The BraveHeart Initiative for Youth & Women and a Magistrate Court have been lauded for the decision to hand down 14 years imprisonment to a child rapist in Edo State, South South Nigeria.
This was contained in a statement on Saturday by the Founder/Executive Director of BHI, Priscilla Usiobaifo, who said she is pleased with the verdict against Vincent Akande for the brutal rape of a teenage girl at Ososo Community in Edo State.
The Chief Magistrate (Special Grade) of the Igarra Magistrate Court, Akoko-Edo, Edo State, Nigeria, Nosa Musoe, had in his ruling on Friday handed down 14 years imprisonment without an option of fine to Akande.
The Judge noted that the accused was deceptive and berated the outrageous incidences of sexual assaults in Akoko-Edo LGA.
According to Usiobaifo, the verdict offers hope for justice to sexual assault survivors in a country where security agencies, health workers, traditional stakeholders and many first responders show low interest and willingness to sanction sexual offenders.
She noted that the ruling is in line with the objectives of BHI, which is a youth led, youth Focused, non-governmental organisation based in Akoko-Edo LGA of Edo State, Nigeria, advancing young people’s health and development as well as promoting women’s rights.
She also noted that one of BHI’s seven objectives is to facilitate the recovery of abused children and women from gender-based violence, adding that Akande, 40, did not only sexually assault the 14-year-old victim, but also threatened her with death.
Explaining the ordeal suffered by the victim, Usiobaifo said the rapist had held his hunting gun towards the girl-child and threatened to kill her in a similar manner as was another three-year-old who was sexually assaulted and murdered in the same environ.
Usiobaifo said: “He took advantage of the victim’s vulnerability due to her disability. BHI was particularly worried about the case considering the fact that the convict was previously a local vigilante who was expected to promote security and safety of citizens. The case of Vincent Akande was reported to BHI on the 22nd of May 2019. The case was transferred to SCIID, Benin on the 29th of May and the matter arraigned in court on the 3rd of June, 2019.”
To this end, the Executive Director of BHI stressed that Akande’s case has brought to fore the Sexual and Reproductive Health challenges of girls with disabilities in Nigeria.
She lamented the fact that the rapist sexually assaulted the 14-year-old girl with a medical history of epilepsy, noting that the girl lacked basic education due to her medical condition and lived most of her childhood as an Out-Of-School girl.
According to her, being Out-of-School and from a poor home, the victim had a significant vulnerability index and was by the riverside at Ososo Community fetching stones for sale when the convict accosted and forcefully violated her sexually.
She narrated how the BHI Team initiated intervention in the case, but noticed apathy in some community members as many of them felt Persons With Disabilities did not deserve certain rights, especially with regards to sexual rights.
Usiobaifo quoted one of the community members shocking position on the issue: “If normal people are looking for justice, shouldn’t this one with epilepsy (14-year-old victim) be happy that a man found her attractive enough to sleep with her? It is surprising why her family should also be disturbing BHI for justice.”
Another community member also said: “BHI should please save the money and energy for normal people as it should not be everybody’s case that must be handled let alone a none issue like this.”
Generally, Usiobaifo said, the society’s attitude to the sexual and reproductive right issues of PWD is biased, uninformed and based on ignorance of the rights of this vulnerable group, adding that many of the community members do not see reason why a PWD should report sexual assault let alone seek redress.
Not discouraged, Usiobaifo said that BHI went ahead to provide comprehensive services for the survivor and her family, including medicals (Investigations, Examinations, Preventive Services and Treatment); Legal Aid (Investigation, Prosecution, Court appearances); and Psychosocial Support (Counselling sessions, Follow up visits).
She said the BHI also rendered economic assistance to the survivor’s family, including a media advocacy campaign for the case, and enjoyed support and solidarity of likeminded Civil Society Organisations.
Usiobaifo, however, regretted that the absence of a coordinated response by the Edo State Government in addressing sexual assault and other forms of violence against girls and women appears to embolden sexual offenders and have spurred rape incidents in Akoko-Edo LGA as well as other LGAs in the state.
According to her: “Sexual violation of children is one of the commonest forms of violence against girls in Akoko-Edo LGA and we are sadly faced with a Local Government leadership whose inaction drives the rape epidemic.”
But reacting to the latest verdict, which has offered glimmer of hope to the concerned parents, Omolegu Osheku, who is the survivor’s father, said he was happy with the judgement as God’s punishment for the rapist.
Osheku also commented the BHI for championing the cause and the vigilance group as well as the youth of Ososo community for directing him to the NGO for help.
“Government has punished him for the punishment he meted out to my daughter,” he said.
The survivor’s mother also commended and prayed for God’s blessings on BHI, which, she noted, has made them not to fear that “anyone would hurt our children and get away with it”.
“I thank God that the man has received the punishment he deserved. God will reward the organisation for their efforts,” said Aisha Amodu, survivor’s aunt.
On her part, BHI’s Knowledge Management Officer, Anita Graham, said the conviction of Akande signifies victory for the NGO and all sexual abuse survivors who did not get justice because of their disabilities, while Lauretha Enofe-Osakue of Girls Power Initiative, Abuja asked that the convict’s details go straight to the Sexual Offenders Register.
“I just hope the register deters sexual offenders and intending offenders from perpetrating sexual assault. Well Done BHI,” Enofe-Osakue said.
The Nigerian Government ratified the UN-Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on September 24, 2010.
It is thus expected to be duty-bound to ensure that all laws, policies and programmes in the country comply with this convention and its provisions.
Aside being a signatory to the Convention, Chapter Four of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria mandates the government to protect the rights of all Nigerian citizens.
Nigeria developed a National Policy on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2018.
BraveHeart Initiative therefore called for the full implementation of this policy.
BHI is one of the foremost feminist organisations leading sexual abuse advocacy and response in Nigeria and has successfully facilitated convictions of 12 sexual offenders in Edo State.
In 2011, in recognition of its multi-pronged approach to sexual violence in rural communities, it was awarded Anti-Rape NGO by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports in Nigeria.
BHI was also a finalist for the 2014 National Human Rights Award.