The Secretary and Operations Manager Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Persons Network (ACVPN), Mr. Ebenezer Omejalile, suggests to JULIANA FRANCIS solutions to the rising cases of rape in Nigeria
There’s another trending case now. A pastor told a man that anyone who marries his daughter would become prosperous; he now decided to be sleeping with his daughter. He wants to be the first to violate the girl so he would become prosperous. The girl’s mother is late. The girl ran away from home, to somewhere at OPIC, where she was looking for a job and started living among vulcanizers.
The guy that called us was worried that the girl could be violated at the place she ran to for solace. I spoke with her on the phone and she said that she was fine. We just need to take her away from that environment. These are some of the issues we are talking about. It is a systemic issue. The gatekeeper, who is supposed to speak out, is also an accomplice. Law enforcement officials are also trying to make things difficult. Their job should be done and done professionally. There shouldn’t be sentiment. There’s a need to understand what the survivor is going through.
What do you think is the solution to rape?
The solution is to make the system work! We have laws; we thank God that the President has instructed the Inspector-General of Police to look into these issues. The IG has come out to say that the scope of the Gender Units and the Juvenile Welfare Centre (JWC) across the country should be expanded. Detectives should be attached to Gender Units for proper investigations. They should visit scenes of crimes to ascertain the level of involvement.
Policemen attached to these units should be trained because capacity building does not end. The world is revolving. Lagos State for example, has only 12 family support units in existence. So let’s use Lagos as a yardstick. The Lagos State government, the governor and his wife can incorporate the Family Support Units into the Lagos State Trust Fund. We would need to mobilise the Gender Units, which do have operational vehicles. No money is made available for the policemen who work in these units for investigations. They end up using their hard earned resources.
The major hindrance is that policemen need to be trained in investigation and how to handle survivors. I have a case where an uncle was recently remanded through the Gender Unit. The man has been violating the girl since 2018. He video-recorded her and whenever he wanted to have her, he would use the video as a blackmail tool. He would threaten to send the video to his friend if she didn’t allow him to have sex with her.
One of the police stations we visited on the highland made a mess of the case. In cases that have to do with child abuse in all forms, a policeman should have the requisite training, to know how to handle things. But if you think all policemen can handle it, you’re doing injustice to so many hard working police officers. You need to see some of the policemen at the front desk when they ask questions. You’ll hear them barking, “Who f…k you?” and they would be asking this question unmindful of people around. I tried to whisper to him on what to do, but he kept going on, that was when I lost it. He was even asking the survivor if she enjoyed it. I asked him if he would do such a thing to his daughter.
At that point, everyone at the station knew what had happened to the girl.
What are the systemic challenges?
Let’s take them one after the other. Let’s start with the police. Imagine the child that was reported by a mandated reporter. There were signs someone was violating her. The DPO arrogantly came out and ordered that the girl should go for a psychiatric evaluation. He’s not supposed to do that. He has made himself the court, the prosecutor and the judge.
I made them understand that they should know where to draw the line.
What should the police have done?
Police have JWC, where a survivor can be kept pending investigation. They should first remove the survivor from the hostile environment. Police need to be trained, that is why the Lagos State governor and his wife should incorporate the Gender Unit and JWC into the Lagos State Trust Fund. Lagos State is at the frontline.
They conduct virtual training for prosecutors across Lagos State on these issues because there were a lot of substitutions of arrests. Police were changing names of suspects and charges to something else. We raised a flag. A policewoman did it at Area G because she was working under the Area Commander.
See what she did; a father that was alleged to have violated his daughter was taken to Mirabel Centre. It had been confirmed that he had been molesting his daughter for long. When our colleagues got to the court, they checked the charge sheet and discovered that the policewoman had changed the charge to indecent assault. The man was granted bail in the sum of N250, 000. But because we had drawn the attention of the magistrate, we made noise about it and he was re-arraigned last week.
It is still happening in spite of the virtual training. We heard about a judge that struck out two cases. In the first case, the prosecutor admitted that it was a shoddy job by police that caused the case to be struck out. But in the second case, there was no reason. The doctor came to testify and four witnesses also came to testify. The survivor also came to the court.
Judges should not have unnecessary grievances towards the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) prosecutors. It is not peculiar to a particular sector. We’re dissecting them one after the other. Do you know what it takes to convince a survivor to speak, believing she would get justice?
Another major hindrance is the continuous adjournment of cases, which is discouraging for a survivor seeking justice.
We have to go out of our ways to get these survivors accommodations if they come from far places and also to avoid them being stigmatised. We have to look at their empowerment. I told you that we conduct social enquiries to see the strength and weakness of a survivor’s parents, so we know areas to come in.
We hand them over to some of our colleagues, who are into Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) programmes, to pay their school fees. The women are empowered under the OVC to keep them going. This will also help them to avoid gratifications from perpetrators.
Is the gratification for survivors to stop seeking justice?
Did you hear about Pastor Douglas in Osogbo? He had been violating his church member for four years. This member had been attending the church for 12 years. When he was arraigned in court, he had the effrontery to tell the magistrate that the victim wanted it.
He worsened his case when he was asked his profession and he introduced himself as a pastor. The girl’s family trusted him. They gave him two Jeeps and even paid his children’s school fees. The girl’s father was overseas. Whenever her father sends stuff to Nigeria, the pastor would be allowed to first have a pick of whatever he likes.
Some of the women that came to testify said that the kind of food they prepared for their pastor, they had never prepared for their husbands. They worshipped him. Whenever he is conducting services, he would ask to know those who were virgins in the church. Parents didn’t know that was the beginning of their daughters being violated. He targeted and violated virgins in his church. These special cases should be given accelerated hearings by the judiciary.
Are you saying that a lot depends on the judiciary in checking escalating case of rape?
Yes! The judiciary has to up their game. Now we are talking about the system itself; the government and welfare. Internationally, it has been stated that children should not be placed for a very long time in government confinement, because they do well while in family settings. But how many family settings are responsible? With COVID-19 now, who wants to accept another person’s child, to add more burdens to them? Most of them are unable to feed the ones they have.
Government should fund the social welfare offices, so we can conduct more investigations. All hands must be on deck; the National Assembly should look into the issue of police budget and make serious allocations for investigations.
We had a case of a child that was beaten to death in Bariga. We are not going to allow that case to die. Alimot Kadiri was her name.
She was alleged to have stolen N2,000 and beaten by four men. They were arrested by policemen from Bariga Police Station. We are looking at the aspects of these special cases. We are also looking at cases of children with disabilities. Most of them are being violated, abused and abandoned.
We’ve had cases of women with mental challenges, with children and we’ve been calling on welfare and rehabilitation centres to rescue these children from them.
Someone asked me if I thought the current laws we have were effective enough to deter perpetrators, I said yes. Do you know what it means to stay in the cell or even being remanded for a maximum of one year? The perpetrator’s liberty had been taken away. Do you know the psychological effect he will go through? It is only when we let the laws work that we will begin to erase abnormalities from all sectors.
Are you not worried about increasing cases of children’s violation?
Yes, children between 0-five years are the worst targeted, but we’re also doing a lot of it. The prevalence of rape of children is very high. There’s a motive behind the target of these children. Schools also have a role to play in checking violations of children.
At a school in Okota, when a child was abused by an unidentified person, a teacher was sacked. You wouldn’t believe that as big as that school is, there was no single Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV). Schools should carry out background checks on prospective employees. Every one of them should sign the Lagos State Mandated Reporting Tool Document.
There was the case of David Eyo, a head-teacher. He violated his 10-year-old pupil and infected her with a disease. He violated her several times on the premises of the school. He almost escaped us. He took almost a year to violate the girl. The police station that handled the investigation was Bode Thomas and they did well. But somehow, when it got to the arraignment, the officer from the Lagos State Police Command changed his charge to indecent assault.
The father of the girl was very outspoken and he said that it was not indecent assault, that his daughter was sexually violated. He confirmed that the matter was transferred from the Bode Thomas Police Station. He stated this before the magistrate, who got angry and asked the policewoman, if she was not a mother. We found out that he was a serial sex offender. The first school he worked, dismissed him, but he went to another big school in Surulere, where he was made a principal and choir master. What I’m saying in essence is that before you dismiss a teacher, hand him over to the law enforcement officers.
Make sure you report him. I have seen a school somewhere on Lagos Island, where a pupil was abused. The proprietor came to the command to make her statement. But others will rather hide the incident, to protect the image of the school. When a school makes such a report, it will be applauded and it will also boost the morale of parents.
Last year at Makinde Police Station, a case was reported, whereby a teacher took a girl into the toilet while they were planning their end of the year party. The child was three years old. She never knew the child could tell her mother. She violated the child with her finger.
Does that mean the teacher was a lesbian?
Yes, the teacher was a lesbian. She was very unrepentant. The proprietor is UK trained. She had given all the school employees documents to sign before employment on issues of children protection and sexual violations. The proprietor came to the command and made a statement. The police wanted to compromise that case. There’s no way we will not look at our police brothers and sisters because of all these abnormalities.
So, if the schools are in order, we would have a sound and safe environment for children. The schools should stop being afraid of losing pupils. Paedophiles go for special courses just to get into schools. Paedophile is not written on the faces of perpetrators. Children are mostly targeted because they have natural sensation. You see children playing with their private parts. Parents should check them and try to find out what is wrong.
I have seen a three-year-old somewhere in Mushin, who a 60-year-old man was violating. Whenever the man wants to violate her, he would whistle, which was a signal. She would go to the toilet to meet him. After violating her, he gives her N1,000, which her grandmother usually collected. The grandmother was aware of what was going on. The Office of Public Defender (OPD) removed the girl from that environment and we prosecuted the woman.
How was the violation discovered?
While in school, the child told one of her classmates, Emeka, that they should go to toilet to ‘f..k.’ Emeka didn’t know what that meant and asked her. The teacher overheard them. She was questioned and she narrated that Uncle Rashidi used to take her to the toilet. The school got in touch with us. Before we could say Jack, the woman made sure that the man ran away.
Boys are also violated. A woman violated a boy for two years, until she was caught. The boy was 14-year-old. She’s married and has children. I asked the family if they noticed anything strange about the boy, they said they noticed he was fond of locking himself up in his room. This is what we call withdrawal syndrome. The woman’s name is Happiness.
What about the roles of parents in this war against rapists?
Parents need to be assertive where their children are concerned. Look at many pastors’ involvement in rape cases. These pastors are supposed to be change makers and parents lose their sanities because of them. Parents should learn to mentor their children themselves. You’re your child’s best mentor. If you don’t know how to mentor, go and study how.
There was a particular case in Ogun State, where a woman’s daughter was violated. The girl is living with disabilities. She did not know the perpetrator had been watching them. Whenever she leaves home, the perpetrator would scale the fence, go into the house and abuse the girl. He would use a handkerchief to wipe her private parts. Each time he goes there, the girl would make a marking on a calendar and that was how he was caught. When a child says, ‘mummy or daddy I want to tell you something’ please pay attention.
When you return from work is the most crucial moment a child wants to talk to you. Parents should pay attention to their children. They should observe them and often check their phones. Children are now being violated and bullied on the internet. If your neighbour is showing interest and affection for your child, that’s an indicator.
Be vigilant. Holiday or no holiday, don’t allow your children to leave home and go elsewhere. Sensor the kind of things your children watch on television. When they begin to have feelings for the opposite sex, that’s when the real work begins. Educate them. We would all be secured if we begin to pass positive vibes to them. You start mentorship from home.
They say charity begins at home. The first primary contact for a child is the parents; anything done after the home is secondary. Look at the 80 years old man that had been violating a girl since she was three years old and she’s now nine years.
Parents leaving their children in the care of others should stop. When you return, please ask your children questions about what happened at school and home.
Parents should be cautious when they give phones to their children to play with, be careful so they don’t practice whatever you have on your phone.
Siblings, who sleep together, need to be separated.