Girls in two communities of Nigeria’s federal capital, Abuja, are being forced to drop out of school for fear of being raped. Our reporter visits the communities and investigates.
In February 2018, Maimuna’s dream of an education died on her way back from school. She was returning to her home in Zhiko from Ijagbagyi Secondary School, Sabon Wuse, Niger State, where she was a junior secondary school two student, when she was attacked and raped by two men.
The assault has left her broken and afraid to go to school. A constant reminder of that brutal attack remains in the form of her 13-month-old son.
“I wanted to become a nurse, but, not anymore,” the now 18-year-old single mother, whose real name is not Maimuna, said.
Managing a forced smile, the sleeping toddler in her arms, Maimuna said, “Whenever I look at him, I worry about the day he will ask me who his father is. I don’t know what I will tell him.”
As she spoke, tears ran down her cheeks onto the baby’s body. “I am happy to have a child, but I wish I was prepared for him and that he was born out of love, in a marriage,” she added.
Maimuna’s case is not an isolated one. Twenty-year-old Hasiya [also not her real name] from Pesepa was raped on her way back from school in 2017. She also was a student at Ijagbagyi Secondary School, in senior secondary school two.
Still visibly shaken by the experience and somewhat embarrassed by it, Hasiya hardly looked up at our reporter for the duration of the interview.
She seemed calm as she narrated her experience but goose bumps became visible on her body as she spoke.
“I was returning home when three Fulani men approached me, asking for my name. I told them I couldn’t tell them because, I didn’t know them,” she said.
Her reply was followed by slaps, beatings and the men raping her, before taking her back to their settlement.
“I spent two days before my people knew what had happened to me. They [rapists] gave me something to drink [which made me sleep]. When I woke up, I saw my people around me. The men had also been arrested,” she recalled.
Hasiya, who was writing her promotion exam at the time, never returned to school. Instead she is now working as an apprentice in a hair dressing saloon in Byazhin, a neighbouring community. Her dreams of an education and the promises it held for her, now only a distant memory.
The neighbouring outskirt communities of Pesepa and Zhiko are in Bwari Area Council, in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Of the 1,200 inhabitants in both communities, 53 are girls of secondary school age. Twenty-five of them are dropouts either because they have been raped on their way to or from school, or have been threatened with rape.
For Grace, narrating her experience was difficult. She was raped in 2015 when she was a student at New Bwari Secondary School.
“I was returning from school with my sister when two Fulani men attacked us. As we began running, I fell. They caught me, but my sister escaped and called for help from the village,” she said.
The villagers arrived too late to help. Grace ended up pregnant with twin girls.
As the eldest child of a polygamous family, the now 22-year-old Grace, has assumed a new role as breadwinner; a responsibility that has squashed her ambition to become a nurse. This is after dealing with the loss of her mum when her children were barely one, and dealing with the tongue lashing from her father for getting pregnant and bringing him ‘fatherless’ grandchildren.
From one trip of about two hours to Byazhin, and sometimes further away to Kubwa, to sell firewood, she makes between N600 to N1,200, depending on how much she is able to carry.
Rukkayat’s [not her real name] case was slightly different. She considers herself lucky, even though she no longer attends school.
Two friends and I were returning from school when some men approached us asking where we were coming from. We told them from school. They warned us to never follow that route, otherwise we would be raped.”
This was the end of school for the 14-year-old who now helps her mother split firewood for sale in neighbouring communities.
The 37-minute drive to New Bwari and the 17-minute drive from there to Sabon Wuse, was on a lonely road full of bad patches. If the girls had to walk this path to school, it would take them about two hours. To cut the distance, they go through shortcuts which pass through bushes and farmlands. With the rains still falling sparingly, it is not yet dense. But as soon as the rains kick in, the paths could be overgrown by grasses as tall as the school girls. In the thick bushes, it is easy for danger to lurk, waiting for the hapless school girls.
A women leader, Hauwa Pesepa, speaking on behalf of mothers in the communities, said they bear the brunt of caring for the girls when their daughters get pregnant and eventually give birth.
“We only have a primary school, no secondary school. The one the girls attend is not even under the FCT,” she said. “If we had one under the FCT, our daughters would not be raped. We don’t have money to take them to boarding school. It is really bothering us. We need government to help us. Sometimes rain stops them. The trip to and from school is tiring for them.”
She lamented that, “They rape our children, when they go to school, get them pregnant and the girls come and give birth for us. We have no ideas who the fathers of these children are. We don’t have a hospital. We carry them to other communities where they give birth.”
Community heads, Saleh Gyazanyi (Pesepa) and Bulus Wakili (Zhiko) said it was deeply worrisome to see their daughters dropping out of school, aborting their ambitions and giving birth to children with untraceable fathers. They said only one successful arrest had been made, in the case of Hasiya, but it did not go beyond the Kubwa Area Command, where it was reported, as her family preferred to have it settled at that level.
Rape and reporting rape
For different reasons including stigmatisation of the victim and her family, reporting cases of rape in Nigeria has been low. Victims are often ashamed of being publicly identified as rape victims.
From January 2018 to March 2019, there have been 253 reported rape cases in Nigerian newspapers. The incidences, recorded across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, involved girls and boys as young as two and women as old as 80. The bulk of the cases were female victims between the ages of 7 and 16.
For years, rape incidences have been reported daily and often involve underaged children.
According to a polling, analytics databank platform, NOI Polls, the Lagos State Police Command recorded 678 cases of rape between March 2012 and March 2013, with an undisclosed number of the victims being underage.
It also said there was an increase in reported child rape cases in Kano State in 2005, from 2004. The numbers “escalated to an alarming rate in 2007” with over a hundred cases involving underage victims reported within two months in 2008.
In 2014, NOI Polls conducted a poll on rape involving 1,000 randomly selected Nigerians above 18 from the six geopolitical zones in the country.
The data generated revealed that, 67% of the respondents opined that child rape is prevalent in Nigeria, with majority (49%) of the respondents stating that the victims they knew were between 7-12 years old.
Chief Superintendent of Police, Funmi Kolawole is the Anti Human Trafficking/Gender Officer at the FCT Police Command and deals with all rape cases reported.
She said, the incidences at Pesepa and Zhiko were news to her, as no such case had been brought to her knowledge.
Speaking on rape cases in the FCT, she said, most of the cases brought to her desk from the different police stations in the FCT involved underaged children and were not frequent. The culprits in such cases are persecuted and serve time, confirmed.
The FCT Police Command Spokesman, ASP Anjuguri Manzah, added that, in the event that there is no suspect arrested, from the outlook of the suspect and vital information, provided by the victim, after medical test at a government hospital and other preliminaries done, the case file is left hanging until investigation is completed, and perpetrators arrested.
He advised members of the public to report such cases to the police, for the perpetrators to be arrested. Reporting would also help the Force build its crime records so that they know what is happening and where, to enable them address the issues.
It is generally said that: ‘if you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’
A 2018 report by the World Bank, ‘Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls,’ notes: “In low-income countries, less than two-thirds of girls complete their primary education, and only one-in-three completes lower secondary school.”
The report finds that girls who complete secondary school are better equipped to become healthier, more prosperous adults, with smaller families and children who are less at risk of illness, death and more likely to succeed. “Further, girls with a secondary education are more likely to participate in the labour force as adults and be decision-makers at home and in their communities,” the report says.
To ensure his daughter, Madiya, falls in this category of empowered women, Bashir, a security man at the communityies primary school, said he made the sacrifice to buy a motorcycle with which he ferries his child and her best friend, Happiness, to and from school at Ijagbagyi.
In Zhiko and Pesepa, families are crying for help and for government to take note of the girls’ plight and act.
Over the last five years, the affected communities have written about three petitions to the Universal Basic Education Board through the Bwari Area Council requesting the establishment of a junior secondary school in a safer location around the communities. Nothing has come out of those so far.
Meanwhile, the community this time as it was four years ago and beyond, is awash with campaign posters of politicians from the recent elections, vying for office in the FCT and seeking their votes to get there.
What are the FCT, UBEB doing?
Efforts to reach the UBEB Director, Dr. Aminu Noma for comment failed. In one instance he acknowledged receipt of a text message, but subsequently did not take any calls or respond to further text messages about the issue.
N500 million earmarked for the ‘Construction/Provision of Public Schools’ [under code number 23020107, in the 2013 FCT budget] went to the establishment of international technical and vocational institute of Utako and four comprehensive science and technical colleges.
Although in 2014, the FCT earmarked N50 million under code number 23020107, towards the ‘Construction/Provision of Public Schools’ the budget, did not give a breakdown of what specific projects it would be used for. It is unclear whether the secondary school for Zhiko and Pesepa was captured here.
There were no budgets for public schools in the FCT’s 2015, 2016 and 2017 budgets.
In the 2018 budget, Item No. ERGP 8100644 with the caption, ‘Establishment of international technical and vocational institute of Utako and four comprehensive science and technical colleges in Abaji, Gwagwalada, Kuje and Karshi,’ is to cost N500 million. This is the same as 2013, only this time, the locations for the four comprehensive science and technical colleges are listed.
About two or so years ago, the community said, authorities scoped the two-hectare land parcel which they had prepared for the secondary school. However, since then nothing else has happened.
The mental health side of things
On the mental health side of things, Dr. Michael Amedu, a consultant psychiatrist at the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, during a telephone interview, said, not everybody has the mental resilience to withstand some of these things [rape].
“If people go through it and they come out of it, that is okay. However, for some, it leaves a permanent scar in the mind. This is difficult to resolve,” he said.
Such experiences could be triggers for depression, anxiety disorder and phobia among other possibilities.
He added that there are some people who derive pleasure from the act of rape more than the normal consensual relationship. Such people may be having their own mental health problems in their exclusive desire to rape, “because, rape depending on how it is executed, could be a form of mental illness,” Amedu explained.
Male dominance in society, is another reason rape thrives.
According to Amedu, “In our culture, which leans towards male dominance, when a lady is raped, there is the tendency is to see her as being the cause. They could say maybe the way she was dressed, or as with the cases of these girls, people could say they are village girls, they are loose and therefore brought the rape upon themselves. They always find a way of exonerating the man.”
Fakhrriyyah Hashim, a gender activist and convener of the #ArewaMeToo movement spoke on what the girls dropping out of school as a result of rape means for girl-child education, especially in northern Nigeria.
She described unsafe environment as impacting school enrolment, with Maiduguri as a case in point. The lack of safety, further impacts an unwillingness for parents to enrol their children in school, which elevates the number of out of school children in Northern Nigeria.
On the way forward, Hashim said it is important to create a safe environment for girls to be able to strive for an education.
“We must involve stakeholders in these communities to take charge of addressing the problem while also drawing the attention of the authorities. At community level, they can establish a community watch and incentivise it. Basically, someone who will escort the girls to school. They must punish perpetrators, because without nipping it in the bud, this can’t be sustained, a communal effort is mandatory to protect these girls.”
She harped on the need to sensitise communities on the negative impact of stigma and how it perpetuates the crime,” because silence aids recurrence of rape and communities must understand this.”
According to the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS5) conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF published in 2018, the number of Nigeria’s out-of-school children stands at 9.1 million; girls like Maimuna, Hasiya, Grace and Rukkayat will continue to add to these numbers, if drastic and prompt actions are not taken.
The real names of the girls have not been used to protect their identities.
This story was written with support from The Kukah Centre.