Two years ago, a video in which five men gang-raped a woman and posted their atrocious act on the internet went viral and engendered a groundswell of outrage both locally and internationally. The one-hour long scrawny video showed the rapists mocking their victim, who begged to be killed due to the horrendous violation on her. Although the crime scene was believed to be a students’ hostel in Abia State University, ABSU, with the perception that the criminals were students of the institution, the university authorities denied there was “such inglorious act and ugly incident in the institution.”
Typical of Nigerian politicians, the Abia State Government said linking the crime with the institution was the handiwork of political opponents. In a characteristic fashion, the matter has been swept under the carpet. Even a special session involving the then Minister for Youth, Sports and Social Development, Bolaji Abdullahi, women’s and human rights advocates and House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights ended as a mere talk shop.
The most appalling revelation at the time came from the Commissioner of Police for Abia State who said the act “looked consensual”, without any detailed investigation. Last March, the police authorities finally found their voice, stating that the crime was committed in Obite, Rivers State, and with complicity of some relatives of the victim’s husband.
The recent expose by The Nation newspapers on the matter fit into earlier revelation by the police, but with a wide question mark on the latter’s (in)ability to dispense justice by bringing the perpetrators to book. The said report, which purported that the case was initially taken before a magistrate’s court that denied jurisdiction, while the victims have been set free, smack of negligence, collusion and corruption by the police to subvert justice.
Fundamentally, anyone with knowledge of our laws knows that the magistrate’s court lacks the juridical competence to try a capital offence. This is nothing but a travesty of justice, unpardonable insensitivity and fecklessness by the police, who are paid and maintained by tax payers’ money to protect the citizens. Why should we continue to trust that the police are our friends when criminals get reprieve for crimes committed against us?
Cases of rape in police detention complement the spiralling social malady that will ordinarily stupefy a sane mind and precipitate a national action were it committed in other climes where premium is placed on human lives.
The upsurge in rape cases in the country, many of which escape prosecution, underscores this worrisome trend that competes with corruption. A recent study by the Positive Action for Treatment Access, PATA, attributed HIV prevalence and lower age of first sex among adolescents of between 10 and 19 years to “forced sex”, among other social factors.
We stridently call on the police to revisit the Abia rape saga and make the culprits face the music. We ask that our criminal justice system be reviewed to shift the burden of proof in favour of rape victims, while special departments be created across police formations in the country in collaboration with feminist rights advocates to provide needed succour to encourage rape victims to report abuse, as well as prevent stigmatization. We equally urge the government and its relevant agencies to wake up to its responsibility by combating this cancerous scourge which is fast tearing our social fabric into shreds.