By Francis Ewherido
Do not get me wrong; every incident of suicide is painful because it diminishes our human commonwealth, but I found this one particularly painful. I am talking of the death of Christabel Omore Buoro Owoicho, a 300-level student of the University of Benin. She was alleged to have committed suicide after being raped. She was reported to be introverted and a virgin at the time she was raped. Her suicide note is alleged to be incoherent; an alleged psychiatric situation is being insinuated. Details of her life and death are scanty, but I will make my deductions based on available information.
Rape has reached an epidemic proportion in Nigeria. Females, especially younger ones, no longer seem to have a safe haven. Rape is taking place in homes, religious organizations, schools, sports arenas, recreational parks and just about everywhere. Kidnappers and armed robbers are no longer contented with their monetary demands and gains. They rape and humiliate their female captives. They rape wives in the presence of their husbands, practically “castrating” the men. What can be more humiliating and heart-wrenching than your wife being raped in your presence, while you watch helplessly? There are reports of two-month-old babies being raped. I have been asking the question, how do you rape a two-month-old baby? What is that? Is there no other English word to capture this tragedy?
The report did not tell us where and when Christabel was raped. Was he an admirer or a “toaster,” who had to resort to force and violence since he could not get it voluntarily? Was the culprit a serial rapist, who committed the act because Christabel was at the wrong place at the wrong time? He took away her virginity without her consent. Was Christabel waiting for her wedding night before surrendering her virginity to her future-never-to-be husband or she was just too busy with her studies to worry about amorous relationships. Whatever, she had the right to determine how she wanted to be deflowered and who she wanted to do it. That right was denied her by the rapist.
Did Christabel confide in anybody after the incident or kept it to herself as many rape victims do? Nobody prays for her ward to be raped, but maybe, we also need to start discussing handling the aftermath of rape with our wards. It is an awkward thing to do, but if someone had discussed how to handle post-rape trauma with Christabel, she would probably be alive now. We need to encourage our wards to be more open and forthcoming. So much is going on in young people’s lives; they need to understand that they are too young to deal with all of the issues; they simply do not have all the answers. They need help.
The rapist is still at large. Police said they are investigating. I will be more comforted if the police in America were to say this. By now they would have had the DNA profile of the rapist. Even if they are unable to solve the case now, they can still do it 50 years from now because the DNA profile will be in the data bank until they get a match. Other pieces of evidence will also be well preserved. Do our police have this capacity? The answer is no. Many of our police stations do not even have a single computer. If you see laptops, they are personally owned by the district police officer (DPO) or district crime officer (DCO).
Beyond that, what motivates an average policeman in America and Nigeria? In America, it is excellence, good track record and legacy. By the time they retire, you see the twinkle in their eyes when they reminiscence on the cases they solved and crimes they busted. They might not have much in terms of money and physical assets. Some simply take up security-related jobs and life goes on. Some acquire fresh skills and move to other endeavours. But they remain proud of their time in the police force.
What about his counterpart in Nigeria? His primary motivation seems to be pecuniary gains. That is probably why 200,000 people will apply for 2000 job openings. As he commences his journey in the Police force, he is already on the road extorting money from hapless Nigerians. And pecuniary interest guides him throughout his career in the Nigerian Police Force. There are some very professional officers, but they are too few to make the critical difference that we urgently need.
The Nigerian environment can, however, not be exonerated from blame. In America, basic necessities are given for anybody who earns an income. That is not the case here. When policemen are injured or die in the line of duty, their entitlements are made available without delay in America. That is not the case here. When policemen retire or leave the force in America, they get their benefits without bribing or lobbying anybody. Our case is different. You cannot get an efficient police force in this kind of environment. Our environment notwithstanding, our policemen must realise that the police force is not a business organisation. If you want to compete with Aliko Dangote, the police force is a wrong place to be.
Whatever their challenges are, I urge the police to be at their best and track down the person who raped Christabel. After he is tracked down, investigation must be thoroughly conducted, leaving no loophole, so that they ca get a conviction. I have seen judges set guilty people free. The judge knows the person is guilty, but she is unable to pronounce a guilty verdict because the evidence is not strong enough. The case should also be speedily dispensed with. Sometimes our cases drag on for too long. A lawyer friend told me that the Lagos State justice system has been greatly reformed and improved on; what about the federal and other states? I also learnt that the punishment for rape in Lagos State is life imprisonment; I do not know what obtains in other states, but I am shocked that people still commit rape in spite of the stiff punishment. May be we need mass enlightenment to sensitise the “raping public.” Anything to protect our wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and other women should be done. Sex, at the minimum, must be consensual.
I sympathise with the family of Christabel. It must be tough for them. Youths must learn to be open to family. People before them have also been in seemingly hopeless situations where it looked life has come to an end; there is nothing else to live for. Over time, the situation passed away or they adjusted and learn to live with it. Many women bear the scars of rape, some raped by family members and other people they trusted. Tough as it was, they have moved on with their lives. Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda are among many successful women today who are rape victims. The experience was traumatic, but it did not keep them down. It could have been so for Christabel. Youths, whatever storm you are going through will pass away. Nothing lasts forever, not even this earth we currently inhabit.
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