Nigeria's justice system has not been tough on rapists and that's why we are here [Pulse Editorial] [ARTICLE]

It is worth emphasizing that Omozuwa’s life was taken from her before she had even lived it.

She was a 100 level Microbiology student of the University of Benin with plenty of dreams in her heart and a spring in her steps.

With schools closed across the land as one in a raft of measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Omozuwa used her local church parish as a makeshift library and study centre. It was here, in God’s house, that she was violated, lacerated and clubbed to death with a fire extinguisher.

The church guard would find Omozuwa lying in a pool of her own blood when he resumed his shift at about 7pm.

Uwa was killed by some men after she was raped in Benin

Uwa was killed by some men after she was raped in Benin

There has been an uptick in rape-related violence across Nigeria in recent times. In the last couple of months, a young woman simply identified as Jennifer has been gang-raped by five boys in Kaduna, a 12-year-old girl was reportedly raped by 11 men in Jigawa and the rape of 13-year-old Ochanya in Benue, by her uncle, remains fresh in the memory.

Young women have also told stories of how they were raped by their church pastors or family friends. These days, there is always a rape story or two whenever you log on to your favourite social media platform. There are several untold and uninvestigated rape cases in Nigeria every other day.

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Yet, rape is a serious crime and is punishable with a life sentence in Nigeria. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (Section 1) which has been domesticated in several states prescribes that “a person commits the offence of rape if he or she intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with any other part of his/her body or anything else without consent, or the consent is obtained by force.”

Other laws like the criminal code, the penal code and the criminal laws of Lagos prescribe the toughest punishments for rape offenders in Nigeria. Yet, only a handful of alleged rapists have been convicted of the crime in our courts since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.

Rape isn’t just a violation of the dignity and sexual rights of a person, it leaves the victim psychologically scarred for life. And like we saw this week and in the case of Ochanya, the crime could even lead to the death of the victim.

Nigeria has got to reform its criminal justice system and go tough on rape criminals in order to strike fear in the hearts of potential rapists. Placing the burden of proof on the victim has also worsened matters. It should also worry policymakers and governments across the country that most of the victims of rape are minors and teenagers.

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Our women have become endangered species in the land of their own birth as they go about their normal businesses in schools, in markets, at the malls, on the streets, in the parks, at home and even in churches.

They are subjected to catcalls and pejorative chants of ‘Ashewo’ wherever they turn. They are assaulted and molested in market places by the patriarchy who think they have a right to women’s bodies.

The best way to make this stop or curtail rape cases to the barest minimum is by handing out the maximum punishment to rape offenders as prescribed in our law books. State governments should also open public defender offices where rape victims can recruit lawyers to plead their cases in courts–pro bono.

Young men also have to be taught to respect the rights of women and the virtue of consent at an early age. All men should be made to realise that ‘No’ means ‘No.’

The violation of the rights of women in our society has gone on for far too long. Our country has not protected the girl child well enough and this has got to stop.

And now!

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