REPORT: Brazen police extortion is frustrating rape victims’ quest for justice in Nigeria
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Victims of rape hardly get justice in Nigeria. Oftentimes the miscarriage of justice happens because law enforcement officers compromise. ‘Kunle ADEBAJO reports.
“Sorry sir, this amount that they told me, I don’t have up to that o,” Nanpon Julius pleads after exchanging pleasantries and introducing himself. He is on the phone with Okokon Udo, a state prosecution lawyer working with the FCT Criminal Investigation Department, CID.
“How much do you have?” the lawyer asks in a deep, booming voice.
“I have N10,000 with me now. Someone gave me N5,000 and I’ve had N5,000.”
“Okay, bring it. But it won’t be enough, you’ll have to add another N10,000. Let’s work on something. I’m in the office,” Udo says hurriedly. For emphasis, he adds: “You go add another N10,000. Come, I’m in the office, ehn?”
JULIUS, a logistics officer for a food delivery startup in Abuja, discovered two months ago that his daughter, who is only three years old, has been defiled. She had complained of pains in her wee-wee (vagina) and checks at Maitama General Hospital revealed that her hymen is broken.
When he asked her who was touching her private parts, she answered “papa”. Papa is one of Julius’s neighbours, living on the floor directly above his at their residence in Katampe Extension.
Alarmed, he rushed to Gwarinpa Police Station to file a complaint. The police insisted on having test results from the Federal Staff Hospital. After the test, the doctor also confirmed injury on the hymen, but the test results would take three days before they are released.
On May 13, the police swiftly arraigned the suspect before the Upper Area Court, Zuba—nearly 30km away from Gwarinpa Estate. Oddly, this was before collecting the test results from the hospital, which were available later that day, and before speaking at all to the victim of the crime.
“They told the chief judge there’s no evidence on the case,” says Julius, who was also at the hearing. “And they didn’t investigate the matter. They took a statement from me and the witness I have, but they never questioned the girl to ask who molested her. There was nothing like that.”
Wanda Ebe, the founder of Wanda Adu Foundation, an NGO aimed at eradicating violence against the girl-child, was also at that trial. She tells The ICIR no one was at the court till past midday, though the proceedings were supposed to start by 9 am.
“The judge was not there, nobody was there,” she says. “We sat down there for hours. Nothing was happening. In fact, the cleaners started sweeping the courtroom by 11 am… before putting things in place one after the other. Then, taxi drivers were bringing in suspects on chains.”
Unsatisfied, and suspecting malpractice, Julius complained to the Centre for Transparency and Advocacy, which immediately contacted the Commissioner of Police. The COP, Bala Ciroma, then instructed that the case be withdrawn from the court for further investigation.
From incompetence to extortion
Things started to look good after the case’s withdrawal on June 19 and transfer to the state CID. A fresh investigation commenced soon after—in fact, the day after the hearing, June 20.
“They even came to my house and interviewed the girl; she mentioned ‘papa’,” Julius recalls.
“They asked who papa is and she described and pointed at him. They asked where he’s living. They climbed the stairs and she showed them his room. They were taking videos of everything. After that, they left. They said since I’ve given my statement and my number is with them, I should hold on, they would call me.”
But that is not all. Before the officers left, they asked for money—N5,000. They said N3,000 is to type a report, and N2,000 to cover transportation expenses. Julius gave it to them.
When he called three days later, he was told the case has been pushed to the legal department for additional investigation.
“On Friday [July 5], I had a call from one of the barristers at the legal department,” he says. “He said I should come [as] they want to charge the case to court. I rushed to meet him. Then he, Barrister Udo, told me that I should bring N40,000 for casefile and signing …the chief judge will sign, this and that.”
Udo then asked how much he had with him but Julius asked to get back to him as he was not expecting to pay.
“Yesterday [July 9], he started calling me for the money, I said I didn’t have anything yet and will get back to him; someone has promised me.”
Acting on the advice of his spiritual leader, Julius went to the National Human Rights Commission where he was told not to pay a dime as it isn’t constitutional.
Confronted with the allegation, Udo neither admits nor denies it. “Is that the work of your NGO?” he asks among other questions.
“Shut up. Shut up. Listen to me,” he says after he is asked again if he solicited money from the complainant.
“Is that the work of an NGO to make enquiries from police? Because you work as a journalist, you have to ask me bullshit questions? Is that supposed to be the purview of your duty?” the lawyer adds before eventually ending the call.
Called minutes later, he says he is “doing something for his boss” and should be contacted later but does not specify when.
Justice to the highest bidder
In 2017 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report done in collaboration with the National Bureau Statistics. The study found the criminal justice system to be the most corrupt sector in Nigeria. Police officers, with a prevalence rate of 46.4 per cent, are most commonly paid bribes, followed by prosecutors, and then judges and magistrates.
“The experience of corruption in encounters with public officials whose duty it is to uphold the rule of law can lead to the erosion of trust in public authority,” the report observed.
The 2019 Global Corruption Barometer Africa report released last Thursday by Transparency International also confirmed the Nigeria Police as the most corrupt institution while the judiciary is ranked third.
Having to pay to get through the process of criminal litigation, which is the sole responsibility of the state, means poor Nigerians who are victims of sexual violence may never get justice.
The ICIR reported in June how Yetunde, an officer at the Nigeria Police’s Gender Unit in Abuja, asked the father of two underage rape victims for N50,000 to mobilise policemen and track down the suspect. Another victim of rape who was directed to a police station at Obalende, Lagos in January 2018, and spoke to the paper says she had to pay N8,500 to fuel a vehicle in order to arrest the suspect.
Ebe says not only do law enforcement officers extort those who complain of rape, but they also accept bribes from suspects to sabotage the case.
“The whole justice system is messed up,” she says. “Everywhere there’s corruption. It is only the rich so to say who can actually pay lawyers to pursue their case and see the end of it. But then, how many children of the rich are even raped? Most cases of rape and child defilement happen to vulnerable people in rural communities.”
“I have had a case of child defilement where the victim’s father went to the police and the questions the IPO [Investigative Police Officer] was asking him were: Who do you know? Who are your family members? Who is going to help you out on this case? Do you have money to pursue the matter?” she narrates in a displeased tone, referring to Julius’s case. “And the man replied that he is just a delivery guy with a monthly salary of N25,000 to N30,000.”
She says when they got the COP to withdraw Julius’s case, the IPO, Christiana Gloria, was infuriated. The officers also mocked the complainant, whom they had stereotyped as poor and helpless.
“Ah, so you even know people in civil society? So you even have people who can speak for you?” she remembers them asking.
“Their disposition is to take advantage of poor people or the fact that you don’t have anybody to pursue the matter for you. They’ll rather connive with the suspect, who’ll bring peanuts, and they will push the case under the rug. It is all about interest and what they get.”
Gloria says she has nothing to do with the case again as it’s been transferred to the state CID. She declines to comment on how well it fared before the transfer but says she did what she was supposed to do. Also, she does not deny that the victim of the assault was not interviewed or that the medical report was not presented as evidence in court.
When we asked Anjuguri Manzah, spokesperson of the FCT police command, if they are aware of such practices and what actions they are taking to curb them, he directs The ICIR to Frank Mba, the police public relations officer. Mba, however, did not answer his call and has not replied a text message sent to him.