The prosecution of sexual offender, Femi Olaleye, has brought hope to Nigeria’s justice system. But the overarching problem of rape and its consequential societal stigma continues to frustrate the efforts of those fighting against it.
On 24 October 2023, the Lagos Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court in Ikeja convicted Femi Olaleye and sentenced him to life imprisonment for defilement and sexual assault by penetration of his wife’s niece. The judge, Justice Rahman Oshodi, maintained that the evidence was compelling and proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Olaleye was an Optical Cancer Care Foundation doctor who was found guilty of assaulting his wife’s teenage niece for over a year between December 2019 and July 2022. The victim reported to her aunt, Olaleye’s wife, who reported the case to the police. He was arraigned in November 2022 on two counts.
The victim, Olaleye’s wife, a child-care expert, and police officers testified against Olaleye in court. According to their testimonies, he constantly assaulted the girl and even forced her to watch pornography.
The defendant asked for leniency from the court based on his services as a cancer doctor and ‘first-time offender.’ This was dismissed by the judge who described him as a dangerous offender and that his judgement would serve as proof that the system heavily frowns against sexual violence.
This incident is not an isolated event but rather encompasses the atrocious rape culture in Nigeria. The conviction also provides a small glimmer of hope to the underreported area.
WHAT DOES SOCIETY THINK?
Millions of women across the world, and particularly in Nigeria, have been victims of some sort of sexual assault. According to the United Nations, there were 11,200 reported rape cases in Nigeria in 2020. The Lagos police have also confirmed that they recorded 111 sexual assault cases between April and June 2023. Furthermore, the Women at Risk International Foundation, in collaboration with the United States Consulate General, Lagos, has said that 33 per cent of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have experienced physical and or sexual abuse in their lifetime. However, this number does not total the cases that were left unreported. Victims of rape and sexual assault are often crippled by fear of their assailants, societal stigma and a lack of confidence in the system which prevent them from pursuing justice. This reaction is not unwarranted.
The #MeToo movement was started by American Black rights activist and feminist Tarana Burke and was amplified on social media by American actress, Alyssa Milano. It became one of the most powerful global social awareness campaigns enacted on social media. The hashtag went viral in 2017 as an avenue for victims of sexual and gender-based violence to speak out about their experiences and seek justice. Yet, despite the presumed media support the movement had, many of those who came forward to speak about their experiences still suffer societal stigma today. With Nigeria’s raging patriarchal society, these attitudes are even more normalized. In 2019, photographer and content creator, Busola Dakolo recounted how she was raped by Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo of the Commonwealth of Zion. While she was able to garner support, she also had an array of dehumanizing accusations with some people asking what she was wearing and others asking for evidence.
WHAT’S THE BIGGER ISSUE?
The issue of rape and sexual assault in Nigeria, although gathering reasonably more awareness, remains an underreported and even more so under-persecuted area due to societal stereotypes and misogyny. While those against reporting rape usually cite inappropriate clothes or seduction as reasons to justify the act, the circumstances surrounding many cases continue to discredit this.
Justice Oshodi is currently hearing another trial for the alleged rape of an elderly woman by one Jelili Lawal. A witness statement to the Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court narrates that the old woman requested the defendant to help her find her way back home as she was hard of hearing. But after arriving at a bus stop, Lawal allegedly took the woman to a bushy area and raped her. While in the act, he was reportedly caught by two young girls who notified a patrol officer. The old woman has since passed away following the incident.
On 24 October 2023, four students from Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ogun State were also raped off-campus by a group of suspected robbers. The case was confirmed by the state deputy governor, Naimot Oyedele, who visited the girls in the hospital. Other recent instances include the alleged rape of a four-year-old girl by a school proprietor in Delta State, a father in Adamawa State who assaulted a 12-year-old girl and blamed her for seducing him’, and an 18-year-old girl who was allegedly gang-raped to death in Taraba. Tamar Sexual Assault Centre also reported that rape cases of children below five years old were predominantly involving infants as they are more vulnerable. These are just a few reported cases which cannot encompass the numerous unspeakable acts happening around us.
Rape has penetrated places of worship, offices, schools, homes and even the roadside. While efforts from the Lagos Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court and similar institutions are commendable, more effort must be made to put an end to the epidemic. The most important factor is the complete understanding that victims are not responsible for the crimes inflicted on them and that offenders must assume full culpability⎈
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