Inside Plateau Communities Where Incest Rages; Survivors Rebuff Justice, Groan in Silence

The crime of rape involving close family members, mostly minors, has persisted unhindered in Plateau State. The insensitivity of government and refusal of survivors to take the laws on have continued to embolden perpetrators, leaving survivors traumatised, Omolabake Fasogbon reports this anomaly.

Sixteen-year-old Joy (not real name) looks like a new person, full of life and vibrancy, after returning from CLEEN Foundation, a shelter where she got some therapies. Yes, she became one of the escalating statistics in incest rape, after being serially sexually defiled by her 50-year-old-father, Mr. Francis Ayole.

During those nightmarish encounters, Joy had felt drained of joy. The parental warmth, which many girls enjoyed with their fathers, which she earnestly yearned for, was ripped.

Francis had sent both Joy and her mother, Mary, packing from their apartment in Ray Field Government Central in Jos South axis of Plateau State, after he discovered that Joy and her mother had reported his sordid act to the police.

Joy told this reporter how her father frequently engaged her in unprotected sex since she was 13, producing three pregnancies. The law refers to this as incest rape.

“He used to tell me he was teaching me sex education and warned me never to tell anyone. He said he would deny it if I told anyone,” Joy sadly recounted.

By Section 33 of the Marriage Act captured as “Prohibited degree of consanguinity, incest described as sexual relations and marriage among people who are related by blood, is a criminal offence.

 

 

 

Joy alleged that her father would swoop on her anytime she was having her bath, adding that it happened both when her mother was at home or away.

Joy was also made to go through unsafe abortion procedures three times for her father, doubling her reproductive health woes and risk of untimely death.

She said: “My first abortion was done by a chemist around government house in Shinco. I was given a drug and injection. The other two were carried out at home by the same chemist.”

Braving the Odds

Despite threat by her father, who is a veterinary doctor, Joy decided to share her plight with a classmate. According to her, she told her friend because she was tired of the abuse.

Joy’s friend reported the case to the school’s principal who then alerted Mary and a non-governmental organisation in Zawan, Child Protection Committee.

Mary said she was shocked when the information reached her, as she never knew such was happening under her roof.

She said she reported the case to the Ministry of Women Affairs in Plateau State, but was told by a source in the ministry to take the matter to the Ministry of Justice, as the Women Affairs might handle it with levity.

At the ministry, Mary said she met with the Principal State Counsel, Mrs. Lohya Ibrahim Lakai, who transferred the case to Anglo Police Station in Jos. This was in 2021.

Police told Mary and Joy to alert them anytime Francis was home to effect an arrest, but mother and daughter never did. They backed out.

Lakai expressed disappointment at their resolve.

She said: “I personally took the matter up when she came to report. After we reported at the police, the officer on duty, I can’t recall her name, told Mary to give her a call once her husband was at home so they could come for his for his arrest. I went as far as giving the police money to fuel their car just to make sure that there was no hindrance. Unfortunately, she didn’t call the police and calls to her phone were never picked.”

Mary, however, has a reason for not following on seeking justice. She explained that Francis threatened her. She said Francis boasted of being untouchable and that no one could indict him from defiling his daughter.

When our reporter contacted Francis who is presently at large, he denied sleeping with Joy, let alone impregnating her.

Lakai said it was evident Mary was raped, adding that threats from Francis might have discouraged both the abused and mother from pursuing the case.

By 2022, the matter was revisited. This time around, our reporter who was carried along practically followed the case up with the police and the abused.

Meanwhile, Mary and Joy had only agreed to pursue the matter after several pleas and encouragement from Lakai and the NGO privy to the matter. She was scared of her husband.

The matter returned to same Anglo Police Station, where it was handled in 2021.

Like the first time, the officer in charge, Grace Oyewole, instructed them to alert the station anytime they get wind of Francis whereabouts.

By November when our reporter called back, Mary said she called Oyewole when she got a tip-off on her husband’s whereabouts but there was no response.

But Oyewole told our reporter that Mary called when she was on leave and she directed her to call the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) which she never did.

Mary did not deny this. She said she did not call the DCO because she and Joy had lost interest in the case. She later told our reporter that she does not want her husband to go to prison.

“I just want the police to warn him but from the way they were handling it, I’m afraid they will take him to court,” she said.

Mary and her daughter backed out, thus empowering Francis who did not learn a lesson not to repeat the act.

Section 214 (3) of the Criminal Code Act, Caption 77, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) prescribes a minimum of 14 years imprisonment for those found guilty of incestuous liaison, while Section 31 of  The CRA Part 111, prescribes possible life imprisonment for an adult or culprit who is found guilty of rape against a child, which Joy is.

Lakai said she could not further force Mary and Joy to pursue justice, adding that survivors and their closest relationships have always frustrated incest cases with excuses.

From findings, Lakai statement was not far from the truth.

Amid incest rage in Plateau State, survivors often shy away from justice, thus emboldening perpetrators.

Investigation revealed that getting survivors to seek justice has been a major restraint in tackling scourge in the state.

Confirming the rage of incest in Plateau is a 2018 study by United Kingdom-based organisation, Tearfund, titled, “Falling on Deaf Ears? Listening to survivors of Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Plateau State Nigeria.”

The study revealed that incest is the most perpetrated violence against women and girls in Plateau State.

Investigation showed that minors are worst abused in the state.

According to Plateau State Chapter of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Person Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), four out of 10 girls are raped by their fathers while seven out of 10 girls are defiled by siblings in the state.

The situation is worrisome, considering that Plateau was among the first states to domesticate the Child Rights Acts, CRA, in Nigeria.

Also, the state recently signed the Violence against Person Prohibition, VAPP, questioned the impact of these instruments.

Muna Cries Wolf for Justice after Attempting Suicide 

Like Joy, Muna’s (not real name)  case got truncated halfway to justice.

This reporter got wind of Muna’s case through a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Peace Advancement, Action Against Violence and Rape Foundation (PAAAVARF).

PAAAVARF is an (NGO) that handles issue of this kind in Plateau. Muna, 16, in a voice record made available to this reporter claimed to have been raped repeatedly by her disabled father.

She said that the fact that her family members were privy to the bestial act did not stop him and none of them were bold enough to challenge or condemn the act because he is their benefactor.

Muna in the record further cried: “I am tired! I need justice urgently!  I am particularly sad that our family members know about this but have remained quiet because my father is their benefactor. Already, he has caused me a pain that I will forever live with, all I need is justice! I want justice served so that what happened to me will not befall my sisters. The worst has happened to me, I can choose to take or leave it, but I don’t want my sisters to experience the same.”

She explained that when her father realised she was seeking help, he tried to cover up the act and arranged with some workers in a remand home for her to be detained, on the allegation of prostitution.

She said her father continued with the act when she returned from the remand home.

Team Lead for PAAAVARF, Mrs. Vivian Abara said Muna was rescued at Gada biu bridge where she was about to commit suicide. She was later kept in a shelter not disclosed to any member of her family.

Abara said: “We decided not to inform any of her family members for safety reason and also to aid investigation and prosecution. Her mother later came begging to know her daughter’s hideout. We were initially reluctant, but she assured us of maximum cooperation. Unfortunately, the tune changed after the mother had access to her. Muna suddenly turned her back, saying she no longer wanted to institute a case against her father. She requested to be reunited with her family and that was all.

“Obviously, Muna is pained and wounded and ready for justice.  Only God knows what her mother told her that made her backed out”, Abara said.

Like Lakai, Abara said survivors of incest are fond of backing out of legal process even when services are offered probono

Raging Taboo

Although incest is licit in some climes, it is by all means a taboo in most parts of Nigeria. Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) describes incest as an offence against morality.

1st Schedule (Section 3) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, Cap 220, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 1990, lists the prohibited degree of consanguinity to include that between father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister, uncle and aunt, niece, and nephew.

These laws, notwithstanding, do not deter the awful act, which remains a global threat.

According to UNICEF, one in four girls in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.

Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen described incest as the worst form of sexual violence.

Similarly, Sudha Jha Pathak, in her study, ‘Domestic Violence,” asserted that incest is one of the most ghastly crimes of all, which she said is more common than imagined.

She submits that about 80-90 per cent of all sexual crimes against children is intrafamilial.

Describing the situation in Nigeria,  a sociologist, Aruna Justina Olufunke in her study, ‘Trend in Child Sexual Molestation, Rape and Incest’ maintains that incest is on the increase in Nigeria, just as a global NGO, Partner for Reproductive Justice (IPAS) affirmed a surge in the scourge in the country.

NAPTIP says it recorded close to 150 cases during COVID-19 lockdown.

According to experts, the scourge is fuelled by crisis, patriarchy, culture and poverty, amongst others. Investigation revealed that the act is quite prevalent in Plateau State as studies have equally proven.

Abara stated that seven of nine girls have suffered incest rape in the state.  She added that PAAAVARF records up to three to four cases weekly.

Moreover, the Tearfund study by  Solange Mbonigaba highlights the crime prevalence in Plateau communities.

The study revealed that incest rape is more common than other types of rape in the six communities sampled, namely: Mista Ali, Fobur, Yelwa, Mabudi, Miango, and Zagun.

Of 92 survivors interviewed in the study, 65 persons were sexually abused by close or extended family members while 35 percent were abused by strangers.

Findings showed that Plateau remains a bastion for incest being one of the most populous internally displaced persons, IDPs base in Nigeria.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, IOM, both Benue and Plateau states constitute 47 percent of IDPs in the entire North Central and North West zones.

Commander of NAPTIP in Plateau State, Mr. Adole Alexander Agada testified to the prevalence.

He said that 16 cases caught the agency’s attention between March 2021 and August 2022, adding that the figure was far from reality because abused do not always want to involve law enforcement agents.

In the same vein, Plateau State branch of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), admitted to incidence, adding that survivors have been uncooperative.

Zainab Endless Pain, Anguish

Zainab (not real name), 14, refused to utter a word despite efforts to get her to talk. She feigned a concentration on her frail-looking three-year-old child playing with dust in their untarred compound.

“She won’t talk,” muttered Yohanna, Zainab’s cousin who mustered up the courage to speak on her behalf.  Zainab had her three-year-old baby for her 20-year-old first cousin, Ismail.

Yohanna said Ismail came to live with Zainab’s family in Foron for easy access to his school. He began to sleep with her immediately he moved in. This was when Zainab was just 10-year-old.

Yohanna explained: “Nobody knew that Ismail was abusing Zainab sexually. All that we noticed was that she suddenly developed a hatred for Ismail. Oh! She hated him to a fault, but we trivialised it, believing it was a normal siblings’ thing. We got to know after her teacher called our attention to her pregnancy. It was then she told us that Ismail had been raping her. It usually happens anytime she was having her bath. Ismail would barge into the bathroom, push her to the wall and have his way. Even at night, when everyone was asleep, he would still go to rape her, warning and threatening her not to tell anyone.”

Yohanna said Zainab’s mother did not take any action since it happened within the family.

“The family chose to resolve it among themselves. Zainab’s mother was being careful not to offend her brother, the father of the perpetrator, hence decided to settle it as a family affair.”

Our reporter learnt that Zainab has since dropped out of school to nurture her baby, while Ismail has advanced to tertiary institution.

Yohanna said Zainab has been suspiciously quiet since she gave birth to her baby.

A Clinical Psychologist at Jos University Teaching Hospital, Margaret Akogun, said cases like that of Zainab may take eternity to heal without appropriate therapy.

Akogun added, “Incest victims tend to have marital difficulties, and there is an increased risk of them physically and emotionally abusing their children. Periods of promiscuity or prostitution may result”

Justice Sold for N3million 

For N3 million, Hajia, a mother of three -year-old Aisha (not real name), who was raped by her 31-year-old uncle backed out at the verge of prosecution.

The human right source privy to the matter told our reporter that Aisha’s parent was eager to get justice until they were bought over by the perpetrator.

The source who would not want to be named for personal reasons said: “We got wind of the matter from our first responder, and we took it up, gladly, the parent were cooperative. The case was taken up by the police as medical test confirmed abuse.   We were to take the case to court when the survivor and mom suddenly stopped showing up.”

The source said they traced Hajia to her house in Jos North, but she had already vacated the building.  Our reporter learnt that Aisha’s parent relocated to an unknown destination just to avoid justice.

The source said that he was later informed that Hajia was paid N3million by the offender to quash the matter.

Although case is buried, psychologist opined that Hajia’s action may hunt her abused daughter in the future.

Worrying Harbour of Horror

The situation has remained unchanged where survivors and closest relationships call the law’s bluff as with Muna and Joy.

Abara submitted that about nine out of 10 survivors of incest survivors do not want legal intervention after opening up.

Agada on his part said of the 16 cases with NAPTIP, only three turned out for justice.  “The rest didn’t turn up. Some of them disappear to an obscure village,” he lamented.

Likewise, Plateau State Chairperson of FIDA, Mrs. Obioma Achilefu said cases reported to the Federation under her leadership never saw light.

Investigation revealed that survivor’s lax attitude is emboldening perpetrators, thus, stretching figure of occurrence.

This turned out in the case of Muna who returned to live with her father and Francis, who now walk freely on the street.

But according to the Project Director of Vision Spring Initiative, Ngozi Nwosu-Juba, survivors rebuff justice not because they do not want it, but that they lack confidence in the system, especially the judiciary.

She said: “They fear that the system will stigmatise them, they fear a system that will blame them for their ordeal and even abuse them the second time. For women who don’t want their husband to prison, they fear what the society will say, they fear that no one will fill the gap of their husband when he is away.”

Further findings revealed that mediation of community leaders is more revered than legal intervention.

Coordinator of National Human Right Commission, NHRC, in Plateau, Grace Pam said:  “As much as traditional and community leaders  condemn this crimes, they  still pressure victims and their families to settle at home or ask the perpetrators  to pay  fine.”

Like in the case of Aisha where justice was swapped for N3millon, Abara blamed poverty.  Moreso, myth and traditions.

She noted that trust deficit in police and judicial system, coupled with untoward mannerisms, sometimes prevent survivors and their close ones from resorting to legal help.

“You can imagine a policewoman telling a survivor, ‘wetin carry you go there, na because you wear this cloth make them rape you.’ They go as far as saying, ‘you enjoy am na e no make you report on time.’ They say this, not considering the fact that a survivor may be under a threat not to speak out. Certainly, a girl under threat would stomach so many things until she finds one who comes to her level.”

Though not bailable, Abara said cases where police grant bail to offender or arrange illicit settlement between survivor and suspect, abound, and inimical.

When contacted, the state’s Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Rebecca Sambo said: “I don’t have any case of that kind on my table.”

Disturbing Statistics of Prosecution

A recent poll by Thompson Reuters Foundation ranked Nigeria as the third most dangerous country for women in Africa and ninth worldwide.  Some identified risk factors in the poll included sexual violence, sexual exploitation and traditional practices among others.

By UNICEF calculation, one in four girls suffer sexual violence in Nigeria.

Inspite worrisome trend, only 65 rapists have been convicted across the country between 1973 and 2019, according to the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

Prosecution is yet worse in incest matter where data on happenings is still very much scanty.

Although cases rarely get to court, few ones that get there often drag due to sluggish judicial system and destroyed evidence.

Data obtained by our reporter from Jos Correctional Centre showed weak and declining prosecution, amid raging scourge.

Available data from the centre showed the state has  11 and four incest suspects on   awaiting trial list between 2018 and 2019  respectively, with convictions for the same period being  put at  six and three respectively.

Another data from Plateau State Ministry of Justice showed there had not been conviction on incest in the last five years.

Principal State Counsel of the Ministry, Mrs Lohya Ibrahim Lakai however said three cases are pending in court out of 5 cases presented to the Ministry between  2018-2022.

Lakai reiterated that complainants are always reluctant to follow up on cases.

Abara said eight out of 10 incest cases in court are withdrawn by defendant.

Reason given by her is that most witnesses do not show up in court or refuse to testify against perpetrators because they don’t want them to be punished.

Defending the court, Achilefu said, “Where there is no witness, it is not possible that the judge or prosecution become the witness. Once a witness repeatedly failed to show up, it is natural for the judge to strike such a case out.

This reporter gathered that incest survivors in the state are mostly of poor background who do not have resources to pursue a case to logical end.

Abara added, “Most times, people don’t turn up in court because of transport expenses. They get tired when judgment is severally deferred and they will say they don’t have money to waste on transport”.

Director of Gender Studies at Nassarawa State University, Prof. Hauwa Mainoma said offenders often take advantage of complainant’s absence to follow up on a case to in their favour.

Overcoming the Horror 

Pam, who has worked with NHRC for long and seen many cases, stressed the need for a state-owned well-equipped shelter. She said this was necessary to boost confidence of survivors in seeking justice.

Plateau like many states in Nigeria does not have its own shelter.

Pam explained that absence of shelter was limiting the centre and other volunteers’ ability to pursue justice for sufferers.

She added that a few NGOs volunteering their shelters are running out of resources and support.

Pam equally suggested an incest penalty stiffer than 10 years stipulated by VAPP.

Abara on her part believed that legislation allowing handlers, like NGO represent victims in court, where they are absent, would enhance prosecution rate.

She also craved financial empowerment for survivors.

She explained, “Since some of these victims are economically dependent on their perpetrators, some sort of financial empowerment may jeer them up.”

Achilefu opted for laws that would criminalised backing out in the middle of prosecution.

On siblings’ incest, Achilefu advised parent try to censor what children consume on social media.

She added, “They should avoid siblings of opposite sex to occupy same room. We should understand that issue like this stems from emotions. I also implore parent to make their sexual engagement as secretive as possible”.

Akogun also recommended psychological examination of perpetrators, which to her is often overlooked.

She said, “Perpetrators of this act need to be exposed to psychological treatment. This is because some are experiencing psychological disorders such as sexual disorders or even personality problems and disorders, which requires treatment.”

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Report Women! News and Newsroom Engagement project.