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COVID-19: Weak laws, poverty worsen gender-based violence in Bauchi during lockdown (PART 1)10mins read


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With about 300 reported cases in just 6 months, Bauchi State is fast becoming an unsafe place for innocent children as young as seven years. In the first part of this investigation, HARUNA MOHAMMED SALISU documented how the covid-19 partial lock down, complicity by the Bauchi State Shariah Commission and ineffective laws allow the perpetrators to go scot-free, while the victims continue to live with pains and societal stigma.

MONDAY June 15 was a dark day for Habiba Auwalu (not real name) who hawks awara (a local cake produced from soya beans) at the Staff Quarters of the Federal Medical Centre Azare, in the North Eastern State of Bauchi. Habiba, 13, abandoned school for hawking in order to help raise money in support of her mother who lost her husband in March. On the morning of that faithful Monday, the teenager was lured into her predator’s den through the exigencies of her trade and got raped, by Umaru Yahaya, the CMD’s cook.

“He placed an order for Awara, while taking it to him, a friend accompanied me. Upon arrival, I could see some frustration in his face, so he angrily asked me why I came with a friend. He said I should have come alone. ” He then withheld the money and asked me to return later so I would have it.

The-13-year-old-Habiba,-defiled-by-cook-of-the-Chief-Medical-Centre-Azare

“He warned that if I come back with my friend again, he will not pay for the cake, so I decided to go back alone in order to have my money.

“When I went back, he dragged me into a room where he defiled me; warning that if I dare let it out, he would chuck me with knife till I die and then I will be dismembered completely and nothing would happen to him”, Habiba narrates her predicament with shaking voice and teary face.

Habiba was defiled by a cook of the Chief Medical Director Federal Medical Centre Azare, Dr. Abdullahi Ibrahim Bichi, at his residence.

What is more appalling is the dismissal of a security guard who exposed Habiba’s predator.

“Sa’idu, popularly called Shagon, the security guard who learnt of my daughter’s defilement was dismissed from his duty post for exposing the culprit”, Habiba’s mother confirmed in amazement.

She said the security guard who was a friend to her late husband vowed to let the cat out of the bag upon learning about Habiba’s defilement by the cook of the CMD.

The security guard who spoke with The ICIR confirmed his dismissal by Bichi.

Dismissed Security Guard who exposes rapist at FMC Azare

Dismissed Security Guard who exposes Rapist at FMC Azare

Learning about a desperate move to cover-up the defilement of Habiba “to avoid embarrassment for the hospital and the CMD”, this reporter presented himself as Habiba’s uncle and requested to get the detailed information about the medical examination conducted on the innocent girl by the hospital.

Dr Hayatu Ahmed, Head of Clinical Services of FMC Azare, argued that the details information about the medical report would only be given upon a written request.

Days after the request was written, the hospital never responded to either the reporter or the mother of the victim in a move to bury the case.

Dr Hayatu Ahmad, Head of Clinical Services, FMC Azare

Dr Hayatu Ahmad, Head of Clinical Services, FMC Azare

Another Victim, Aisha, 12, (not real name) hawks sachet water. She was gang raped by two neighbours who forcefully took her on bike from her selling point close to her residence to one of the culprit’s house where they gang-raped her.

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Ten months since the young men violated the 12-year-old Aisha, she is not anyway near getting justice as the culprits continue to walk free in the neighbourhood while she languishes in pain and misery.

Aisha

Aisha

Remembering the violence, she went through, Aisha was trembling and crying when the reporter was having a conversation with her as she narrated her experience with her molesters.

Like Habiba, Aisha also hawks sachet water to support her mother following the death of her father when she was two months old.

When her abductors took her, they blindfolded her, threatened to kill her should she make any attempt to shout and crave for attention.

The predators took her to a room where they took turns to rape her.

She said her defaulters were later arrested with the help of a neighbour who overhead what was going on in the room. But they were released few days after they were arrested because Aisha’s mother does not have the financial muscle to pay for the medical examination and seek the services of a lawyer who would help her seek redress.

Alas, she is living at the same environment with her tormentors who keep on making “derogatory comments on her” for her inability to get them punished even after having their ways on her.

Her mother who is equally touched by the unfortunate incident that saw her daughter defiled at 12 years said; “I’m a poor widow who survives on begging, but I don’t want my children to see begging as a business, so I decided to ask her to hawk sachet water instead.

“On the day she was raped, I came back from begging and realised she was not at home, when I learnt that she was abducted, I started crying. One of our neighbours came to console me, telling me to thank God that my daughter is even alive, she was with the police.

“When I visited the police station, my daughter rushed to hug me and we all started crying; it was horrible”, the frustratingly looking Maimuna, Aisha’s mother recalls.

Maimuna said although the culprits were arrested by the police, she could not recall how the case ended because the household could not get support to seek redress for the atrocities committed on the innocent girl.

The police never told them the situation of the case to date, but the police say, they have transferred the case to the command’s head office in Bauchi.

Fatima Abdullahi, 7, was defiled by her uncle at Bema ward in Warji Local Government Area of Bauchi. Her stepmother tried to conceal the incident in order to shield the culprit but was unsuccessful because the 7 year old girl now suffers from vesico vaginal fistula, VVF from the wounds she sustained when she was raped.

Recalling the moment she was defiled, Fatima said, “that day I was together with some of my mates playing outside the house and he (referring to her uncle who raped her) came and met me, he asked me to help sweep his room, I refused, but my step mother asked me to go and sweep the room for him and I obliged. “While I was sweeping, he came into the room and pushed me on his bed; that was how I was defiled.”

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Fatima suffering from VVF after being raped by her uncle

Fatima said her mother, a divorcee, only got to know about the defilement of her daughter when, “someone in the house later leaked the secret to my mother.”

Fatima said the uncle, “used a piece of cloth to cover my mouth so that I could not shout for help. “He inflicted serious injury in my private part in such a way that I started urinating uncontrollably”, the little Fatima said in irritation.

Fatima suffering from VVF after being raped by her uncle

Although Fatima is young and may not really understand the level of damage done to her, she said that the experience of being defiled has made life meaningless to her.

“Since then, I have found life very difficult, I can’t walk normal, I always isolate myself from my friends because of my condition, I am always indoors, sleeping and crying; life is terrible for me” she stated.

Rape cases soar during Covid-19 period

The partial lockdown introduced in Bauchi State in March to help tame the spread of the coronavirus pandemic might have exacerbated cases of rape, pedophiles and gender-based violence, accounts from civil society organizations handling rape cases in Bauchi has suggested.

Mrs. Comfort Attah, the Executive Director of Attah Sisters Helping Hands Foundation says in the month of March 2020 alone, her organisation has received reports of 35 rape cases from different parts of the state.

Within a period of 3 months, Mrs. Attah said her organization has recorded 82 rape cases, but regretted that none of the perpetrators were brought to book.

She said because of the partial lockdown, courts were not on sessions from March to June, leaving many rape cases untried.

“From March when COVID-19 started coming up, we started having increase in cases, so scary and so weary”, she said.

Mrs. Attah said her organization “developed a committee called ‘community peace observers’; this community peace observers are people in the community that report cases through community leaders.”

She said the method has helped her organization in tracking some of the rape cases in Bauchi State.

“So, they are the ones calling us to tell us what is happening and we also trained them so that they will act like our eyes over there since we can’t move because of COVID 19.

Agreeing with Mrs. Comfort, Yahcit Susan Dala, Coordinator, National Human Rights Commission in Bauchi also said the agency recorded 37 cases of rape between January 2020 and June, majority of which were reported during the covid-19 partial lockdown in the state.

Dala attributed the increase in the number of rape cases to “restriction on movements”, saying, “People are forced to stay at home.”

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She said idleness might have led to the increase in the number of cases since the lockdown has forced the rapists to stay at home and sometimes at close proximity with their preys.

“That’s why most abusers are known to the victims or rape survivors. So, because of the restrictions on movements, they are forced to stay in the same vicinity with the abusers.”

Dala also said the increase in the number of rape cases may be as a result of the increase in awareness on the dangers associated with rape.

Figures reported to the Federation of Muslims Women Society of Nigeria, FOMWAN within a space of three months according to Hajiya Aishatu Ibrahim Kilishi, the state Chairperson of the Organization stood at 46.

Of the 46 cases reported to her organization from March 2020 to June, none has been successfully tried Figures from Rahama Women Development Association and Fahimta Women and Youth Development Initiative stood at 13 and 17 cases respectively, from March to June

Reported data from the Bauchi State Police Command obtained by The ICIR revealed that 56 cases related to rape and pedophilia were documented from January to June 14.

Of the 56 cases, according to the Command, 50 were reported during the Coronavirus pandemic, an indication that further proves an increase in the number of cases during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Findings by this medium revealed that the rise in the number of rape cases due to Coronavirus pandemic may be attributed to many factors that include excessive poverty where job loss from parents and guardians force young girls to hawk, drugs addiction among rapists and idleness, among others.

For instance, the Police Public Relations officer, Bauchi State Police Command, DSP Ahmed Mohammed Wakili, said during the period, many of the rapists arrested by the police were under the influence of drugs, majority of who may be addicted out of frustration of either job loss or poverty.

He said the inability of parents to shoulder the responsibilities of their children has also contributed in exposing them to danger, making it easy for them to be trapped by their predators.

Lack of support, Police complicity and fear of Stigma truncate justice for rape victims

In all the foregoing accounts, what appears more worrisome is how rape survivors continue to remain silent in fear of societal stigma, as lack of support to hold their predators to account and police complicity during investigations mar chances for justice.

For instance, of all the 56 rape cases reported to the Bauchi State Police Command from January to June, none of the perpetrators has been convicted to date.

All executive directors and principal officers of NGOs and civil society organizations who track rape cases in Bauchi told our reporter that none of the cases reported to them from January to date has been filed, tried and concluded, so that perpetrators are brought to book by a competent court of law.

In the case of Fatima Abdullahi who was raped by her uncle, Tarasulu, her mother recalled how the Warji Divisional Police, which was supposed to investigate and prosecute the culprit before a court of law, released him on bail even before investigations were concluded.

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Tarasulu said when the incident happened, she was deceived that her daughter will be taken to Bauchi for medical examination, and the result will be made available in two weeks.

But one year after her daughter was defiled and contracted the dreaded VVF, her uncle who defiled her is still at large, and the Warji Divisional Police never found it worthy to bring him to book after “releasing him on bail”, an action that betrayed the police’s trust not to release alleged rapists since their cases constitute criminal offences.

Tarasulu said it took the intervention of Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria, FOMWAN, to get the culprit re-arrested and reprimanded at the Criminal Investigation Department at Police headquarters in Bauchi.

She said although her daughter does not face discrimination since Fatima is still young, she fears that societal stigma will continue to hunt her.

Hajiya Aishatu Ibrahim Kilishi, the Amira of FOMWAN in Bauchi blamed divisional police officers at local government levels for destroying rape cases before they are transferred to the headquarters for proper investigations and possible prosecution.

She also blamed parents for persistent hesitation to expose rapists on the idea that their children may be exposed to societal ridicule associated with stigma.

She cited instances where pressure from guardians forced her organization to withdraw a rape case it instituted on behalf of a client on account of fear of societal stigma.

“Parents don’t normally agree to bring cases forward to enable us institute court case, based on the argument that doing so will tarnish the image of the victim and the household in general”, she said.

Suspects enjoy freedom as survivors falter in trauma, die in silent

Aisha, who was gang-raped by her neighbours weeps anytime she remembers her experience with the sex predators.

When The ICIR placed asked her to relate her experience with our reporter, the trauma in her face was evident as she struggled to control the tears.

“What is more painful for me is that those who raped me are freer than myself because I persistently suffer from stigma as a result of the incident, because everyone in our neighbourhood knows that I was defiled,” she regrets.

Her mother who also shares her pain told The ICIR that her daughter weeps anytime she recalls the scenario 10 months after.

The same scenario plays out with Fatima’s defiler. The suspect is freely moving around doing his normal business while his seven-year-old victim continues to wallow in frustration, trauma and pains occasioned by the VVF she contracted with.

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Yet the authorities at the Federal Medical Centre Azare fired the security guard who exposed the alleged rapist of Habiba.

The hospital neglected the victim and denied her guardians the necessary medical details that will help them take action against the culprit.

Some possible psychological abnormalities triggering rape and paedophilia in Bauchi according to Dr. Dr Mahmud Dan-Asabe.

Incurable rape defects that survivors will leave with for life

These cases, where outright denial of justice seems evident, have life-time psychological effects that will continue to haunt rape survivors for most of their lives.

Dr. Mahmud Dan-Asabe, a senior lecturer and Head of the Department of Psychology, Federal University Gashua, Yobe State, says the thinking and reasoning faculty of rape survivors is affected for life if proper psycho-social support mechanisms are not conducted.

He said most of the rape survivors in Bauchi and many other states only undergo clinical examinations and treatment; which he argued are not enough to holistically restore the physical and psychological well being of survivors.

“It has to be a holistic treatment; it has to be a combination of both medical treatment (i.e. pharmacological treatment) and psychological treatment, because 60% of the problems of these victims is psychological”, he said.

Dan-Asabe told noted that depression, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, self harm and panic attacks are serious psychological problems that will continue to inflict survivors of abuse that clinical medicine cannot not address at the moment.

The psychologist lamented that in the whole of the north eastern states of Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa and Taraba there are only three clinical psychologists.

He said the increase in the number of homicides in Bauchi State has a strong linkage with psychological backlash associated with rape and paedophilia; “because any girl that was raped will not forget the trauma, they will have what we call psychological defense mechanism which leads to repression, and the victims are only waiting for time to retaliate.”

He said marrying such types of women could be dangerous, “because one day one time, if care is not taken, she will retaliate; she may kill herself, she may kill the children and she may kill the husband.”

Source: International Centre for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ)

This investigation was published with support from the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)

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