The recent upsurge in rape cases in Nigeria has been condemned by many Nigerians. This is probably why the Minister of State (Health), Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora, has called for total penile amputation for perpetrators of the heinous crime. Mamora’s recommendation may appear too harsh, but it is a pointer to the fact that tough measures are required to control the rape epidemic. Therefore, the plan by the Federal Ministry of Justice to establish special courts for rape and other sexual and gender-based violence cases is a welcome development.
According to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the special courts “will create a timely/speedy trial of all pending and incoming rape and other related gender-based cases and facilitate their conclusion within record time.” The Ministry of Justice is said to be currently engaging with the respective heads of courts for this purpose.
Malami also explained that his ministry had started a review of the existing laws on rape, child defilement and other gender-based violence in Nigeria. This is with a view to proposing legislative changes required for effective prevention and investigative counter-measures.
There are also plans by the ministry to develop a framework for effective introduction of Sexual Offenders Register in police formations and in all security agencies across the country. This will facilitate public humiliation of the perpetrators and serve as a deterrent to others of their ilk.
We recall that the Ministry of Women Affairs launched this register last year. But many state governments have failed to domesticate it. It took the recent brutal rape and killing of the 22-year-old Miss Vera Uwaila Omozuwa in a church in Benin City for the Edo State Government to start working on launching its own register.
Nevertheless, it is gratifying that we appear to be getting more serious with efforts to tackle the menace. Both President Muhammadu Buhari and the state governors have pledged to get tougher with incidents of rape. Government is the guardian of the fundamental human rights of the citizens and any step it takes to protect those rights is most welcome.
We support every plan that will ensure speedy dispensation of justice for rape victims. We also believe that special courts will give expeditious hearing to rape cases because the essence of criminal justice is speedy trial. Excessive delays in criminal trials could lead to miscarriage of justice because justice delayed is justice denied.
Oftentimes, rape victims don’t get justice because of the stigma associated with the menace. Even when they summon courage to report some incidents, they are subjected to all manner of humiliating and embarrassing questions at the police stations and in the courts. At the courts, there are also delays and lack of diligent prosecution. Most times, investigating officers prolong the matters due to non-availability of witnesses. Sometimes too, there are lack of medical evidence, unnecessary adjournments, and financial losses which have psychological effects on the victims. The problem is not peculiar to Nigeria. In the United States, about 97 per cent of rapists escape the wrath of the law.
There are laws against the menace but they should be strengthened. While the Penal Code is applicable in all northern states, the Criminal Code is applicable in all southern states. Section 358 of the Criminal Code of Nigeria prescribes life imprisonment for convicted rapists with or without caning. There is also Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) 2015. The VAPP, a federal law, is all encompassing, but only nine states have reportedly domesticated it. Interestingly, the Federal Government has decided to push for the domestication of VAPP in all the states.
Besides, there is Child’s Rights Act signed into law 17 years ago. It is meant to protect children from sundry predators. Unfortunately, it has not been domesticated by 11 northern states. The Act provides that whoever is convicted of having sex with a child is liable to life imprisonment. Even with this law, cases of child defilement have also been on the increase. Recently, a father reportedly defiled his three-month-old daughter in Kaduna.
The question is: how many of these sex offenders have been convicted and jailed? Recently, the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Pauline Tallen, regretted that there were hundreds of rape cases in the courts that had not been addressed. And for every one case that was reported, 10 others had not been reported. About two million Nigerians are raped every year. The nationwide lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation.
With the proposed establishment of special courts, there is hope that there will soon be justice for rape victims. And that can only obtain if the plan does not fizzle out, like others before it.