The second edition of the Big Brother Nigeria reality show ended in a messy sexual controversy when one of the housemates, Ekemini Aniefiok Ekerette, popularly known as Kemen, was accused of sexually assaulting a female housemate. The organisers of the show evicted Kemen from the house, but he was still allowed to participate in promotional activities by a sponsor of the show.
The reaction of some Nigerians on social media – from arguments over whether assault could occur if the victim was asleep, to jokes and dismissals – proved that many Nigerians have only a vague idea of what sexual consent and sexual abuse are. This may very well be contributing to the rising incidence of rape in the country.
Cases of the rape of minors and adults, boys and girls, men and women are reported daily in the national dailies. In the north-central Niger State, a 12-year-old boy was raped by a tea seller until he died. In the south-western state of Ondo, a 56-year-old father was sent to jail for raping his 16-year-old daughter. A student of the Ekiti State College of Health Technology was gang-raped by 10 boys. Even the elderly and babies are not spared: a 70-year-old woman and a seven-month-old baby were both raped to death in Ondo and Katsina states respectively
Stigma and Shame
Lagos State noted that there had been 162 reported cases of rape in 2016 alone. The keyword here is ‘reported’, given that many cases are not reported to the police. There is a widespread culture of silence and shame that cuts across the many tribes of Nigeria and sees the victims being stigmatised instead of the rapists.
Victims of rape are blamed and the responsibility of avoiding the crime, as well as the burden of providing evidence when it happens, is placed on their shoulders.
In cases where a child is abused, unless it leads to the death or a grievous health challenge for the child, parents and relatives usually prefer to settle out of court with the rapist to avoid the child being stigmatised as ‘damaged goods’ in the future.
Victims of rape are blamed and the responsibility of avoiding the crime, as well as the burden of providing evidence when it happens, is placed on their shoulders. Even children, especially girls, are warned not to be friendly with their uncles and older men, in general, to avoid being sexually abused.
“[The] conspiracy of silence is a major challenge, and religious leaders carry out most of these cases of domestic violence,” said Fatai Owoseni, the Lagos State Commissioner for Police in an interview in December 2016. “We need our people to speak out and join in the fight against domestic and sexual violence to curb the menace.”
This culture of silence, of covering up cases, of blaming everyone but the rapist has emboldened perpetrators so much that the country is now teetering on the verge of a rape epidemic.
Safe from the Consequences
The lines that define what rape is are now so blurry to many that while it is accepted that raping little children is a crime, it is not so for teenagers. This is the reason that when a Lagos school reported the pregnancy of one of its pupils to the police, the man accused – a 45-year-old tailor – could claim he was in a relationship with the 13-year-old girl and had plans to marry her, refusing to see any fault in what he had done.
In a country as religious as Nigeria, with over 85 million avowed Christians alone, the words of church leaders are often taken as law and members often fall victim to perverted preachers. Yet, even when these pastors are exposed, the general consensus of their congregation is usually to ‘leave the matter to God’. Defenders will back this line of thought with the Bible verse from Psalm 105 verse 15: “Touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm.”
Another issue that has fuelled the growing epidemic is the lack of proper prosecution of and consequent convictions in such cases. Between 2012 and 2014, 96 rape cases were recorded in Edo State. Of those, 92 were prosecuted, but only nine convictions were secured, according to the Edo State’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Henry Idahagbon.
“As the law stands now, there are lots of loopholes for offenders to escape conviction,” he said.
In Jigawa State, Yakubu Ruba, the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, said that at least 10 cases of rape are reported monthly. He expressed the assurance that the government was working on the issue.
“The high incidence of rape in our state is disturbing. It is unfortunate, and we are committed to tackling it as a government [but] the parents are not always willing to testify in court when their children are raped,” Ruba said.
Last year, an NGO in Enugu state, the Women Aid Collective (WACOL), reported 491 cases of rape and no mention of prosecutions or convictions. The Executive Director of WACOL, Dr Joy Ezeilo, said that the reluctance of victims to report incidents of rape and poor judicial processes were hampering prosecution efforts.
The words of church leaders are often taken as law and members often fall victim to perverted preachers.
The Root Causes of Rape
According to Dr Gbonjubola Abiri, a Senior Registrar at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Lagos, men who rape often have a rigid, conservative and idealised view of the female role – and they denigrate any woman who transgresses that role.
Rapists frequently blame their victims for their attacks, justifying the rape in terms of the woman’s behaviour. For instance, he may blame her for the rape by saying it was because she dressed suggestively.
In many cases, the explanations given for rape are socio-cultural, in terms of the cultural attitudes to women, the social constructions and the male and female gender roles.
Dr Abiri noted that there could also be biological causes of rape. These include severe mental illness, such as the disinhibition that occurs in manic illnesses and some forms of dementia. Rapes may also be linked to paranoid delusions in psychotic states, such as delusions of love or even jealousy.
“Substance abuse disorders have been associated with about 50% of rape,” said Dr Abiri. “Sexual disorders, as occurs in those who derive pleasure from sadistic acts on unwilling partners, may also result in rape.”
Another complication, according the Edo State Police Commissioner Foluso Adebanjo, is the connection between rape and fetish rituals for wealth, power and longevity. More people are using rape for the purpose of getting wealth and power through fetish means. This means that the more the country goes through hard financial times, the more cases of rape, especially of young children, will crop up.
To curb this growing epidemic, we need to teach people, especially men, what consent really means
With the country facing so many problems, such as the biting economic recession and the ongoing power tussles in the political sector, the eyes of those with the power to make laws and protect citizens are currently turned away from the alarming rise of sexual crimes.
To curb this growing epidemic, we need to teach people, especially men, what consent really means. The Nigerian government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should educate society through adverts on TV and radio jingles. Parents should teach their children about sex and sexual crimes and also create an environment that allows them to be comfortable enough to report inappropriate relationships.
Lastly, we need stronger laws on rape and stiffer punishments for those found guilty to act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators, and also for law enforcement officers who protect rapists. If people think they can get away with rape, then soon we would not be able to walk on our streets without being sexually assaulted. The next victim could be me, you, your sister, mother, daughter, son, brother, husband, uncle or aunt. We must act now to put a stop to rape in Nigeria before we have a full-blown crisis on our hands.