Mr. Ebenezer Omejalile is the secretary and operations manager of Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Persons Network (ACVPN). In this interview with JULIANA FRANCIS, he reveals the challenges in combating rapists in Nigeria
What does your job entail?
I’m a social worker and master trainer in child protection and youth development. I’m a consultant to both local and international partners. In the area of consultancy, we talk about Data Tools Development, Reporting Tools and also monitor cases in Nigeria. I’m part of the technical working group set up by UNICEF in Lagos and Abuja.
During COVID1-19 lockdown in Nigeria, was there a spike in domestic and sexual violence?
Yes, there was a spike, but I’ve always told people rape in Nigeria was cancerous. People didn’t believe me then. There were so many hidden issues which we had not seen, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed what we had been saying for ages. We’re talking about sexual abuses. We’re now seeing people being killed after being raped. It’s like rapists are coming out with a kind of vengeance. Children are being abused at home. Some of them have become mentally unstable. The COVID-19 brought out animalistic behaviour in some individuals. In fact, it affected the entire system in Nigeria. We witnessed increases in police killings and domestic violence; children being physically abused and raped. The spike was inevitable, but these cases had always been there.
What do you mean by rape is cancerous?
When cancer finds its way into a person, it damages the person completely. It’s now showing physically and people are beginning to see it. Do you know that up to this moment, many people didn’t believe there is rape or defilement? They didn’t believe fathers are sleeping with their daughters and mothers are abusing their daughters. They didn’t believe uncles are sexually abusing their nieces, not until now. It is now confronting many of them in their homes. People are now seeing and hearing it. They are now expressing shock and asking questions.
How did COVID-19 expose rape?
We’ve been living with it for long. We saw the signs, but we overlooked them because we were busy, looking for our daily bread. People sold their sanities to their neighbours, teachers, pastors and relatives. They trusted these people and failed to be extra observant. They didn’t know they were living and making friends with monsters. These hidden and faceless monsters are now showing their true faces and colours. I don’t know if you heard about the 80 years old blind man, who has a history of abusing children. Everyone, especially his tenants, feared him. They said he was diabolical. He abused children in his compound. It was his daughter who reported him to us.
Was he also violating his daughter?
He wasn’t violating his daughter. She got angry with what he was doing to children in the compound. One of his sons is a pastor. This old man is polygamous. He infected his second wife in 2012 with HIV. He was arrested by Agege Police Station and transferred to the Gender Unit of the Lagos State Police Command.
Didn’t the old man deny it?
He could not deny it. The defenceless children had spoken. When children see an enabling environment, you’ll be shocked at what they would say.
So the lockdown brought out the animals in some people?
People were not used to seeing the rate of rape cases they saw and heard during the lockdown. Also, people were not used to being locked down or kept in a particular place for long. The police will tell you that the rape and violence were expected and that the spike was also expected. People were angry with DISCO for not always making power available so that children would be occupied with television. Even with the online classes, these children faced a lot of challenges. Sometimes, they need to cool their brains. They need to watch cartoons to calm their nerves. There are chain reactions because people were not used to being on lockdown for long. We have to say thank you to COVID-19 for exposing these issues. What we’re trying to do now is damage control. It’s now clear that you can’t entrust anyone with your child. People are holding onto their children and everyone is now a suspect.
Tell us two rape cases that shocked you.
All the cases were shocking because of the dynamics. Whenever I get home some days, I look at my daughter and wonder what could attract adults sexually to children, leading to them violating them. My wife complained that I was allowing my job to affect me. You know what? Most perpetrators were victims.
What do you mean sir?
They are survivors of the same crime and of the same situation. If an abuse survivor is not properly addressed in terms of rehabilitation, necessary psychotherapy and psychosocial support. They were also denied love, acceptance from family front and the system itself. The lack of all these can lead to major problems. If those items were not put in place for an abused child, that child could become an abuser. Some of them bow to peer pressure. They want to examine things, they want to experiment with things and that is when you see the issue of alcohol, drug addiction and pornography coming into play. These people, who are abusing victims, also need help. But with the rate of things right now, we’ve not done anything. We are just stitching a fraction. If we have done anything, we wouldn’t be seeing this spike. Those are the ones you know about, but I must tell you that sexual abuse cases are still underreported. You asked about cases that have shocked me. Last year, a particular man, an oil worker, who has two daughters, was discovered to have been violating his wife’s niece. The child used to go to their house for school vacations. We asked the girl to tell us how it happened. She’s 11-year-old. She told me that anytime she goes there for holiday, the man would come in the night to pick her up from the room. He would take her to the sitting room and start playing pornography on his phone. Once they finish watching, he would insert his fingers into her private parts. He would then begin to violate her. He has been doing that for long. The mother didn’t know what was going on. She just noticed that anytime she asked her daughter to go to her sister’s place for holiday, the child would refuse. The abused girl’s father is even a Sunday school teacher in a Catholic Church, but he didn’t know what was happening right under his nose. They found out when the child started showing signs of Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF).
You mean Vesicovaginal fistula?
Yes. In the school she attends in the East, she started bedwetting. The parents were invited and the child questioned. She opened up. We immediately put all apparatus in motion to arrest the idiot. There was a time they said he travelled to the United States. We waited for him to return, but something went wrong. The girl’s father called me the perpetrator had been sending people to him. The matter was supposed to be handled by Pedro Police Station. The Area Commander knew about the case. He had already given instructions, but the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) was transferred to Oyo State, to head the Special Anti-Robbery Unit. But since his transfer, nothing has been heard about the case. And most of his church members were coming to plead on behalf of the perpetrator, asking the girl’s father to forgive. He told us that he had forgiven the perpetrator. I told him he had compromised the case. The truth, however, is that there is a law. It is not in his power to forgive. The problem here is that the police didn’t give attention to that case. The complainant, who is the girl’s father, has stopped picking our calls. I have narrated my dilemma to my colleagues. We are pursuing the case.
What’s the second case?
The second striking case for me had to do with a father of six children, living in Sango-Ota. It’s a case of a father and son violating five daughters/sisters. Someone alerted me to the case and linked me up to a pastor, who is the mandated reporter. In the course of speaking with him, he said he wanted to know about our operation, how we work. I told him that we’re a bunch of professionals. I told him that it was now his responsibility to help to liberate those girls from their father. He said that the girls had been subdued, and wouldn’t want to talk to the authorities. I asked him about the children’s mother, he said the woman’s condition was bad. He said that he had confronted the perpetrator on different occasions on why he was violating his children, but the man would kneel and start begging him. I told him that our colleagues in that axis would conduct social enquiry. They would go round to see the area, to see the house and how the couple and children were living. They would make enquiry about the man in an honest way, that people wouldn’t suspect anything. In this enquiry, they would be able to check out the wife, to know if she was having economical challenges, because those girls will need to undergo rehabilitation. They need to be separated from their parents. The boy in question needs to be disciplined, to know and understand that violating his sisters with his father was wrong. The boy is 22 years old. He is the oldest among the six children. He’s doing what his dad is doing. My colleagues called me and they couldn’t understand what the pastor was saying. He said one honourable Hakeem had taken over the matter. He said that he wanted us to hands off; I told him he didn’t have the power and authority. We have all the information and we are going to raid them and he would be charged as an accomplice because he was obstructing justice. He was trying to protect his Igbo brother, what about if it were his children that someone was destroying? I reminded him that the crime was against the State and nobody was above the law. The girls’ father’d modus operandi was to pick a knife, threatening to kill the girls if they didn’t allow him to have sex with them. Their mother is aware of the rape but keeps quiet. That’s the culture of silence.