Whether in urban and rural communities, the Nigerian child is a prey for sex predators and the streets are crawling with them
In his home at 8, Kolawole Sebili Street, Iyana Ejigbo in Lagos, 48-year old Sylvester Ehijere was a scourge. For many years, he sexually abused his two daughters, starting with the first, whom he serially violated until marriage took her away from home and her father’s unnatural attention. With her departure from home, Ehijere switched to her seven-year old sister. Adopting a carrot and stick approach, Ehijere made a string of unfulfilled promises and used threats to ensure compliance with his bizarre demands. “Whenever my mom is not at home, he grabs me, forces his hand over my mouth and then inserts his penis into my private part. He promises to buy a car, cake and biscuits, but he doesn’t buy anything for me. He also threatens to use a knife to remove my eyes any time I threaten to report to my mother,” the girl said.
There was no level to which Ehijere could not sink, a flaw that eventually did him in. One day in March, Ehijere’s wife took their granddaughter to a day care centre. However, her husband went there, took her home and raped her. When his wife returned home, she found the baby with blood stains on her pant. Further examination revealed that the blood had come from the baby’s private part.
Her head was in a whirl. Having once moved out of the home on account of her husband’s violation of her first daughter at 17, she half-hoped that it was not her husband that was responsible for the blood stains.
Whatever faint doubts remained evaporated when her seven-year old daughter disclosed that it was her husband who raped the baby! The little girl also alleged her father had also raped her on numerous occasions.
The noisy disagreement sparked by the girl’s disclosure attracted neighbours, who were not surprised at the allegation levelled against Ehijere–apparently because they knew of his first daughter’s ordeal in his hands. He was also known to have regularly battered his wife each time she complained about his incestuous relationship with the first daughter. Ehijere is currently facing trial for his alleged crime.
So are Kassim Mohammed, 43; one Daramola, popularly called Tobi, 21; and James Adenekan, 19. Mohammed, who is married, alongside the two other men, is facing trial for sexually assaulting a six-year old girl at her aunt’s home in Isheri, Lagos.
The three men, at various times, were said to have sexually assaulted the girl.
Another man facing trial for the same offence is Kehinde Paul Layode, 34, who is accused of raping a three year old girl left in his care. The girl’s mother was going to buy drugs from a pharmacy when Layode asked that she be left in his care. “I was going to make my hair at an hairdresser’s when I discovered that my daughter’s temperature was high and I told Kehinde’s wife to help take care of her. But she asked me to leave her with her husband since she also wanted to make her hair and that we should go,” said the girl’s mother. Obviously thinking that the mother would be gone for long, Layode decided to take liberty with her daughter. “It wasn’t up to ten minutes after I went to get the drugs for her that I returned to the house and asked Kenny (Kehinde) to open the door, but he didn’t. Instead, he told me that the girl was sleeping, that I shouldn’t bother myself about her. Then I asked him to at least open the door for me to see my girl and he said that he was in the bathroom,” she added.
The girl’s mother was stunned, when the door was eventually opened, to discover that her daughter had been violated. “When I pulled off her pant, I saw sperm in between her thighs. I got really mad at him and asked him what happened but he told me that he did not do anything,” said the mother. However, following a medical test, it was confirmed that the substance found on the girl was semen.
Two years ago, figures from the Office of Youth and Social Development, Lagos State Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development, revealed that there were 244 child rape and abuse cases between January and October of that year. Areas of prevalence were listed as Yaba, Agege, Ikeja and Surulere. Yaba, with 38 cases, had the highest rate of occurrence, while Agege, Ikeja and Surulere recorded 33, 32 and 20 cases within the same period. Next to them were Ikorodu, 18; Ojokoro, 17; Alimosho, 15; Ajegunle, 14 and Lagos Island, 10.
By last year, the figure had soared alarmingly. Figures for 2012, released by the government last February, listed 427 child rape incidents, with many left unreported by parents unwilling to reveal the identities of victims.
Child rape, an old vice that has become a new monster, is a national rather than a Lagos problem. In May last year, Mr. Ibrahim K. Idris, then Kano State Commissioner of Police, hinted that child rape was gradually becoming an epidemic. That month, the state police command arrested five child rapists and commenced their prosecution. One of the rapists, Isa Mohammed of Brigade Quarters, was arrested by a team of policemen on 12 May for raping a 13-year old groundnut hawker he had lured into a desolate location with money. The same day, one Muhammed Salisu of Yelwa Quarters, lured a six-year old girl into his room and had sex with her, “as a result of which,” said Idris, “she sustained injury on her private part.”
Five days later, men of the command also arrested Nura Magaji of Rogo town, who waylaid an eight-year old girl on her way to school, took her into a nearby house where he raped her and seriously injured her private part. Three days after, one Yakubu Ismaila was arrested for luring his neighbour’s daughter, aged six, into his matrimonial home and sexually abusing her. The last arrest of that month was of one Yakubu Abdullahi, 30, who tricked a five-year old girl into his room for sex. Idris explained that in all the cases, medical reports proving sexual intercouse were obtained by the police.
In January, a report by the Child Protection Network, a child rights advocacy group, listed 95 child rape cases in five northern states. The report, which did not indicate the period of time over which the incidents occurred, had Gombe State at the top of the chart with 50 cases. Kano was next with 22, while Bauchi, Plateau and Nasarawa yielded 11, eight and four cases respectively.
One of the reported cases in Bauchi featured a police officer, who allegedly raped nine underaged girls.
Early last year, a coalition of advocacy groups called on the Federal Government to urgently launch a war against the menace. In a statement signed by Dr. Emilie Secker, Advocacy Officer of Stepping Stones Nigeria, the groups expressed their worry at the exponential rise in the occurrence of child rape. The coalition, which documented the child rape cases as part of a project, which covered Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa and Rivers states, said: “The number of girls raped in the Niger Delta in the last six months is alarming.” Within the six months under focus, not less than 18 of such cases were recorded in Port Harcourt alone. The cases involved the rape of a 13-year old girl by a group of boys, the assault of two sisters–aged six and three–by one man and that of a 10-year old girl raped at gunpoint.
While penile penetration is usually the goal of the child rapist, there are other grotesque routes to their defilement of minors. These include digital penetration (the use of fingers), asking a child to sit on a man’s lap with the intention of touching sensitive parts of the child’s body and forcing a child into oral sex. Adojutielegan Olaniyi Abimbola, a 36-year old resident of 23 Adegboyega Street, Ilupeju, Lagos, was reported to the police for allegedly making his neighbour’s six-year old daughter to perform oral sex on him. He allegedly lured the girl into his apartment, locked the door, tied her hands behind her back, stripped naked and told her to get down on it. After pleasuring himself, he warned the girl not to tell anyone.
But the girl reported the matter to her parents, who confronted the abuser and also reported the matter to the police, who charged him to court. But when the trial opened, the victim’s parents said they were no longer interested in the matter because the parents of the accused had begged them and they had forgiven him. Consequently, the case was struck out by the court.
This is a common occurrence and an impediment to successful prosecution of rape cases in the country. Another impediment has, as example, the case of a 50-year old truck driver, who defiled a five-year old girl in Ejigbo, Lagos. The man allegedly inserted his finger into the girl’s vagina, after which he reportedly rubbed a cream on his manhood and forced it inside, badly bruising her. This, according to the victim, had happened twice before. The efforts of the girl’s mother to get justice was, according to her, frustrated by institutional obstacles. She claimed that when she took her daughter to a hospital to get a medical report, the authorities demanded money. At the Ejigbo Police Division, where she reported the matter, she further alleged, policemen demanded N5,000 to enable them carry out the investigation and engage a lawyer.
Dr.Princess Olufemi-Kayode, a gender activist and Executive Director of the Lagos-based Media Concerns Initiative, told TheNEWS that once a child has been sexually molested, it results in physical, psychological and sexual damages. Aside the risk of death, pains, injuries and risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, she explained, victims may end up having a phobia for opposite sex, acute stress reaction, rape trauma syndrome, low self esteem, nightmares, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or may become a sex pervert. The sexually abused child may also be tormented by shame and guilt. She may feel that she is responsible for the abuse or somehow invited it upon herself. This, she added, can lead to self-loathing and sexual problems such as promiscuity or inability to have intimate relations as victim grows older. “The scar is always there. It is like stabbing a heart and leaving the knife there,” she said.
A national daily quoted a rape victim who had suffered maladjustment as a result of having been raped four times on different occasions as saying: “I was not able to trust men. I had sleepless nights. I was traumatised. I attempted suicide twice after the two times I was gang-raped. I always took overdose of drugs so I could take my life. I was living irrationally. I noticed that I was a very friendly person and people tried to get close to me. With that I started being mean.”
According to experts, telltale signs of sexual abuse of minors include being excessively withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong. Such children, experts have observed, manifest extreme behavioural tendencies by being extremely compliant, demanding, passive or aggressive. They also do not show attachment to the parents or caregiver.
Nollywood star, Stella Damasus, is a famous figure in the fight against child rape. At many fora organised by the Project Alert on Violence Against Women, she has expressed fears over the safety of her daughters. Her fears were so intense at a time that she planned to take them out of the country. But since that has not materialised, she has taken to teaching her daughters on how to avoid being raped. She also famously declared her readiness to kill any man that rapes her daughters as well as going to jail for the murder. “I am involved in this fight because I have two daughters and I would die first before anybody would touch my daughters,” she declared.
On the lessons she teaches her daughters, Damasus said: “I taught my daughters that when any man, be he their uncle, brother or even a friend in the Nollywood industry, comes to the house, they should greet and go to their seats. If the visitor says, give me a hug, give them side hug. If he says give me a full hug, tell him mummy says that I shouldn’t do that. If he says sit on my lap, say no, I want to sit on the chair. If he says come let me buy you ice cream, tell them thank you. I told them if any man touches them between their chests and thighs, they should scream and run. I warned them that they should not stay there and later come and tell me a story. If his hands start to come to any part of your body that he should not touch, shout. I remind them of this every morning because they have to be taught. Thankfully, none of them has reported such to me. If that had happened, I would probably not have been sitting here with you. I may have been in jail. I will kill the man and go to jail,” she said.
One of the greatest enhancers of child rape is familiarity with the potential rapist. Fathers (like Ehijere), uncles, neighbours and acquintances have been known to abuse children’s (as well as parents’) familiarity with and trust in them.
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Dopemu, who live in Lagos, were taught this bitter lesson when their 20-year old domestic servant, Obong Thompson, defiled their six-year old daughter at their residence while they were away at work. When the Dopemus returned from work that day and noticed their daughter’s unusual mood, they examined her and discovered blood in her private part. The matter was reported at Bode Thomas Divisional Headquarters in Surulere, Lagos. In his confessional statement, Thompson wrote: “When both of us were at home alone, I saw her body naked. I was charged and emotionally carried away.”
Akah Mkereuwem Udoh, a 47-year old resident of Igando in Lagos, impregnated his 13-year old niece and, bizarrely, offered to marry her. Udoh brought the victim to Lagos to live with him, his wife and two children. But not long after she arrived in Lagos, Udoh started having sex with her and warned the girl not to tell anybody about it. When he realised that his niece was pregnant, he moved her out of his home to hide the hideous deed.
Trouble started when the victim’s family demanded to see her. He initially refused to disclose where he kept the girl until officials of the Lagos State Welfare Unit intervened and contacted the police. Upon arrest, he confessed to the crime and promised to marry the pregnant girl. That, however, did not save him from being charged to court.
Kayode Oladosu, 34, another trust abuser, lured a neighbour’s 10-year old daughter into his room at Kudeyinbu Estate, Isheri-Osun in Lagos. After the rape, the girl started bleeding and went to tell her mother. Oladosu said he raped the girl because he needed sexual release, but had no money to pay a prostitute for sex. “I did not intend to injure her. I just pushed my penis a little bit to release,” he said. He is also facing trial.
However, rape trials in Nigeria are a dime a dozen. Justice, by contrast, is as rare as a hen’s teeth. Mr. Ade Ipaye, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State, said the state could only secure judgments in six of last year’s 427 reported cases of child rape in the state because of difficulties in getting evidence. Majority of rape cases are either not prosecuted. Shame and fear of stigmatisation drive many victims either to settle out of court or take laws into their hands. In some cases, the police prevent rape victims from getting justice by demanding money for investigation and introducing other hurdles. The demand for corroboration as proof is something many rape victims cannot provide in court. In Banglandesh, a rape victim, Monju Begum, had to cut off a rapist’s penis during an attempt to rape her and took it to a police station as evidence. Begum told the police that the man, a married father of five, had been harassing her for six months, an allegation he denied.
Olufemi-Kayode also lamented the hurdles victim had to scale in order to get justice. She hinged it on a lack of an inbuilt system and crisis centres in the country. “We don’t even have a very good system that will make prosecution work. It is not that people abroad are better than us, but what they have done in other countries as far as sexual violence is concerned is that there are systems in place. They still have flaws, but you find out that there is an inbuilt process in place. If I am abused and I walk to the police station, I know I will get attention. So I know they will tell me the department that will deal with me. I should not talk about my sexual abuse on the counter. So, I am treated with dignity. I am not accused immediately; I am coming in as the victim. But here, from the very moment I enter the station as a woman who has been molested, I actually become the accused person and not the victim,” she said.
Aside from ensuring that victims get justice, she said, rape crisis centres also give medical attention to them. She bemoaned the fact that there is a wide communication gap between the social welfare officers, law enforcement agents and victims. “So that is why Mediacom set up its own crisis centre. We have a centre that someone could walk into and we can move the victim from this point to that point and it is good for them,” she explained.
Mrs. Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, Executive Director, Project Alert, told TheNEWS that though there is no national statistics on rape and sexual abuse in Nigeria, there seems to be an epidemic as hardly a day goes by that there is not one reported case of rape or the other in the media. She also said the seeming increase could well be due to increased reporting as a result of public awareness of the issue and the need to take action to end it.
Josephine Ada Kachikwu, Chairman, Delta State House of Assembly Service Commission, is of the view that the rising incidence of rape could be blamed on either the weakness of existing anti-rape laws, their insufficiency, non-implementation or a combination of all these factors. “In Nigeria, for instance, the provisions of the law focus on punishment of offenders without provision for victims. Rape laws in Nigeria need to be amended to match contemporary realities. The requirement of evidence for prosecution, for example, is challenging to cultural orientation. The victim is always expected to prove the allegation by reporting to the police immediately after the act, without destroying vital evidence,” she said.
Olufemi-Kayode told TheNEWS that most cases of child sexual abuse are often settled out of court because the families of both the abuser and the victim believe that if the case is made public their image would be badly soiled, so they do everything to cover it up. In such cases, the abuser is expected to pay compensation to the victim. That kind of settlement, she argued, does not compensate for psychological, physical and emotional injuries inflicted on the victims. Olufemi-Kayode believes child sexual abuse is increasing because social institutions such as the family, the police and religion help to perpetrate the act. Most families, churches and mosques, she argued, have as default mode, a desire to conceal cases of rape involving their members from “outsiders.”
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, is of the view that the defilement of minors is based on a superstitious belief that those who perpetrate such atrocities are going to become instant millionaires or acquire political power. This erroneous belief is similar to the myth in South Africa and Zimbabwe that if adults have sex with virgins, they will be cured of HIV/AIDS. Falana also said whatever may be the motivation for rape, government and all men and the general public must rise up to fight the trend. He also called for the abolition of corroboration as proof of rape and advised parents and guardians to be vigilant and report teachers, pastors and law enforcement officials involved in child rape. “On no ground should serious crimes be compromised and settled without trial… The requirement of corroboration as proof of rape is so unjust and unfair to victims as rape is never committed in the open. With medical evidence to prove penetration, there is no need for eyewitnesses,” he advised.
Kachikwu advised that rape victims, their family and friends must be encouraged to speak up. She is also of the view that arresting and punishing offenders will go a long way to reduce rape and help victims to regain confidence in the nation’s justice system, while regaining their self-esteem. “The establishment of forensic laboratories to assist law enforcement in accurately tracking down and investigating rapists is equally very important,” she advised.
Mrs. Funmi Falana, founder, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, WELA, also frowns at corroboration as proof of rape. “There is this requirement of the law that you need corroboration of the evidence of the victim. In other words, there must be a witness that would come to corroborate that it is true that the victim was raped by the alleged offender before a court can rely on the evidence of the victim, as if a rape case is a dinner party that you would invite a witness to come and attend,” she said. She added that most of these evidences are collated by the police, whose predilection for corruption is almost sure to make them destroy evidence and ruin the case.
Now that the government, law enforcement agencies and the justice system appear to be in a conspiracy against the sexually abused child, what is to be done? Olufemi-Kayode prescribes prevention. Parents, she advised, must communicate well with their children and give them religious education from an early age so as to guide them in their social interactions. “If somebody says come and touch my penis, because you have raised your child by teaching them that there are things that are appropriate and inappropriate, he or she is able to effectively deal with such. Your child knows that nobody touches his penis and he shouldn’t touch anybody’s penis,” she said.
Parents, she further advised, should erect privacy barriers such as not undressing in the presence of their children; deter children from being alone with males and ensure they know their whereabouts everytime.