Over the past week-plus, there have been reports on a number of cases of sexual violence and assault against women and girls. There was the case of Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old student of UNIBEN who died after she was raped and assaulted in an RCCG church building; there was Farishina, a 12-year-old girl who was raped by 11 men in Jigawa State.
On the 1st of June, another young woman, 19-year-old Barakat Bello was raped and murdered in her home in Ibadan. These news reports came just days after a 16-year-old girl, Tina Ezekwe was shot by a policeman in Lagos and later died in the hospital.
These cases and those of many other victims of gender-based violence, have incited outrage across the country, and rightly so. Not only are people demanding justice for these young women and the others whose names we don’t know, they are also taking actions to project their voices and make sure they are heard.
Groups of people across Nigeria have come together both on the streets and online to demand for justice and protest against the violent acts of rape and brutality and the immeasurable suffering many young girls and women all the over country have been subjected to.
Users have also joined in the fight for justice by trending a number of hashtags including #JusticeForUwa, #JusticeForTina, #JusticeForJennifer, #JusticeForBarakat, #JusticeForAda #FreshStartForFarishina #StopRapingWomen, #StopKillingUs and also speaking out across social media platforms.
The policemen involved in the shooting which led to Tina Ezekwe’s death, have been indicted and disciplinary measures have been commenced against them. The 11 men who raped Farishina in Jigawa have also reportedly been arrested.
The Governor of Edo state, Godwin Obaseki stated on twitter that he “ordered the Nigeria Police Force to thoroughly investigate the circumstances that led to the death of Miss Vera Uwaila Omozuwa”. Two days later, it was reported that the suspect involved in the murder of Uwaila had been arrested.
These events may suggest that justice is on its way to being served for the victims, but we’re not completely sure this will come to pass as it tends not to for victims of rape, sexual assault and police brutality, on account of our flawed justice system.
For one, laws pertaining to rape in Nigeria are not all-encompassing or favourable to all victims of rape. These laws, namely the Criminal Code, the Penal Code and the Criminal Laws of Lagos State fail to not only criminalise the rape of men and boys, but also explicitly state that rape in marriage is not regarded as a criminal offence.
The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, although defining the law on rape to apply to male victims and providing that a publicly accessible register is to be maintained for convicted sex offenders, does not make provisions for cases of marital rape.
In addition to the issues with Nigerian rape laws, the rate of rape and sexual assault cases, in contrast with convictions in the country, is alarming and certainly does not provide us with much solace or hope that the justice we’re fighting for will be served. The International Centre For Investigative Reporting found that 65 rape convictions were made from 1973 up until 2019.
A 2014 National Survey on Violence Against Children in Nigeria found that “24.8% of females and 10.8% of males aged 18 to 24 years experienced sexual abuse prior to age 18.” Furthermore, a 2016 study on trends and patterns on sexual assaults in Lagos South-Western Nigeria found that there had been “a steady increase in the proportion of reported rape cases of sexual violence over the years.” In addition to this, young people under the age of 20 constituted the majority of victims.
Nigerians have no doubt, come together to stand in solidarity and fight the many injustices that face us on a daily basis, but with laws and statistics such as these, how can we confidently fight and bring perpetrators to book when the system is clearly not set up for us to successfully achieve this?
Furthermore, not only do we have to fight those who aim to harm and oppress us and fight for justice to be served, we are also in a war against the frightening mindset that has allowed these crimes against women, these injustices, to thrive for as long as they have with little to no consequences.
In a statement released by UNIBEN, on the rape and murder of Uwaila Omozuwa, the university’s vice chancellor, Professor Lilian Salami expressed condemnation on the acts carried out by the suspects and commiserated with the family of the deceased. In the same light however, she ventured into the grounds of victim blaming and warned “all young people to be wary of the company they keep and the places that they visit.”
This statement, no doubt highlighted the crass culture of victim blaming that unfortunately always rears its ugly head whenever a rape case is reported or a survivor tells their story. It even appears in cases of police brutality with comments expressing that victims would probably be alive if they “didn’t resist arrest”, as if George Floyd or so many others resisted arrest.
How long do we have to shout and scream that rape is never the victim’s fault? It doesn’t matter what we’re wearing, what we do, where we visit, how trusting we are of other people. Rape is no one else’s fault but the rapist. For crying out loud, children and even babies get raped and of course, you’ll rarely find a rape apologist or victim blamer questioning what little children wore or what they did to warrant their rape so why on earth do women get riddled with these questions when they are raped?
We’ve unfortunately been tasked with the burden of fighting this double enemy and trying to make people understand that this mindset continues to endanger women, and even further, getting these same people to condemn these immoral and criminal acts continues to be a struggle. We’re even criticised when we express our fear of being victims of gender-based violence.
On the 31st of May, Genevieve Nnaji tweeted a statement in support of the fight for justice for the victims.
“They either abuse their power, or have the power to abuse. In or out of uniform, we live in constant fear of men. Tina Ezekwe. Vera Omozuwa. Rest In Peace my darlings. We will get justice.”
This apparently triggered some men who made sure to express their disapproval for Genevieve’s statement. And, what seems to have angered them was her mentioning the fact that us women and girls live in fear of men. A number of men claimed that her aim was to use the tragedy as a means of inciting a “war against men”. Some tried to make excuses for these atrocious acts and others, of course, attempted to redistribute blame.
How can we truly achieve the justice we strive for when it feels like so many people are absorbed by their mindset and myopic views that they can’t see past the issues that affect them or the supposed attacks against their characters and in turn, don’t try to understand the plight of others and the issues at hand? It’s never the victim’s fault in cases of rape, sexual assault and police brutality and it’s more than frustrating that we can’t completely band together to fight for victims and castigate assailants and criminals.
Time and time again, when it comes to these types of cases against women, we have to fight for victims to be heard, supported and understood. Not only were the 65 women who were arrested by policemen in Abuja in April 2019 on claims that they were prostitutes, some of whom were raped by the policemen, denied any form of justice. They were also criticised and dismissed by some parties with comments by officials applauding the raids that led to the unwarranted arrests of these women.
Not only was Busola Dakolo denied justice in court, she was also criticised and condemned even by other women when she came out publicly in June 2019 to share that she was raped by Biodun Fatoyinbo.
On Thursday the 4th of June, Busola Dakolo shared an update on her case against Biodun Fatoyinbo stating that the police had handed its report over to the Federal Ministry of Justice for his onward prosecution. She however shared that the Ministry has been quiet about the case so far and there have been reported attempts by parties to throw a wrench in the prosecution process.
The delays in prosecution by the Ministry and attempts to halt the process further attest to the fact that we are indeed always in a war against multiple enemies when it comes to attaining justice for survivors of rape and sexual assault. These issues also do not provide us with much hope that justice will finally be served in this case.
Women across the country have also come online to share their personal experiences with rape and sexual assault. The trauma that comes with going through these experiences in addition to the culture of victim blaming and the persistence of rape apologists undeniably makes it ever so difficult for survivors to share their stories.
It is absolutely crucial that we fight for survivors while applauding their courage in speaking out against their abusers and seeking justice as this will surely bring us a step closer to overthrowing the system that has long oppressed and aimed to defeat rape and sexual assault survivors.
On the other side of the world, across the United States, protests continue to rage on. Sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more black lives throughout history, the protests and the racially-fuelled conflicts that have resulted from this are another example of the failure of some of us humans to champion for each other’s individual and collective rights.
Sure, we may not always agree with or understand each other or have the same beliefs, but justice is surely that much harder to achieve when a tendency to blame victims and a failure to hold assailants accountable for their crimes continuously attempt to derail the fight.
There’s no room for this mindset in a house focused on attaining justice. There’s no excuse for not being compassionate and empathetic enough to hear others around us and understand the injustices that different groups of people face in our society, whether they directly affect us or not.
And there’s certainly no reason why we can’t all join forces and lend a voice against these injustices and acts of violence and do everything in our power to fight for one another and fight for the greater good.
You can join in the fight for victims of rape and sexual assault to get justice by volunteering with or donating to vetted NGOs dedicated to fighting for these causes. Some of these are the Women at Risk International Foundation, Stand To End Rape Initiative, the Lagos State Domestic Sexual and Violence Response Team, Mirabel Center and The Consent Workshop.
You can donate to the trust which has been set up by two young women, Jola Ayeye and Feyikemi Abudu to help and provide a better life for Farishina via https://justpaga.me/freshstartforfarishina or https://flutterwave.com/pay/freshstartforfarishina for international payments. More information can be found at http://freshstartforfarishina.com/.
A fund has also been set up to support Tina Ezekwe’s family. You can donate to this fund at https://justicefortinafund.com/.
You can make a donation towards attaining justice for Uwaila Omozuwa via https://flutterwave.com/pay/justiceforuwa which will go directly to her sister.
There are also petitions you can sign on change.org which are dedicated to getting justice for some of the victims of rape, assault and police brutality.
Furthermore, a petition has been set up to push for consent-comprehensive sex education to be made compulsory in Nigerian schools.
Featured Image sourced from @ayodejiosowobi (Instagram)