured this aptly in her paper titled: Legal Framework for Elimination of Rape and Other Sexually Related Offences in Nigeria. S
Shajobi-Ibikule in the paper delivered at a stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja to review the laws on rape said: “The phenomenon of rape is all over the country, being reported in all the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory and the 774 Local Government Areas of the nation.” Its runner up which is gender-based violence is competing hard but has been unable to catch up. Yet speedy adjudication and conclusion of SGBV cases have remained a major bottleneck.
A July 2019 poll conducted by NOIPOLLS said “about 3 in 10 Nigerians (26 percent) disclosed that they know someone who has been raped in the past and the rape victims were particularly minors and young adults aged between 1 – 15 years (72 percent) and 16 – 25 years (24 percent) respectively. This statistic implies that one in every three girls would have experienced at least one form of sexual abuse by the time they reach 25 years.”
On account of the rigours and torturous delays often encountered from investigation to prosecution, victims have had to forgo seeking justice. At other times stigma, lack of finance and other factors frustrate the course of justice. The embarrassment, shame, anger, fear, and shock experienced by victims, the younger ones especially have led to debilitating and life-threatening health conditions. Worse is the reality that justice might never be served. Again the overloaded dockets of Nigeria’s courts have added to the delay and frustrations encountered by victims. This has led to the call for SGBV cases to be accelerated like election cases and for special courts to be created to hear them.
Recently, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, announced that his ministry is highly committed to fighting against SGBV in Nigeria and will not relent in advocating for the need to designate and establish specialised SGBV courts in the country. Nigerians are waiting.
At a media briefing of the just concluded 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen remarked that with intense advocacy many survivors of rape and GBV had made the violation of their rights public and were seeking legal and judicial assistance. She, however, noted that the lack of survivor-sensitive approaches in court was a major challenge.
At any rate, the criminal justice system appears inadequate to stem the rising wave of rape and other related sexual offences. The criminal justice system as it is presently constituted appears inadequate to bring perpetrators to justice or deter potential offenders.
Oftentimes, the victims are too embarrassed to report rape cases and the conviction rate where victims are brave enough to report is minimal. The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Social Development Secretariat for instance revealed that out of 492 SGBV cases it has received, only one conviction has been secured.
A 2020 study noted that of 155 rape allegations reported to the police in Anambra State, only 12 were investigated, and none resulted in a conviction. It’s no secret the handling of reported cases by the police in some situations has discouraged many victims of rape from coming forward. This must change.
To ameliorate this shadow pandemic and create uniformity in the Nigerian Criminal Laws, The Nigerian Law Reform Commission embarked on the reform of the laws on the offence of Rape and Other Related Sexual Offences. At a recent stakeholders meeting held in Abuja to examine the working paper on the proposed reform, Chairman of the Commission, Prof, Jummai Audi said the objectives of the reform include: –
To examine Nigerian Federal Laws on rape and other sexual offences, particularly the Criminal Code Act and the Penal Code Act in other to address social changes in line with international best practice and reduce the occurrence of the crimes; and
To harmonise the laws on rape and other related sexual offences in view of the emergence of the new definition of rape under the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition), Act, 2015.
Thereafter, stakeholders ranging from academia, civil society, and public service made inputs. Here are some of the recommendations.
There is a need to have a new definition for the offence of rape in the Criminal Code and the Penal Code, in line with the definition of rape provided in the (VAPP) Act, 2015, in order to harmonise the laws of rape in Nigeria.
The reform of the offence of rape and other sexual offences are in substantial compliance with the provisions of the VAPP Act, 2015 and the Child’s Right Act, 2003. Therefore, the domestication of these Acts in all the States of the Federation is necessary, as both laws are Federal Laws and have only been domesticated in some states.
There is a need to have a speedy investigation and trial of the offence of rape and other sexual offences; hence, the need to have a special court for sexual offences is proposed.
There is a need for an upward review of punishment for rape and other related offences. Stiffer punishment like castration should be meted on serial sexual offenders.
The amendment of the Terrorism Act is necessary with respect to sexual offences committed during war or terrorism activities. Sexual offences committed in these instances should be tried properly as rape.
A provision that allows courts to take into account the physical and psychological harm and the impact of the victimisation in the sentencing process, including but not limited to cases of rape and other sexual offences.
There is a need to define what the “age of a child” is, considering various ages that have been provided in various laws with respect to the age of a child in Nigeria; the essence is for uniformity.
All said the time to act is now. Nigeria cannot afford to play politics with this one. The situation is getting out of hand.
Okenwa, a journalist, lawyer, Publisher of Law & Society Magazine.