The rape and murder of girls in Nigeria over the past week has triggered a nationwide campaign on social media and on the streets, against sexual assault and harassment.
In one week seven cases of forced sex have been reported in the media and two of the victims died as a result of injuries sustained during the attacks. The others were attacks on minors aged between five and 14 years.
The incidents have sparked outrage from Nigerians and various non-governmental organisations, including the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and ActionAid, which on Tuesday called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on gender-based violence.
FIDA said that it had documented up to 253 cases of gender-based violence in five states since the lockdown against the spread of COVID-19 started.
Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, 22, was found dead on the evening of Wednesday, May 27, as she lay unconscious in the pool of her blood inside a church in Benin, Edo State.
She was allegedly hit with a fire extinguisher in a suspected case of gang rape by her attackers believed to have brutally injured her and lefther for dead. Uwaila, a freshman at the University of Benin, later passed away three days later in the hospital.
The police in Edo State have begun investigation into the matter and said on Tuesday that they had arrested “around the place of the incident” one suspect whose fingerprint matched one of those found on the weapon suspected to have been used for the murder.
That same day, President Muhammadu Buhari offered condolences to the bereaved family and urged the police to “speedily and diligently investigate this case and ensure that all the culprits responsible for this barbaric act are brought to justice”.
Like Uwaila,18-year-old Barakat Bello also did not survive the harsh experience. Her father, Kasimu Elepo, said Barakat was raped on Monday at her house in Ibadan while he and her sister were away.
The sibling found her body behind the house “with deep cuts all over her body” and signs that she had been raped.
“Somebody called me on the telephone that I should come home but he refused to tell me what happened. When I got home, I saw that my daughter had been raped and stabbed to death,” Elepo said.
Barakat was a student of the Federal College of Animal and Production Technology Moore Plantation, Ibadan.
Other recent victims have been underage girls, a trend that is not new as reflected in news reports over the years.
Between Saturday and Monday, 12 suspects, including a 57-year-old man, were arrested in Jigawa State in connection with the repeated defilement of a 12-year-old over a period of two months.
“They hid me, repeatedly had sex with me and gave me peanuts,” she narrated to BBC Hausa Service.
Reports on social media also suggest that, on Tuesday, a 13-year-old girl, Ada, was defiled in Enugu.
And on Monday, a man was caught molesting two girls aged five and six years in Ekpoma, Edo State, while a 15-year-old boy was allegedly caught defiling a six-year-old girl behind Olubadan Estate in Oyo State. He was later handed over to the police.
“A neighbor called me and said he saw the boy actually having sex with the girl,” AbdulLateef Leke-Akindele, an Ibadan-based lawyer who shared the incident on social media, told HumAngle.
“He called me. We rallied some people and apprehended him. He was about to run away but there was no exit.”
Leke-Akindele said the outraged residents initially called for the boy to be severely beaten and set on fire and would have gone ahead but for his insistence that they did not do so.
“We talked to the girl. She said she is six. She said he collected the money for an errand she was sent on and threatened to kill her if she spoke.
It was the girl’s scream that alerted us. The girl’s mom, when she arrived, fainted at first but was revived,” the lawyer said.
The victim was later taken to the hospital for test and treatment and is said to be doing well.
Also, FIDA has taken up the case, which has been transferred to the state Criminal Investigation Department in Iyaganku.
According to a 2014 study, one in four females in Nigeria reported that they were sexually assaulted as children, with about 70 per cent of them experiencing abuse more than once.
The study found that 25 per cent of girls aged between 18 and 24 were abused sexually before they turned 18 and only five per cent of them sought help.
According to an estimate, there is a conviction rate of less than 10 per cent for sexual assault cases that were reported to the police.
Studies have also shown that many Nigerians are ignorant about what constitutes consent during sex.
In a survey conducted by NOIPolls in 2019, 52 per cent of the respondents said consent had been given where a person aged below 18 years agreed to have sex, 39 per cent said consent could be given by an intoxicated individual, and 39 per cent said it was given where a person said ‘yes’ at first but later said ‘no’.
In a statement released on Wednesday, FIDA called on the government to ensure citizens were protected, enable law enforcement agencies to carry out their functions, and set up special courts for the trial of gender-based offenders.
The various reports of rape are signs of “a debased society bereft of a value system that emphasizes safety at home or even in worship centres, from parents, spouses or even police,” the organisation said.
“This must change as the consequences and effects on the victims and their families have long term negative impact on society. All stakeholders should call for a stop against all forms of violence against persons especially women, children and the vulnerable in our society,” it added.