We are not the World Health Organisation (WHO) that gave a pandemic a name change from coronavirus to COVID-19. But we are asking for permission to name rape, that rampaging and invidious virus that is currently on the prowl in Nigeria, COVID-20 because the characteristics between it and COVID-19 are largely the same. Both ailments are widespread; both have a devastating impact, including death, on society. Both have no vaccine for prevention or a cure that can diminish their potency. In the last few weeks, Nigeria has witnessed the sweeping and surging power of rapists and their untethered power to do damage to our girls and women, our society and our civilisation. Let us just cite three examples among the many that have mercilessly raped our consciousness in the last few weeks.
Case number one: A 22-year-old girl named Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a first-year student of Microbiology of the University of Benin, was gang-raped in a church, yes, in a church, in Benin City, Edo State. Miss Omozuwa who had attempted JAMB five times before she got admitted apparently wanted to compensate herself for the loss of five years. To achieve this she decided that she would study hard for good grades as her revenge against fate since she had now joined the respectable club of Jambites. She chose the quiet seclusion of her church, where she is a chorister, as a place of preference for the uncovering of the wisdom buried within the covers of her books. In her young mind, she must have thought that a church was likely to be a safer sanctuary than anywhere else. She was wrong. A group of men stormed the sacred place in a show of irreverence and sacrilege and gang-raped the young lady.
They weren’t through with her yet. In a show of sordid sadism, they broke her head with a fire extinguisher and left her in a pool of blood. A church worker found her in a state of half-consciousness. She was rushed to a hospital, where she died a couple of days later. Her search for a Microbiology degree ended prematurely on a note of finality.
Case number two: Another young lady, also a student, just 18, a National Diploma student of Science Laboratory Technology at the Federal College of Animal and Production Technology, Ibadan, Oyo State, Barakat Bello, was also raped and then hacked to death in her compound by some criminals. This is telling us all that even though your home is supposed to be your castle you are not truly safe except you take adequate precautions because our society has become rapidly unsafe and unwholesome.
Case number three: A 70-year-old woman was sleeping blissfully in her house. At 11pm, a truck driver who lived in the neighbourhood broke into her house, overpowered and raped her. He covered her mouth but she managed to scream and a neighbour came to her rescue.
The neighbour was able to hit the intruder a few times with a stick, which made him to hurriedly dismount, leaving his clothes, shoes and torchlight behind as the undeniable evidence of his criminal indiscretion. He claimed that he was acting under the influence of alcohol. But even with the alcohol he was able to correctly find his way into the woman’s house and bedroom. He was able to correctly take off his clothes. He was able to correctly assume that if the woman’s mouth was not covered she would shout. He was able to correctly take his equipment into the woman’s pudendum without missing the way.
If the woman had been young, it would have been possible to speculate that it was the magnetic pull of her youthful beauty that lured him. But it is clearly an act of perversity for a young man to rape or seek to rape a woman who is old enough to be his grandmother. Since he was living within the neighbourhood it was possible that he had been eyeing her, for whatever reason, with a look of scorching intent. He must have done his homework, which made it possible for him to know the geography of her residence and the fact that she was a soft target since she lived alone. This is a lesson to old women: rapists may still find you rape-able. So, be careful. Most rape crimes are committed by people who know their victims well, their movements and mannerisms and their goings-out and comings-in. In a 2013 poll of 585 randomly selected adults from Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones done by NOI Polls, the question put to the interviewees was: “what do you think is the most prevalent cause of rape in the society?”
Thirty-four per cent of them answered “indecent dressing.” Recently, a member of the House of Representatives, Ahmadu Jaha, had attributed the rise in rape cases to the exposure of their bodies indecently by women. After being hammered by various groups for his opinion, he has now apologised for his mistake. In the three cases described above, indecent dressing may not have been the bait. Omozuwa went to read in her church where she was a chorister. She could not have dressed indecently to her Pentecostal church at night or at any time because she knew that her church frowned at that. The second girl, Barakat Bello, was a Muslim whose photograph showed that she was a hijab-wearing person. She would not, all things being equal, wear the sort of clothes that would make any man’s heart thud like a drum when they saw her. In any case, she was at home, at night, and expected to impress no one with any skimpy dress. The third case, the septuagenarian, was the most unlikely fellow to don skimpy or indecent clothing. Her age forbids that. The only certainty is that the truck driver who lived in her neighbourhood, obviously a pervert, may have been gobbling her with his eyes and when shafts of electricity coursed through his veins he thought that he needed to find out what it was like to sleep with an old woman. In any case, no type of dressing, skimpy or not, should be an incentive for rape. Rape is a crime and must be seen as such.
No reason is good enough for it. Whatever a woman chooses to wear is her own business and not that of the rapist. Some people accuse women of putting a swing in their walk or their waist. That is not the business of the rapist or of anybody else. They are not doing so to sway the rapist. In fact, some girls or women who are raped may not even have a glimmer of glamour before they become victims. If a girl is charmless, she may think that every man that she is likely to meet in life is harmless. That is not true.
The rapist is simply looking for one thing: sex. He will seek to get it from the glamorous girl or the glamour-less girl. Anyone of them may satisfy his lust. As W.C. Fields says, “Some things are better than sex, and some things are worse but there is nothing like it.” It used to be said that sex is the opium of the poor, their suya, their barbecue. But, as we have seen in contemporary Nigeria, even rich pastors do it and rich professors fall at the altar of sex, not consensual sex, but sex that smacks of impropriety and criminality: rape.
These things are on the upswing because the major anchors for the sustenance of society’s cherished values have broken down. These are family, faith-based institutions and schools. The role of the family is invaluable in any person’s upbringing. All of these rapists come from families and if those families maintained worthy family values, their offspring would not turn into rapists.
Faith-based institutions that used to be the guiding lights for their young and elderly adherents seem to have lost their bearing because most of them are just institutions that are set up today largely for money-making. There are exceptions, of course, but no one will say that the faith-based institutions have provided the inspiration and leadership in matters of propriety that our nation needs. Some of their leaders have become, by their scandalous deeds, bad specimens and a source of shame to the faith.
The other institution, the school, has gradually become the school for scandals where lecturers can, and do, intimidate their students for sex. Sex-for-grades has become a pronounced phenomenon of the modern era. Where persuasion or blackmail fails, the perverse lecturer does not flinch.
He resorts to the last weapon: rape. In the last few years, we have been inundated with a number of sexational, my coinage, and sensational cases in our institutions of higher or lower learning. These teachers are, by tradition, expected to play the role of surrogate parents to the kids put under their watch. Instead, some of them have turned out to be reckless predators and defilers of their students to the chagrin of a disappointed citizenry. Disappointed because some of the institutions are aware of some of these sordid deeds but prefer to live in denial because they see that approach as the appropriate method of protecting the reputations of their institutions. That leads to impunity.
For several reasons, rape is acquiring a prominent place of notoriety in the hierarchy of crimes in Nigeria. There are several reasons for this. It is not a crime that most victims want to talk about but people still get to know that it thrives. They see it as demeaning, as if there was something wrong that they did to be raped. Besides, our society is still one that people do not believe in the concept of full disclosure, whether for public or private purposes, except someone is going to pay them for it.
Victims of rape also feel that disclosure may lead to their being stigmatised by family, friends and society generally. In some cases of disclosure, some people are not willing to believe the victims; some others say they must have asked for it; some pooh-pooh the idea of disclosure as indecent, as indecent as the crime itself. Some victims think their families may disown them or potential suitors may walk away.
Some victims don’t even want to get into the trouble of pushing for justice because rape is often difficult to prove and to get a conviction. Other victims don’t like to go the whole hog for fear of reprisal by the rapist or his friends and relations. They think also of the long delays in Nigerian courts, the huge expenditure involved and the possibility of the rich rapist being able to get exculpated by the system through corruption.
The truth, therefore, is that rape cases are under-reported for a variety of reasons. These reasons contribute to its spread since many rapists believe that they will not be found out, or if found out they will not be punished by the system. Some of the victims, therefore, prefer to live with their ‘shame’ instead of getting the therapeutic value that comes with disclosure. With the speed of its spread in recent times, rape may soon become a pandemic with as ferocious a grip on our society as COVID-19. All our institutions such as the police, courts, civil society, families, faith-based institutions, gender-based organisations, the various governments and media must do more, much more, than they are doing to curb the menace of what I call COVID-20. Good a thing the Senate has now come to the stark realisation that rapists are a patent threat to our civilisation. It is now pushing for a stiffer penalty for rape.
More importantly, the Governor of Ekiti State and chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, is wading into the matter. He has promised to get his colleagues to treat the menace as a national emergency. With the steep rise in published cases of rape, that seems to be the only way to go at this point. National emergency, that is spot on.