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Time to clampdown on sexual offenders  

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A plan by the Federal Government to remove bail option for rapists and defilers cannot come too soon, given the unacceptable increasing incidents of the offence and other Gender Based Violence (GBV) against the women. If anything, the apparent response of government is inadequate, and needs to be complemented with other drastic measures if the country truly desires to be counted among decent societies in the world.

Indeed, the increasing spate of sexual assault is a national embarrassment and has become a great concern, not just from a human rights perspective, but also from an economic, health and moral perspectives. Not to be discounted, of course, is the physical, mental and social impact on the victims. It is notable that all the 36 state governors agreed to declare a state of emergency over sexual violence and other forms of GBV against women and children.

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The reported incident in Kaduna State where a yet-to-be-identified person allegedly raped a six-year old girl to death, and dumped her body in a cemetery, is just a tiny fragment of statistics depicting the horror and impunity of sexual assault against girls. Largely, the ugly trend has heightened because of weak machinery of law enforcement, which has seen offenders wriggling out to safety and undeserved freedom.

It is only a bit consoling that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu assured recently that laws would soon be rolled out to ensure that suspects in established cases of rape would no longer be allowed bail in the country, to serve as a deterrent to culprits; and to prevent  offenders from jumping bail.

Available statistics in the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018 (NDHS 2018) released recently, states that among women age 15-49, 31 percent have experienced physical violence and nine per cent (9) have experienced sexual violence. The Survey further states that physical violence and sexual violence may not occur in isolation; rather, women may experience a combination of different forms of violence. Overall, 33 percent of women age 15-49 in Nigeria have experienced physical or sexual violence: 24 percent have experienced only physical violence, 2 percent have experienced only sexual violence, and 7 percent have experienced both physical and sexual violence.

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Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, the results of a survey published by NOIPolls in July 2019 suggested that up to one in every three girls living in Nigeria could have experienced at least one form of sexual assault by the time they reach 25. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, one form of GBV that has spiked is sexual assault. The Inspector General (IG) of Police Mohammed Adamu, stated that there were 717 reported rape cases in the country between January and May; and 799 suspects have been arrested while 631 cases have been sent to court. Yet 52 cases are still under inquiry. Similarly, on June 11, the Lagos Police Command stated that 32 separate cases of defilement, forced sexual assault, incest, and sodomy had been reported by residents of the state in the last six months.

Some of the consequences on the victims are social, medical and psychological problems. For example, genital tract traumas could lead to bleeding, fistulas; abnormal vaginal discharges, sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, which may result to unsafe abortions as well as sexual disorders and mental illnesses and other psycho-social problems; not discounting the social stigma that accompanies being identified as a rape victim.

Although Nigeria is a signatory to international conventions, and has passed many laws against all forms of violence including sexual violence, there is still prevalence of sexual violence and it is on the rise. Yet, sexual assault is under reported in Nigeria for various reasons, which include perceived need to protect victims from public ridicule and stigmatisation, alleged police extortion; non-prosecution or low rate of prosecution and slow timeline for justice delivery.

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All said, the alarming trend of female sexual assault in Nigeria is inexcusable and universally condemnable. It is evil and should be speedily checked because sexual violence dehumanises the victims and devalues their sense of self-worth. Thus, there must be no place in our society for sexual predators. We must chain and lock this monster in a dungeon, and females of all ages must be adequately protected.

Government should go beyond denial of bail for cases of sexual assault, and address other issues in justice delivery. A list of GBV cases showing when they were filed in courts and the list of offenders that jumped bail should be compiled. Those that jumped bail should be declared fugitives and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) be made to declare them wanted. There should be a policy to compel judges to take the evidence of IPOs as soon as GBV cases are before them to encourage victims to seek for redress and reduce the frustration and burden of prosecution on complainants. The policy should also put a ceiling on the timeline for delivering judgment on GBV cases or else the government should set up special courts for handling GBV cases aimed at timely dispensation of justice.

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