REPORT: Landlord rapes two young sisters and flees; nearly two years after, justice still eludes devastated family
IF YOU asked Grace Bako, 10, or her sister, Janet, 14, what careers they’re interested in when they become grownups, they would reply, Medicine and Pharmacy. And if you asked why, their explanation would be: to treat people, especially little children, who are dealing with trauma.
What they may not immediately disclose though is that these crucial life choices are not unconnected to distressing events that took place in late 2017. Only nine and 12 years old at the time, Grace and Janet were sexually assaulted by their landlord, Ossai Anthony, who is now at large.
Their mother passed away in September 2013. Since then, their father, 44-year-old Samuel Bako has become a single parent. Being a security guard, Bako is not always around to keep a close watch on his two daughters. He resumed work at a hotel in Wuse II, and worked for seven days without a break, after which he had a week to rest. During weeks when he was away, he would stock the house and leave his three children under the care of his sister, Cecilia.
On Tuesday, December 19, 2017, he received a call from Cecilia. She discovered her nieces had bought a new pair of shoes for their brother and had their hair plaited. She wondered where they got the money from. Later, the children told her they got a cash gift of N1000 from the landlord. At that time their father was owing rents, and the landlord had been asking for it.
“He told me he wanted to send money to his family,” Bako recollects what the landlord told him when asking for the rent. “I told him I’d not received my November salary, he said okay. So, I didn’t know how he got the money he gave them [the girls].”
Bako hurried home the next day. After a lot of persuading, Grace narrated what happened while Janet insisted she was neither raped nor was aware of her sister being raped. He was outraged and wanted to act rashly. “My plan was that if I see this man, either of us has to die; but my sister begged me and said I should not do that.”
Examinations soon conducted by a nurse at a nearby pharmacy confirmed the girls had been “severely tampered with”. From there, they proceeded to the Mpape Police station. It was at this point Janet came clean to her aunt. The landlord has been sleeping with two sisters for a while.
The DPO recommended that more credible test results be obtained from Maitama District Hospital and instructed a police officer, Emmanuel, to accompany the family. There, the doctors also confirmed both girls had been defiled. The DPO then asked Bako to inform the police when they see the landlord so they can make an arrest. It’s been over 18 months since then and Anthony is still nowhere to be found, nor have attempts to find him yielded results.
Rape for rent
It was almost time for church service one Sunday morning, two years ago, and the young Bakos were preparing to attend. The youngest had gone to see their aunt who lives nearby and Janet had asked her sister to fetch him so they could all bathe. While waiting, the landlord stepped outside and asked to send her on an errand. She was about to have her bath, she explained, but the man insisted it was urgent.
Anthony, who worked as a carpenter, lived in a two-room apartment inside the same compound. When Janet arrived, he was seated in the room. Then, in an exaggerated manner, he began to search for money. “Kai! Where did I keep the money just now?” he’d asked rhetorically.
He left for the second room and instructed her to keep searching. As she did so, Anthony suddenly and silently sneaked up on her; she could feel his presence. Quickly, he held her hands and flung her on his bed.
“My voice was not loud,” Janet says as she fidgets with her toes. “I did not know what he used to cover my face, pillow or wrapper. The time he threw me on the bed, my wrapper nearly came off because I did not tie it properly. As it loosened, he lied on my body. Then he put his mouth in my private part. I was shouting but my voice was not loud enough.”
When he was satisfied, Anthony released her and stood up. The young girl threatened to reveal what had just happened to her father, but the landlord’s response shocked her. There is nothing his tenant can do about it, he mocked adding that, “I have done this for the first time, and I will do it a second time if your daddy does not pay his rent.”
Anthony, taking advantage of her naiveness, also threatened to take Janet to the juju back in his village, which he said would kill her, if she dared tell anyone.
It wasn’t the first time Anthony harassed her. On another occasion, when their father was away, he walked into their room and said he wished to sleep with them that night. The girls refused and managed to escape. At other times, he would invite them to his room when they were preparing to bathe, but they refused—though having no idea what he had in mind.
From her account, it appeared Grace suffered more at the hands of their landlord. Once, while her sister was in the bathroom, Anthony called her to help him wash plates and kitchen utensils.
“As I wanted to wash the plates, he called me and pushed me to his bed, and then …,” her muffled words peter out as she struggles to describe the scene. He had asked her to pull off her clothes and had his way with her. She cannot count how many times she was abused but says it is between five and 10 times.
According to Nigeria’s Criminal Code, “any person who commits the offence of rape is liable to imprisonment for life, with or without caning.” The same punishment is prescribed by the law for the offence of defiling girls under the age of 13, whether or not consent was given. The Sexual Offences Bill, passed by the national assembly in 2015, also stipulates life imprisonment as the penalty for the offence.
Dogged pursuit of justice
A day after Bako discovered his daughters had been raped by the same man, the landlord’s sister came around, asking for her brother. Musa, a close friend of Anthony also paid visits and proposed that the case be settled out of court. In January, both Musa and Anthony’s sister returned and everyone went to see Bako’s tribal chief for mediation. Because of the chief’s insistence that the accused person must be present as well, Musa promised to bring him along the following Saturday—but that never happened.
“After I resumed work, I was called to visit Radio House immediately,” Bako narrates to The ICIR.
“I met Musa with the landlord’s younger sister. Musa said the landlord had been with her since the atrocities leaked. He hid because of fear of being killed. He also said he advised him to go to the Radio House, but the sister resisted and claimed he fled the previous night. She also said she doesn’t know where he was again.”
According to Bako, Manza Anjuguri, spokesman of the Abuja Police Command, called Radio House during the programme and instructed that they detain the woman. An inspector was then sent to arrest her. After a few days, she was given an ultimatum of two weeks to provide her brother. It lapsed, but she asked for more time with the excuse that she had no idea where he was and his phone number wasn’t reachable.
“After that time, I waited an additional one week before returning to the station. Then, they told me, ‘You know it is not the sister that is guilty but we only needed her to produce her brother,'” Bako recalls. “That is where the case is up till today. I’m not hearing from the police or the family.”
But the old man is yet to give up. He has officially lodged complaints with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and the Force Gender Unit.
The Human Rights Commission and NAPTIP have also taken Bako’s statements and those of his daughters, but the anti-trafficking agency was uncomfortable that the case is also being handled by the police.
“When they arrested the landlord’s sister, I called the Investigation Police Officer (IPO) at NAPTIP, Ismaila, to tell him the situation,” Bako says. “He began to shout at me and said if I want to deal with the police I should deal with the police, if I want to deal with NAPTIP I should deal with NAPTIP. He then ended the call abruptly. Since then, I have not gone to NAPTIP again.”
The Mpape police division is reluctant to move forward with the case or even charge the landlord’s sister for abetting. However, they eventually gave their word to prosecute, but Bako says they haven’t contacted him till today.
“As we were leaving, Inspector Henry told my IPO, Varem Robert, to call the woman and invite her surety. They said they would call me when they invite the woman. But I’ve not heard from them.”
Robert, in a meeting with this reporter, says while he sympathises with the girl’s father, he does not agree with how he handled the case from the start without carrying the police along, giving room for the suspect to escape. He also explains that the law does not permit that the landlord’s sister is prosecuted for a crime she did not commit.
“We made strenuous efforts to lure this guy through his sister but they were to no avail,” he says. “He started saying we were supposed to go to Delta … We communicated with the village, but they said they saw him once and then he disappeared.”
Bako discovered, on a Sunday in January, that the phone rang when he again called his landlord’s old phone number. He then gave updates to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad office in Zone II where he learnt the case file had been transferred from Mpape. But nothing has happened yet.
“The IPO, Inspector John, has also not called me; the last time we spoke he said they are working on it,” , and that was in January.
John, in a phone conversation on Thursday, confirmed they’ve “been taken steps”. “I just spoke to the father about 35 minutes ago and he said he has just got new information; so I’m still waiting for him to send it to me so we can work on it,” he says. He adds that the police have done everything possible and they hope to charge the suspect once he is arrested.
Police’s demand for mobilisation fee
According to Bako, the Gender Unit asked him to write a petition to the Inspector-General of Police and assigned IPO Onyinye Ibe to the case. After writing his statement, he says he was asked if he had money to pursue the matter and track down the suspect.
“Tooh!” he had replied. “I don’t have anything. And she said okay, I should go; she’ll call me. But up till now, nobody has called.”
Ibe, however, insists the unit did not “ask that man to bring any dime” and says, in fact, her “madame” gave his children some money.
But Usani Odum, a lawyer who worked with the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation and took up the case, confirms that a demand for money was made. Specifically, he was asked to bring N50,000 for mobilisation.
“Yes, it is true,” he says. “The suspect has since relocated to Delta State, and we established contact with him. So the problem was how to proceed to Delta State with the police to pick him up. It is for this purpose the police insisted we must mobilise them with N50,000. It was at this point I left the case and subsequently relocated.”
Odum gave the name of the officer who made the demand as Yetunde, whom Ibe had described earlier as her former “team leader” and a CSP (Chief Superintendent of Police) who instructed her to take Bako’s statement.
I didn’t do it, says the landlord
Speaking with our reporter, Anthony Ossai has denied that he raped the two girls, describing the allegation as “false” and a “planned work”. He also challenges the father to take an oath if he’s sure of his claim.
“It is the good I do that has caused all these things,” he says, “because if not that I was providing foodstuff for them to cook and all of us were eating including their father, all these things would not take place.
“See if you want to know the truth, ask the father how many times the girls go out … If it is something we can discuss face to face, I will tell him to swear. I can bring my juju, they should bring their juju, and we will swear.”
Ossai says fleeing from the outset made his case worse and it is why he is reluctant to turn himself in. If he raises enough money to hire a lawyer, he adds, he will return to clear his name.
“I was told if I had not left and had gone straight to the police, it would have been easy. But now that I have left, it means I have failed. That’s the problem I have,” he tells The ICIR during a phone call.
“If I get my own lawyer, I’m coming back,” he says. Asked how soon, he replies: “Make I see, whether before the ending of this year maybe I will be able to meet up with the things I am working on and sell them.”
Test results conducted at Maitama District Hospital shortly after the incident show the extent of the damage caused by the sexual assault. Usoro Mmenieobong confirmed, in a letter attached to the report, that Grace was treated for vuluo vaginitis while Janet was found to have vulvovaginal candidiasis.
“Vaginal examination showed poor vaginal hygiene, no lacerations seen, hymen not visible, presence of whitish discharge around the vagina, (and) vagina admitted one finger with ease,” Mmenieobong wrote.
Oyejide Samuel, a Ukraine-based Doctor of Medicine, says the reports are a confirmation of rape and explains that vaginitis is an inflammation of the vaginal vulva. The infection, which may be caused by viruses that are typically sexually transmitted, often leads to itching, irritation of the genital area and increased vaginal discharge.
Weeks before the scandal in December 2017, Cecilia had noticed that Grace “was always getting sick” and often staggered as someone who was unwell. But whenever she enquired about it, the young girl replied that she was fine.
While their father is concerned about what effects the traumatic incident is likely to have on the girls when they’re older, it is clear the consequences are already taking place. Grace, a primary four student at Mpape LEA Primary School, is often withdrawn and says she does not keep any friends, and Janet acknowledges she faces constant stigmatisation and ridicule from neighbours.
“Since that time, I have not been comfortable in this environment,” she says. “Every time I pass, some people will be laughing, some people will be saying you are lying against this man. You just want to take the house as your own, that is why you said he raped you.”
Hoping for closure
Despite her experience, Janet’s heart is filled with love and forgiveness. Asked what she wants from the government, she replies that she doesn’t want anyone else her age to fall victim of what happened to them.
“Let the government try and arrest all the people that used to do all these bad things in our country so that we will have peace,” she says. “Let them arrest all the people and jail them in the cell, ask them if they will repent. If they say they will not repent, let them remain in the jail, and if some people say they will repent, let them go and never do that thing again.”
All her sister and father also want is justice served promptly and properly.
“I want the government to help me fight for these children’s rights,” Bako says. “Two of my daughters at the same time. It is painful. It is painful. It got to a point they said I should forgive and forget. I will forgive… but the injury there, I will not forget it easily like that. I want the government to help me. I need a judgment for these children.”
Joseph Chidiebere, executive director of the Devatop Centre for Africa Development, a non-governmental organisation that is offering support to the Bakos, tells The ICIR the case has remained unsolved for far too long and says his organisation is not comfortable with this.
“The man is in Nigeria; using his phone number they should be able to track wherever he is,” Chidiebere says.
“For how many months now, the children are traumatised while the perpetrator is somewhere relaxing. So, I think there’s a need for more efforts, even if it involves getting intelligence agencies to use their technology to track down the man… We need to make him a scapegoat to also teach other perpetrators a lesson.”
*The names of the victims have been changed to protect them from stigmatisation.