In spite of condemnations and protests launched against rape and all types of sexual crime in Nigeria over the years, this terrifying act has continued to fester across the country.
Since last month, a rash of violent and deadly sexual crimes has been sweeping through several states, and more Nigerians are becoming concerned.
On the social media, many individuals and civil groups have been canvassing that more definitive actions by the authorities are needed against perpetrators of sexual violence.
The most shocking rape crimes recorded recently were laced with murder, sparking public outrage.
Family of Vera Omozuwa, a 22-year-old Microbiology undergraduate of the University of Benin, who was raped and killed within the church hall of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, where she went to study, are still in mourning, weeks after the killing.
A few days after, Barakat Bello, 18, was reportedly gang-raped in her paternal home in Ibadan, Oyo State. Another girl, 12, in Jigawa State, was brutally raped over a period of two months.
The frequency and brutality of the crimes forced many Nigerians to take to the streets in protest. They called for a quick prosecution of suspected rapists and other perpetrators of sexual crime. They also demanded a state of emergency and sexual reference centres as well as a register for offenders. This led Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, after a meeting with the National Human Rights Commission, to urge the states to adopt the federal laws that protect women against violence.
The resurgence of sexual violence became more glaring during the lockdown imposed on the nation by the Federal Government to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The major cause of these unprecedented rape incidents should be attributed to the shutdown of brothels, hotels and quick-fix sexual corners that litter the nooks and crannies of Nigeria’s major city centres,” explained Olanrewaju Onafowokan, a Lagos-based lawyer. “Man is known to consistently battle his high sexual libido daily and this sexual energy must be geared towards enjoying sexual satisfaction from a female.”
The lawyer attributed the spike in rape on the shutdown imposed on social life.
“The high spate of rape incidents can also be blamed on the non-availability of social interactive atmosphere due to the lockdown, as people are meant to maintain six feet distance from each other and so room for virile discussion has been defeated. So, this has enabled so many men to derive joy and solace from engaging in a raping spree,” he said.
But many protesters who marched in the streets declared that no excuse was potent enough to justify rape. They argued that a woman should not be sexually assaulted and killed for any reason at all.
Abigail Gogo-Ogute, a broadcaster, noted that a dysfunctional security system would always occur wherever the government has failed. She expressed hope that government could ensure security of all Nigerians to forestall recurrence of rape crimes. In her words, a functional security system would encourage potential victims to call for help in times of danger.
“We know that, with the Nigerian situation, it’s almost impossible to respond promptly to distress calls, judging by the lack of geographical data readily available to government to salvage dangerous situations. The menace of rape will stop if a rape victim knows that she will be saved if she calls security officers who will arrive promptly to salvage the situation and close in on the perpetrators.
“Our young men must be taught to seek consent, our young women must be taught the importance of being wooed by a man and not taking the man by force. There are females that rape men. A lot of people need to unlearn all they know about sex and the idea of having persons of the opposite sex as tools for sexual pleasure. Parents have a lot to play in preventing their children from falling prey. They have to teach them to have proper behaviours.”
To ensure a rape-free society, Gogo- Ogute urged government to tie all loose ends in handling rape-related matters. “Our government will have to step up in their responsibility to prosecute rape suspects, and I don’t mean the payment of fines and serving six months or maybe six-year jail terms. Stiffer penalties are required, especially for rapists who double as murderers too.”
The broadcaster noted that the inadequacies of law enforcement agencies and the legal system were usually a threat to victims seeking justice. After a crime has been reported, it takes time before any conclusive investigations are done and punishments are meted out, she noted.
“I am yet to see a public display of the punishment meted out to rape offenders. We hear stories like, three suspected rape suspects haven confessed to the crime and have been arraigned. But what happens afterwards? There is always a blackout at the end of these prosecutions and I think the public should be privy to see and watch what punishments are given to offenders. Else, we will continue to cry out for government to end the menace of rape and still be counting increasing numbers of the same rape cases. So, if I have to instil fear in Rapist B, I must make him see the torture and punishment Rapist A suffers.”
Ngozi Udofia , founder, Splendour Vintage Heights Foundation, noted that the stigma attached to victims of rape was another torture being faced by rape victims.
“Protecting victims who are willing to speak or have voiced out is taxing,” she noted. “They need to be shielded from their abusers and the general public. They need counselling so that they can integrate back into the society without being vengeful and depraved. Leaving them helpless is like making a mockery of the wounds that may never heal in their lives.
“The stigma and trauma of being a known rape victim is enough to make victims stay silent and act abnormal in most cases.
“If a victim complains about rape, first investigate that case and bring justice to the guilty, instead of blaming the victim and accusing them of being responsible. Victims must be protected from insensitive talks and blames, if we have to end this ugly occurrence of rape. Government must make laws and set fines for people who try to shame rape victims. That way, more people will come out and speak up.”
She encouraged victims to speak up when the need arises. “Your voice can save the next potentially unsuspecting victim,” she counselled.