When I first read about the rape and subsequent murder of Vera Uwaila Omozuwa – Uwa – a 22-year-old undergraduate at the University of Benin, I had no doubt in my mind that the perpetrators and their ilk must be the much talked about devil incarnate, the one the Yorubas call Èṣù.
Because let’s face it, how else can you rationalise the rape and murder of Uwa, who was only reading in a church before such horror was visited on her. It was a case of classic inhumanity, the kind of evil and cruelty that is beyond comparison, so much that the perpetrators should never have had a place among us!
The reality in Nigeria today, is that we have a culture that puts our daughters, friends, mothers and even colleagues in constant fear and does very little to protect them from male predators at home, school, workplace and even places of worship. Sadly, just like Uwa, we are all now reminded that we live in a country that has failed and is still failing to protect women of all ages!
I am glad that the case of Uwa has reawakened a new spirit of rage, revival and national solidarity among all of us because the culture of rape in Nigeria has become one too many, so much that choosing silence at this critical time like Martin Luther King Jr had previously warned is to choose betrayal!
In what can be described as a radical departure from the past, where the rights of women in Nigeria had long been discussed in hushed tone like it is some heresy, it is refreshing to see that we are now having bold and open discussion around the rights of women and even calling out their abusers. This is a major step forward, an important step towards the evolution of a new culture that supports the naming, shaming, prosecution and conviction of perpetrators. We must now promote that culture that supports victims to find courage to speak up and name their abusers in the hope of justice and redress.
A lot of time when we talk about the idea of equality for women in Nigeria, most people deliberately miss the point and choose to lose the context. Just like we see today, the idea of equality has always been the admission that women and girls are an oppressed group, who have been violated, abused and even denied equal opportunities at work, home and even places of worship. They are asked to take the back seat at critical times! But today, we join our voices in solidarity to say never again.
Across the country, there is a major discussion around the unwarranted rape, assault, harassment and sometimes murder of women in Nigeria, but I reckon that the only way forward is to start by interrogating this current system that enables rape by making it difficult for victims to get justice.
The corroboration evidence law in the prosecution of sex offenses in Nigeria has made it even more difficult for victims to get justice. Our legislators must immediately kick-start action to review such laws, consider long term sentences for perpetrators and make it difficult for them to go unpunished.
I believe that there is no better time to interrogate the culture of rape in Nigeria and bring perpetrators to justice. We must ensure safe spaces for our women and guarantee their rights.
We are now at a critical juncture in our national lives that finally give us a chance to press onward towards equality and get justice for victims of rape, we must never miss this opportunity!