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Justice For Brutalised Women of Ejigbo

LCDA Chairman, Mr. Kehinde BamigbetanJustice For Brutalised Women of Ejigbo

 

The PUNCH Editorial Board

IT was a bizarre setting. A video clip that went viral on the Internet of two women, a mother and her step daughter, being subjected to unbelievable acts of torture and brutalisation for allegedly stealing pepper at a market in Ejigbo, a suburb of Lagos, should sicken us all.

Ejigbo LCDA Chairman, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan | credits: File copy

Stripped naked and subjected to a ritual of sexual sadism, the victims, identified as the wife and daughter of a palm-wine tapper, were seen pleading with their tormentors for mercy that never came. One of the ladies whose breast was mangled in the process of the torture later died a miserable and shameful death.

 

The pernicious crime is the ugliest side of a society that has lost its soul. In what could only have been the handiwork of some depraved minds, not only were the women stripped stark naked and beaten to a pulp, they were made to lie on their backs while some miscreants repeatedly thrust foreign objects believed to be laced with pepper into their private organs. Such outrageous acts of cold-blooded torture and brazen degradation of womanhood can only be condoned in a country where the values of morality, decency and rule of law have broken down. A group, Women Arise for Change Initiative, quoting Ejigbo Local Council Development Authority Chairman, Kehinde Bamigbetan, claimed that this horrendous desecration of womanhood happened in February 2013.

 

There are, indeed, a lot of things that are hard to believe about this horrific torture, but one that really stands out is how even women could stand and watch as these naked ladies struggled for life. But the blame doesn’t end there. How could such a heinous crime be committed and covered up for almost a year? Why did the police, the traditional ruler and the council chairman get entangled in a conspiracy of silence over such a horrendous crime? Bamigbetan’s claim that the culprits were members of a vigilante group that had since been disbanded is unacceptable.

 

Every civilised society protects women and girls against sexual violation. Sexual torture begins with forced nudity, which in many countries is a constant factor in torture situations. Physicians for Human Rights, a United States-based human rights group, says, “An individual is never as vulnerable as when naked and helpless. Nudity enhances the psychological terror of every aspect of torture, as there is always the potential of abuse, rape or sodomy. Sexual assault is clearly not simply a physical assault on the individual but, in many instances, it is the psychological insult that is most injurious.” This is tragic.

 

But what happened in Ejigbo is not an isolated case. The vicious cruelty gives a fresh insight into a trend of the gross violation of rights and blatant display of impunity that is fast becoming the prevalent way of life in the country. In October 2012, four young men – undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt, Choba – were publicly roasted alive after being doused with petrol. Like the hapless women in the video clip, the boys, in their late teens and early 20s, were stripped stark naked and beaten thoroughly.

 

They feigned death, thinking it would spare them further beating. Instead, they were soaked in petrol and set ablaze. All this before a motley crowd of entertained and cheering villagers. A version of some of the stories that emerged after the boys were killed on suspicion of being armed robbers was that they had gone into Aluu village to confront a debtor who owed them an undisclosed sum of money. But rather than pay up, he set them up by labelling them armed robbers. This is the same country where, at the mere shout of “thief! thief!,” an innocent person could find a tyre hung around his neck and be set ablaze.

 

In 2005, a 12-year-old boy was lynched in Lagos by an angry mob who accused him of kidnapping a baby. The same thing happens when people suddenly raise the alarm about their “missing” manhood. Any unfortunate person that happens to be around at that particular time faces the danger of an instant lynching. In July 2013, 25-year-old Ifechukwude Gabriel Nwainokpor, a graduate of Geology and Mining at the Delta State University, Abraka, and his friend, known simply as Kazeem, were also lynched in Lagos.

 

What is most worrisome is the fact that in all the incidents, nobody has ever been made to face justice. That the Ejigbo torture happened almost a year ago is evidence of the lack of interest in issues of human rights by Nigerians, especially when they are not the direct victims. Even some direct victims lack the awareness and the means to seek redress. This has in no small measure emboldened the perpetrators who move on to commit more heinous atrocities and criminality.

 

It is indeed encouraging that a civil society group, led by Joe Okei-Odumakin, has taken up the fight to ensure that justice is done in the Ejigbo case. It is also encouraging that the Lagos State House of Assembly, whose members got first hand information about the incident by watching the video, has also shown interest in identifying and bringing the culprits to book. This is the only way to return sanity to the society.

 

In civilised societies, those who steal, as the women were alleged to have done, are handed over to security agencies, not to a gang of miscreants. It is not the duty of any group of people to take the law into their hands and subject people to that kind of sub-human treatment.

 

The offensive sight cannot fail to draw pity even from a heart of stone; but not so for the modern day Pharaohs, who were inflicting the pain. They were not moved one bit by the desperate pleas for mercy by their agonising victims. One could only imagine the level of torture and dehumanisation that a woman would be subjected to for her to be impulsively obeying commands of her torturers, including an order to spread open her legs even when she knew that what was about to be stuffed in was some rough object that had been soaked in pepper. That was the fate the women suffered; they had been drained of every power of resistance and could only obey orders mechanically.

 

The Lagos State Police Command will bear the ultimate responsibility for this horrifying abuse if these despicable felons are not brought to justice. As if the inexcusably lax attitudes of the police are not bad enough, it is depressing that none of the assailants has so far been arrested. It is unbelievable that, at this time and age, with all the laws protecting the rights of persons, especially the most sacrosanct of them all – the right to life – that people could still exhibit this level of savagery and barbarism against fellow human beings and still be walking the streets free.

 

We urge the Lagos State Government to pursue justice for the Ejigbo sexual assault victims immediately.