Concerned about the dilemma of child victims of rape, child rights activists and non-governmental organisations are calling for effective implementation of laws protecting children
At the moment, his fate hangs in the balance. Seventy-three-year-old Job Onyemakiya waits with bated breath for a DNA test ordered by a law court. The test, directed by the Lagos State high court, Ikeja, will determine the paternity of a baby girl belonging to 13-year-old Oreoluwa Adekoya. And if Onyemakiya is found to be the father of the baby, a criminal case will thereafter be instituted against him.
As far as Onyemakiya is concerned, he cannot be said to be the father. But Adekoya insists that the septuagenarian is the father of her baby. Onyemakiya lives as a tenant in Adekoya’s grandmother’s house in Lagos. There he was said to have defiled the teenager and also had sex with her on two other occasions. The bubble burst only when Adekoya became pregnant. The police were called in and the teenager is now being represented in court by officials of the Office of the Public Defender, OPD, an arm of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice.
In the same shoes as Onyemakiya is Seun Oyeleke, a 25-year-old primary school teacher. Oyeleke who teaches at a private nursery and primary school located in the Church Street area of Osogbo, Osun State, was recently caught in the school toilet lying atop a seven-year-old girl. That was not his first time. On a previous occasion, he was caught with a five-year-old in the school toilet. He was apprehended and taken to Dugbe Police Station in Osogbo. To establish what actually transpired, the police took both girls to a clinic at Oke-fia where it was confirmed that they suffered some impact on their pubic areas but their assailant had actually not penetrated them.
If Oyeleke raped two little girls, Wahabi Buhari, a 60-year-old security guard, has done three. He was recently arrested for the serial rape of primary school girls. Luring his victims with lollipops and money during their break time, Buhari met his Waterloo on March 22, 2012, when he allegedly had carnal knowledge of a 10-year-old pupil of Ansarudeen Primary School, Oke-Aluko, Ilorin, Kwara State.
The sister of the victim, on getting whims of what had happened, reported the matter at ‘C’ Division Police Station, Oja-Oba, Ilorin. Buhari, according to the police First Information Report, FIR, was subsequently arrested and, during interrogation confessed that he had also raped two other pupils (names withheld) of the same school between the ages of 10 and 11 years. The accused was said to have raped the victims on different days during their break time by luring them with money ranging from N50 to N100. He is currently cooling his heels at the Federal Medium Security Prison, Mandalla, Ilorin, awaiting trial.
On March 28, 2012, at about 4 pm in the Ifelodun area of Shasha, Lagos State, Abubakar Sulaiman, 45, a petty trader, was discovered to have raped two sisters, a seven-year-old and five-year-old, in his kiosk. After his arrest and interrogation, it was discovered that he had equally earlier raped two other girls, a three-year-old and five-year-old. Sulaiman too is cooling his heels at the Kirikiri Prisons, Lagos, awaiting trial.
In the same vein, Alex Fortaleza, a Filipino company manager in Lagos, is alleged to have raped a 13-year-old Nigerian girl earlier in the year. The bubble burst when the teenager, said to be the sister of the housemaid of the accused, became pregnant. The matter was reported to the police at Area ‘B’ Command, Apapa, Lagos. The Filipino was arrested and taken to the police station where he confessed to having sex with the teenager but claimed that he did not know that she was underage. The defendant was charged to a family court in Surulere, where he pleaded not guilty to a two-count charge and was granted bail in the sum of N200,000 with two sureties in like sum. The case was adjourned while the accused ended up in Ikoyi Prisons because no one showed up to secure his bail.
The earlier mentioned instances will however pale into insignificance when the case of 11-year-old Tawa Hussein (not her real name) is considered. She was not only raped earlier in the year, but was infected with HIV by her four assailants. The victim, who resided at Richard Abimbola Street, Ilasamaja in Lagos, with her father and stepmother had only just completed her primary school education. Jimoh Ojo, a commercial motorcyclist and tenant in the house, owned by the victim’s father, reportedly led the gang that allegedly raped the young girl. Although they all initially fled, a Special Lagos State Task Force later arrested Ojo. In the course of interrogation, Ojo named his accomplices as Sunday, Ojo’s brother-in-law; Ade, a cousin of the raped girl; and a man simply identified as ‘Yellow’.
Apart from Ojo, other members of the group are still on the run. And while they run, others like them continue to rape children in different parts of the country almost on a daily basis. This perhaps explains why, in March 2012, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, called on the federal government to take urgent action to combat the menace of child rape in the country.
Amplifying this stance, Emilie Secker, advocacy officer, Stepping Stones Nigeria, SSN, an NGO based in the Niger Delta region, said her organisation was worried about the increase in the cases of rape in Nigeria and particularly in the region. She described the number of girls raped in the Niger Delta in the past eight months as alarming. Michael Gbarale, an official of the organisation in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, disclosed that within the period in focus, no fewer than 18 cases of child rape were recorded in the Garden City alone. According to Gbarale, the 18 cases included a girl of 13 who was raped by a group of nine boys, a man who sexually assaulted two sisters aged six and three, and a girl of 10 who was raped at gunpoint.
Similarly, the OPD reports that between January and March 2012, the office handled 32 cases of rape. Of this number, at least 17 were children below the age of 11, while children between the ages of 12 and above accounted for the rest.
Statistics such as this are what continue to give people like Secker sleepless nights. They make her wonder often about what really goes on in the mind of a rapist. Why would a grown man rape not just a woman but also a child?
Oni Fagboungbe of the Department of Psychology, University of Lagos, Akoka, UNILAG, says, “Sex is a need. They (old men) want to satisfy that need. Female adults that can satisfy that need may not oblige him because they may consider him too old. The problem is compounded where he does not have the financial power to buy sex. Even his wife may consider him too old. So what he does is to lure a little girl with some little enticements and then have his way with her.”
He added that “this could even happen among people like imams and bishops, people who command some kind of authority and are well known and respected in the society and obviously have the money to throw around but who, owing to their social standing, cannot afford the risk of being seen in an illicit relationship. Sex is a need. They want to satisfy that need but at the same time they want to protect their religious affiliation, so that people will not say ‘Oh, a whole you, bishop, oh, a whole you, imam.’ So, they seize the opportunity of the proximity of the little ones.”
Besides that, Fagboungbe said rape could also be simply put down to perception and stimulus: “Sex is a need, just like you have a need for food, especially when the right stimulus is produced, you feel like doing it. And in the case of rape, immediately the stimulus appears, the person or the culprit would be immediately sensitised.”
Speaking of perception and stimulus, Kehinde Ayenibiowo, a counselling psychologist, UNILAG, says in this respect a number of factors come into play. First, Ayenibiowo blames it on the influence of the media and sexual appeal that seem to have taken over the media lately. In this respect, accusing fingers are pointed at the overtly sexual innuendoes in virtually every musical video, some foreign soap opera that now air on Nigerian television stations as well as even the mode of dressing of ladies.
“Some of our girls too are culpable. For example, things that we used to consider indecent are no longer considered so. Some 20 to 30 years back, if you saw a girl on a man’s lap in the open, whether in a university setting or outside it, it was possible (that) the girl had a mental problem. These days, they do it openly and when you confront them, they are bold enough to ask you, ‘Are you my father or mother?’ You excite (stimulate) men by even what you’re putting on. But they say we shouldn’t talk too much about their dressing because it is a free world,” Ayenibiowo said.
“I think the basic social factor is this gender inequality,” says Felicia Oyekanmi, a professor at the Department of Sociology, UNILAG. According to her, “Ours is a patriarchal society that suggests that males are superior to females and therefore what a man wants he can take without being questioned by anybody. We can see this in some cultures where males are [regarded] as being superior to females. Properties are even allocated to males and then they assume that the male will then take care of his sister. You begin to see this perception of thinking that females are inferior and therefore should be hidden, should be seen and not heard. That may be part of the underlining reasons.” She may also be confirming the thinking of some other people who say that the rapist, apart from his perception of the female as an inferior being, also takes advantage of the innocence and weakness of the minor.
Beyond that, Oyekanmi said, “I think in the modern sense, too, the feeling that there’s no adequate justice also adds to the whole.” With this statement, Oyekanmi may just have hit the bull’s-eye. Often times, it is difficult for rape victims to get justice in Nigeria. The impediments start with the police who often times trivialise the case or even help the accused to get away from the crime for pecuniary reasons. In addition, there are also issues of stigmatisation and the slow pace of court processes that often frustrate the victims.
Another source of frustration is the barrage of embarrassing questions rape victims are subjected to in the full glare of the public during cross-examination in court. A very recent case in point is the ongoing trial of Bukola Alli, the traditional ruler of Ilowa, Osun State, who was alleged to have raped a female National Youth Service Corps member. At one of the court sessions, the traditional ruler was said to have insisted that the lady present her private part to the magistrate for inspection in order to ascertain whether she indeed sustained bruises, like she insisted.
In spite of these challenges, Omotola Rotimi, director, OPD, argued that the solution still lies in rape victims coming out to lodge complaints. “We are trying to ensure that victims do get justice, but those are the ones who do come to us; those are people that are ready to ensure that their case comes up in court. We’ve had so many cases that, at the point of going to court, they now make a U-turn. And then, you know that you cannot manufacture evidence. When the judge or magistrate is frustrated, the case is struck out. Parents and adult victims of rape must be ready to deal with the case to the end,” she said.
While they pursue legal redress, Fagboungbe says the psychological effect of rape on the victim can take two extremes. “The first one is what we call sexual frigidity. You find out that the victim will forever hate sex and members of the opposite sex; that is one extreme. The other extreme end is that a rape victim may become sexually frivolous, a sort of sex maniac, doing it uncontrollably.” Then another serious psychological effect is mistrust. “You find the lady displaying a pervasive sense of mistrust. She doesn’t trust anybody and this is in a generalised form; it is not only limited to men but to others generally,” he said.
Added to these effects, Fagboungbe said child victims of rape are also likely to display tendencies such as “a continuous desire to be alone, poor eating habits, that is, desire to eat frequently or complete loss of appetite; poor concentration and forgetfulness; revulsion on being touched by a member of the same sex as the offender.”
Concerned about the life-long effects of rape on the victims, a coalition of NGOs recently staged a protest rally tagged, Rape Walk, in Lagos to express their exasperation and displeasure with the government not living up to its responsibility as it concerns effecting laws to curb the increasing violence against women and children.
Organisers of the protest are worried about inadequate legal provisions for the protection of the rights of a child in Nigeria. And they sure have reasons to be worried. The global trend towards protecting children’s rights berthed in Nigeria in 2003 and the country enacted the Child Rights Act, which domesticates the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Activists however say that the Act, which was enacted at the federal level, has a limiting proviso: it requires state legislatures to enact it for its application in their respective states. Beyond that, the law itself suffers largely from weak implementation.
Although about 24 states have so far domesticated the Child Rights Act, not many of them have really given bite to the legislation in terms of implementation. That is added to the fact that there are yet a good number of states largely in the northern parts of the country that have not even ratified the law. In this respect, child rights activists blame certain religious and cultural practices that appear to be in conflict with some provisions of the Act.
But Rotimi would have none of that. “This is a Child Rights Act that protects every child and yet we still have a culture that says that a 10-year-old can marry, that you can deflower a 10-year-old? Then, the culture is obviously in conflict with what the law is saying. And I don’t believe any religion says that you should sleep with a 10-year-old.”
While the argument rages, Oby Nwankwo, a lawyer, says Nigeria remains a place where the girl-child is largely endangered and exposed to risks of rape almost on a daily basis. And this, she says, “Does not portray Nigeria in good light.”
Additional Reports by Portia Onwuyalim, Peace Arikpo, Dorcas Adekoya and Ajibola Ajisafe