Paedophilia is a crime full stop. I don’t buy the argument being peddled in certain quarters that it is a disease, such people also maintain that pedophiles require help. if you ask me, the only help they require is to be shown the way to Kirikiri maximum security prison where they should be locked up for life and the keys to their room thrown into the Lagos lagoon.
I don’t see what pity I can show to a man who decides that the objects of his sexual fantasies would be children almost still in their diapers. Our society is usually a secretive one, people know things and won’t talk thus indirectly serving as unwitting accomplices to depraved men parading our communities.
These evil men’s self –appointed tasks are made more easy by the poverty ravaging many families in Nigeria. Such families have no option but to resort to sending their children away to ply the streets hawking wares. Talk about sending out sheep before lions. The young girls become easy prey and are quickly devoured by the pedophiles in our midst.
This problem reached home while I was still a teenager. A distant cousin Ada (not her real name) was living with us at the time, she must have been around 8- 9 years old when this incident occurred. At the same time John (not his real name) lived at the house with us, he was recruited to help my father in his building material business in Aba. Around this time, my father’s half -brother (Willy) was planning to move into our neighbourhood and it also fell on John to help with the cleaning of Willy’s apartment before he moved in.
I had always suspected John’s ways going by his various antics around the house but still nothing would prepare me for the shocker I got this particular day when my mum asked me to go fetch Ada from Uncle Willy’s apartment where she had gone to take food to John. On arrival, I knocked hard on the front door for several minutes but didn’t get any answer. I was almost getting ready to leave thinking that they may have left the house when the neighbours living in the adjacent flat informed me that there were people inside the flat for sure.
Shortly afterwards, after repeated banging on the door, John opened the door. As he stood there, I could see the mischievous smile on his face, I did not miss his stench animal smell either which now seemed to have intensified with the afternoon heat, something that made his room at home a no-go zone. It was as if John didn’t want me to come into the apartment, he stood still by the door and asked me “Kedu ife owu?” – What do you want?
This was rather an unusual question I thought coming from John, considering that we all used to come to the apartment as we pleased helping with the cleaning and so on. Something propelled me past John and I stormed into the empty seating room. Standing in the middle of the room was a half dressed Ada with tears in her eyes. I didn’t wait to ask questions, nor to be lied to by John about what had transpired, evil rent the air and all I could think of was to snatch Ada and run away, far away from the evil man closing in behind us.
As I reached out for Ada’s hand, you could see the sense of relief on her face, and the fear lodged deep in her eyes. We both briskly hurried out of the apartment oblivious of John’s plea for me not to inform mum and dad about what happened, as if I knew but by then his devilish conscience had already started pricking him, but still his plea wasn’t borne out of any remorse for the emotional scar he had just inflicted upon Ada for life but rather out of the animalistic sense of survival which in this instance was targeted at securing his daily bread.
Downstairs, I put Ada on top of my bicycle and wheeled it and her home. She cried all the way and I didn’t know what to tell her. I did not even have the courage to ask her what had happened, at that age and during this time, sex was a taboo especially sex with a minor. My only mission at the time was to take Ada safely home, I would let my parents take care of the rest.
This incident happened several years ago, sometime around 1982 it must have been. Since then, a lot has happened to Ada, she is now happily married. As to John, I don’t know what became of him, he didn’t sleep at our house that night and never did again. Not a lot though has happened on this child protection front in Nigeria, it appears that the pedophiles are still very much at their game’s best. Recent reports allege that child rapes are on the increase in Nigeria.
According to Suleiman Abba, Kano ‘s deputy police chief, child rapes have risen by an “alarming” extent in Kano. He says that this time, the sexual predators are buoyed by their false belief that sleeping with minors particularly virgins is a potent ritual which can cure them of disease such as AIDS and various sexually-transmitted diseases or make them rich.
Ibrahim Abdullahi, the spokesman for Societal Reorientation Directorate, the body charged with improving morals in Kano state was quoted as saying that “this is a sad development which requires the combined effort of the government, security agencies and the public to combat.”
It was also reported that in the last six months of 2007, the Kano police recorded 54 reported cases of child rape and made 60 arrests in connection with them”. Suleiman Abba says that the trend is a radical increase compared to 36 cases recorded in the first six months of 2007. Of worry is the fact that In some of the cases reported, the victims were gang-raped thus fuelling further fears that this devilish acts will not go away anytime soon. Abba said that the suspects’ ages ranges from 45 and 70 while the victims are mostly girls of between 3 and 11 years. In one incident he said, a man of 70 raped a toddler of three. “We have cases of young men raping minors but the number pales into significance compared to the number of cases involving older men,” Abba said, adding that the cases reported are only the tip of the iceberg. “Many cases are never reported because parents want to save the honour of their daughters and protect their family from embarrassment,” he said.
Continuing, the report said that the desire to hide the crime is all the more tragic given that some of the children require reconstructive surgery and get infected with the disease their rapist was misguidedly trying to cure, health workers say.
One would have thought that with strict Sharia laws in place in some places in Northern Nigeria, that these crimes which carry the death penalty will deter pedophiles from feasting on small children, but it is not the case. This Abdullahi of the Societal Reorientation Directorate attributes to the unwillingness of parents to press charges against suspected rapists for fear of social stigma. “We are stuck … we can’t prosecute without witnesses and the parents are usually not ready to go to court and testify. Without witnesses the case is a dead one and you have to free the suspect. And that hurts,” Abba said.
How sad indeed, for the poor victims and our society. Is this the kind of answers we should be giving these young girls for failing them? It is as if we are bringing them into the world and letting them to fend for themselves against sexual bigots parading the streets as Uncles and Big brothers etc.
Almost every state government in Nigeria, and local government authority has a ministry of social welfare, likewise a supervisory councilor for welfare. There is also ministry or ministries at the federal level responsible for citizens welfare and rights. These various ministries are headed by commissioners, ministers, ministers of states and all other such political appointees. There are also countless parastatals and government agencies that one way or the other are charged with the responsibility of looking after the well being of the citizens, not including the hordes of Non-government organizations (NGO) fighting for one social cause or the other.
One would then think that amongst the priorities of the civil servants in these various ministries, government agencies, NGOs etc will be the protection of children’s rights. It appears as if they are not doing that, and in so not-doing are failing the children.
While governments at the three – tiers continue to pussy-foot over basic issues affecting the welfare of their citizens, perhaps Nigerians should do more on their own. We could start by being open about this problem, discussing it and talking about it openly. Perhaps that may put the heat somehow on those men who have feasted on the likes of Ada for long hiding under the cover of societal silence.
The mass media have an even bigger role to play to help fight this problem. They should report more about this without necessarily naming the victims. Rather, the perpetrators should be named and shamed as a deterrent to others. Increased awareness created by the mass media will ward off some attacks, and also inform parents of their basic rights, and the children of basic self-protection steps to take, particularly when to start getting suspicious of the ‘good uncle’ with a heart of gold who is fond of buying her sweets and presents or even giving her cash but who will not want her to inform her parents or siblings of such benevolence.
With all sorts of NGOs springing up daily in Nigeria, perhaps it is about time for one of them to consider constructing a safe haven for women like Ada to run to in the first instance where there is no family support and care available. We should not let these children down as they are the future of Nigeria, they are our future mothers and wives.
For other Uncommon themes considered by the writer to be less talked about social problems in Nigeria, see Sex and the State 1 and Sex and the State 2.
About Uche Nworah
Uche Nworah is a freelance writer, lecturer and brand scholar. He is the founder and project director of T.O.T.A.L PROJECTS, an NGO that promotes e-learning in Africa. He lives in London and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.