In this concluding part of the investigation, human rights activists, child rights advocates and other experts lampoon police poor handling of defilement and rape cases, calling for retraining. JULIANA FRANCIS reports
The IPO, Osas, started running up and down, immediately he heard that human rights activists were involved.”
Dickson said that when he and other activists stepped into the matter, they discovered that the police painted the picture that the survivor fell from a ‘rooftop,’ and got a ‘deep cut’ in her private parts. “The ‘deep cut’ was still bleeding, and this was even a week after the incident, before we stepped in. The child had been taken to hospital and the doctor confirmed that there was penetration and there was semen. I don’t know how to explain semen inside of a child that fell from a ‘rooftop.’ We told the DPO to transfer the case to the State Police Headquarters, but he refused. Defilement cases are not handled at the division level; it is usually at the state’s headquarters and from there to court. It’s only the court that has the right to set free the perpetrator,” said Dickson. He noted that after confrontations and hostilities, the division reluctantly transferred the case. The activist said: “The child was bleeding and wore adult diapers, which continued to be bloodstained. Just imagine the pains of that three years’ old child. The child repeatedly stated that Samuel gave her chocolate sweet and brought out his peepee and rubbed something on it and put it inside her weewee. Today, the case is now in court. The little girl has testified, the doctor has testified, but the police have refused to come to testify. The case was held last month, but the police didn’t come to testify because according to the girl’s mum, the police said they had not been given money.”
Experts speak on police damaging SGBV cases
Do SGBV cases get truncated because some of these police personnel were untrained on how to investigate such sensitive cases? A human rights lawyer, Abiodun Kolawole, esq, principal partner of Crown Cannan Attorneys Chambers, explained that Section 4 of the Nigerian Police Act, states that the police are to investigate any issue that has to do with crime and that it behoves them to handle rape and defilement cases as crimes and do due diligence. Amnesty International, in its latest report, said experiences shared by survivors showed that some conducts of police officers do not comply with international human rights law and standards, as well as the provisions of the Nigerian Police Act. In the report, survivors alleged that while reporting to police as first responders, to have encountered victim-blaming, dismissive treatment, financial extortion, embarrassing questions, gender stereotyping and lack of empathy from the police. The report further states: “In some instances when survivors report rape, the police advise survivors and perpetrators to settle the case outside the criminal justice system.”
A Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), who didn’t want his name mentioned because he was not authorised to speak, explained: “These police personnel know what to do, but they do rubbish thing like settling defilement or rape cases because of money!
Some collect money from both the survivors and perpetrators. Sometimes, the survivors and family collect money for settlement, not because they want to, but because they have been threatened and are afraid for their lives. These kinds of police personnel believe such can never happen to them, but it can! Part of the law is to ensure survivors get justice and if they’re being threatened, police are supposed to arrest the threats!” The DCP further explained that aside from receiving complaints, the Human Rights desks in police formations and stations were supposed to ensure that all the sections observe HRs compliance in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He added: “The Administration of Criminal Justice Law covers many procedures in investigations like detention, statement taking and arrest.
This, together with the Police Act and Regulations and Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials, the Nigerian Constitution, among others, are enough for these personnel. All these statutes are all encompassing and there are no deficiencies in the laws. We even have specific laws like the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 (VAPPS) and in Lagos, there is the protection against domestic violence law of Lagos State. The officers need to be more professional, that’s all. The laws are sufficient.”
He said that police personnel drafted to gender desks had been trained on how to handle issues that have to do with SGBV, but “they refused to allow the training to enter them. Another challenge is that some of these personnel who had been trained soon get transferred to another unit or station.”
Challenges confronting Gender Units
Ms. Grace Agboola, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Head, Gender Desk Officer, Lagos State Police Command, responding to questions of police initiating settlement and mediation in rape cases, asked by our reporter during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, organised by ACVPN on December 14, said: “Yes, we do have guidelines on how to handle rape cases.” She stated that following complaints, police would visit the scene and ensure that the survivor goes for a medical examination. Agboola, however, added that there were challenges confronting the police, one of which is the COVID- 19 test, which is supposed to be done on the perpetrator before he is charged to court. She insisted that the test is being paid for by police personnel. The CPS added that they have resolved that NGOs pursuing justice for survivors should begin to foot the payment of the COVID-19 test. She said: “We can’t use our hard earned money to pay for COVID-19 test for perpetrators. If they do not take the test, they’ll not be accepted in prison custody.” Agboola added that rather than survivors’ families giving in to po-lice personnel asking them to settle with perpetrators, they should insist on their cases being charged to court. Agboola’s second in command (2ic), Bimbo Williams, revealed that the issues clogging the wheel of justice continued because there was no money provided for the Gender Units to investigate or pursue cases. She urged NGOs, civil society organisations and journalists to speak on their behalf to the necessary authorities to do the needful. However, contrary to the claim by Agboola on the COVID-19 test, the Force spokesman, Frank Mba, in an exclusive interview with this reporter earlier in 2021, explained that the COVID-19 test for suspects was being done at selected public hospitals. Mba added that any police officer claiming to use their money for the test was being economical with the truth. According to him, the test is free.
More human rights activists open can of worms
The Executive Director, Crime Victims Foundation of Nigeria (CRIVIFON), Barrister Gloria Egbuji, said: “The legal and professional way police handle rape victims should be a lot different from the usual ways of dealing with other felonies.
A victim of rape is already going through a lot of trauma and confusion. This entails police being more humane, and to show empathy in their interrogation processes. They should give the victim listening ears, and avoid victim-blaming, which they always do once the victim’s statement is being taken. They should keep the victim’s identity confidential unless where the law says otherwise.”
Egbuji also said that the police have no rights to force mediation settlement between survivor’s and perpetrators, stressing that rape is a felony and should be treated as such. She said: “However, with restorative justice now in place in Lagos State, if a survivor willingly surrenders to that, so be it. But other than that, the police should go ahead and prosecute or allow fiat to be given to a private person to go ahead with the case.” Egbuji also thinks more awareness about the impact of the rape on the victims is needed. She added: “There’s the need to train more officers on how to handle rape survivors. And right from junior secondary schools, girls and boys should be educated.
On rare occasions, boys also get raped. The mass media should continue to make issues around sexual violence an important part of their human angle stories.” The Executive Director of the Human Rights Education and Awareness Centre, Barrister Ene Sarah Unobe, said most times, some police personnel just do not know what to investigate, which she described as a fundamental problem. She added: “They ask questions like, ‘why are you wearing a skirt instead of trousers? Why are you wearing a skimpy skirt instead of a gown? Why are you not wearing this and why did you wear that? Why did you go to his house in the first place?’ They don’t seem to know what to investigate!” Unobe said the proper procedure when a survivor complains at the station is for a female police officer to be immediately provided.
The survivor should be taken to an office where she can feel comfortable. She said: “The police should pet her, tell her not to worry, give her water and drinks, assure her there is no problem and promise that they will assist her. This empathy will give her confidence. If police miss the procedure from the onset, she may withhold the rest of the information. It’s worse when the police begin by blaming a survivor. She can leave and will never return.” Unobe said the police, with empathy, should ask questions about the perpetrator, and then asked the survivor if she had taken her bath. She should collect her panties for forensic examination and take them to the Mirabel Centre, and hospital, to ascertain further evidence to nail the perpetrator. She added: “The police must explain to the survivor the reason she needed those items. When all these are done, they can now go and arrest the perpetrator.” Unobe said that it is important for a survivor to have a lawyer with her while her statement is being taken. She can, however, waive that right, said Unobe. She added: “In rape cases, a perpetrator shouldn’t be tortured because that act could truncate the evidence.”
Unobe recalled instances whereby the police attempted to truncate rape cases. A particular case was reported at Iponri Police Station. She said: “The survivor reported the case and when she got there, the police asked her, ‘when you went there, were you wearing a short skirt? What kind of clothes did you wear to the place?’ They complained of not having transport to go and arrest the perpetrator. They asked her if she and the perpetrator had dated, that maybe he didn’t give her money, she decided to accuse him of rape.
All these kinds of dismissive attitudes of the police truncate rape cases during investigation. When investigation is poorly conducted, the prosecution becomes impossible or tedious. I’ve witnessed their dismissive and judgmental attitude towards survivors.”
She said most times, survivors do not have transportation to go to Mirabel Centre to get medical examination or result, this, according to her, also truncates cases. “The police will ask survivors to go and do tests, but wouldn’t give them all the vital information, like the right hospital to go to. Again, for the case to be charged to court, victims are asked to bring money for logistics.
They’ll ask for money for transport to go and make arrests, to make photocopies and money for this and that. The burden of investigation will fall on the survivor. Thus, a survivor that doesn’t have money may end up not having her case properly investigated. If the perpetrator has money, then corruption can take place,” said Unobe. She said that sometimes while a survivor will be crying, worrying on how to get the N5,000 police demanded from her in order to begin investigation, the perpetrator will be willing to part with N100,000, so that police will not do proper investigation.
Unobe noted: “The subject of corruption by the police affects the issue of proper investigation when it comes to rape cases or other cases. Hence, if a survivor doesn’t have approval money or mobilisation money, forget it! You’ll see instances where survivors keep to themselves because they don’t have the resources to give to the police for investigation. Going forward, when a case is charged to court, the prosecutor again asks for money to duplicate the case file. So we have a situation where money plays major roles beginning from the point of reporting for investigation to the point of prosecution. These can truncate cases.
Sometimes, survivors will begin to think they have spent so much, and justice still has not been achieved. They wouldn’t want to continue. They’ll not come as witnesses to the court, and at the end of the day, the cases are truncated. This causes the survivor to suffer psychologically; they’ll experience pains and loss of self-esteem.
Some will even want to take their lives.” Unobe, who suggested that the whole Nigeria Police Force should be overhauled, said more NGOs have to be trained on victim support. She said: “In the country, where crime commission is very cheap, and justice is very expensive, it’s better you’re not seeking justice. It’s better if you’re informed on how not to be a victim. Poverty and pornography have increased cases of rape.
People need not send their child to a particular man who has lost his wife, who is idle and doing nothing. Don’t send your daughter to go and run errands for a single man or a married man who is all alone. Children and parents must be taught that it’s possible for a pastor to rape a woman from the congregation. We’re now facing such realities. They must re-adjust their thinking.
This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Report Women!
initiative with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).”