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Between the sisters-raping teacher of Gombe and the vulnerability of minors

I suppose it is the fear of every father of daughters that the chastity of their girls will at some point come under threat. So,…

I suppose it is the fear of every father of daughters that the chastity of their girls will at some point come under threat. So, parents spend time handpicking schools to send them to, which friends’ houses they are allowed to visit and what times they are sent on errands or allowed out of the house. More for girls than for boys, I am afraid.

When Adamu Ali, a father in Gombe, sent his four daughters to an Islamic school to get them comprehensive knowledge of Islam and a sound moral compass, I don’t think he imagined that they would, all four of them, be corrupted by the same man. Especially when the man in question happens to be their teacher.

This teacher, Abubakar Muhammad, 38, abused the trust put in him and, between January and March this year, sexually abused all four girls aged between eight and 14.

The act itself is shocking, but the audacity of the execution is even more stunning. Four sisters, four minors, were abused and scarred for life by their teacher on the very school grounds where he was supposed to inculcate in them morals that would guide them for life.

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The Gombe State Police Command has arrested the man and in the manner of the police, paraded him before journalists, after he allegedly confessed to the crime.

Stunning as this case is, it would not be the only set of sisters whose abusers would be paraded on the same day. Another set of sisters, these ones aged 17, 15 and 12, were sexually assaulted by three men, Sani Adamu, 50, Adamu Muhammad, 40, and Bakura Muhammad, 30. Again, these men have, according to the police, confessed to the crime and would be facing prosecution.

While it might be surprising that sisters have been targeted by sexual predators like these men, it is not surprising that teachers entrusted with the care of children have abused this trust.

Sometime in 2018, villagers in Okija, Anambra State, gathered around the house of one Mr Modestus Eze with the intent of executing mob justice on him. You see, Mr Eze was the principal of Seat of Wisdom Secondary School, Okija, and had allegedly raped one of his students. When the police intervened to hold the crowd back and arrest the suspect, they found that he had already fled his residence.

The abuse of children, especially by their teachers and people who are meant to be their guardians and protectors, has been rampant for years, for decades, for centuries. I have written about it a couple of times before in this column.

Why have these cases persisted? Well, because sexual predators are a worldwide menace, not limited to Nigeria, north or south, or to Africa as a whole. Only last month, a 32-year-old high school teacher in Seattle in the US was suspended for having sexual relations with his 16-year-old student. Even worse, James Adam Baird, a 43-year-old teacher, in Plymouth, Michigan in the US, is facing multiple charges of blindfolding and sexually assaulting four of his students at different times. His youngest victim was 10, the oldest was 15.

However, in Nigeria, and particularly in cases like the one in Gombe, the chances of the perpetrators getting away with their sleazy crime are rather high. This is an unfortunate reality. The Nigeria Police has not had a great record of investigating and prosecuting cases like these. They simply do not have the soft touch to handle the victims and the right methodology to investigate the crimes and gather the required evidence beyond the public confessions that are often inadmissible in court as evidence, either because they are obtained under duress or for technical reasons like the client recanting or their lawyers arguing against its admission.

Worst of all is that they simply do not have the commitment and dedication to diligently prosecute, not just cases of child abuse but most cases in general. I have written in this column before of the murder of a police officer in Jos whose alleged murderers were set free because the police prosecution team did not bother showing up in court. If they could be careless with a case that involved the life of one of theirs, why should we trust them to care about the rape of a poor man’s child?

And of course, we have not forgotten and will not forget the case of Ochanya Ogbanje of Benue State, who died at age 13 from complications arising from years of sexual abuse by a father and son duo who were supposed to be her foster family.

Despite the public outcry and the earnest desire to see her case as the turning point in child protection rights in the country, in the end, the suspect, Mr Anthony Ogbuja, a prominent member of a church and an academic institution, both spaces that would give him direct access to children and young adults, and also put him in a position of authority over them, was allowed to walk scot-free.

Justice Augustine Ityonyiman of a Makurdi High court concluded that the prosecution failed to prove the four-count charge against the suspect. His wife, Mrs Ogbuja, however, was found guilty of negligence for failing to protect the victim from being sexually abused by her son, Victor, who has never been arrested and is still presumed to be at large.

Most parents would rather envelop this public shame and humiliation in the folds of their garments, pretend it never happened and try to move on than go through the trouble of seeking justice, and enduring the public spectacle. Others will rather blame their children for allowing themselves to be compromised, as if a five, seven- or 14-year-old could protect herself from a hormone-fuelled-sexual savage who is 40 or 50, or as if teenagers fully understand the concept of consent.

Some unorthodox practices like “marry your rapist” have subsisted on account of the failure of the justice system to protect children and dish out a consequence to their abusers. You rape her, you marry her seems to be, for some frustrated parents, a way out. It means they won’t have to live with the defiled children in their homes and be reminded every day of what they believe is their failure as parents, and also a way of getting rid of what they believe are damaged goods. Except that these are humans, not goods.

For this to change, people have to have confidence in the police to diligently and sensibly investigate such allegations. This confidence has to start with how the police receive complaints in the first instance. Victims of sexual assault, children or adults reporting to the police, have often been confronted by insensitive questions like: “Wetin’ carry you go there?” A victim had been told by a female police officer that since she wasn’t beaten or injured by a man who raped her, she should just wash up and go home and never say anything about it.

Again, as I have mentioned before, the police need to have a Special Victims Unit that is specifically trained to handle cases of sexual abuse, to treat victims and their loved ones with the required respect and privacy and most importantly, the required professional intervention needed to secure convictions in cases like this.

Nothing is going to stop indiscriminate sexual assaults of women and minors like the successful conviction of sex offenders. Child protection laws need to be adopted by all states, and sex offender registers need to be developed and made publicly available. If offenders are made to be haunted by the consequences throughout their lives, tainted by their crime as they intend for their victims to be tainted by shame, they would think twice before acting.