The threat by a 16-year-old girl (names withheld), allegedly raped by a popular Islamic cleric, Habeebullah Titilope Abdulrahman in Ede, Osun State, to commit suicide, has attracted the attention of lawyers and activists as well as other well-meaning Nigerians.
Angered by her family’s disposition for out-of-court settlement, the victim, who recently completed her Junior Secondary School education, vowed to commit suicide if her family goes ahead to accept the offer. She handed down the threat at the Osun State Magistrate’s Court, Ede, on August 2.
Born in 2003, the girl who lost her father at a very tender age couldn’t bear the pressures from her father’s relatives to let go of the case. Consequently, on Saturday, August 3, she absconded from home. She was, however, found in the morning of Sunday, August 4.
Following a petition by a lawyer, Abdulrasheed Maisolati, to the Osun State Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Ige, on behalf of the victim, detailing how the 38-year-old, Habeebulah Abdulrahman, popularly known as Al-Edewee, in April, allegedly lured her from Ede to Ilaro in Ogun State, where she was raped, the Osun State Police Command launched investigation into the matter.
The petition, dated June 13, explained the circumstances which made the girl fall prey to Al-Edewee who is said to have three wives, and resides at Atidade Sawmill while his Islamic school is located at Daarut Tawheed area of Ede.
“On that fateful day, Al-Edewy came to her house and informed her mother of a lecture he was having at Ilaro, Ogun State, and asked that he would like our client to go with him alongside other students of his school, since they would all return to Ede the same day. Our client’s mother innocently trusted him and allowed her daughter to go with him,” the petition states.
“When they got to the car, our client only met two men and when she asked about the other students, Al-Edewy boldly told her they had all gone. When they eventually got to Ilaro, Al-Edewy delivered a lecture which ended at about 8 pm. Our client came out of the mosque and waited outside for their return journey to Ede, but the cleric entered the car with others and drove to a guest house not too far from the lecture ground. He directed our client to a room separate from where the other men were moved into.
“Some minutes later, the cleric knocked and entered the room where our client was, and said he would sleep together with her. Our client was astonished and the cleric immediately collected her phone, did something on it, and gave it back to her. Almost immediately, he started fondling our client’s breasts against her wish. She was resisting him but the cleric was too strong for her and she was eventually overpowered amidst loud scream.
“Attracted by her loud cry, a man knocked at the door, and at that point, he pushed our client onto the bed and told the man knocking at the door to leave as he was trying to settle a family matter with our client. After the man left, he forcibly held our client and raped her mercilessly. After the first round, our client cursed him. But disappointed that the girl was no longer a virgin as he envisaged since he didn’t see blood from her private part, he abused her and raped her the second time,” the petition read.
Based on the petition, the victim and her parents made statements at the Family Unit of the Police Command in Osogbo on June 24, and Al-Edewy was arrested. During interrogation, a police source who was involved in the investigation, said although the cleric did not deny sleeping with the girl, he claimed he married her a day before the alleged rape incident. However, the accused could not provide any evidence of marriage even as the girl and her family debunked the marriage claim.
Journey to court
On July 5, the suspect was arraigned before the state’s magistrate’s court, Ede. He was docked on three-count charge of abduction, indecent assault and touching. He, however, pleaded not guilty and was granted bail on the condition that he would provide a Level 12 civil servant, who owns a landed property, a condition he met and was freed immediately. However, contrary to the petition and allegation of rape raised by the victim, the police did not mention it in the criminal charges against the accused.
Petition against Osun police over alleged complicity
Given the apparent downplay of the charge against the accused, a human rights group, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre- (RULAAC), wrote a petition to the Inspector-General of Police, urging him to order the Commissioner of Police in the state to re-arrest the accused and prosecute him for rape, in addition to the other charges already contained in the charge sheet. The letter dated July 15 was signed by the Executive Director of RULAAC, Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma. In the petition, the group accused the Osun State Police Command of deliberately downplaying the charge in order to create a soft landing for the cleric.
“The police decided to downplay the enormity of the crime by arraigning the alleged rapist on three count charges of kidnapping the underage girl, unlawfully taking her away against the will of her parents, with intent to carnally know her, and unlawful and indecent assault by touching her breast, all contrary to and punishable under the Criminal Code of Osun State, 2002.
“It is surprising that nowhere in the charge sheet did the police prosecutor mention rape, which is the primary and most egregious of all the crimes allegedly committed against the innocent girl,” the petition read. The group had earlier written to the state commissioner of police on the same issue but got no response.
Lawyers, rights groups react
The threat to commit suicide by the victim has attracted prominent lawyers, activists and right groups’ attentions and they are already mobilising support for the victim in order to get justice.
Speaking to Saturday Sun, Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Mrs Funmi Falana, lamented that the cases of abuse, molestation and rape of women in the country had been on the increase. She condemned the approach of the prosecution and some family members pressurising the victim to let go of the case. Falana stated that the issue of settling the matter out of court does not arise because it is a criminal case.
Mrs. Falana, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Women Empowerment and Legal Aids (WELA), saluted the courage of the 16-year-old girl, for speaking out and fighting for her right and promised to give her all necessary support to get justice. The lawyer disclosed that she had ordered her organisation’s legal team to go to Osun State to commence every necessary step needed to get justice for the victim.
According to her, in criminal cases, there is nothing like settling out of court. She said the case against the cleric is not between him and the victim’s family but between him and the state. Falana called on the Osun State government to take over the case from the police before it is completely messed up. She called on other rights groups in the country to stand up and fight for justice for the girl.
“Already, I have told my lawyers to go to the court in Osun State and I am also going to write letters to both the ministry of justice and the state government on the matter. Besides, I am equally calling on other right groups for collaboration, so that we can get justice for the victim,” she said.
Also speaking on the move by some members of the victim’s family to settle the matter out of court, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and right activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said although the victim is still a minor, who could only seek for justice through her parents or guardian, that does not change the fact that she was the victim who was brutally raped.
“He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. Her views and consent cannot, therefore, be taken for granted, as if she was of no consequence or as if she were a piece of purchasable furniture whose worth and disposal can be cheaply negotiated willy-nilly. How can the parents attempt to shave their daughter’s head in her absence? I suspect there is an aspect of the so-called settlement agreement saga allegedly struck between the accused and the victim’s family that is still shrouded in mystery and secrecy.
“The family must have been promised some huge mouth-watering restitution fee. Otherwise, there is nothing apparent in the so-called settlement term that is in any way beneficial, or of utilitarian value to the victim,” he said.
RULAAC, as an organisation, also stated that it is seriously concerned about the desperate attempts by the accused to derail and pervert justice by interfering with the trial of the case at the Magistrate’s Court, adding that the role of Magistrate Olowolagba in compounding a heinous crime of rape/defilement by giving room for out-of-court settlement is worrisome.
RULAAC, through its Executive Director, Okechukwu Nwanguma, called on the Osun State’s Commissioner for Justice, and Attorney General to take interest in the case and to ensure that neither the accused nor the magistrate is able to derail justice in this heinous crime.
“RULAAC finds it nauseating that a Magistrate purportedly adjourned a crime as grievous as rape/defilement for possible “settlement.” This Magistrate ought to be investigated for likely compromise of his professional integrity…The physical and psychological integrity of the abused and traumatised minor must be protected. She demands and deserves justice and must not be denied,” the group held.
In his own reaction, National President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu who commended the 16-old-girl’s boldness and courage to fight for her right and justice, noted that under the criminal law, rape is a serious criminal offence that attracts huge punishment therefore, it is important the police did not compromise the case because it will enthrone impunity if nothing happens to the accused cleric.
The CDHR boss said that creating soft landing for the accused is like making him to walk free when he deserves punishment for his wrongdoing adding that if he was allowed to go unpunished, that next time he will commit heinous crime. Rather than just raping the girl, he could rape and kill. He urged the media and other rights groups to collaborate, and make sure the victim gets justice.
Ugwummadu said there is nothing like out-of-court settlement in a criminal case. Reiterating the position of Mrs Falana on the issue, he urged the state government to take the right step by taking over the case from the police.
“The charge against the accused cleric is not a proper charge; it is an attempt to scuttle the case, in order to make the accused go unpunished,” he argued. “The state government should rise up now to its constitutional duty. Why should the police draft a charge of molestation when the evidence at their disposal is pointing at rape? Why is the victim being pressurized by his late father’s family to let go of the case when she was the one who suffered the physical and emotional trauma? The only reliefs for the pains of the victim is justice, so, therefore we need to rally around her to get justice. I believe CDHR in Osun State is already aware about the case. I am also calling the media and other rights groups to network and make sure justice is served.”
Reacting, other right activists and lawyers submitted that the pressure being mounted on the victim and attempt by the accused and his lawyer to settle a criminal case out-of-court amounts to pervasion of justice. They called for the arrest of all those trying to subvert justice. They berated them for trying to constitute a clog in the wheel of justice. They called for the revocation of the bail granted to the accused and for the state government’s takeover of the case for proper investigation and prosecution.