The Jonathan’s Gender Irony
As I sat in one corner of the expansive hall of the International Conference Center in Abuja few hours back, I watched from a very vantage position as President Goodluck Jonathan addressed the crowd that gather for the first Africa's legislative summit.
In between glances I stole at a desk of the delegation of the legislators from Africa's newest country of South Sudan, I also reflected on the ordeals faced by women and girls in Nigeria at these moments of our national life. The address of President Jonathan did not touch on the vexed issue of gender equity but I didn't stopped thinking about the plight of Nigerian women under the current political dispensation that continuously thumbs its chest as great achiever in the drive to actualize gender equity in political appointments.
The current administration is known to have made concrete, cogent and verifiable effort to seek to follow the recommendation made by the United Nation's at the Beijing (China) Women Conference that nations belonging to the world body should ensure that at least 35 percent of the top political positions go to women. Although the recent gale of cabinet change at the highest level of the Good luck Jonathan's administration saw the exit of over three female ministers, Nigerians are in high expectation that their replacements would also be Women so as to safeguard the legacy being built by the current government.
Back to our conversation, I looked round the venue of this first Africa's legislative summit funded by the Nigerian government from tax payers' resources, I could only see a handful of women participants and/or African legislators attending this event that obviously turned out to be so rowdy, unorganized; unfocused and chaotic.
The revelation above strengthened my resolve to interrogate the issue of the existential ordeals confronting Nigerian Women and girls.
Not long ago, Mrs. Clara Chime, the wife of Enugu state governor was in the news for accusing her husband who holds top government position as the political administrator of Nigeria's erstwhile South Eastern regional State of Enugu, of a range of domestic deprivation and violence. The Governor stridently deny these allegations but as the saying goes that nothing is hidden under the sun, the allegations wouldn't go away no matter how hard the governor and his media spin doctors tried to conceal it.
Aside being a governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime is a top lawyer who prior to emerging as governor six years back, also held the top legal position as the Enugu State Attorney General and Justice Commissioner to a governor then who also reportedly divorced his wife.
Allegations of Spousal abuses are on the rise but the most pathetic aspect of the entire story is the astronomic rise in cases of violent sexual assaults by adult males on vulnerable girls and even infants. A serving police operative was recently dismissed by the police hierarchy for allegedly raping a two year old child and this alleged pedophile is being prosecuted. But confidence from members of the public is waning speedily on the integrity of the Nigerian court system to handle cases of spousal abuses and sexual violence.
On a national scale, the wave of violent sexual violations of little girls and teenagers by adults are on the geometric increase and the judiciary is not forthcoming with sufficiently dealing with this increased phenomenon of sexual attacks no thanks to the slow process of adjudication that inhibits dispensation of justice in Nigeria.
Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, a professor of law also supported my claim that the Nigerian judiciary is not helpful in tackling the growing cases of violent sexual attacks targeted against vulnerable girls by male rapists who most often are left off the hook by the courts on technicalities thus allowing the victims of rape to suffer the double jeopardy of violence and lack of Justice.
In her book; “Women law and Human Rights: Global and National Perspectives”, Professor (Mrs.) Joy Ezeilo narrated a story of a particular violent rape of a teenage girl by a depraved adult male but who eventually escaped the long arm of the law because of certain so-called technical deficiencies embodied in the witness testimony rendered in the court of first instance which made Supreme Court to set him free.
As recorded by Professor Ezeilo, in the case of Okoyomon versus the State, the prosecutrix testified that she went to the bush to fetch firewood and, as they were there, the accused (rapist) met them and told her to follow him so that he could show her a spot where there was a lot of firewood.
The girl then followed the accused rapist who on getting to the so-called spot whereby he claimed there were too many fire woods, he threw her down and had carnal knowledge of her. They were still in that position when prosecution witness number one saw them.
The accused got up, pulled up his shorts and left. The matter was reported to the police and a medical examination was conducted. It was discovered that her hymen was broken and she had offensive vaginal discharge; the accused person denied this allegation.
The trial judge disbelieved the evidence of the accused and found him guilty of rape and sentenced him to four years imprisonment with hard labor.
The court of Appeal reportedly affirmed the decision of the trial court but on further appeal, the Supreme Court overturned the Verdicts of the two courts below and dismissed the conviction of the rapist on the grounds that penetration was not proved in evidence and that there were no medical records to show who broke the little girl's hymen.
As documented in this vastly scholarly book cited above, there abound several cases of violent sexual attacks of little girls by depraved adult rapists that are not properly investigated and prosecuted thus making it possible for many violent rapists to roam the Nigerian streets as free persons even as they repeatedly rape other vulnerable girl children.
Apart from the incredible obstacles mounted in the law courts against victims of violent rape who are subjected to all sorts of silly questions, the operatives of the Nigeria police are not sufficiently trained and equipped with the 21st Century compliant DNA testing facilities to pin down rapists to particular crime and successfully get them convicted by the courts.
Professor Ezeilo concluded that the major impediments to litigating women's rights are poverty, illiteracy and lack of awareness of legal rights.
“In fact, the ability to respond to rights violations by way of seeking redress for wrongs suffered is hinged on rights recognition, thereby making legal literacy paramount in the quest to enforce rights…the level of enjoyment of human rights is low in Nigeria because of poverty, particularly the feminization of poverty”, so says Professor Joy Ezeilo.
The challenge before President Jonathan is for the ministry of women Affairs to wake up to its constitutional obligation and work actively with sister agencies to ensure that violent rapists of young girls are not enjoying the kind of legal advantage they now have over these vulnerable girls. Take for instance, the other day, an Ondo State magistrate court set free a traditional ruler who was brought to court for the alleged rape of a serving NYSC female graduate.
The court which set free this accused rapist in Ondo State claimed that the victim failed to show the court which part of her private part was damaged in the process of committing the dastardly crime allegedly by this randy monarch of the community in which this lady was doing her mandatory one year national service. Such a huge comedy called Court session!
As I reflect on this irony of girls being bombarded by violent rapists who are on the loose, I read a story in the local press on November 12th 2013 which ironically reported that females top table of recruits into Nigerian military.
In the story anchored for The Guardian of Nigeria by Chuka Odittah, we were informed as follows; “statistics of employment generation by the federal government in the public sector indicates that more females have continued to break gender barriers in the Nigerian Armed Forces with a total of 537 females clinching commissioned Army officers' slot in the 4th quarter of 2012, over and above their male counterpart".
The newspaper quoted a fresh data reportedly obtained from the National Bureau of statistics (NBS) in Abuja.
The symbolism of the emerging female dominance in the entry into military's officers' corps is that the current government must double up her effort towards eradicating all traces of sexual violence against the female gender and especially the vulnerable girls.
The challenge is also for the National Assembly to amend relevant laws to impose stringent penalties for violent sexual offences and to compel the law enforcement authority to procure the state of the art laboratory to generate quality body of evidence against rapists. Nigerians endowed with resources should also render funding support to credible civil society and non-governmental organizations such as the human rights writers association of Nigeria [HURIWA] to be able to wage unrelenting media campaign against sexual violence.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA; and [email protected]; www.huriwa.blogspot.com.