Friday 4 January 2013

Nigeria: No Country for Vulnerable Children

The regularity is inuring
Pastor accused of raping 12-year-old girl, I have read too many headlines like this in Nigerian newspapers that I have no more bothered to read the story, as if it is so commonplace, I am almost dangerously inured to it.
Something about this story was striking, in fact, too many things in this story meant a good 12 hours after reading it, I had this nagging feeling that I had to comment on the issue.
A vulnerable young girl had been brought over from the village, vulnerable in the sense that she was only two weeks in the city, she could speak neither the local language nor English and she was staying with her aunt besides the fact that she was just 12.
That a 12-year old could not speak a word of English in Nigeria in 2012 is the subject of another day, but it calls for serious discussion.
Groomed and raped
This was an Igbo girl in Yorubaland and besides her aunt, there was this neighbour, a Pastor who apparently is Yoruba who could also speak Igbo and so the conversation started where the Pastor began grooming the girl, lured her into the detached communal toilet, covered her mouth and raped her; by first sodomising her and then taking away her virginity.
Her aunt almost caught them in the act and upon inquiring of the girl, she learnt of what had happened and apparently immediately rushed the girl to hospital where she was examined and it was found that she had bruises to both her anal and virginal regions with sperm residue found in the vagina.
A victim to exculpate the criminal
The Pastor had however fled and in the process commenced an unconscionable damage limitation exercise that included stigmatising a vulnerable 6-year old girl who was labelled a witch by his church members; she was brutalised and paraded in public having been accused of bewitching the Pastor leading to his helplessly falling prey to being a rapist. This is no sarcasm; this is what the people really did believe.
This poor 6-year old girl was then left under the exorcist ministry of this rotten paedophile to be delivered of her witchcraft powers – the tale reads like a Steven King horror novel, only that there are real victims involved.
Interminable days
Meanwhile, it took two days after the rape of that child for her aunt to report the crime to the police and it took another two days for the Pastor to be apprehended. A couple of days later, the Pastor was released without charge into the community as if absolved because the courts were not in session to charge the man with any offence.
In fact, the charges were dropped by the police as they are wont to in cases like this, the most the perpetrator suffers is the demand that he defrays the hospital costs of the victim and the rotten paedophile is granted bail to return to the scene of the crime amongst other vulnerable persons where he can intimidate the witnesses and pervert the course of justice.
Now, the police are taking the heat for their lackadaisical attitude to this heinous paedophile criminality that they have suggested when the courts are back in session the paedophile pastor will be charged.
The dread of Syncretism
The spokesperson for the state police command is Ngozi Braide, a lady and I cannot say if she is a mother too, who was filled with as much indignation and rage as to acknowledge that the girl was raped and concluded with - “The pastor is in charge of a white garment church in the area. He will be charged with sodomy. He was released on bail because courts are not sitting but once courts resume, he will be charged.” Really? Just sodomy?
Herein is the big problem, African-initiated white garment churches have a brand of Syncretism that melds elements of animist and Shamanist belief systems with Christianity and it derives most of its doctrinal teachings from the Pentateuch, reciting the Psalms with the fieriness of people under altered states of consciousness, given to mass hysteria whilst believing in demonic possession, witchcraft and voodoo relieving people of their free moral agency.
The unpalatable sway the leaders of these sects hold over the community literally gives them criminal impunity and even in the face of compelling evidence, they are able to operate outside the ambit of the law for the fact that people fear them and whatever powers they might abuse to extricate themselves from criminal sanction.
We are embarrassed
The society at large is scandalised and embarrassed by incidents of paedophile criminality that they will rather sweep the matter under the carpet than agitate to have it prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The victims however receive no psychological help beyond medical examination to prove that the child has been violated and medical establishments do not take on the social responsibility burden of addressing the long term consequences of the sexual violation of minorities, we generally assume time eventually heals the pain and wipes out the memories of such events from the mind of the child.
Witchcraft stigmatisation
The poor child who was stigmatised as a witch might probably have had learning difficulties which the illiterate and ignorant may not understand, these helpless children especially if orphaned are ready brutalisation fodder for unscrupulously rotten religious leaders to mesmerise their flock into believing incredibly atrocious tales.
Injustice is compounded by evil under the guise of religion leaving child victims in their wake as if this is no country for children.
A grave injustice lingers
We need to re-school ourselves and begin to give the vulnerable a voice, the cause for justice for the victim must be paramount and above all allegiances no matter how deep – when a child is raped or stigmatised, it must become a compelling priority to see to it that all perpetrators, conspirators and accessories to that criminality are corralled and charged accordingly to ensure no other children suffer at the hands of these purveyors of reprehensible evil.
We can no more pretend that child sexual abuse does not occur amongst us and we should not be embarrassed to expose all those who tolerate it amongst us.
At the same time, we should be discerning of the fact that when a child is stigmatised as a witch, it is usually a distraction from other unspeakable evils and a smokescreen for contemptible deeds.
No child should ever be sacrificed on the altar of any belief system, no good can come out of brutalising the child either to save it or the community within which it lives, our dread for the supernatural must stop long before a hand is lifted against the child and reason prevail always.
It is time for children to feel safer in Nigeria.

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