By Mark Adebayo
The crime of rape has assumed scary dimensions and taken a disproportionate space in public discourses in recent times in Nigeria.
While it has been a societal scourge for centuries, it has suddenly shifted to the front burner of public consciousness and general concern due to its dangerous levels of prevalence with unprecedented fatalities. Nigerians, especially, have become really concerned and alarmed by the gruesome rape and murder of two female students, 22-year-old Miss Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, a microbiology student of the University of Benin on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 and a teenager, 18-year-old Miss Barakat Bello, of the Institute of Agriculture, Research and Training, Ibadan, on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. These two incidents were as bizarre and as they were horrendous. They were traumatising to all men and women of conscience who have human blood flowing through them, safe for sadists only. President Muhammadu Buhari, who has often been alleged to be disturbingly taciturn in times of national emergencies, uncharacteristically voiced out his indignation and gave security agencies the marching order to ensure that the perpetrators were apprehended and made to face justice by whatever means. He must have felt the pains of parenthood on this occasion.
He did well.
The conspiracy of silence that accompanied the violent crime of rape in the past seems to be responsible for the reckless emboldening of perpetrators of this heinous attack on the dignity of the human person. Rape is an inexcusable psychological injury and physical violence inflicted upon its victims for reasons that are still subjects of academic interrogation among psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, criminologists, and policymakers.
That traditional conspiracy of silence was broken in a significant way in 2006 with the advent of the MeToo Movement spearheaded by the American civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, to help survivors of sexual violence, encourage them to speak out with a view to exposing the culprits, possibly get them punished for their crimes and help the survivors to heal. It was time to push the shame on the culprits and not the victims. The #MeToo gained worldwide traction in 2017 by the exposure of the criminal sexual escapades of the Hollywood ‘superman’, Weinstein Harvey, alleged by several female superstars of what was far less than a consensual sexual invasion of their privacy. A violent crime like rape had enjoyed global cover-up for too long, especially in Africa and other underdeveloped – “underdeveloped” advisedly used – parts of the world. That secrecy helped in no modest measures to increase its prevalence geometrically. It is generally known, and quite often so, that rape victims would hardly report the crime nor expose their attackers for fears of stigmatisation, rejection and, even, sanctions in some ridiculous instances.
In some cultures, especially in the Arab world, it’s nigh impossible for a rape victim to prove her case due to the cumbersomeness of law (Sharia) of evidence on rape that makes impossible demands on the victim to prove her case. In the minimum, there must be at least two or four or more witnesses to corroborate the victim’s allegations and those witnesses must also be able to prove vaginal penetration during the encounter. Here in Nigeria, the Kano Sharia Penal Code Law in Section 127 lists several conditions that the victim must fulfill to prove rape. The dangerous twist here is that if a woman who alleges rape fails to establish ANY of these conditions, she is liable to one year imprisonment and up to 100 lashes.
In 2004, one Umar Tori Gwaram was charged for raping and impregnating his stepdaughter who was a young teenager then under the Sharia Penal Code Law, 2001. The Upper Sharia Court in Alkaleri, Bauchi State, only found him guilty of adultery and not rape. In a crazy twist of fate, the poor little victim, too, was convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes after delivering her baby because she was accused of not being able to prove lack of consent. Unthinkably ridiculous, you’d say!
Silence and rape-friendly laws encourage rapists to persist with conscious impunity. Scrutinising the anti-rape laws of many countries, Nigeria in particular, you cannot but feel that those laws were made by rapists or potential rapists in that they’re too favourable to the rapists and hostile to the raped. The burden of proof is incongruously heavy on the victim. The scales of justice are precariously unbalanced in those laws, methinks. I’m aware of the need to prevent false allegations and wrongful conviction of the innocent. But to practically demand that a rape victim provide a video evidence of her rape is utterly absurd.
There is a certain undeniability in the historicity of rape as an institutionalized state weapon of war. When man discovered the inevitability of war either to invade territories, form a nation state or for its protection, among his arsenals was coercive rape as an effective weapon of domination. Rarely in any war situation is rape not committed as with the crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping. The international community has been vacillating in designating rape and all forms of sexual violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, in 2008, through a resolution sponsored by the then American Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, the then UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was mandated to “prepare an action plan for gathering information on the desperate acts of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and in turn periodically report to the Council”. That far-reaching resolution posited that rape and other forms of sexual violence “could constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”. Accounts of war are often riddled with testimonies of horrific sexual violence and rape. It goes without saying that women and children are often the helpless victims of armed conflicts.
It is excruciatingly overwhelming reading the rape statistics published by such local and international NGOs like the Amnesty International, CLEEN Foundation, WARD-C, Project Alert, Women Aid Collective, WACOL, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, et cetera. The sheer volumes of records of incidents are humongously scary. Unfortunately, those are extremely low estimates. Experts maintain that less than 5% of rapes are reported and documented annually in Nigeria. Thousands of incidents are left unreported either by victims’ own decisions due to fear of unsolicited backlashes or the lack of institutional and societal support. In many instances, victims are threatened into silence by their attackers. At a point, it was estimated that about three out of five young girls were being violated sexually in Lagos state monthly.
The raped is a double victim of indelible trauma and societal trauma. She carries the burdens of shame and, sometimes, blame for a crime in which she was/is deprived of her human dignity and respect. She partakes of the punishments of the crime(s) committed against her due to warped societal perceptions. She becomes a pariah in a society that should protect and heal her.
The world is not short of laws against rape. There are several local and international legal instruments and protocols against rape. The biggest challenge has been lack of the political Will on the part of governments to act decisively. Many countries don’t seem to consider rape a serious crime. The situation becomes worse when state actors, especially security agencies like the police, paramilitary and military personnel are the culprits. The rape atrocities documented against Nigerian security operatives are not only huge but also devastating. About ten years ago, I was watching the programme “FOCUS NIGERIA” on AIT when the anchor, Gbenga Aruleba, lamented that, in certain instances, a rape victim would go to report rape at the police station but would end up being re-raped by the police to whom she had gone for succor. Thus, alleging rape becomes hazardous within a compromised security architecture. There are as much sex/rape for bail/freedom at our police stations as there are sex/rapes for marks in our tertiary institutions. NGOs have reported incidents of wives cajoled or threatened into having sex with police officers who promise to grant their husbands/children bail or outright freedom from prosecution if only she could sleep with one or two officers at the station. The offence for whom the detainee was locked up in the first instance might simply be on trumped up charges. Disappointingly, some senior officers have also been reportedly caught in the act and exposed by the media when the victims decided to speak out. It’s very rare for security personnel to be prosecuted for rape and sexual violence in Nigeria even with overwhelming evidence. The Nigerian system frustrates processes of seeking redress when victims seek justice.
As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages the world, the rape scourge with disturbing fatalities and other variants of domestic violence collaterally spiked up to epidemic proportions. On Monday 8th June, 2020, Mrs Nkechi Anazodo, Director of Child Welfare Services in Anambra State’s Ministry of Women Affairs, told to the media that there were eighty (80) reported cases of fathers who raped their own daughters during the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic! Those are “reported cases”. There is the likelihood of hundreds of unreported cases while the victims suffer in silence.
How crazier can it get?
But the world seems to be waking up from its slumber and preparing for a collective action against the scourge of rape. Silence empowers rape and makes it domineering. We need to shout at the top of our voices and allow no rape and rapist go unpunished. We owe such noble responsibility as members of the global human community to this and unborn generations. It’s a sacred duty for the rest of us who know the evil that rape represents. No relationship should be strong enough to make you overlook rape and agree to “family settlement” because the rapist “is our son” or because “we are in the same community, let’s forget it”. For everyone who succumbs to the blackmail of relationship, who supplants the cause of justice, who protects rapists by omission or commission, who excuses rape, who buries the fact of it for whatever reasons, you are a cog in the wheel of humanity and condemned to the judgment of posterity.
I’m not unmindful of the fact men also fall victim of rape. I deliberately chose to focus on female victims here because it’s much more preponderant with females.