Mahmud Jega

One pandemic is yet to reach its peak but another epidemic is already knocking at our door here in Nigeria.

At the weekend, there were many stories in Nigerian newspapers suggesting that a rape epidemic is raging in Nigeria. No one alleged this time around that this new epidemic has a foreign origin. Neither China nor any other country was blamed for it. No one said it started in a lab or an animal meat market. There is no index case of rape. In any case, no commercial flights have come into Nigeria for many months so no particular airline can be blamed for bringing in the index case.

It is not clear how our governments, disorganized in the best of times, can respond to this new epidemic. A Presidential Task Force might further muddle up the situation. Government cannot impose a lockdown over this matter because rape is not contagious. The fact that one rubs shoulders with a rapist in the office, at a night club or in a commercial vehicle does not mean he will be infected with rape. Praying side by side with a rapist in a mosque or a church will not spread the rape virus either, so government cannot close down religious centers because of this epidemic.

Rape is wholly indigenous to Nigeria. I said indigenous; I did not say endemic. Probably every country in the world has had cases of rape, so no one country could be said to have exported it to others. So, in this particular case, Nigeria cannot wait for Western and Chinese labs or their pharmaceutical firms to produce a cure or a vaccine. It is a literal case of every man for himself, and the search for a solution has already started in earnest in Nigeria.

Even though rape has been around here since time immemorial, a few recent cases have alarmed Nigerians and have made the newspapers to raise its epidemiological status to an epidemic. The most publicized case was the rape/murder of 22-year-old university student Uwaila Omozuwa, who was gang raped and killed inside a church in Benin. A 13 year-old girl was then raped by a 25 year old man in Niger State. Eleven deranged men then raped a 12-year-old child in Jigawa State while 18-year-old Barakat Bello was raped and killed in Ibadan. Then there was the rape of a 17-year-old sachet water hawker in Ado Ekiti. Luckily, the police have apprehended two of the three perpetrators.

Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum [NGF] Dr. Kayode Fayemi said last Friday that rape is a more serious issue than the corona virus pandemic. He called for a national response to rape, and further suggested that a state of emergency be declared in order to combat it. Fayemi has already done his bit. The Governor of Ekiti State signed into law a Compulsory Treatment and Care for Child Victims of Sexual Violence bill. It is meant to augment the Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law 2012, enacted in the state during his first term. Police Inspector General Mohammed Adamu and Minister of Women Affairs Mrs. Pauline Tallen are slated to address a meeting of the governors’ forum on Wednesday as part of the search for a national response.

Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory [FCT] Dr Ramatu Aliyu did not however wait for this meeting. She issued a statement at the weekend saying rapists should be castrated. She said, “It is not enough to just jail such person. Definitely, punishment like castration will do. When we kill them, they die and do not remember anything. Therefore, they should be castrated and roam the streets and remain inactive.” Phew! This is the first time I have heard anyone saying that there is a punishment higher than death penalty. In which case, linguists should either stop calling the death penalty capital punishment, or they should start calling castration federal capital punishment.

At the weekend, House of Representatives member Ahmed Jaha was forced to apologise when he said modern women’s art of “dressing to kill” is a factor in rape. I agree entirely that fashionable exposure of body parts does not justify rape any more than leaving your door open justifies burglary. But then, it is better for one to lock his door.

Before Madam Minister made her call, some NGOs had made the same suggestion, that rapists should be castrated in Nigeria. Such a punishment might sound too harsh to human rights activists but in truth, we had some more cruel punishments in this country before the British came and put a stop to them. Homosexual acts, for example, were once punished by impaling on a stake. Some societies in Nigeria once buried people alive for some social offences. The Brits however came and said we must remove “cruel and unusual punishments” from our statutes, even though their ancestors invented the guillotine and the witch hunts over there in Europe.

Anyway, here we are today. If the National or any state assembly passes a law prescribing castration as punishment for rape, the courts might rule that it is unconstitutional. Or if it is passed, there will be a shortage of doctors and nurses to carry it out. Not many doctors in Nigeria will like to use a surgeon’s scalpel to remove a man’s sexual organs, or even to do it chemically through a drug injection. Not that doctors support rape, but they may not go with this solution.

Never mind that in the ancient world, Egyptian pharaohs and Ottoman Turk Sultans had many castrated men called eunuchs in their courts. They were the most reliable servants to guard and do domestic chores in harems, since they had no sex urge. Apparently, doctors in ancient Egypt and the Ottoman Empire had no qualms about castration, unlike Nigerian doctors of today, with their Hippocratic Oath.

Another issue however is, does castration end a man’s sexual urge and will he, as Minister Mrs. Aliyu suggested, just “walk the streets inactive”? I doubt it. Male sexual drive is due to the hormone testosterone. The male testicle produces 90% of it so even if you remove it, there is still 10% left. Doctors say that “castrated men experience a much-diminished sex drive because their bodies have very low levels of the male hormone testosterone. This lowers the frequency, strength and duration of erections.” Lowers, not stops. Convicted American rapist Wayne Dumond once raped two more women after he was castrated in an accident and released from prison.

Other Nigerians have called, not for castration, but for more stringent punishments against rape. That is good, but it may not solve the problem either. The late Malam Adamu Ciroma once said in response to the clamour for death penalty for corruption that if only we can apprehend every person who engages in corrupt acts and give him even the current two years’ sentence, corruption would have diminished by now. What is the use of prescribing harsh punishment, when most culprits get away with it?

Rape is a notoriously difficult crime to deal with, not the least because of the stigma associated with it. Hence, it is the least reported crime. Many people think that rapists’ only motive is sexual gratification. It is not. Years ago I read an article that listed a dozen motives for rape, based on interviews with convicted American rapists. Uwa’s case in Benin looks very much like cult initiation rites. Hard drugs, alcohol, desire for revenge, humiliating the victim, feeling of power, personality disorder, narcissism and situations of war and disorder are other factors that could drive a man to rape. Most worrisome however, is the finding that most rapists know their victims.

Governor Fayemi said last Friday that Ekiti State has commissioned a state-wide sexual violence prevalence study in the general population to obtain reliable data on the nature of the rape problem. I think the Federal Government should do the same thing, before we have eunuchs marching all over the FCT.

Monday Column,June 8, 2020.

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