One cold afternoon, 11-year-old Bisi Adebola (not real name) was running errands for her mother in Ipaja area of Lagos, when a paedophile living just few metres away from their house, called the girl into his house and raped her.
Shy and afraid, Bisi told her story, on the prompting of her mother, how the man, whom she referred to as ‘Alfa’, called her under the pretence that he wanted to send something to her mother.
The girl said, “He told me to follow him into his room and when I got inside and waited to collect what he said he wanted to give me, he locked the door and told me to sit down.
Bisi’s mother only suspected that something had happened to her daughter when the girl could not explain why she was one hour late from the errand she sent her.
Not knowing what her daughter had experienced, Bisi’s mother began to beat her. The girl then cried out and gave an account of what ‘Alfa’ had done to her. The mother promptly reported the case at the Ipaja Police Station.
Alfa was arrested and one week after, he was released on bail. Bisi’s mother lamented, “They have released the man. I asked them what they would do about the case but it is like they are not going to do anything. Imagine, a policewoman telling my daughter ‘You are a bad girl. You must have been enjoying it too.’ I felt like slapping the woman.”
Alfa was never prosecuted.
Bisi’s case attests to a systemic failure that has continued to give the crime a breeding ground. At the centre of this failure are the men and women of the Nigeria Police, whose attitude, actions and inactions have aided paedophiles to escape justice.
Unlike Bisi’s parents, many families of victims don’t even bother pressing charges.
Writer and columnist, Kaine Agary, says victims of sexual offences are often reluctant to press charges against offenders because the process of getting justice can be further traumatising. Most times, the cases die on arrival at the police stations where they are reported.
“The police are greatly hampered by lack of training and poor logistics for quick response. Most of them do not know what to do and how to handle cases of sexual violence. Policing and responding to sexual crimes require a high level of sensitivity and specialised skills in investigating and prosecuting. This, unfortunately, is lacking in the Nigeria Police,” Dr. Josephine Effa-Chukwuma, Executive Director, Project Alert, said.
The most heinous of sexual crimes sometimes end up unprosecuted because sometimes the only witness to the crime is too young or too afraid to explain what has happened and based on this, the police dismiss such cases.
This is similar to the case of Nofisat Balogun, a nine-year-old girl who was raped by a graduate of the University of Lagos, one Ikechukwu Obasi, in Pako Aguda area of Surulere, Lagos.
“I have never thought that the man could do that to my daughter. He was such a friendly person in our compound,” the victim’s mother, Bilikis, told our correspondent.
Nofisat a quiet and shy girl, whose eyes showed the painful memory of the experience she had gone through, said that she did not suspect anything when Obasi came into the room where she was reading in their apartment and gave her a N1,000 note to go and buy food for him.
“I bought the food and took it to him. When I went back to give him his change, he locked the door. He then used a cloth to cover my mouth and I could not shout. He then carried me to the bed and did ‘it.’ When he finished and I was bleeding, he said I should not tell anybody,” Nofisat said.
The case was later reported at the Aguda Police Division, Surulere, but the police said they had been unable to take any action because the culprit had fled.
But Obasi’s family approached Nofisat’s family, pleading to pay monetary compensation to settle the matter. To her amazement, one of the policemen investigating the case blamed Bilikis for not collecting the money they offered her.
“The policewoman in charge of the case said I should just collect the money they offered me and stop making noise. How can they tell me they want to pay N40,000 so that I would forget my daughter was raped? All I want is justice for my daughter. They have refused to produce the man,” Balogun’s mother said.
After a few days in police custody, Obasi was never arrested till date.
Like Balogun’s mother, thirty-six-year-old Sola Adebisi also had a bitter story to tell about police handling of the rape of her eight-year-old daughter, Lola (not real name), by a security guard in Ikorodu area of Lagos in January 2015.
In fact, Adebisi said the police at the Ikorodu Police Division turned the case on her in such a way that she felt as if her daughter was the culprit in the offence.
“One of the policemen even said to my face ‘Like daughter, like mother.’ Are they implying my daughter deserved to be sexually assaulted?” she said.
According to the single mother of two, who sells food at bus stop in Ikorodu, she sent her daughter on errand around 7.30pm at the close of work that day when she realised she took longer than usual.
“I went to look for her at the house later and Mr. Benjamin (the security guard, popularly called Baba Ijebu in the area) told me that she had left a while ago. I saw the containers there.”
Adebisi said it was when she turned to leave that she noticed her daughter coming out of a corner of the house. The mother demanded to know where her daughter had been but the girl could not give a satisfactory answer.
“I kept asking her and all she could tell me was that she did not get back on time because Baba Ijebu refused to open the gate on time. I knew she was lying and even threatened to beat her up,” she said.
The girl later told her mother about two instances of sexual assaults by the same man, who had warned her against telling her mother what he did.
“She told me that Baba Ijebu dragged her into a corner of the house and dipped his fingers in her private part. She said that day was the second time such thing would happen.”
The mother later reported the case at the Ikorodu Police Division, where policemen were drafted to arrest Benjamin but that the case was drawn out under different excuses by the police till they finally released Benjamin.
“Now, when Benjamin sees my daughter, he winks and laughs at her. She always tells me when that happens. The police have told me to forget about the issue and settle with the man. When I remained adamant, they started abusing me, blaming me for what happened. One of the policemen in charge of the case even blamed me for letting him (Benjamin) waste money he should have paid me as settlement on getting a lawyer,” Adebisi said.
These and many other cases indict men of the Nigeria Police and give a sense of lacking understanding of the enormity of sexual offences.
For as long as she could remember, eight-year-old Comfort had heard their long time tenant, 45-year-old Victor Aneke, call her different pet names.
“Sometimes, he called me ‘Baby’ but most of the time, he called me ‘my wife,’” the girl said.
Her father had travelled back to their village in Eastern Nigeria to oversee their investment back home, leaving the mother and the other children to themselves in a six-room apartment block popularly called ‘Face-Me-I-Face-You’ in Lagos.
Aneke had been living in the building as a tenant since 1999, long before Comfort was born. The girl grew up playing with their tenant’s children and most of the time, she watched movies in his sitting room just next door to their own.
But in April 2015, just few weeks after Comfort’s eighth year birthday, her mother observed as they came home from church that her daughter was walking with her legs apart. Her mother, Mrs. Grace Adebiyi, was not satisfied when she tried to find out what had happened to her daughter and the girl quickly told her she was fine.
By night, as the neighbourhood quietened to a deep slumber, she stood up from her bed and went to where her daughter slept. Adebiyi checked between her daughter’s legs and confirmed her greatest fear. Comfort’s private part had been badly bruised.
When Adebiyi volunteered to share her story later, Comfort had been taken to the hospital for a check. Doctors confirmed she had multiple lacerations consistent with sexual assault.
After a lot of pressure and threats from her mother, Comfort finally opened up. She fingered Aneke as the culprit.
But despite Aneke’s blatant denials, Comfort gave a detailed account of a sexual abuse that first began with Aneke touching her private part with his fingers.
“This is the first time he would put his ‘thing’ inside me. He always used his finger and would warn me never to tell my mother. It was very painful. I begged him to stop. I told him ‘Uncle, please stop, it is hurting me’ but he told me to endure it. I could not breathe. He covered my mouth with his hand when I wanted to shout because the pain was too much. I thought I was going to die,” Comfort explained.
Aneke was released from custody without being charged to court. When the police were asked why Aneke was roaming free, he was said to have been released “on medical grounds.” But it was later discovered that Mr. Aneke was hale and hearty.
He was later rearrested by policemen from the Ipaja division and charged to court after a Saturday PUNCH report.
Stories such as Comfort’s have become all too common in a country where a large percentage of sex offenders go unpunished.
Unfortunately, many states in the country do not have accurate or estimate data on the number of reported rape cases, which makes it difficult to fully quantify the number of sexual assault cases all over the country. But if one is to go by data available in Lagos State, there is no doubt that the incidence of rape is on a steady rise.
According to the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye, at least 12,120 rape cases were reported in the last four years. In the last one year alone, 140 sex offenders have been convicted in the state.
To show the alarming increase in sexual offences, the Lagos State Police Command said in 2013 that within one year, 678 cases of rape were recorded in Lagos. In 2015, the Office of the Public Defender, an agency under the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, said it handled 526 rape cases, apart from scores of others handled by the police but not directed to the OPD.
But experts say these statistics do not show the magnitude of child sexual abuses in the country as many of the offenders go unpunished even when their cases are reported to the police.
If one thinks that the rape of a child as young as four years old is heinous, then the case of 16-month-old Victoria will only stir utter incredulity in one’s heart.
Few weeks ago, Victoria (not real name) was raped at a daycare in Ikotun area of Lagos where her mother usually dropped her off before going to work.
By the time she went back for Victoria and brought her back home and tried to bathe her, she knew something terrible had been done to her daughter.
The angry mother said, “I had never imagined that something like this could happen. How can someone abuse my baby? She is not even one and half years old yet!
“I was bathing her when I noticed that when water splashed on her, she flinched. I tried to examine whether any part of her body was injured at school and noticed that her private part was bleeding.
“I had to immediately call my husband to explain what I noticed and we reported to the police.”
Victoria’s parents told said that they had been instructed to take her to the Mirabel Centre at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital for tests and treatment. Mirabel is Nigeria’s first sexual assault referral centre.
Police investigation on the case is still ongoing. As of the time of filing this report, the result of the series of tests conducted on Victoria was not yet out.
These cases simply point to how serious the issue of child sexual abuses have become in the country.
According to Partners for Justice, statistics shows that 80 per cent of sexual assaults victims in Nigeria are children between the ages of 11 and 15.
Nigeria’s anti-rape stance comes to the fore with a renewed focus as the country’s 8th National Assembly takes over the responsibility of making laws for the country. The 7th Assembly had hurriedly, among 45 other bills, passed the Sexual Offences Bill, 2013, sponsored by Senator Chris Anyanwu, just before the end of its tenure.
But Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, and human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, have staunchly opposed the new law, saying it is detrimental to the cause of eradicating rape.
The contentious section 7 of the passed bill, which defines child defilement as an act which causes penetration with a child, reads “(2)A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child aged eleven years or less shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life. (3) A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the age of 12 and 15 years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life. (4) A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the ages of 16 and 18 is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.”
Section 4 of the bill makes an earlier clarification about sexual assaults. It says, “(1) Any person who unlawfully penetrates the genital organs of a person with any part of the body of another or that person; or an object manipulated by another or that person except where such penetration is carried out for proper and professional hygienic or medical purposes; (1b)… is guilty of an offence termed sexual assault and liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than 10 years but which may be enhanced to imprisonment for life.”
Reacting to controversies which the bill has generated, Anyanwu explained that the situation had become so worse that an urgent intervention was needed.
She said, “Where we are now, the status quo, is a world in which a six-year-old child is raped to death and then set ablaze. Where we are now is a place where a father rapes his three-year old girl repeatedly and the mother weeps at night and cannot speak out of shame and fear of her life.”
The passed anti-rape law, which has yet to be assented to by the President, came about in the first place as a result of the worrisome high incidence of rape, especially of children, in the country.
The United Nations Children’s Fund said much of these sexual crimes are taking place in schools.
In a 2007 study in the northern and southern Nigeria, UNICEF revealed that 11 per cent of the female children in schools investigated have heard of rapes taking place in their schools.
“The high percentage of awareness of rape cases among female learners might be related to the fact that female learners are mostly victims of violence (especially sexual violence) in schools. The culture of silence prevalent in most Nigerian societies did not help matters as issues such as rape were most often concealed by victims,” UNICEF said.