Daily we wake up to read print and social media reports of various forms of attacks on women and girls in Nigeria, the most popular forms being domestic and sexual violence. Not only do we read of them, we all (if truth be told) have either been witnesses to or have been perpetrators of these heinous crimes. The prevalence of these two crimes against the female gender in particular is well documented. Sexual violence, especially, has assumed epidemic proportions in Nigeria, with children, ages 0-17 years constituting over 70 per cent of the victims.
Project Alert on Violence Against Women in a 2013 report (further revised in 2017) titled, “A Silent Epidemic: Sexual Violence In Nigeria,” documented the huge prevalence rate of sexual abuse of children in Nigeria. The perpetrators are 95 per cent of the time not strangers to the children. They are people they know, love and trust. They are family members, friends and neighbours, including fathers, cousins, uncles, drivers, teachers, pastors, imams, etc. the perpetrators are not “devils” with long tails and pitchforks that haunt our cultural imaginary, but regular folks, “the good” people we mingle and interact with daily, at home, work, in religious environments etc. For child sexual abuse to occur, there must be access and opportunity. This means that the perpetrator must not only have access to the child, there must also be an opportunity to strike.
This is why majority of child sexual molesters, are people the children are very close to and comfortable with. For decades, silence was a weapon used to perpetrate acts of violence against women and girls in Nigeria. However in the last two-three decades, series of advocacy efforts by NGOs in Nigeria, have led to more societal awareness and understanding of the twin problem; and improved access to justice for victims and their families. However impunity remains a cog in the wheel of progress. Impunity is exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of one’s action. The failure of state to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice and as such a denial of the victim’s right to justice and redress. In a corrupt nation like ours, where the rule of law is to a large extent lacking, and patronage is the order of the day, impunity strives at a very high level.
This is the case with Nigeria and reported cases of domestic and sexual violence. It is indeed sad that even in the face of the child sexual abuse epidemic we are having in the country, impunity is allowed to strive, as perpetrators, who are socially connected to the high and mighty, or have people in positions of power often succeed in killing the cases and getting away with the crimes they committed. This is what is being attempted now in the on-going case of 13 year old Elizabeth Ochanya, who battled Vesico Vaginal Fustilae (VVF) and other complications, before dying at Ultimate Care Hospital in Otukpo, Benue State last week Wednesday, October 17th, due to over four years of alleged sexual abuse by a man and his son. The man, 51 years old Andrew Ogbuja, a staff of Benue State University; and his son Victor Ogbuja, a student of
Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, for four years (from when Ochanya was 9 years old to 13 years), had been allegedly sexually abusing her anally and vaginally. According to reports, they took turns practically every night to rape the girl, who lived with them as a ward to the wife/mother of the house, Mrs. Ogbuja, who happens to be her aunt. Sometimes they would drug her before raping her. The matter was first reported to the police by FIDA early August, and attempts were made to arrest both father and son. While the police succeeded in arresting the father, the son escaped. The father Andrew Ogbuja was arraigned before an Upper Magistrate Court 1 in Makurdi on August 13, 2018 and was granted bail on August 23, 2018. On the next adjourned date of September 24th 2018, the court did not sit and the matter was further adjourned to November 5th. Unfortunately, Ochanya died last week Wednesday. Since the news broke on the social media last week Thursday, there has been a huge public outcry for justice for this young child. In the midst of the public outcry and call for justice, there has also been news of attempts by some people to scuttle efforts at ensuring justice. While awaiting the official release of the autopsy report, which was done last week Friday, there have been unconfirmed news of attempts by a senator from Benue State whose PA is related to the culprits, and a Reverend Father to kill the case. Also there have been reports of the girl’s family being threatened with violence and possible death, if they don’t let go. IMPUNITY at its peak, this is.
As a nation and as a people, we cannot continue to seat back and watch while evil continues to reign. We cannot continue to mortgage our individual future, and the future of this great country, by tolerating and condoning violence and impunity as it affects our children and young persons. We ALL must RISE UP to say NO to sexual abuse in Nigeria. We all have a role to play and there are things we can do individually and collectively to stop child sexual abuse in particular. The things we can do include; Become educated about the problem of sexual assault and its consequences; Speak out against attitudes and behaviours that contribute to a culture where violence against women and girls is condoned and often encouraged; Men: Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women; Studies have shown that most men who commit violent acts are supported in their attitudes and behaviours by some of the men close to them. As such, men are in a position to support and/or challenge other men’s pro-violence attitudes and behaviours. Do not let your silence infer permission; Believe and support victims of sexual assault. Show survivors that you hold offenders, not victims, accountable for their crime; There are no innocent bystanders.
Speak up and challenge those who would commit acts of sexual violence; dispel the myths surrounding sexual assault that put the burden of responsibility on the victim and excuses the offender; Support harsh penalties for perpetrators of all sexual assault crimes, including castration; Support organizations in your community that provide services to sexual assault victims; Support legislation that promotes and protects the rights of all women to live free from fear of personal violence, i.e. sex trafficking, pornography, stalking, sexual solicitation of minors, sexual harassment; Invite an NGO in your locality to make a presentation to your group, school or organization; Instil the values of dignity and respect for all people and cultures; Parents: Take responsibility to talk to your children about sex and healthy relationships, be aware of the negative influences in our culture (music, radio/TV, movies, internet) that tend to demean or devalue women and girls and take steps to counter; Recognize and speak out against media that creates a toxic cultural environment in which sexual violence is encouraged, i.e. advertisements that glorify and encourage the objectification of women and girls. Turning a human being into a thing is the first step towards committing violence against that person; Make sure your institution, organization or business has policies, practices and procedures relating to sexual harassment. For example, a lack of policies in the workplace can send a message that sexual harassment is tolerated, and that there may be few or no consequences for those who harass others.
– Effah-Chukwuma is of the Project Alert On Violence Against Women
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