From Borno state last week came a disturbing report that parents of rape victims were frustrating the prosecution of suspected sex robbers.
Expressing the frustration is the Chairman of a Non-Governmental Organisation based in Maiduguri, Muryar Talakawa (Voice of the Common man), Malam Sale Bakoro Sabonfegi.
Speaking with Kanem Trust in Maiduguri, Sabonfegi accused parents of rape victims of frustrating his organisation’s efforts while seeking their consent and cooperation towards prosecuting rape suspects.
He said that when confronted for details of how it happened and to seek their consent and cooperation for the prosecution, some fathers of victims would decline to volunteer information needed to institute court action.
He said, “They often argue that it would be injurious to the personalities of the raped girls as well as stigmatise them in the community. In fact, they oppose going to court outright.
“So, what we usually do is to ignore such opposition by the parents, even telling them that although the girls are their daughters, they are government properties and, therefore, the rape committed against them is a crime against the state. Then we report the case to the nearest police station for prosecution in court.”
Sabonfegi also assured that his NGO is always determined to follow rape cases to their logical conclusion even if the suspect is an influential member of the society.
He further said that even if the case is being suppressed by suspects, “the moment we hear about it in whispers, we will squeal it and try to get it prosecuted.
“In this way, we have been able to intervene in rape cases and got no fewer than 50 per cent prosecuted across the North-East in the last two years.”
Rape incidents have become so rampant lately across the country. Hardly does a day pass by without cases of rape catching the media attention. Even law enforcement agents who are supposed to offer protection to vulnerable members of the society as well as beggars are involved in the despicable practice. Instances abound of policemen falling on women in their custody. Teachers, head teachers and principals have been reported to have forced themselves on their pupils and students. Fathers are also defiling their daughters, including minors.
Rape is carried out using different methods. The Penal Code (Nigerian Laws Cap 89), applicable in the North of Nigeria, criminalises both rape and defilement (rape of a girl under 13 years). Rape is defined here thus: “A man is said to commit rape when he has sexual intercourse with a woman in any of the following circumstances – against her will; without her consent; and when her consent is obtained by putting her in fear of death or hurt.”
While there are rapists who pin themselves on their victims for sheer physical pleasure, there are those whose actions are driven by the desire to acquire spiritual powers. Some ignorant men even believe that unprotected intercourse with virgins is an antidote for HIV/AIDS or poverty as espoused by marabouts, witch doctors or other agents of the devil. In the end, they infect their innocent victims with the deadly virus.
These abominations are not limited to the social vermin. Men of God are also involved in the crime. There are cases of pastors raping members of their churches. While some force themselves on their victims, others have carnal knowledge of their victims using spiritual cleansing and deliverance as a ridiculous alibi to achieve their goals. Rapists have no taste. They go for anything in skirts or wrappers: young, middle-aged, grand or great grandmothers.
Several factors also promote this phenomenon especially among the minors. Chief among them is hawking. It is a common thing to see underage girls swarming all over the place selling all manner of items ranging from groundnuts, oranges, plantains, sachet water and tomatoes to kola nuts in order to boost their family incomes during or after school hours. These hawkers easily fall prey to rapists who are always on the lookout for easy targets. Some states have banned the practice. Other states should follow suit.
Under the Nigerian law, rape is punishable by life imprisonment, with the possible addition of caning. However, rarely has the law been enforced. Nigeria is perhaps the only country that treats rapists kindly. Rapists are worse than armed robbers. A robbed woman can regain her possession. But a rape victim is robbed of her dignity and honour which cannot be recovered. The scars left on the victims do not heal: the psychological and physical traumas make many avoid healthy sexual activity. If not properly counselled, the victim could become a hater of men and lead a very unhappy and unfulfilled life.
It is common for rapists to blame the devil when they are caught. The public also easily forgives them, blaming the devil instead for possessing them. And because families tend to protect their daughters who have been defiled or raped from public stigma, most rape cases are never reported. Such secrecy enables rapists to escape punishment.
This attitude should change. Victims and their families should henceforth stop hiding their pains and people should stop stigmatising them. Rapists should be treated like armed robbers or kidnappers. Recently, there were calls in some quarters that convicted rapists should be sentenced to death or castrated.
In the light of the frustration faced by Sabonfegi’s NGO, we call on the National Assembly to amend the extant rape laws so that parents or relations of victims opposing prosecution of suspects could be treated as accomplices.
We also urge judges handling rape cases to expedite action on them. Rapists should not be handled with kid gloves. No punishment should be considered too severe for these criminal elements.