Maimuna Alayi awoke on the night of January 2020 to find her three months old baby missing. She had slept with the baby and four other children at her house in Lafiya in Nasarawa, leaving her door ajar for fresh air because of the unbearable heat in her apartment.
As her cry for help woke her neighbours, they quickly formed search parties for the missing baby that night. In about 30 minutes, they found the baby in an uncompleted building with another baby on the ground.
The villagers discovered both babies were crying and noticed that they had been sexually assaulted, 30-year-old Ms Alayi told Peoples Gazette.
A man, whom the villagers suspected to be a paedophile, was accused of the crime, and the police later arrested him.
It has been more than one year since the rapist was arrested, and Ms Alayi’s daughter has undergone three surgical operations due to severe damage to the vagina. The matter is still in court.
The case has dragged on. Nasarawa governor’s wife visited the community and sympathised with Ms Alayi. Though the government took over the issue, justice has not been served.
In Nigeria, hundreds of rape cases are reported annually, but the institutions founded to protect the victims and deliver justice have continued to frustrate the system and allow culprits off the hook.
In 2017, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics said 2 279 rape cases and indecent assault were reported to the country’s police. Only a few reported cases of conviction.
Nigeria was ranked 10th among the most dangerous countries for women in 2018 by the Thomas Reuters Foundation Annual Pool.
According to the United Nations Population Fund report on gender-based violence, three in 10 Nigerian women know someone raped. The rape victims have mostly been minors and young adults from one to 15 years and 16 to 25 years.
From police to court, rape victims are frustrated by the inability to obtain justice, forcing many to avoid reporting rape at all.
Between January and May 2020, the police recorded only 717 rape cases. The then-Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu said 799 suspects were arrested, 631 cases charged to court, and 52 cases under investigation.
But most rape cases that eventually get to court face another hurdle as delay frustrates the victims. For example, Ms Alayi has given up on her daughter’s case because of the delay in adjudication of the lawsuit, leaving the judgment in God’s hand.
“We don’t know if the culprit has been prosecuted,” she told The Gazette. “Because at some point, months ago, we heard that he’s on trial. You know, everything involves money. So, let the case go.”
Ms Alayi wept while recounting her ordeal for justice, pointing out that she did not have money to pursue the case. While the police authority had encouraged Nigerians to report rape, many claimed the force bungled such cases.
In January 2017, in Kaduna, Victoria Philip’s daughter was raped at age four outside her house by a neighbour identified as Mohammed, aged 36.
Ms Philip had asked her daughter to lose her braided hair in front of her home before the rapist lured her into his room. Hours later, Ms Philip started looking for her daughter, but she was nowhere to be found. A few minutes after, Amina was seen washing her pants under the running tap.
“I was called and asked by her friends if I was the one that asked her to wash her pant. I said no. I asked her why she was washing her pant. She said Mohammed told her to wash her pant after climbing her body,” she explained to The Gazette.
The matter was reported to the police, and two tests were conducted on the girl: one at a police hospital and the other at a general hospital in Kaduna. Both confirmed she was raped.
After police had arrested Mr Mohammed, the court granted him bail, said Ms Philip, claiming neighbours ridiculed and booed the little girl.
“We had no option than to relocate.”
Although her daughter is gradually healing from the trauma, the stigma remains. Since January 2017 to date, the matter is still in court. The last time the judge sat was in 2019 before he retired.
A new judge was later assigned the case a year after. March 25, 2021, was the first time the court would have heard the matter, but it did not sit.
Ms Philip added, “The case started afresh after the former judge retired. On March 25, I was told the judge is at the tribunal hearing matters. The case would not be heard until after the tribunal matters have ended.”
Last December in Rivers, Amaka Ifediba, a pool agent, came back home to discover that a neighbour had raped her four-year-old daughter in her backyard.
“When I returned (home) while bathing her at night, she refused me to wash her vagina because it is painful and pleaded I wash it the following day,” Ms Ifediba told The Gazette.
“I told her to wash it herself. She refused that it was painful. After several pampering, she now told me that Aholu met her in the backyard while running to sleep and grabbed her, and told her to remove her pant, then started using his penis to rub her vagina,” she added.
Ms Ifediba reported the rape to the police Criminal Investigation Department and was directed to go to Doctors Without Borders to conduct a test.
The test confirmed that her daughter was raped. The suspect, Uchebadu Aholu (16), was arrested. But the police did not prosecute him.
Inspector Otobom, according to Ms Ifediba, was the police officer in charge of the matter.
“Otobom told me to come to the station on a Thursday that the matter will be charged to court,” she said. “On that day, I heard Otobom making calls. There I confirmed that the boy had been released.”
She could not figure out why the suspect was released without being prosecuted.
“When I asked Otobom why she released him, she retorted if the police station is a mortuary that they dump people like that, and do I want to teach her the job,” Ifediba recalled her encounter with the police officer.
She stated further, “I continued going to the station till Otobom asked me to provide money for transport for arrest and as well find out where the boy now stays. All efforts have been made, yet the police have not rearrested the boy.”
“The money spent alone to get justice for this, my daughter, amidst famine is draining me, but sometimes my little girl encourages me only by asking me about the matter, making me never give up.”
The Gazette reached out to Ms Otobom for comment, but she denied demanding money to rearrest the young man. Days after, it was learnt the suspect was in a remand home.
According to Ms Ifediba, the policewoman claimed to have sent the case file to a secretary who would start the prosecution but had not been in the office for weeks. The Gazette contacted the police spokesperson, Nnamdi Omoni, for comment. There was no response.
Section 358 of the Criminal Code Act provides that “any person who commits the offence of rape is liable to imprisonment for life, with or without caning.” While Section 283 of the Penal Code Act 1960 states that: “Whoever commits rape shall be punished with imprisonment for life or any less term and shall also be liable to fine.”
Similarly, Section 1 (2) of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 provides thus: “(2) A person convicted of an offence under subsection (1) of this section is liable to imprisonment of life.”
Though the law spells out the penalty for proven rape cases, delay in getting justice has forced many victims to abandon the pursuit of justice due to financial constraints.
The Nigerian Constitution and the Police Act give the police the power to prevent crime, arrest and prosecute any offender in a court of law.
The police seem to have failed to fulfil that role in cases of rape.
The law provides that an accused person, arrested for committing an offence must be charged to court within 24 hours where a court of competent jurisdiction is located within a radius of 40 kilometres from the police station and where a court is located within the radius above 40 kilometres from the police station.
The accused persons must be charged to court within 48 hours or a more extended period as a court might consider reasonable.
Bayo Akinlade, former chairman of the Ikorodu branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, said the police must arrest the suspect in a reported rape case, collect evidence, and prosecute the person.
Courage Nsirimovu, executive director of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, agreed with Mr Akinlade that the police have a duty to investigate to determine if there is actual or circumstantial evidence to prove rape.
Mr Nsirimovu stated that rape cases are investigated by the police and hand over the file to the Office of the Attorney General for director of public prosecution’s advice before prosecution of the case.
Tombari Dumka-Kote, Executive Director, Centre for Justice, Empowerment and Development (C4J), noted that the delay in adjudication deprives rape victims of justice.
Some stakeholders believe a special court will be helpful to rape victims and their loved ones. Mr Dumka-Kote explained, “The judge will continue to adjourn to make sure there is space to accommodate other cases. And this reason, cases linger for more than three years.
“But, if there are special courts to try these cases, we will have accelerated hearing, and cases will be resolved on time.”
Despite the challenges, Mr Dumka-Koterape urged victims and their families to approach non-profit organisations if the police foot-drag. He pointed out that police officers need more enlightenment on how to handle rape cases.
“Often, they are more interested in making money from perpetrators, and thereby released the perpetrators rather than helping the society to give justice to rape victims,” he claimed.
Mr Nsirimovu noted that when police fail to prosecute rape cases, the victim can file a suit to mandate the state to prosecute or seek a pressure group to mandate the state to do so.
“The victim can prosecute through a private lawyer as stipulated in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act,” Nsirimovu said. “Pressure can be mounted through pressure groups and CSOs/human rights organisations. That way, the court will demand an investigation report from the police and kickstart the prosecution.”
(This report is funded by the Civic Media Lab, under its Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship, with support from MacArthur Foundation.)