By Billy Adedamola
Nigerians have a new thing to talk about, outside the rampaging coronavirus pandemic. It is rape and crimes similar to it; sexual violence and gender-based assault. The outrage rippling through the nation over the perceived SURGE in this act of bestiality is understandable. I emphasized the word surge because that was what provoked the paroxysm of outrage, condemnation and emotional outbursts being expressed by Nigerians across ages,sex, tribes and religions presently. As commendable and justifiable as the present mood over rape and other sex crimes is, the truth is there is no surge. Rape has always been pandemic in Nigeria and across the world for a long time now.The problem is we decided to bury our heads in the sands like the ostrich, pretending that all is well.
As far as I can remember, raping has been so rampant, so much it has become commonplace. It became part of us and our way of lives. Even, before the coming of the ubiquitous social media, the traditional media had been awashed with reports of rape and gender- based violence. Sadly the society attitude to this disturbing trend had been, at best, lukewarm.
About six years ago, I was so disturbed by the ever rising cases of rape in the country that I raised an editorial team led by the then General editor of this paper, Mrs Adejoke Adeniyi-Jackson to do a special report on this pandemic. The feedback I got from the respondents who were mostly respected voices in the society, was that of disinterest in the subject. This attitude is the same everywhere in Nigeria and all over the world and that is why rape has remained pandemic till date.
Let’s look at the statistics : According to Rape Statistics By Country 2020 — World Population Review, 35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime and less than 40% of the victims sought help from law enforcement. Sexual harassment is however not restricted to female gender as men are also reported to suffer same experience around the world on a daily basis. With the lower reported cases by victims, it becomes impossible to get accurate statistics of this pandemic. And chief reason for non- reporting by victims is that most rapists are known or familiar to them. They are either friends, relations, neighbours etc. As a result, amicable solution usually comes easy. Other reasons for non-reporting rape are, the shameful feeling by the victim owing to the stigma attached ,fear of reprisal and lackadaisical attitude of law enforcement agents to reported cases. In America, only 9% of rapist get prosecuted and only 3% will spend a day in prison while 97% will walk free. In Nigeria, only two out of 40 cases are reported. The reasons are the same as aforementioned. Accurate figures of rape in Nigeria is however difficult to come by because of under reporting and poor documentation problem. In 2017, Nigerian Bureau Of Statistics, NBS recorded 2, 279 cases of rape and indecent assault by the police across the country, while Nigerian Correctional Services reported that 4,436 people were jailed for sex related crimes in 2014. From the aforestated facts, it is clear that rape has been prevalent in Nigeria as it is across the world.
Also, issue of under-reporting, due to fear, stigmatization and weak enforcement is global. There is no surge in Nigeria. What triggered the present outrage was the gruesome case of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa ,a 22-year-old girl who was raped and bludgeoned to death in a church in Benin, the Edo state capital. This was followed by a similar case of Barakat Bello in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital. The problem is, the society has all the while not pay the desired attention to this problem and tackle it appropriately. This place the guilt on the rapist as well as the society at large. Who stigmatize the victim instead of the offender? It is the society which is made up of you and I. How would the victim come out to report a rape when the society will inflict more pains and trauma on her by pouring oil of shame and guilt on her while scant attention is paid the offender. It’s not uncommon for the victim to be assailed with questions such as,” why did you visit him”, why did you follow him into the bedroom “, why were you scantily dressed “,etc. The case of Bukola Dakolo is a good example of how the society is fuelling rape and discouraging victims from seeking justice. When the woman came out to tell the world of how she was raped by Biodun Fatoyinbo, a popular pastor of Commonwealth of Zion Assembly, and sought to get justice, the society was divided along religious and social lines, rather than come out and collectively rally round the victim. Bukola was condemned, ridiculed, intimidated and harrassed by the society and security operatives. Till date, Dakolo is still crying for justice while the society look the other way.
The offender is not the only one guilty, we all share part of the blame by our various actions and in actions. Let us start from the home front. As parents, what kind of training do we give to our children? Rape is hardly one of the anti-social or criminal behaviours we impress on the male child to abstain from. For the female child, how many parents tell her the prevalence of rape,the very possibility of becoming a victim and how to avoid straying into such situation? And so it is, that many fathers had been found guilty of perpetrating this heinous acts against their biological and step-daughters . Siblings and other relatives are not left out of this wilful violation of the female members of the family.
At schools -primary, secondary and tertiary- rape,sexual assaults and gender based violence was never a strong point of moral lessons. Reasons: teachers at all educational levels have been found culpable.
At the places of worship, rape and its co-travellers do not fit into sermons that swell congregation. Consequently, there’s hardly any time you find pastors or Imams preaching against this inhumanity in churches or Mosques. Again, reasons : a lot of pastors and many Imams have soiled their holiness with rape and other sex related misdeeds. The present outrage is a good development, but how long will it last. Knowing Nigerians very well, it would soon fizzle out. As soon as something new breaks ,the issue of rape will take the back seat. In any case, most of those crying out the loudest now are not really bothered about the menace. Their seeming intervention is self -serving, mostly to gain public relevance. For once, let’s shun our pretentious tendency, let’s seize the opportunity of the present momentum to save the lives of future victims of rape and other sexual violence. It’s not a job for the law enforcement agents alone. Every hand must count. Every parent and even relations must play their own part by educating the children on the evils of rape and how the female ones can avoid falling victim. Schools at all levels should create subject that will address sexual-assaults and its attendant evils. Religious leaders and organizations should make rape one of the key points of their moral teaching. More advocacy groups should come out while those already out should intensify their campaign. Justice against rape must be swift and deterrent. Stigma must be shifted from the victim to assailant. Victims should be encouraged to come out and expose perpetrators. Law against rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence must be reviewed to protect the victim and severely punish the offender. Our Hollywood film producers should do more films on the evils of this menace and it’s overall effects on the society. The media too must not be left out. The print and the electronic media must give prominent and generous space and air time to the campaign against rape and other sexual assaults. Lastly, litigation for the victims should be made free. With all these efforts, it would not be long before we reduce the incidence of rape and other sexual violence to the barest minimum in our society.
By Billy Adedamola