By Dooyum Ingye

As other countries protest the killing of black American, George Floyd, by an American policeman, Derek Chauvin, in the city of Minneapolis, Nigerians have also taken to the social media to protest the rising cases of rape in the country in past weeks.

Like corruption, rape is also a growing phenomenon suffered in Nigeria. People, especially ladies, tell gory tales of sexual molestation by men; but none has sparked as much outrage as those recorded in the previous weeks.
Vera Uwaila Omozuwa known as Uwa, a 22-year-old student of the University of Benin was raped and murdered at the Redeemed Christian church of God in Edo state. Barakat Bello, an 18-year-old girl got raped and murdered in her house on the 1st of June. In April, 18-year-old Jennifer was raped by five men in the Kaduna city of northern Nigeria.

These acts of sexual violence have sparked a series of protests online which received the support of prominent Nigerian celebrities such as Tiwa Savage, Don Jazzy, Mr Eazy, Rema, Wizkid etc. In reaction to the rape cases, Tiwa Savage tweeted “#WeAreTired of senseless killings, lorries falling on roads and killing passengers, ACs catching fire and burning houses, young girls getting raped, young boys killed”.

This is the first time that so many Nigerians will hit the social media protesting sexual violence in Nigeria. In the case of Uwa who recently died in a Church, the governor of Edo state has come under intense pressure to bring the rapists to book; and so far, the police has arrested a man who claims to have been paid by the pastor of the church to rape and kill her. In Kaduna city, it took a public video made by the family for the police to take proactive steps.

According to the International Center for Investigative Reporting, there is no aggregated record of sexual offenders in Nigeria. Both law reports, and news reports focusing on court cases where there were rape charges, were able to trace and gather 65 rape convictions between 1973 to 2019. Of all these convictions, 32 took place in 2015 and the years before, while 33 took place after 2015. Most of the verdicts were delivered by Magistrate, Sharia, Upper, and High Courts. The punishments range between seven lashes of the cane and death by hanging.

This indicates that Nigeria has very low rate conviction of sex offenders. In Lagos state, for instance, it has been ascertained that out of a total of 283 cases of child defilement reported in 2011, only 10 were prosecuted and convicted, and studies suggest that “sometimes as much as 84 percent of the female population has experienced sexual assault or defilement in childhood”. This shows that the conviction rate is less than 10 per cent (International Center for Investigative Reporting).

It is sad to note that rapists never get the punishment they deserve. This is largely due to the defects of the Nigeria judicial system, corrupt police system, and blame games. At the end, not only do the rapists go free, the victims are left to bear the self-destructive effects. These girls live their whole lives locked up in their pain and misery. It is even more difficult for those who can’t speak out; for fear of being rebuked, stigmatized, or harmed; even by their family members. Some resort to inflicting injuries on themselves, attempting suicide, living in fear, etc.

Recently, I met a lady who still carries those bitter-ugly memories and attends to it by tearing herself with sharp objects, stapling parts of her body, etc. She was molested at an early age by those whom the parents entrusted her in their care. She never could open up to her parents, or elder sisters who acted hostile towards her. Severally, she attempted suicide but couldn’t see it through. When I met her, she poured out her sorrow and sadness because I gave her the listening ear and attention she never had. Today, she is better. However, there are many others out there, slowly destroyed by such rape/sexual abuse crimes because of a lack of adequate structures to help them.

It is extremely important that the Nigerian state tighten its laws on sexual offenders and monitor its strict implementation. First, the state should introduce a Sex Offenders Registry as done in the US, Australia, Canada, etc where a proper record of sex offenders will be kept. Tough laws should be introduced to deter people from raping others. We need to start checking our mindset as individuals and groups to rape and our attitude towards the victims. Let us not just talk about and condemn the crime; let us also pay attention to the victims and truly show care for them too because amidst all the anger and protests, they are still suffering. We also need a health system that will focus on mental health of victims too.

And as seen in recent weeks, the entire country must rise to condemn rape on social media, streets, newspapers, etc. The social media, used by millions of Nigerians, is also a veritable tool, in the words of Segun Awosanya, the head of Social Intervention Advocacy Foundation, to ‘bring light on police, or institutions’.

(c) Dooyum Ingye 2020