The recent revelation by the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Pauline Tallen that during the relaxed lock-down in the country to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, a total of 3,600 cases of rape were recorded is not only alarming but quite despicable and reprehensive. The undesirable situation tends to lend credence to the call for stiffer punishment for rapists like death penalty and castration.
The minister made the disclosure during a courtesy visit on the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege. She said the rape cases were like 100 cases per state. According to her, the cases were compiled based on reports gotten from commissioners of women affairs across the 36 states of the federation. “During the Covid-19-induced lock-down, each state recorded not less than 100 cases of rape,” she said.
The development is coming on the heels of commendation by the United Nations Women (UN Women) on the approval of the bill by the senate against sexual harassment of women. In a letter dated July 7, 2020, signed by Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS and addressed to the deputy president of the senate, the minister noted that “UN Women stands ready to support the federal and state level efforts to implement this important legislation in the period ahead, working closely with women’s constituencies, students, educational institutions and other relevant stakeholders”.
She noted that by this development, lawmakers have written their names in gold. She also applauded the Nigeria Governors Forum for declaring a state of emergency on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence. Senator Tallen also called for more legislation to protect the girl-child and women.
In his response, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege said the approval of the Sexual Harassment Bill by the senate was in furtherance of its legislative agenda, which seeks the protection of women’s rights. He noted that when signed into law, it would not only send a strong signal to those who may want to abuse women but ensure that students are not at the mercy of ‘sexual predators’.
Omo-Agege commended his colleagues for looking beyond cultural, ethnic and religious differences to approve the bill. He also called on the minister and her entourage to equally reach out to the House of Representatives to immediately concur to the bill. He said: “This bill was conceived in the Eighth Senate. The reason we did it then is not any different from the reason we pushed it again in this Ninth Senate. But let me just say that we received overwhelming support of our colleagues who came to the conclusion that it was right that we did something about this because this is not an epidemic but a pandemic.
“For most of us who went through higher institutions, we know what happened. It is just that some would rather see it as business as usual. But having convinced my colleagues that this shouldn’t be business as usual and we needed to arrest the situation, we had to rise above our cultural, ethnic and religious differences to be able to make the case that an attack of this nature on our daughters, sisters, wives in Warri is not any different from an attack in Sokoto, Maiduguri or anywhere. And we needed to move past that culture of lecturers who see our young women as perquisites of their offices. And we thought we should put a stop to that.
“The bill is one of the few bills that was sponsored almost by all the senators in the Ninth Senate. This is not necessarily an Omo-Agege bill but a bill of the Ninth Senate. We took this decision in furtherance of our Legislative Agenda which includes amongst others the protection of women’s rights. We are also in support of strengthening our anti-rape laws both under the Criminal Code and Penal Code. We will also make it in such a way that there will be better appetite for enforcement of the laws, once we create the enabling environment that encourages the prosecutors to prosecute it, the better for us”.
On Affirmative Action, he said the senate would examine what obtains in other jurisdictions and make informed decisions. Female parliamentarians who joined Senator Omo-Agege at the meeting include the Chairperson, Senate Committee on Women Affairs, Senator Betty Apiafi; Senator Stella Oduah and Senator Akon Eyakenyi.
It is disheartening that rapists have been on the prowl around the country inflicting hardship and trauma on their hapless victims and their relatives, some of whom resort to committing suicide in order to avoid stigmatization. It is on the backdrop of this gory picture that we call on the National Assembly and President Muhammadu Buhari to accelerate the passage of the Sexual Harassment Bill and its expeditious assent, respectively. It is expected that when passed into law, the bill will, to a large extent, serve as a deterrence to rape.