INVESTIGATION: In search for justice, shoddy prosecution frustrates Nigeria’s child rape victims

By Evelyn Okakwu

Thirteen-year-old Chidinma recalls the day she walked behind her school building in Dutse Alhaji, a suburb of Abuja, to relieve herself. With no decent latrine, it was nothing unusual for female pupils to urinate under the cover of overgrown weeds.

But on this April afternoon in 2016, two boys, armed with knives, emerged from a nearby bush and led Chidinma away.

“They threatened me and forced me to follow them to a bush path,” the girl told PREMIUM TIMES during a recent interview. “Then, they raped me and warned me never to tell anyone about it.”

Weeks later, a test confirmed Chidinma was pregnant. She dropped out of school as her parents struggled to care for her and prepared for her baby.

“My daughter has had to stop schooling, following the pregnancy, and with the prevailing economic condition, catering for her and the little baby, as well as my other family members has not been easy,” her father, Chidera Idoko, a timber trader, said.

Police identified the girl’s attackers as James Keitura and Elijah Kufre, and arrested them after Mr. Idoko traced their homes. (For this report, this newspaper agreed not to use Chidinma’s real names).

But over a year after the arrest, the case has made little progress. The matter stalled after the suspects retracted their admission of the crime.

“At the police station, the boys confessed to the crime and were then charged to the upper area court in Gudu. However, after arraignment, they recanted their earlier confession,” said Mr. Idoko.

The police prosecutor, Kufre Ebong, confirmed those claims to PREMIUM TIMES.

“Yes, the boys had confessed to the crimes during the investigation and we have their confessional statements. But they denied committing the crime in court,” he said angrily.

That retraction complicated the case, forcing it to remain at the pre-trial stage till it was transferred to a high court of the Federal Capital Territory in June 2017.

The High Court, presided by Justice A. S. Adepoju, ordered the suspects to be remanded in prison pending their compliance with a N5 million bail condition.

Amid ever growing reports of rape in Nigeria, more victims are finding it difficult to get justice. Now, as the wheel of justice continues to grind ever so slowly, some parents and families of victims are coming forward to share their stories in the hope justice may come.

Activists and families of victims say most cases of rape stall because of poor investigation and judicial bottlenecks.

A mother, Monica Agu, told PREMIUM TIMES how her eight-year-old daughter was raped by a neighbour, named Victor Enejo, after being lured to a secluded place. Ms. Agu said the attack took place on January 9, 2015.

When the girl complained of pains in her genitals, the mother said she ignorantly sent her to school notwithstanding.

“But when she returned from school, the pain had increased and I could hear my neighbours asking what was wrong with my daughter. So, I inquired more to know if there was a problem.

“It took a while for her to tell me the truth. She begged me to promise that I would not beat her, so I made her a promise. My daughter told me that a brother of one of our neighbours, popularly called ‘pastor’ had called her to a place behind our house when she was playing with her friends. She told me that the boy asked her to take off her pants, then he took off his trousers and boxers and climbed on top of her,” Ms. Agu said.

She said the girl was infected with a disease from that incident, and for almost a year she suffered the effects of that disease.

Her alleged attacker, Mr. Enejo, was later arrested and charged to court. But the matter was later dismissed in controversial circumstances.

Although Ms. Agu claimed her daughter’s rapist was confirmed to have infected her with STD, the prosecution, for no clear reasons, failed to present the test results in the court.

The case was finally dismissed by the court. Ruling, Justice D. Senchi said the failure of the prosecution to prove the allegations “rendered it false”.

“In the instant case, the prosecution deliberately omitted this vital aspect of their case and I have no option but to come to the conclusion and hold the view that the most important ingredient of the offence of rape, that is penetration of the penis of the defendant into the vagina of the victim has not been established. Hence, from the facts and evidence adduced by the prosecution, I hold the view that the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” Mr. Senchi said, according to court papers.

Asked why the report was omitted, the prosecution counsel, John Ijegbemi, denied that the suspect’s medical report was indicting. Later, he said it was not his duty to include the report, nonetheless.

“That is not true. That information is at best the woman’s opinion. I handled the case based on the facts included in the case file given to me. Cases of rape are sue generis. I am not an investigator. When the case file was given to me, nothing relating to the boy’s medical report was inside it,” Mr. Ijegbemi told PREMIUM TIMES.

The lawyer also said he did not think the exclusion of the medical report was reason enough to dismiss the case.

“I don’t think that the excuse for discharging the case was enough to have it dismissed. During the trial, the defence established that the girl’s mother and the accused boy’s father have had a long-standing misunderstanding. I believe the judge saw the allegation as an excuse to settle scores.

“I have dealt with several rape cases, even at court 4, FCT High Court Maitama I handled a recent rape case where the accused was sentenced; there was no medical report included. I was sure we had a good case. After that judgement was delivered, I started a process for appealing the judgement, but the girl’s mother never encouraged that decision,” Mr. Ijegbemi said.

Ms. Agu later told PREMIUM TIMES that she became discouraged about the entire situation.

Sexual rampage

A survey conducted by the United Nation’s International Emergency Fund, UNICEF, and the United States’ Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with the Nigerian government in 2014, said 25 per cent of girls below the age of 18 was reported to have been sexually abused.

For the year under review, 47 per cent of girls between 13 and 17 was sexually abused. Most of the victims were attacked by their neighbours, the report noted.

At Chidinma’s secondary school in Dutse Alhaji, a security guard said the 13-year-old girl was just one of many other rape victims who go unreported for fear of stigmatisation.

Government School, Dutse Alhaji, Abuja
Government School, Dutse Alhaji, Abuja

Asked about the poor security state of the school, the principal, Okeke Nkechi, who initially denied rape was rampant in the school, however noted that security initiatives put in place by the school, had led to a girl being rescued from suspected rapists just two days before the interview.

“Security men saved a girl the day before yesterday from suspected rapists. The major problem of the school has been that it needs to be fenced round. We have discussed that with the basic education board, but it was not captured in the 2016 budget. That budget (2016) is what the school is ‘receiving’ now,” Mrs. Nkechi explained.

She, however, agreed that the government-owned school, with a population of 1500 pupils requires urgent security around its perimeters.

Disturbing trend

Activists say besides the well-known judicial bureaucracy and poor investigation, a key factor responsible for the slow progress of most rape cases is because victims, often times, do not follow the proper steps in seeking justice.

“That is why we keep telling them to inform agencies like FIDA on time,” said Ngozi Nkenga, who heads the International Federation of Women Lawyers, in Abuja. “If Ms. Agu…. had come to us on time, for example, FIDA would have followed them to court and everybody would have been cautious; perhaps the police would have made sure to include the suspects’ medical forms in the file submitted to the court; or at least the court would have ordered for the report.

“The woman herself would have been advised to get an independent test conducted, both on her daughter and the suspect, ahead of time. The matter would not have ended as it is. Such a test is best conducted at most 72 hours after the rape.

She said the attitude of the police in the case suggested some people may have been compromised.

The spokesperson for the Abuja police command, Manzah Anjuguri, did not respond to requests for comments.

But the Force Public Relations Officer, Moshood Jimoh, said investigations into an alleged rape should never be poorly conducted. He also suspected something must have gone wrong with the Agu case.

“Investigation shouldn’t be poor in cases of rape. If there is a poor investigation, the persons affected can draw the attention of the police so that the investigation can be repeated. Though Police action terminates when the matter is taken to court,” Mr. Jimoh told PREMIUM TIMES.

“The prosecution also should have raised an alarm, supposing it was an error. Somebody must have been doing some sort of work in the background.

He said the court could ask for further investigations and the family can appeal. Mr. Jimoh said a case of rape should never be hard to prove.

“Defilement of children are capital offences that are not bail-able at the level of the police. It is an offence whereby it’s very easy to prove the case of rape. But for that to be, there must be prompt complaint.

“It is expected that when a case of rape is promptly reported, the police will visit the scene; usually there would be a sign that some sort of struggle has taken place. If she can identify the person, the person would be taken for medical examination.

Sensitive parts of the woman’s body possibly affected by the rape would be tested. These include hair breakages, semen, among other things.

It is the duty of the police to get a medical examination from a government doctor to be added in the file.”

To forestall rape, Folashade Okomayin, the executive director of a girl-child advocacy group, Paullash Community Development Initiative, said parents should equip themselves with knowledge on how best to protect their children.

“There are various ways the parent can learn about dangerous predators; parents should look out for suspicious friends and relatives who seem to express unnecessary fondness for the children,” she said.

“They should also find more time to be with their children. Government can also help, here by providing a conducive atmosphere for economic growth. Poverty is a major cause of violence against children. When there is a high level of poverty in a society, you find other features as parents sending their children to others to train. This can prove dangerous and sometimes even fatal,” Mrs. Okomayin said.

Source Premium Times

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