The recent damning report by the United Nations (UN) on the increasing cases of rape in the country has underscored the enormity of the problem and the need for stiffer sanctions against the perpetrators of the heinous crime. According to the report, Nigeria recorded over 3,600 rape cases across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The report pointed out that each state in Nigeria reported over 100 rape cases during the period. Besides, the UN expressed worry over rising cases of gender-based violence in Nigeria. Beyond rape, the report equally ranked the country highest in the drug use prevalence in the world put at 14.3 per cent as against the global rate of 5.3 per cent. This indicates that Nigeria, at present, has about 14.4 million drug users.
Also, during the inauguration of the Violence Against Women and Girls Situation Room-Spotlight Initiative, The Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Amina Mohammed, reiterated the UN commitment to liaise with the Ministry of Women Affairs to ensure availability of data on violence against women and girls.
In a related development, the First Lady of Lagos State, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, recently decried the increasing cases of gender-based violence in the state. Available statistics from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions revealed that the state recorded about 268 cases of domestic violence from January till date. The situation is not likely to be different in other states in the country.
We bemoan the rising cases of rape and other forms of gender-based violence across the country. The menace is gradually assuming an epidemic proportion as well as an embarrassment to the government and those in charge of controlling the heinous crime. Considering our poor statistical culture and the fact that many rape cases are unreported, the rape cases may be higher than what the UN reported.
We commend the EU/UN spotlight initiative to end violence against women and girls. We also agree with Amina Mohammed that the initiative will create a Nigeria where all women and girls will live a life free from violence and harmful practices. In view of the magnitude of gender-based violence, including rape, we call on the federal, state and local governments to wage a relentless war against the scourge.
In fact, all stakeholders and civil society groups are called upon to take critical steps to ensure the protection of the rights of women and girls in the country. The issue of rape and violence against women should no longer be treated with levity. It has become imperative that the laws against rape must be reviewed to ensure that perpetrators are adequately sanctioned.
We call for stiffer penalty against rape. The extant laws against rape are not tailored to really protect the rights of women and girls. We say this because it is daunting to prove cases of rape in our courts. The conditions to prove rape are tilted in favour of the perpetrators rather the victims who are almost blamed for being raped.
There is need to change this ugly narrative about rape and ensure that the perpetrators are given condign punishment. Deriding rape victims at police stations and during trials has made many of them not to venture to report such cases. The stigma attached to rape is traumatising that many victims prefer to suffer in silence instead of subjecting themselves to societal disdain and indignity.
Let all states review their laws on rape in such a way that victims of rape can get justice without being dehumanised. Since there is a relationship between drug use and sexual violence, the National Drug Control Master Plan must be adequately funded to enable those in charge to do their work effectively. The paucity of treatment and rehabilitation centres for drug addicts must be addressed forthwith.
While the elimination of sexual violence should be the responsibility of all citizens, we urge the government to take the lead. Therefore, we enjoin the 25 states that have not adopted the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 to do so immediately. We call on judges to expeditiously handle rape cases and ensure that justice prevails.
The punishment for rape must be deterrent enough. Consideration should be given to life imprisonment term and other condign punishment for rape perpetrators. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other related agencies must curb the unbridled access to hard drugs in the country.