The ECOWAS Court verdict in favour of a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) personnel, who was raped by her superior officer, Flight Lieutenant B. S. Vibelko, and was dismissed from the service after she made a complaint, has raised concerns about similar cases that may have been gagged in the military.
On paper, in the Nigerian military, there are no gender roles, both male and female are seen as equals; having the same mind, agility, and mental strength that has formed the core of their being. However, the oath of secrecy and male-dominated military have gagged women; they are verbally sexualised even before any physical contact with their colleagues and superiors.
A female soldier recently shared her experience, where, according to her, she “was never sexually assaulted physically, but sexist language and songs in the Nigerian military is not only common, it is officialised and reporting sexual harassment seem to be unhelpful to one’s career because at the end the victim is victimised.”
The ECOWAS ruling of April 30, which withheld the name of the aircraftwoman who was awarded $200,000 (N90 million) in damages, underscores the deep problem of sexual-based violence in Nigeria and victimisation of women.
The aircraftwoman narrated how her frantic effort to resist getting raped was overpowered by the said Flight Lieutenant Vibelko who hit her head against the wall several times in the process. Her passing out did not stop him from proceeding with his heinous act.
Evidence also showed that he drugged her before taking action on May 17, 2011. Despite medical evidence that revealed sexually transmitted infections, which “resulted in chronic pelvic inflammatory disease growing solid mass close to her uterus,” she was illegally dismissed from service.
When the victim was enrolled into the Nigerian Air Force with Service No NAF10/25157F, little did she envisage that this would be the story that would end her meritorious military career.
According to her narration, her male superiors in the Nigeria Air Force, rather than investigate and mete out appropriate sanctions, subjected her to unprecedented intimidation, victimisation and threat to her life.
“The Applicant added that she was often locked up in the guardroom for no reason, placed on constant punishment duties, constantly accused and put through various degrees of punishment, imprisonment with hard labour, often dragged on the ground and beaten to the point of comatose whilst nude with bruises all over her body.”
Marshall added that the applicant also disclosed that she received death threats from several officers of the Nigerian Air Force who threatened to kill her for daring to expose a NAF officer for raping her.
And that “a regimental entry was made into her file stating that she should never be promoted with her colleagues up until her unlawful dismissal, which was dutifully carried out.”
According to the victim, she served several unjustifiable rifle punishment ordered by Squadron leader Ilori, the OC provost, “for daring to report the ‘rape incident,’ from September 28, 2015, to October 1, 2015.”
Justice Dupe Atoki of the ECOWAS Court who read the verdict described the applicant’s experience as “undeserving of a human being” and failure to investigate and serve justice by the Nigerian Air Force and appropriate authorities was a show of impunity.
“The Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian authorities are hereby ordered to arrest, investigate and prosecute the perpetrator … what amount of money is enough to compensate a teenager gruesomely raped by her superiors on her way to womanhood?” the Judge ruled.