There is hardly a week without one or two cases of rape being reported in the media in Nigeria. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has not even deterred the perpetrators from committing the crime. This spike in rape cases has attracted widespread protests by the members of the Coalition of Civil Society Groups in various Nigerian cities on Friday, June 5.One of such protests against the rising cases of rape and violence against the girl-child was staged at the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) headquarters in Abuja, demanding that the Nigerian federal government should, as a matter of urgency, declare a state of emergency on gender and sexual-based violence.
The groups comprising ActionAid, in conjunction with other civil groups, including TeacherNG, Girl-Child Africa, Connected Development, Enough is Enough Nigeria, Stand to End Rape, Silver Chip Fox, Yiaga Africa, Dorothy Njemanze Foundation and Education on Vaccine Foundation, Women Advocacy Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme, Malala Fund, Heir Women Development and Disability Rights Advocacy Centre, as well Centre for Communication and Social Impact (CCSI), called on the Nigerian Police during a nationwide protest, to promptly investigate, prosecute and conclude all rape, sexual and gender-based violence cases in the country.
According to the groups between January and June this year, more than 80 women and girls between two and 80 years old had been reported raped and the recent rape and brutal murder of 23-year-old University of Benin undergraduate, Uwaila Omozuwa, in a church building in Benin City, the Edo State capital, as well as the rape of a 12-year-old girl by 11 men in Jigawa State in northern Nigeria, are deadly reminders that Nigerian girls are endangered.
In her speech, the ActionAid Country Director, Ene Obi, expressed concern over the safety of Nigerian girls, women and grandmothers, lamenting that security operatives meant to protect are also threatening to rape and kill them in the face of conflict, noting: “Women and girls need more than promises; we need an urgent declaration of state of emergency in every state in Nigeria to accelerate investigation, arrest and prosecution of offenders.”
In the same vein, the Manager, Women Rights Program Action-Aid, Nkechi Ilochi-Omekedo, bemoaned the unabated rape cases in Nigeria, saying one in 10 women are being sexually violated, and “we are saying enough is enough. we are not at war, but with what is happening every day, it appears as though we are at war”.cal media reports quoted Ilochi-Omekedo as saying that the three arms of the government should rise up and protect women and girls and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Reacting to this ugly development, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the chamber would engage the 36 states Houses of Assembly to achieve the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and the Child Rights Act.
He told members of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), who called on him over the spike in rape cases, that the engagement would be technologically conducted due to the urgency and critical nature of the issue, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalation of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in the country.
The Speaker assured them that the House would consider working on sexual violence-related laws to make them conform to the current realities.
He disclosed that the House would work towards ensuring that the services of the CSOs working on sexual and gender-based violence are classified as essential services. The Speaker, however, “wondered why do we have this very significant uptick in cases of rape right now, as opposed to in the past? Is it because of cultural shift and people are now emboldened to report these cases or is it just actually an uptick, with more cases of rape?”
“I’m not sure which one it is, but whichever one it is, it has been brought to the forefront and it is incumbent upon us as legislators, in fact, upon every Nigerians to confront it and eliminate it as much as we can.”
The representatives of the CSOs had earlier complained about the refusal of many states to either pass or domesticate the Acts, adding that due to the escalation of rape in the country in recent times, the CSOs demanded a state of emergency on domestic violence against women, while seeking a deliberate criminalisation of such offences, since many victims do not come forward or get properly documented, either at the hospital or Police station.
They also pleaded for intervention over alleged cases of aiding and abetting by Police officers, which oftentimes lead to mishandling of such cases, as well as on funding for establishments of CSOs that handle issues of sexual and gender violence to enable victims to have justice at all times.
The rise in rape cases has been a source of worry for both the government and the society. For instance, a survey carried out in 2019 by Nigeria’s leading survey and polling firm, NOIPolls Ltd, recommended among others punishing the offenders, creating awareness on the dangers of rape and decent dressing.
The survey, which was published in July 2019 concluded on its findings on the prevalence of rape in Nigeria, attitudes towards reporting incidence of rape and the persecution of rape offenders, that cases of rape in Nigeria was highly prevalent across the country.
“Alarmingly, trends on the prevalence of rape showed that only a marginal 1 percent decline has been recorded in the fight against the prevalence of this atrocious crime between 2014 and 2019. Hence, this menace is still a major challenge in Nigeria. Alarmingly, the poll found out that Nigerians considered consent from a minor (less than 18 year) as well as consent from an intoxicated individual as valid consent for sexual activity,” the report said.
“This study shows that rape cases are still under reported in Nigeria for reasons such as fear of stigmatization and lack of persecution of offenders by the law amongst other reasons. These two scenarios may likely encourage offenders to perpetrate more of such crimes and may also be the reasons for the poor success recorded in the fight against rape thus far; despite efforts by several government agencies and civil society organizations to mitigate this crime.
“Hence, the study recommends that if this crime must be mitigated, a nationwide advocacy be carried out by civil society organizations and government agencies that deal with gender issues and sex related crimes. To encourage victims to report rape incidences as get the law to persecute rape offenders and get justice for victims. There is also a huge need on the orientation of Nigerians on the meaning of consent,” the report said.