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#JusticeForUwa heats up cause against rape

Days after Vera Uwaila Omozuwa was attacked while reading in a church, raped and left for dead, her death is heating up national causes against sexual assault on women.

Days after Vera Uwaila Omozuwa was attacked while reading in a church, raped and left for dead, her death is heating up national causes against sexual assault on women.

Wife of the president, Aisha Buhari, called the sexual assault on women and girls, sometimes by known relatives, “disheartening” and “gruesome”.

In Edo state, where the controversial attack occurred, the government is looking to set up a sex offenders register.

And director general of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa called for rapists to be castrated.

Renewing the cause

Public figures from the presidents and former veeps have taken to social media to condemn the attack on and death of Omozuwa, a 22-year-old who was waiting until the coronavirus pandemic petered out to matriculate at University of Benin for a bachelors in microbiology.

President Muhammadu Buhari offered “deepest condolences” to her family and friends, he announced in a tweet.

“I expect the Nigeria Police Force to speedily and diligently investigate this case and ensure that all the culprits responsible for this barbaric act are brought to justice,” he tweeted.

Aisha Buhari retweeted the president’s tweet on her timeline in between chunks of statement about bringing sexual assault in check in line with the campaign “Leave our daughters, sisters, mothers alone.”

“I will continue to work with the governors’ wives to ensure that relevant structures and policy frameworks are put in place to end Gender Based Violence in Nigeria,” she said.

Pandemic of rape

Omozuwa has become the latest poster child for stopping sexual violence against women and girls, but she is not alone.

This week, police in Jigawa arrested a 57-yer-ola man for sexual assault of a 12-year-pld girl.

When the minor spoke to police, she mentioned 10 other men who had at different times sexually assaulted her.

All 11 men are in police custody.

In Osun, another 57-year-old man was remanded on allegations he defiled a 12-year-old girl on May 25 at Oke-Mission area in Ejigbo community.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

A magistrate court heard the man, Moses Oloko, had raped the girl at least 10 different times, luring her with N100 each time he wanted.

The magistrate did not take his plea, but remanded him and transferred his case to another magistrate court instead.

The scale of rapes hitting headlines and, sometimes, the physical injury and death in their wake, alarmed former vice president Atiku Abubakar, he called it a “pandemic” when he spoke with the Omozuwa family.

“I just spoke to the family of the late Uwa Omozuwa. I expressed my deepest condolences over her rape and murder. I feel their anguish,” he said in tweet.

“Sadly, rape is now a pandemic in our country.”

It is time we reviewed the laws on rape to ensure that there are no escape routes in the investigation, prosecution, conviction and adequate punishment for this heinous crime.”

Rape is already a criminal offence, but Dabiri-Erewa says that instrument is so weak in use that she supports “those who say that if you rape, you should be castrated.”

She made the call on Wednesday after she met with the management of Nigerian Ports Authority who donated some work items including printers, desktops, laptops and other office accessories to improve the commission’s working capacity.

“What is happening is very frightening for the Nigerian woman. The Nigerian women are not being protected, and they are being vilified and a society that renegades its women will not make progress, so all women must speak out,” she said.

“It is getting too much and I tell you if we don’t do something now Nigeria will be in trouble” she lamented.

A sex offenders register is meant to track offenders arrested or arraigned for or accused of rape.

Edo state is looking to open one.

Meanwhile it is seeking to ensure victims can safely find information they need to sek redress, said the state attorney-general and justice commissioner Yinka Omorogbe.

“I am hoping that in the coming months, after working with our consultants, we will be able to launch our own Edo State Sex Offenders Register, which is expected to be a live register to prevent manipulation,” the justice commissioner said.

State of emergency

ActionAid Nigeria (AAN) and the Mothers and Marginalised Advocacy Centre (MAMA Centre) have urged President  Buhari to declare a state of emergency on gender-based violence, and called for maximum application of sanctions for sex and other gender-based violence perpetrators.

AAN Country Director, Ene Obi, said, “Since the lockdown in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ActionAid Nigeria and her partners have documented a total of 253 cases of Gender-Based Violence in Bauchi, Cross River, Enugu, Kebbi and Kwara States. We have never been more alarmed about the cases of Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria than in recent times. Girls, women, young and old now live in fear as they are no longer safe even in their own homes.”

Citing the most recent cases, she said, gender-based violence is no longer a women issue but a national issue, with the recent Lagos example where 16-year-old Tina Ezekwe was shot by a trigger-happy police officer and died two days later.

According to her, in Kaduna, an I8-year-old victim identified as Jennifer remains traumatised after she was gang-raped by five men who drugged her and also in Bauchi where a 15 year-old-girl was raped repeatedly by four men to the point that she could barely walk and had to undergo surgery.

Executive Director, MAMA Centre,  Ola Onyegbula, said, “We are perturbed that such traumatic and injury-inflicted moments are allowed to drag or go unpunished in most cases without adequate policy response to sanction and bring perpetrator(s) to justice.

“As rape constitutes a violence against women with traumatic injuries and even death of the victims, we demand that reported cases should be publicly condemned and not be treated with levity in all policy response and judicial interpretation,” she said.

The nongovernment organisation Let’s Talk Humanity Initiative called on the Nigeria Police Force “to immediately take a prompt action on the need to end rape culture in Nigeria.”

The founder, Fatima Ganduje-Ajimobi, told Daily Trust in Ibadan, “There the need for non-governmental organisations to start orientating young boys and men that rape is as grievous as murder. We call on other NGOs to join us in this fight against rape and child abuse.”

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