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In Cross River, its war against rape

That rape case in Nigeria is assuming an alarming proportion is not an understatement. Daily, the people are inundated with one case of rape or the other, with the girl childbearing much of the brunt. It is unthinkable or even weird, to imagine that a father would rape his child not to talk of doing so to his teenage kid. It beats everyone’s imagination to read how a seventy-year-old man would do such harm to a four-year-old girl child. But these and much more absurd displays of animalistic disposition is what many girl children and teenagers are coping with on a daily basis.

For instance, in January this year, a family court sitting in Calabar, Cross River State sentenced a man to 22 years imprisonment without an option of fine, for raping his 14-year-old daughter. The judge, who was an acting Chief Judge of the state at the time, Justice Eyo Ita, had earlier convicted the man of rape in December last year. The man, Emmanuel Thompson Udo, (47), reportedly raped his own daughter in his residence in Calabar.

Mr Udo’s arrest and prosecution by the police followed a petition from a non-governmental organization, the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative, after the man’s wife reported his incestuous act to the organisation. After his conviction, the Principal Partner in Basic Rights Council Initiative, James Ibor, told Journalists thus: “I want to use this opportunity to commend first, the mother of the child who was bold to seek help by contacting us at the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative. “I want to commend the police that carried out a thorough investigation.

I want to also commend the attorney general and commissioner for justice, and his office, for the way he carried out diligent prosecution. “I want to commend my staff for providing psychosocial support to the child throughout the period of the proceedings. Above all, I want to commend the acting Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Eyo Ita for the judgment,” Ibor said at the time. In January last year, a 73-yearold retired army Captain, Bassey Ekanem reportedly raped his 4-year-old niece in Calabar. The incident occurred at 12 Edim Ibangha Street, Big Qua Town, Calabar.

Ekanem later claimed he was under the influence of alcohol and couldn’t understand why he committed the act. Given its menace, a group of non-governmental organization, operating from Calabar, under the aegis of Women Voice and Leadership Nigeria Project, called on Governor Ben Ayade to declare rape a pandemic in the state.

The group which held a press conference on the twelfth of June last year said that for there to be any impact on the fight against gender-based violence, there was the need for the government to rise up to the occasion and make decisions that will protect the girl child. Mrs. Victoria Emah-Emah, Executive Director of Neighborhood Care Well Foundation said, “Cross River State and other parts of Nigeria have witnessed an upsurge in the cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

This upsurge in cases of rape, battery, and even child marriage is gradually gaining wide acceptance as a normal part of what it is to be a woman or girl. Women and girls are vulnerable to physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse that cuts across lines of income, class, and culture. Again in 2017, over one thousand women from Okuni Community in Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River State protested what they said was injustice meted out on a member of their community who was gang-raped in the presence of her husband at gunpoint. According to the women, the ugly incident which took place on the 6th of November 2017 saw to the arrest of one of the culprits who was later released on bail without adequate sanctions by the police. The release of the alleged culprit forced the women into the streets.

The peaceful protest had taken off from the community through the Police Station and terminated at the Ikom Local Government Council. Unfortunately, many young girls or even women who have been, or are being raped, do everything to conceal it and continue living in pain throughout their lives simply because they have come to discover that rape survivors are being stigmatized in society. For this reason, they simply manage their hurt without exposing or even attempting to explore avenues to deal with their conquerors.

Sadly too, the various institutions that ought to follow up rape cases to their logical conclusion are faced with so many challenges that, more often than not, culprits walk their way into freedom while the survivors nurse their wounds for as long as they live. Listening to Justice Eyo Ita, who was acting Chief Judge last year and currently a family court Judge, on why culprits often find their way into freedom stirs up a wretched memory of a society. Justice Ita, while speaking exclusively to our correspondent recently listed a few institutional lapses in nailing a rapist.

First, is poor funding, which he said was critical so as to make a family court friendly to the girl child. According to him, his court handles cases that have to do with the girl child and teenagers not above eighteen years, and making the courts friendly to this category of persons will enhance their confidence when they visit the courts.

But Justice Ita regretted the absence of a juvenile correctional centre in the state. Although he said his court uses Child Rights Law to determine cases of rape before him, sanctions often come in terms of fine because there is nowhere to send offenders to. He narrated a case thus: “There was this young boy that was brought to my court when I was in Ogoja. I decided a case against him, but there was nowhere for him to be sent because there was, and still is, no juvenile correctional centre.

I decided the case and asked them to take it to the Governor’s office so that he could do whatever he wanted. Mine was to sentence him and that was what I did. What happened to him thereafter, I did not know. So that is one of the challenges.” The Judge also narrated a situation where there was a clear rape but the prosecution bungled the case, thus allowing the defense lawyer to punch holes into it. As an arbiter, he went with the law and dismissed the case. Chief Magistrate of the state, Justice Eunice Dada who is the pioneer family court Judge narrated how she painfully dismissed a rape case because of non-diligence in prosecuting it.

Her words: “The case was brought before me and there was evidence that the act had been committed. On the last day of the argument, a medical doctor who did not carry out anything on this girl and who was not following up on the case appeared before me and introduced himself as the head of the department from where the medical tests of the survivor were carried out. “He said the doctor who had been handling the case worked under him and was not available at that point. He could not answer questions satisfactorily from the defense Lawyer who kept puncturing his medical position knowing that he was not the one who conducted the tests.

I had no option than to dismiss the case when the medical doctor could not prove a case of rape,” Justice Dada said. The two family court Judges said the issue of poverty was a serious matter because some families may not have the capacity to employ Lawyers while the culprits may have the backing of families and friends. This often forces the survivors to stop coming to court or seek out of court settlement with the culprits. Again, the number of family courts are inadequate to handle violence against the girl child.

They believe that if more family courts are established, the pressure on the few Judges would be reduced and Judges could have time to go on leave, medical assessments and rest because other Judges would have handled such cases. Another area the two experts in family arbitration hammered on was the issue of training family court judges. According to Justice Eyo Ita, family court is a new area of justice dispensation and selected Judges should be specifically trained on the nitty-gritty of arbitration and adjudication. Besides, many Nigerians have suggested government assistance or free legal support to ensure that rape survivors get justice. Government should also, enact a law compelling government hospitals to attend immediately and without any form of a protocol to rape survivors so as to preserve evidence that could be used to nail culprits.

After all said and done however, the duty to uphold human dignity begins with the family. Parents who pretend to look the other way even when they know that their children are serial rapists should be held accountable because these same parents are often quick to rush to the Police station to bail their Wards or sponsor the defense of their children in court.

Until the government begins to force moral values on the present Nigerian society, it is doubtful if rape incidences will abate. Government should also carry out sensitisation of the society by using every available media platform to appeal to the conscience of the public in respecting the girl child and women, and (or) giving them psycho-social support when they survive these nocturnal beings.

 

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