Uwa: Tragedy of nation that rapes its citizens

At 22, life had just started for Vera Uwaila Omozuwa. The 100 Level Microbiology student of the University of Benin could not wait for schools to reopen to take her studies seriously. She had her eyes set on a career in the health sector.

While other Jambites were frolicking at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Uwa had a habit of using the “free” electricity at the RCCG parish nearby for her night studies. It is a wonderful picture of diligence.

Little did the poor girl know that assailants were stalking her. At their set time, they dragged her into the church building, brutally gang-raped her and smashed her head with a fire extinguisher; leaving her half dead. When her half-dead body was discovered and rushed to the hospital, she slipped into unconsciousness and died two days later. The story of her ordeal is now global, laced with the gruesomeness of her murder. It has led to another hashtag – #JusticeForUwa.

The head of her institution, Lilian Salami, a professor, issued a victim-blaming statement in which she offered sympathies to the family, but warned students “and indeed all young people to be wary of the company they keep and the places that they visit.”

Benedicta Ehanire, PhD, the institution’s PRO, did not see anything wrong with that double entendre. Both principal and image maker are – women!

How does a dead person get justice? True justice is the inalienable right of a human being to live to the fullness of their life and fulfil destiny. Anything that cuts short a life denies that being justice. This is the philosophical side of the tragedy of the murder in the cathedral.

Victim blaming is a horrible crime. By advising students to watch the company they keep in an obituary, Uniben was insinuating that Uwa’s death was as a result of keeping bad company. Only a police finding could come to that conclusion. Even in death, the Uniben has denigrated one of its own. Public relations is too important to be left in the hands of non-professionals. Both the Uniben VC and her PRO need to approach their duties with diplomacy and the milk of human kindness.

The grave does not grant justice to victims of systemic serial rape. From her age, Uwa is just another victim of the unconscionable commercialisation of public education.

Of late, JAMB, the agency that administers admissions to Nigerian tertiary institutions, has been praised for the wrong reasons. First, for its digitisation of its admission procedure to a system without electricity or popular access to the internet. Secondly, for turning an essential service into money-making venture.

The two premises for commendation are flawed. Education should be a right for a country that denies its citizens every basic need. As it stands it is not, and most parents have bent over backwards to send their children to schools with better prospects. The public school system has been run aground. Parents get no tax breaks for their effort, and the money raised cannot be used to provide basic essentials to students. It is laundered into the system for the big crooks.

Less than 10 per cent of those qualified for tertiary education gets the required admission to any school at all. This is a rape of the responsibility a country owes its young citizens. Many of the qualified have been murdered on the waiting list.

My niece is spending her fourth year at home after clearing her papers with incredibly super grades. She is a victim of catchment area that rewards poor students and punishes the bright ones because of the accident of their birth.

According to a story in The Punch, this year alone, JAMB remitted N7bn to the federal coffers from swindling parents and prospective students through its matriculation examination. JAMB offers no guarantee of admission to any student who passes their exams. “A” students waste the spring of their lives fasting and praying for what the society owes them. It is official rape.

Nigeria has no business charging any citizen money to get into tertiary institution. No advanced country charges even foreign students entrance examination fees. Before the establishment of JAMB, Nigerian students gained admission to universities when they passed their O Level; as it should be. Before 1978, Nigerian students had a choice of one or two universities to choose from. Today, they beg, bribe and even sleep with admission officers to get in. JAMB as an institution has outlived its usefulness to become a symbol of systemic rape of the citizenry. It should reform or be scrapped!

Uwa might not have come to a brutal end if the Uniben was advanced enough to offer her home learning using e-portals. She would not have been murdered in a cathedral if Nigeria provided electricity for her citizens. With uninterrupted electricity, Uwa would not be a trending hashtag. She went to a church in the hope that she would get free electricity to study in peace at night but met an untimely death in the house of God.

Those who sexually assaulted her only concluded a process that was began by her country. It is a shame that Nigeria serially rapes its citizenry on a daily basis in many ways. The lack of adequate security is a rape; lack of basic amenities is a rape of the citizenry. The ultimately painful tragedy is that those who daily rape Nigerians are granted the privileges that ought to be the basic rights of the citizenry. Would Uwa get justice in death? The answer is blowing in the wind.

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