By Nsikan Edak
Port Harcourt the Rivers State Capital is a highly populated city of the oil- rich state in Niger Delta, South-South, Nigeria.
As an industrial city of the ”Treasure base of the Nation”, with great economic potentials, the population level continues in an upward surge, causing grave impact and pressure on the available infrastructure and facilities, including housing and the other social amenities and services. The palpable struggle for means of livelihood/ survival and space (accommodation) by residents and potential dwellers has regrettably resulted in the high and unaffordable house rent demanded by shylock landlords and property vendors in the city, thereby forcing most accommodation seekers and urban dwellers to relocate to or prefer to live at the less expensive suburbs and surrounding rural communities. The movement of mostly these low income earners and unemployed residents and their families as well as their cohabitation in these suburb and adjourning communities have come with its own challenges. Most of these challenges include rampant rape cases and abuse of the girl child.
Over the years, there have been frequent cases of rape and abuse of the girl child, high dose of which occur in these suburbs including the water-fronts and densely cohabited areas with shanties and other surrounding communities, on development believed to be encouraged by the poverty state of the people, indecent lifestyle and unbefitting nature of their accommodation and the environment in which they live, ignorance, and lack of education of the people, falling standard of values and social education in the society and failure of Government agencies and relevant institution to provide social security including employment and unemployment (skill) as well as physical security to the citizenry. There are also obvious cases of compromise in the execution and application of legal instruments against indulgence in such morally and globally condemnable acts by the security agencies, particularly the police and the social Welfare (service) institutions and other relevant state apparatus. It cannot be over emphasized that some individuals who cannot afford paying for houses in well developed areas find themselves in shanty areas of water-sides where cases of rape are on the high side.
The rate at which rape incidents occur in and within the suburb of Port Harcourt, especially in Diobu area is actually of great concern. Diobu is a business and residential area in Port Harcourt with large population of artisans, students, unemployed and low income earners. It used to be a place where accommodation was less expensive compared to other parts of the city. It is an area where one room apartment could be occupied by an average of family members and friends.
Parents and guardians in a normal circumstance owe their children and wards that responsibility to care for, and be very courteous of who plays around with them, the company they keep, and who stays with them when not at home, Diobu situation needs extra efforts, of care and attention by parents and guardian, because of the vulnerability and obvious threat in the case of rape and defilements of girl child.
There have been several report of cases where children less than 12 years and below are being cajoled or forced into a room or tight secluded corners only to be raped. Female children hawking in the street are also victim of this tragic and traumatic experiences most often. In most instances, these female hawkers are called by some men who pretend they want to buy items being hawked, only to forcefully take advantage of them. There are also cases where children also face this same abuse by some irresponsible fathers, uncles, brothers and maid guards.
According to section 357 of the Criminal Code Act of 2004 “Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl without her consent, or with her consent if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threat or intimidation of any kind or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or in the case of a married woman by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape”.
The law also outlined some indices to measure the act of rape as follows:
1) That a man, the accused had sexual intercourse with a woman, the victim.
2) That the act of intercourse was unlawful not being between husband and wife.
3) That in giving the evidence of intercourse complete penetration is proved.
4) That the accused had the required men rea; that is, intention to have intercourse with a woman without her consent or that the accused acted recklessly not caring whether the woman consented or not.
5) Also, the prosecution must adduce evidence to corroborate the complaint made by the victim and although this is not required as a matter of law, it is in practice.
The law also state it clearly that the essential and most important ingredient of the offence of rape is penetration, without which the prosecution is considered failed, even though there is a proof of injury or rupture of the hymen as in the case of a virgin.
Section 358 of the same criminal Act of 2004 similarly provided some punishment for the offence of rape that: “Any person who commits the offence of rape is liable to imprisonment for live with or without canning.
As clearly defined by the law, there have been propellant cases of rape and related actions in and around the suburbs of Port Harcourt. Cases such as fathers raping their children for ill-conceived and inexplicable reason best known to them, cases where full grown adults trap teenagers into their room through fake promises only to take advantage of them, some through threat and injection of fear.
For instance, early this year, precisely on the 12th of January, a case of one Mr. Opuwari Goodhead of Urualla in Diobu area of Port Harcourt who allegedly raped his 18 year old daughter, name withheld, was reported to the Mile one police Station, Diobu, Port Harcourt.
An inspector of Police, who prefers anonymity, said they (the police) were called by the security chairman in charge of the area to arrest the suspect. The neighbours who witnessed the incidents said they heard noise of someone struggling and being dragged as usual in Mr Goodhead’s house that evening and ran out to find out what was happening again.
Before now, the neighbours have complained of several occasions where the said man and the daughter have been engaging in physical dragging and arguments in a closed door. The neighbours complained that each time they knock the door to ask what the matter was between the daughter and father, the response by the father would always be that the daughter is stubborn, and needs iron hand to correct her. Warning them to mind their business that he, (the father) has the right to train his child the way he wants. Unknown to the neighbours that these have always been attempts to rape the girl.
An interaction with the victim (the daughter) revealed that the father came back from work that Monday morning and asked her to give him water for his bath which she did. She disclosed that after having his bath, the father went inside to dress up when suddenly he called her into the room for unexplained reason. “I went into the room, thinking he needed my assistance on anything. “When I went inside, he pushed me to the bed and began to rape me as usual, so I began to struggle with him before neighbours heard my voice and came out demanding that he open, the door else they will break it.” She said the fear of neighbours breaking the door to meet the father naked, made him leave her alone to have his dress on. It was then she had the opportunity to run out of the house to tell the neighbours what took place, and who immediately reported the matter to the police station.
The suspect was arrested and detained in the police cell for proper investigation on the matter.
During an interview after his release from detention, the suspect revealed that he was not the biological father of the girl as reported at the station. He narrated how he fell in love with the mother of the victim some years back, ignorant of the fact that she was pregnant until he asked her hand in marriage before she opened up to him that she was two months pregnant before their relationship started.
According to Mr. Goodhead,“ because I loved her, I told her not to worry, and also not to abort the baby, that I will be the father if only she will accept my proposal. The lady agreed to keep the pregnancy, and we both cohabited and had two more children, plus the first one she came with making three”. The suspect said he began to feel cheated when the mother left the marriage, that she may one day decide to take the daughter to the rightful father and he will loose out after spending all his resources to take care of the girl from birth till maturity. That was the reason he raped her.
Mr Goodhead said he was only trying to take his own share of the contribution and sacrifice for nurturing and taking care of the girl from birth.
Meanwhile, the innocent girl who never knew the alleged history thought she was staying with her father. She also disclosed that what made the mother to leave the marriage was the father’s uncontrollable urge for sex within the first two to three weeks of baby delivery. According to her, the mother could not endure it that was why she left the marriage. She was left with the younger brother to stay with the father, while the mother only visits to give them food items.
The suspect was released from police cell because there was nobody to prosecute or follow-up the case coupled with the closure of courts in Rivers State during the period the incident took place
An interaction with a lawyer, and human rights activist, Barr. Prudence of Human Rights, Social Development and Environment Foundation (HURSDEF) in Port Harcourt, revealed that the case of rape is frequently reported to their Organisation. She disclosed some ordeals and challenges they encounter as Human rights organisation in tackling the issues of rape in the area.
Barr. Prudence disclosed that the strike by Rivers State Judiciary staff was among other things, the main challenge, as victims and even suspects are denied quick justice. “Several cases of rape are kept pending awaiting court resumption. It is really a serious challenge” she added.
She cited the case of one Mr Christopher Wisben of No 6, Bernard Car Street in Borokiri, Port Harcourt, who was reported to have raped a 13year old niece of the wife, who was staying with them. She said this case was reported to them last year, but no action has been taken also because of the closure of the courts in Rivers State, pleading that Rivers State Government should do something about the resumption of judicial and legal service in court in the State to enable proper and prompt prosecution of all new and pending case.
Another challenge disclosed by Barr. Prudence was the attitude of the Police concerning granting of bail to the suspects. She pointed out that, rather than commitedly and sincerely helping in fighting the menace, the police are particularly concerned about collecting money from the victims and subsequently grant them bail.
She revealed a recent case that was reported to them about one Mr Ndidi Alfred, popularly known as “Pepper” who resides No. 12b, Adelegbu in Diobu, who was reported to have been consistently fingering her two children of (four and six) years in the mother’s absent, telling them not to tell their Mother (his wife) else there will be no biscuit for them to school. On a particular day, the 6 year old child had to open up to the mother what the father has been doing to her. The case was reported last year at the Azikiwe Police Station by his wife. But it was revealed that the police, instead of looking into the case and punishing the suspect according to the law, told her to go home and settle her family issue. Collected money from the suspect (the husband) and granted him bail.
The woman said the fear of going home to live under the same roof with the so called husband made her stay separately with her two children. According to the mother, the four year old girl was tested and found infected with staphylococcus infection and the hymen ruptured, which means there is more to the story than what the little girl could open up to the mother.
Barr. Prudence said the case was reported to them on the 21st January, 2015 when the said man (suspect) went back to threaten the woman to bring back her children. This time, she chose to run to the Human Rights body since the police could not handle the case the first time.
The Barr. Said the human rights group at the time of this report, has taken up the case , with letter of petition, copying the Commissioner of Police, Rivers state, the DPO Azikiwe, mile 1 Police station, Ministry of Women Affairs, Senate Committee on Women Affairs, Ministry of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation, and Inspector General of Police concerning the case. “We are only human right advocates. We can’t be the judge. We can only do the best we can to take up the matter and leave the court to pass judgement, but the situation where court has not been sitting for more than eight months becomes a big challenge”. She said.
Meanwhile, a police Inspector in charge of Juvenile/ Family unit in one of the police stations where the investigation was carried out, in her bid to counter the allegation about Police compromise and collection of bribe to release the suspect said, so many cases of rape reported at the police station come with no evidence at all to prove it was rape. She added that the victims ignorantly allow some days after the incident has taken place before coming to the station to report, she also disclosed that some reports are made because the suspects probably refused to pay for the damages as agreed for the case to be called off. “This is when you see them (victims and family members) coming to the station to report”. She said.
Some time last year, a mother reported the case of rape at The Woji police station in Port Harcourt of one Mr Iboro, who tricked her nine year old daughter to buy him biscuit, only for Iboro forcefully close her mouth, open her two legs and raped her because, according to the mother she was putting on a gown.
The mother of the victim said that was not the first time the same Iboro had raped her child. The first time, she said, Iboro promised to treat the girl and pay for every damages but later refused to comply, “This is why this time around I decided to come to the station so that he will pay for the damages he has caused on my daughter”. The victim’s mother stressed
Another defence by the police on the allegation of releasing culprit was that, the law does not permit them to detain suspects more than 24hrs in the cell, if not proven guilty of the offence. “This is why we release them in order not to infringe on their right too.” The police source explained. She also pointed out that in most cases the both parties agree to come together for compromise to avoid stigmatization. These and many other factors warrant the release of suspects by the Police.
Investigation into this subject matter also proved that some victims of rape do not even report the matter to either the Police or human Rights organisation or other security, or social workers to prosecute the case on their behalf. It is also obvious that teenagers conceal their terrible experiences from their parents and guardians until some issues like pregnancy, sickness and other health related complications occur before they open up.
Similarly, a case of a 16 year old girl, also raped late last year by two men around their vicinity was reported recently at the Nkpolu Police station in Port Harcourt. The victim disclosed that the first rape took place in Nov. 2014, when she was coming back from school.
Blessing is a primary five pupil, who can neither read nor write. She disclosed her ordeals thus: That on her way coming back from school one day, a little boy ran to her to tell her that someone was calling her, but she refused to pay attention to the first caller. She said it was when the second person came insisting that she attends to the call that she decided to see who was calling her. “When I got into the house he pushed me to the bed, increased the volume of his radio and raped me,” she said disclosing that she was scared to inform the mother of her ugly experience.
The second rape incident on the girl took place December last year carried out by a different man. In January 2015 she discovered she was pregnant, but not sure of who is responsible between the two rapists. She reported the case to the police from where she was referred for a scan by the police in charge, so that the real father of the baby will be known.
At the police station, the mother of the victim told the police officer in charge of the case that the moment she knows who is responsible for the pregnancy, she will ensure her daughter stays with the man as a wife, expressing angrily that she cannot feed her with the baby. “Let her suffer and know what it takes to be a mother” she said angrily. But the victim disclosed to this source that she has already made up her mind to abort the baby in order to go back to school.
Investigations have also revealed on the subject that some cases of rape are masterminded by the victims. Some of the victims intentionally keep themselves in mood that encourages and attract the men, sometimes as means of making money for their survival.
According to the Police, it was also revealed that some parents set their children to be raped by men all in the bit to make money. That is why they do not allow some of these cases to be taken to the court.
The question therefore is, must these trend be allowed to continue, considering the trauma and damage to womanhood and, and lifetime damage to their image in the family and the society?
In view of the following, it becomes expedient and imperative that serious advocacy and sensitisation campaigns be carried out in this area to safe the life of the girl child.