Justice for Uwa and Nigerian women – Thisday

Uwa’s killers must be found and brought to justice

The tragic death of a University of Benin female undergraduate, Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, following an assault has brought to limelight, once again, the issue of gender-based violence in our country. While we join other stakeholders in demanding justice for the victim’s family and the society at large, we are also calling on the relevant authorities to devise effective measures and strategies to checkmate the growing menace of sexual assaults across Nigeria. But beyond those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting life and property, the society also needs to be alive to its responsibility.

While rape is a violation of the most demeaning kind that scars many victims for life, its prevalence in Nigeria is not a surprise. Having created a society in which the seemingly strong are seeking ways to display their superiority over ‘weaker’ people, rape may be a more blatant manifestation of a deeper deviation in our social psychology. It goes without saying that when positive means of personal identification and legitimate expression are suppressed, the devil finds work. But no society should condone rape which regrettably is fast becoming a social epidemic, with children now victims of this growing bestiality.

We have pathetic sights in hospitals of little girls whose urinary and rectal passages have been ruptured so that they are uncontrollably leaking urine and faeces. While surgical operation may repair such injuries, most mothers whose daughters are victims cannot afford such health interventions. So we are left with several vulnerable young girls who are damaged for life. Such acts of sex-related violence are not only barbaric but criminal, as the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohamed said during the week while highlighting the case where 14 men allegedly gang-raped a 12-year-old girl in Jigawa State.

Uwa was killed after being sexually assaulted within the precincts of a church, perhaps to cover up the crime that is increasingly being perpetuated in our country due to a culture of silence. But her killers must be found and brought to justice. Also being covered up in our country for fear of bringing shame to parents with high social status is the epidemic of fathers raping their daughters.

In Nigeria, the fear of stigma (or persecution) discourages victims of sexual violence from formalising the reports of incidents involving them. Many of the policy briefs of the National Crime and Safety Survey have always depicted how prevalent sexual violence is, as well as the fact that our society seems to be living in denial about this crime. The conclusion is that victims of rape hardly lodge reports for fear that their cases would not be treated seriously, that they would be stigmatised or that corruption would hinder effective investigation.

To fight the menace, a point of safe, protective and comforting recourse must exist for victims of sexual violence to address their immediate needs as well as to enable them summon the courage to pursue the ends of justice. While diligent prosecution and swift and exemplary sanctions would certainly send a strong signal to the perpetrators to desist, the media remains a necessary partner in sustained efforts to curb these wanton acts of evil.

While human rights violations of this nature occur everywhere in the world, as the sick, the evil and the deranged exist in all societies, the only manner in which citizens can feel safe and secure is where the response to crime is swift, efficient and effective. That is what the current situation demands from the relevant authorities. We must all be ready to stand up to fight this menace which violates the dignity of our girls and women.

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