International Policy Digest

World News /04 Jun 2020
06.04.20

Nigeria is Fast Becoming Africa’s Rape Capital

On Sunday, May 31st, the attention of Nigerians drifted away from the raging effects of the coronavirus pandemic to the shocking news of how Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old microbiology student, was raped and murdered.

Uwaila, a student at the University of Benin, was reportedly hit with a fire extinguisher by her assailants after they raped her on May 13th. Sadly, she died on May 31st, 18 days later, at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital.

The incident took place inside the Ikpoba Hill branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, in Benin City, where Uwaila had gone to study.

The only crime she committed was seeking a quiet place to study. Now, her hopes of a bright future have been dashed. Now her parents are left to mourn her death.

Outraged by the death of Uwaila, Nigerians have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #JusticeForUwa. From movie and music stars to students to public servants to NGOs, all have been calling on the Nigerian police not to allow the latest case to slip into the long list of unresolved rape cases in the country.

For instance, popular Nigerian musician, Folarin Falana, known as Falz, called for a nationwide protest against the wanton cases of rape in the country, saying that it is so exhausting to see injustice continue to thrive time and again.

The music star whose social commentary, “This is Nigeria,” cast a spotlight on how years of corruption, insecurity, insurgency, unemployment has affected the country, said: “Every time we say NOT AGAIN, and then there is a new story. Enough is enough. It’s too disheartening. Justice must be served for the innocent souls we keep on losing. #JusticeForTina #JusticeForUwa.”

Nigerian actress, Genevieve Nnaji, equally expressed her dissatisfaction with the rise of rapes in her country. She said: “they either abuse their power or have the power to abuse. In or out of uniform, we live in constant fear of men. Tina Ezekwe. Vera Omozuwa. Rest in Peace my darlings. We will get justice.”

Weeks earlier, there were several reports of how an 18-year-old girl, identified only as Jennifer was allegedly gang-raped by five boys who were said to be her friends in Kaduna State, after giving her a liquid drink. The hashtag #JusticeforJennifer has also begun to trend.

On Monday, protesters, including students of the University of Benin, activists, and concerned individuals, marched to the headquarters of the local police command in Edo State demanding justice for the late Omozuwa.

Bearing placards decrying rape with such inscriptions as “protect women,” “don’t rape them,” “stop the stigma,” “rape is real,” “say no to rape,” “put an end to rape culture,” the protesters wore black attires.

Sadly, just as social media went agog with a series of demands for justice following the death of Uwaila, an 18-year-old girl, identified as Barakat Bello, was reportedly raped and murdered at her father’s home in Ibadan, Oyo State.

According to reports, the incident happened on Monday but the young woman’s body was found around her residence on Tuesday. Her family members were said to have discovered that she had been raped after her body was examined.

Until her death, Barakat, who has since been buried, was said to be a first-year student at a university in Ibadan. Her death has since triggered further outrage on social media with the #JusticeForBarakat hashtag.

The latest incidences are just three out of thousands of cases of rape and sexual harassment that have occurred in the country. Many have been forgotten because the victims are often afraid to speak up. At home, in marketplaces, on public transports and now in churches, there appears to be no hiding place for women in Nigeria.

Where the problem lies

Reacting, Osai Ojigho, Country Director for Amnesty International, said the incident “resonates because even in the spaces that women and girls should be safest from gender-based violence, including the home, schools and now places of worship, it is getting there.”

She explained that authorities in Nigeria have not done enough to combat sexual violence. “The method the state has been using over the years clearly has not moved with the intensity required to deter rapists and potential rapists and to protect women and girls.”

On one of the several videos seen online on Tuesday, Vera Uwaila Omozuwa’s sister alleged that the police were demanding money to commence an investigation into her death.

Mohammed Adamu, the Nigerian Inspector General of the Police, had ordered the immediate transfer of the ongoing investigations from Benin to Abuja.

The directive follows a preliminary report from the team of investigators and forensic experts who were earlier deployed to assist the police in Edo State in the investigations into Vera Uwaila Omozuwa’s rape and murder.

While that appears to be a right step in the right direction, there are two questions on the lips of Nigerians. First, is whether the latest cases will be swept under the rug like several cases of rape in the country? Second, is whether justice will be served to the perpetrators?