Rape, forced marriage, domestic violence: The new normal that imperils lives of women in Bauchi
By Haruna Mohammed SALISU
Cases of rape, forced marriages and domestic violence against women continue to soar in Bauchi State. But the police who have the power to arrest and prosecute the suspects are complicit. Often time, they make excuses that the courts are on lockdown due to COVID-19 and allow the suspected perpetrators to go scot-free. The ICIR reports about the ordeal of three women in Bauchi State who have been serially violated by the men who should protect them.
ALTHOUGH they live approximately 100 km apart, six year old Kaltume (not real name), Hajara Salihu, 17, and Zainab Ibrahim, 25, share similar experiences—they suffer from emotional trauma caused by violation and abuse of their dignity, all victims of a failed system that could not hold their violators to account.
Kaltume was defiled by her neighbour, Yushua Musa, a 27-year-old driver from Tilden Fulani, Toro LGA of Bauchi State. She was trapped and raped at an uncompleted building on the May 17 her predator, who threatened to stab her to death if she told anybody.
Frightened by the threat, Kaltume did not tell anyone that she was defiled by Yushua, until her mother noticed the discomfort in her daughter whom she said was terribly “uncomfortable”.
She was weeping consistently following the tragedy, the mother said.
Kaltume’s mother, Abida Mohammed, said her daughter was shivering and crying from the wounds she sustained following the incident.
“The condition completely changes her mood and she became very afraid of anyone who comes close to her,” the mother explained.
Abida who looked very angry as she narrated her daughter’s tribulation told The ICIR that Kaltume’s condition affected her health such that she now finds it difficult to play with her peers.
She said a medical report confirmed that her daughter was penetrated, and the culprit has been arrested by the police in Tilden Fulani where he was transferred to the State Command in Bauchi for further investigations.
Kaltume’s father, Danjuma Abdullahi, said the police in Bauchi was curiously desperate to “mediate on the case so that the culprit will be set free.”
“The woman police officer who was handling the case at the Command tried to convince us to resolve the matter and withdraw the case.
“We refused because the culprit threatened to kill her; so, I argued and asked them what will happen if we resolve the case and the suspect later killed my daughter?
“The police argued that the suspect said he was not around on the day the incident happened because he is a driver. We asked him to provide evidence that he boarded a vehicle from the park since the union at the park used to give a receipt and other documents such as passengers’ manifest which contains details of all the passengers that boarded the car.”
Danjuma said when he perceived that the police was interested in taking side with the suspect, he decided to involve a human right organisation in Bauchi, Prison Inmates Development Initiative, PIDI-Nigeria.
“I was sick and lacked the financial power to follow the case, because I have already spent enough,” he lamented.
He said the police in Bauchi only accepted to prosecute the case when they know that a human right organisation has shown interest.
Although Danjuma was eager to get the defiler of his daughter punished, he is losing interest in the case “because the police said they would arraign the suspect before the courts and they later said they courts were not in session because of COVID-19.”
He said he spent over N35,000 shuttling between Bauchi and Tilden Fulani in pursuit of justice for his daughter—but he no longer can continue “because the road to justice is very tortuous in view of the new dimension the case is taking.
For Hajara Salihu, the 17-year-old girl who hails from Unguwan Bauchi in Bauchi metropolis, the case appears more complicated. Her father ejected her from school and forcibly married her off to her cousin, Buhari from Jimeta in Adamawa State.
The former JSS 3 student does not only hate her father’s decision to cut short her ambition to become a medical doctor, she emphatically detests her cousin whom she was forced to marry.
In an interview with The ICIR, Hajara who was shedding tears as she narrated her ordeal said; “My father married me forcibly to his brother’s son; a man I completely hate, but my father justified the marriage by saying that I accepted him as my fiancé since I was young.”
The 17-year-old who described her father as a serial violator of women’s rights said seven of her sisters were also forcibly married off to men they did not like.
Hajara said her father’s decision to cut her school ambition was informed by his belief that when a lady is allowed to acquire western education, “controlling her would be difficult for a man”.
She said although it was her mother that enrolled her in primary and secondary schools until her father decided to halt it. Hajara affirmed that her father is not a role model to choose her husband “because all my seven sisters that were given in marriage without their consent are not in good relationships with their husbands.”
“They are severally violated by their husbands who do not have regards for them because they were handed over to them like commodities sold in the market,” she said.
“My removal from school saddens me because all my friends have now graduated from secondary school. They are about to gain admission into various tertiary institutions, but here I am battling to resist staying with a man I don’t like; thanks to my biological father who is supposed to protect my integrity as his daughter,” Hajara said in an emotion-laden voice.
“Sometimes I cry silently at home especially in the morning when I see my friends in their uniforms going to school while I’m caged at home to do house chores.
“I weep all the time when I remember that my ambition to become a doctor is cut short and I am on my way to get the same treatment my sisters got when they were denied schooling and marrying men they did not choose, here I am today ending up like them,” she said.
Hajara told The ICIR that she wanted to become a medical doctor in order help her mother whom she says has endured decades “of torture, emotional tyranny, starvation and endless beating from my dad just to raise her children. My father almost always made sure my mother’s efforts are frustrated along the way by withdrawing us from school, forcing us to marry at early stages and ending our educational pursuit”.
Hajara’s father did not learn any lesson from her sister who injured her imposed husband with a knife when she was forcibly married to him.
“It did not occur to him that I may act like that by either killing myself or my husband because I was forcibly married to him. My father never learns lessons from his mistakes neither does he listen to voices of wisdom who always advise him against some of his decisions,” she said.
Zainab Ibrahim from Wuntin Dada in Bauchi State is also a victim of forced marriage. Her father, Ibrahim Jibrin, forcibly married her off at the age of 15. She became the second wife of her first husband who already had 5 children at the time.
“My first husband came and met my dad and sought his permission that he wants to marry me, I was in JSS3 at the time. I was forced to abandon school to marry my first husband.”
Zainab said her father’s decision to give her hand in marriage ended her academic career and her dream to become a nurse.
“So, I traded my nursing career for what will later become a lifetime of regrets for me,” she said.
Zainab’s marriage which was carried out against her wish brought an end to an ambitious dream that would have saved her from the tribulation she currently faces.
She said her decision to comply with her father’s request to get married at age 15 was “because our psyches are trained to give total submission to our parents, and women don’t usually oppose men when it comes to decision making”.
When Zainab got married to her 39-year-old husband who resides in the same vicinity with her parents, it was only a matter of months for her to start facing the troubles of life that would later end the marriage.
“We started having problems with my husband’s first wife because we live in the same compound since my husband cannot afford to rent separate houses for us.”
“My troubles with her became intractable for a while, someday I started noticing changes in my husband, who later divorced me after subjecting me to different kinds of humiliations and torture,” she said.
Zainab told The ICIR that after her first marriage ended, she hoped to get a kinder husband who would treat her with dignity and accord her the respect she deserves—a dream that is yet to come reality.
When she married her second husband, it was another cycle of abuse and maltreatment.
“When I had a misunderstanding with my second husband, he sent me to my father’s house where he abandoned me for about eight months without attending to me.
“And when my parents took me back to his house, hoping that the differences between us would be amended, he insulted all of us and sent a small girl to hand over a divorce later to me in a very disgraceful manner; belittling all of us, including my parents”.
Zainab, who recalled how her younger sister was married off in a similar way, admitted that both of them never tasted “the joy of marriage.”
“I have never tasted the joy of marriage in my life because when my second husband divorced me, he abandoned me with my son who is currently suffering from pneumonia.
“These terrible experiences I went through have made me lose interest in getting married again because one may not know whether one will fall in the wrong hands again,” she said as she wept endlessly.
Zainab said her father was always eager to get rid of his female children in marriage, “because he feels that is the only way their dignity could be preserved even if it’s against their wishes to get married at the time”.
continued, she said: “My younger sister was also married forcibly to someone she does not like, as a result of the forced marriage, she ran away and no one could trace her any longer talk less of about her condition presently.”
Zainab said women rights are totally disregarded, an omen she says was capable of exposing them to be more vulnerable for subjugation.
“If a woman is getting married, she ought to have something doing which she can depend on economically because if a woman economically sounds, no man will oppress her anyhow. If I had gone to school to pursue my nursing ambition, this form of oppression wouldn’t have happened.
A cycle of torture, diabolism, violence and commodification
Hajara’s decision to vehemently refuse to stay with the cousin she was compulsorily married to did not go down well with both the husband and his collaborator—her father.
For resisting her father’s decision to remove her from school and getting her married off, Hajara was thoroughly beaten by her father, tied with a rope and dumped for days in a room.
She said she had predicted what was in the offing knowing the character of her father, she was ready to face the consequences of her action because she believed that there is a better life outside being tied to an entrenched system of patriarchal control that she saw her mother suffer for decades.
Hajara said she had made it clear to her imposed husband that she would either kill herself or kill him should he insist on keeping her as his wife, a warning she said fell on deaf ears.
“When I told him that it’s either I kill myself or kill him, he reported me to my father. Despite repeated warnings I issued, he never felt like letting me go. He resorted to using some charms in order to trap me to stay with him forever,” she narrated.
The 17-year-old said under the instructions of her father, her imposed husband became very diabolical in what she described as “a desperate attempt to force me to stay with him as a wife at all cost by attempting to force me to drink from his prepared concoction”.
“When there was so much pressure on me to drink from the concoction he brought, which I resisted after getting to know that it was a trick to trap me using charms which was prepared under the instruction of my father, I decided to flee the house and came back to Bauchi.”
When Buhari failed to use his prepared concoction on Hajara, he resorted to drugging her, “so that I will sleep and pave way for him to rape me where I later learnt that it was another trick to charm me through that method”, Hajara added.
Hajara said her decision to flee Jimeta and come back to Bauchi got her father infuriated. “When I came back to Bauchi, my father was very bitter about my decision and that was the beginning of another cycle of torture and endless beatings on me.”
She said though her mother knew that she does not love the man imposed on her as a husband, she cannot do anything to stop her father.
“My mother knew that I don’t love him and she informed my father early enough, telling him that she does not wants me to go down my sisters’ way. She is totally against my marriage but could not stop it because she knew my father will not listen to her, and I am not the first daughter of the family to be sent on forced marriage,” Hajara told The ICIR.
“Torture, abuse, violation of our rights have been the defining characteristics of my father ever since I was young. Everyone in the household has tasted the negative side of my father, myself, my mom, my sisters—everyone in the household would tell you how toxic my father is when it comes violating the rights of wives and children. He has married five different wives at different intervals, none of them endured staying with him except my mother who is still suffering from his abuse,” Hajara said as she tears streamed down her face.
In the same vein, Zainab said that her husband had in a somewhat similar dehumanizing circumstance refused to repay her the N26,000 she kept with him “with which I wanted to use to buy fairly used refrigerator that I could use to cool sachet water to start a small business, even after divorcing me and abandoning me with a boy who is currently suffering from pneumonia.”
The story of Hajara and Zainab has explained the culture of commodifying women, with their ambition to pursue useful careers relegated in exchange for marriage in a society where female children are seen as a burden on their parents.
As Zainab explains, her father who has six female children feels the best way to get them off his neck was to offer them in marriage as early as 15 for “anyone who is decent and could afford to pay bride price which is a statutory obligation for marriage.”
Mbami Sabka Iliya, a human rights defender who is currently fighting for Hajara Salihu, said she testified how her father gave her in forced marriage in exchange for money, “since the husband is rich and could afford to offer money to take the young girl as his wife.”
Mbami said “Hajara’s imposed husband is saying for the marriage to be dissolved, the father must pay all that he’s spent.”
Hajara wants a divorce
Hajara Salihu Idris told The ICIR that she would prefer to die than stay with Buhari, her father’s chosen husband for her. She said, “I can’t stay with someone I do not love as my husband.”
Idris justified the beatings and injuries he inflicted on his daughter for turning down his decision to give her away in forced marriage.
He told The ICIR that he will ostracize Hajara if she fails to do his bidding, insisting that no one will change the decision he had already taken.
“She has only two options: live with her husband or leave my house, because she is not the only daughter I have and I will never regret losing her”, Idris boldly told our reporter at a detention centre of Bauchi Peace and Security Committee where he was detained for torturing his daughter.
Idris who seems unapologetic for beating his daughter insisted that he did the right thing as a father.
The ICIR learnt that Idris had since escaped from the detention of the Bauchi Peace and Security Committee before being handed to police for proper investigations.
The Public Relations Officer of the security outfit told The ICIR that Idris requested to be allowed to urinate at an open space close to their office, “but fled when he noticed that no one seems to pay attention to him.”
Stigmatisation and a culture of silence
Stigmatisation of victims of rape and other kinds of abuses, particularly young girls and women has forced a culture of silence on this problem. Working through some NGOs in the state, our reporter had secured interview appointments with the families of two girls who had been raped by relatives. While speaking to our reporter on the phone, family menmbers of the two girls had expressed willingness to speak about their wards’ abuse. However, when our reporter eventually for to them in one instance having had to swim across a river, he was sent back empty handed.
In the first village, about 15 kilometres to Alkaleri, the father of the girl said that the family had decided that their daughter should not speak to the reporter. Neither he or any other member of the family would also speak to the reporter. The girl’s father said that she was already suffering from so much pain and stigmatisation in the village that telling her story to the world would worsen her situation. He said that the family would rather suffer their pain in silence than blow the matter open or even pursue justice for the poor girl.
In the second location, the village head and father of the victim were already waiting for the reporter when he arrived. They told him that he should leave and that they were no longer ready to speak to him. Apparently, it was more important to cover up the incident and make the poor girl and her family suffer pain and stigma than seek justice.
Our reporter found out that in many cases, the cover – up occurs when the perpetrator of the rape is a family member or close relative such as brother, cousin or uncle.
Rates of forced marriage, divorce on the increase as Islam frowns at practice
The rate at which girls as young as 15 years old are given in forced marriage is “quite worrisome”, according to Iliya whose NGO had documented no fewer than 15 cases from January to date.
Iliya who said the rate of domestic violence and divorce in the state is linked to force marriage added that, “what is more saddening is that these young girls that are very ambitious are given to men who are equal to be their grandfathers as husbands.”
Staff at a Bauchi Lower Sharia Court, who does not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the institution, said between January to date, the court has presided over 24 cases where women from different parts of the metropolis sought for divorce.
He said most of the reasons advanced by women relate to gender-based violence and forced marriage.
The staff of the court told The ICIR that the lower sharia court in 2019 had separated 65 marriages which could not be reconciled.
Adam Adam, an Islamic Preacher at Gwallaga Juma’at Mosque also stated that from January to date, about 35 cases of forced marriage and divorce were recorded at the mosque.
Another scholar, Hassan Usman Zango who is the Chief Imam of Abdurraham bn Awf Jumma’at Mosque in Bauchi said the rate at which young girls were given in forced marriage, which usually escalate the number of domestic violence and divorce cases in the state, was troubling.
He said from January to date, he has handled 50 cases of divorce, most of which “are as a result of forced marriage and domestic violence that keep on increasing on a daily basis”.
Usman said in 2019 alone, his mosque recorded 100 cases of divorce, most of which were as a result of forced marriage.
The Imam, who lamented that most of the victims are teenage girls, said the practice was against the dictate of Islam.
“The rate of forced marriage and divorce been reported to us is on the increase. We receive such cases on a daily basis. I cannot even quantify the number of divorce cases reported to me from the beginning of this year up to this moment,” he said.
The Imam recalled how a lady he knows endured torture from a man she was forcibly married to, adding “the lady in question ended her marriage after the death of her father who was reported to be the brain behind the marriage.”
He said “forced marriage is not in tandem with the dictates of Islam because Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in an authentic tradition, was reported to have separated forced marriage during his lifetime.
“Allah in the glorious Qur’an while commanding us to marry said, ‘marry women you love. This is enough to tell you how Islam frowns at forced marriage.
He said Islam emphasizes that couples could only be joined in a marital relationship out of love.
Unbridle patriarchy, domestic tyranny: The new normal in Bauchi
The consistent abuse on women, ranging from rape, domestic violence and general denial of their fundamental human rights, has continued to reinforce debate on patriarchy that is increasingly becoming the new normal in Bauchi State.
Both academics and human rights activists are unanimous that subjugation of women has continued to inflict lifetime psychological defects on their psyche.
For instance, Jibril Babayo Sulaiman of the Department of Sociology, Bauchi State University, Gadau, posits that women are treated as if they have no place in the society. “They are seen as second-class citizens. Wherever they are, they are not seen as human beings compared to men from a social point of view.
Sulaiman said women oppressors usually use religion as a cover, arguing that women have to give total submission to their husbands and even brothers. “There is the notion of the superiority of men over women, sometimes promoted by clergymen,” he said.
The academic argued that the tyranny against women is reinforced by a weak justice system, which he says has failed to protect women.
“When certain cases of rape are reported to the police, they will try to turn the table against the victim, especially when the accused offers a bribe to the police,” he added.
Corroborating this position, Iliya, said that a culture “where men seem to be superior and women are inferior to men” has been the major reason why women continue to be serially abused without consequence on the violator.
“In most cases, the men feel that they are the breadwinners of the family who provides security, health, food and shelter; and sometimes men used religion as an excuse to continue to subjugate women.
Iliya cited many cases his organisation is currently handling where forced marriage rape and “general denial of their rights perpetrated by their own relatives is no longer news to us in this organization”.
He said his organisation is currently supporting victims of such abuses to seek redress in courts.
Punishment under the VAPP Law
The Bauchi State House of Assembly in June 2020 passed into law the Violence Against Person Prohibition Bill into law, which was assented to by the state governor, Bala Mohammed.
The VAPP law contains various degrees of punishment that could adequately address the offences committed by Salihu for subjecting his daughter to the nightmares she currently faces and Yushua Musa for defiling his 6-year-old victim.
For instance, Section 4 (1) of Part II stipulates: “Any person who willfully or knowingly places a person in fear of physical injury commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than One (1) year or a fine of not less than Two Hundred Thousand Naira Only (N 200,000.00) or both.
Section 8 (1) states: “Whoever deprives another of his/her liberty except pursuant to court order commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than two (2) years or a fine of not less than Five Hundred Thousand Naira Only (N500,000.00) or both.”
Subsection (2) adds: “Any person who incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to commit the offence as provided for in subsection (1) of this section is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than two (2) years or a fine of not less than Three Hundred Thousand Naira Only (N300, 000.00) or both”
According to the VAPP law, for subjecting Hajara, Zainab and Kaltume to emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, both Salihu, Ibrahim Jibrin and Yushua Musa have committed offences punishable under Section 12 (1) thus: “Any person who causes emotional, verbal and psychological or abuse on another commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than one (1) year or a fine of not less than two hundred thousand naira only (N200,000.00) or both.
For abandoning his wives and children without means of sustenance, Salihu has committed offences punishable under Section 13 (1) which states that “Any person who abandons a wife/husband, children or other dependents without any means of sustenance commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding N500,000.00 or both.”
The VAPP law is comprehensive and could adequately address all the offences committed by suspected culprits in this report, but implementation remains a challenge.
Police deny allegations
The Bauchi State Police Command, through its Public Relations Officer, DSP Ahmed Mohammed Wakil, denied the allegations that the police in the state are rather mediating in rape cases instead of prosecuting the suspects.
Wakil who refused to be recorded said: “let me tell you, this current CP is a no-nonsense man, he does not tolerate evil”.
DSP Wakil said the major problem of the Bauchi State Police Command is inadequate women police officers with commensurate knowledge to handle abuses such as rape and domestic violence.