On Sunday 28th Feburary 2016, Punch Newspaper broke the news of Ese Oruru; a 14 year old girl who was abducted from her home in Bayelsa in August 2015 and taken to Kano by a 22 year old boy named Yinusa. Her mother, a petty trader, had tried to no avail to secure her release. It wasn’t until the story leaked to the media and civil society that she was released to her parents on Tuesday March 1st.
Unfortunately the poor girl had been forcefully converted to Islam and was already 5 months pregnant. Now her education would have to be interrupted, at least till she has her baby. Most likely (although I hope not), she may join the burgeoning number of young girls in Nigeria suffering from Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF); by the way Nigeria has the highest prevalence of VVF in the whole world.She would also have to deal with the social stigma that we attach to issues of this nature; in addition to the emotional and psychologically trauma she would have to experience.
This story is heartbreaking and no Nigerian child should be made to undergo this experience, no one.
Just when we were about to heave a sigh of relief that at least she had been released; news emerged about the abduction of another teenage girl from Benue state and the kidnap of some three female students from their school’s hostel in Lagos.
These stories are not just heartbreaking and unfortunate, they reveal the ugly state of our nation in so many dimensions. They show how time and time again, Nigeria continues to fail its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
They also show how increasingly unsafe it is becoming for women and girls to live and participate in society as almost every week, there are stories of abduction, rape and general violence against women. The statistics of violence against women makes one shudder and wonder why this isn’t being treated as an issue of national urgency.
According to girlsnotbrides 43% of girls in Nigeria are married off before their 18th birthday while 17 per cent are married off before their 15th birthday. In Lagos state, there were 427 reported incidents of child rape in 2012. In Enugu, 51 minors and 45 adults were raped between April and August 2015. In Benin, a state-owned hospital disclosed that not less than 80 rape cases were treated in 8 months between March and October 2013 (note, this is a single hospital).In Jigawa, an average of 10 rape cases were reported every month in 2013.
I am certain that these figures do not even provide an accurate picture of the entire situation not least because of our poor data collection mechanisms but also because of the secrecy with which these activities are shrouded. This is bad, really really bad and absolutely unacceptable.
Ese’s case also reveals the weakness of our institutions- both modern and traditional. I still cannot understand how and why it took seven whole months to secure her release when her location and identity of her abductor was well known to the Emir and the Police in Kano. There are so many questions to be answered:
- Why was there such a lag between when the Emir ordered her release and when she was actually released?
- Why did the Emir treat such a criminal case with seeming nonchalance? indicated by the lack of an effective follow-up from his palace.
I do not work in the Emir’s palace so I cannot answer these questions with any degree of certainty but what I do know is that if her father was a ‘big man’ or a ‘politician’; no stone would have been left unturned to ensure her immediate release.
What I find much more infuriating was the attitude of the Inspector General of police, who told the girl’s mother (before her release) that they could not proceed on the case until the Emir returned form Hajj?. What in the world??? How does a traditional institution have more authority than the police ? How and Why???
Ideally, all the officers complicit in this matter should be made to face the full wrath of the law but who am I kidding though? After this matter dies down, they would most likely walk away scot free. *sigh*
To be sincere, I do not find it all that shocking that these institutions failed to protect her, they fail us everyday. What I however find more heart wrenching is that some Nigerians blinded by ethnicity and religion managed to turn this criminal issue into an avenue for another futile North versus South debate.
I heard all sorts of Innuendos attempting to rationalize and justify this atrocity that it makes me wonder if as a people we still have any sense of humanity and empathy . Some include;’Yes, what happened is bad but why is everyone overacting after all girls are used in baby factories in the South-east‘; another is ‘at least its better to be married off than to engage in prostitution’.
On the other hand, some have chosen to use the actions of Yinusa to indict the entire North . The debate gradually shifted from getting justice for the poor girl to an opportunity for hurling all sorts of vitriol against Northerners.
Not only are these arguments unnecessary; they downplay the gravity of the issue at the hand and reveal how we continue to use ethnicity to the detriment of our society.
Somehow we forget that baby factories, underage marriages, rape, abductions and all sorts of violence against women and girls happen in Kano, Benue, Bayelsa, Owerri, Lagos ..pretty much in every state of the federation. Do the predominance of these issues vary from state to state? Abolutely yes! Thus instead of engaging in futile debates, we should recognize these problems for what they are -A NATIONAL CALAMITY!
We should unite and unequivocally condemn these menaces which seek to destroy our women and girls and seek for ways to solve this problem.
We should demand of the federal and state governments to develop context-specific policies which take into consideration cultural, religious and socioeconomic factors at the local levels that aid these practices.
The longer we antagonize each other, the less likely it is that we would make any substantial progress on this matter.
Finally, it is worth commending all media outfits and activists who brought this matter into public consciousness. It comforts me to know that there are still Nigerians with love and empathy who have refused to allow religion or ethnicity motivate their actions.
However the fight still remains, we need to go beyond social media to ensure that the perpetrators, accomplices and all those who were complicit in this heinous act are made to face the full wrath of the law. We also need to put pressure on our leaders to strengthen institutions that protect girls and punish offenders. Only institutional strengthening can ensure that every girl from any part of Nigeria is safe from sexual predators.
There has to be a conscious effort to train and equip the police to handle cases of this nature with the seriousness and urgency they deserve. The judiciary also needs to secure more convictions on these cases as this will send a strong message to potential offenders that there are penalties for these actions.
In related news, Tuesday 8th March is the International Women’s Day. We should use the opportunity to reflect on how we can better protect our young girls. It could range from raising your son or brother differently or volunteering in an NGO that supports victims of violence. Or better still you can support these NGO’s financially or even set up one in your community. An example of one NGO doing a great work in this area is, The Mirabel centre, you can check them out and see how you can be of help.