A peaceful protest organized by a coalition of non governmental organizations to make the government expedite action on the ABSU (Abia State University) gang rape case as well as raise awareness on violence against women, Wednesday, turned dramatic as protesters made a forceful entry into the Abia State Government Liaison office in Lagos.
The rally ‘Walk Against Rape’ began late in the morning with a low turn out of participants.
A couple of officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) accompanied the protesters to ensure a smooth flow of traffic, while a police patrol van trailed closely behind.
The hour long walk, which began at Ahmadu Bello Way, near the Nigerian Television Authority’s Victoria Island office, made a detour to Bishop Oluwole Street before returning to Ahmadu Bello Way.
The group arrived at the Abia State Liaison Office to submit a protest letter for onward transmission to the Abia State governor.
An elderly man at the security post turned deaf ears to pleas to inform officials of the Liaison office of the presence of the protesters.
“There is no one inside. If you have any letter, you can drop it here,” said the plain clothed man.
After a protracted but unsuccessful attempt to convince the people at the security post; the protesters embarked on a different line of action.
A handful forced their way through the security door into the Liaison complex and threw the main gate wide open.
Dozens of protesters marched into the compound with their placards, reciting the National Anthem and chanting songs of justice.
“It’s not just rape that we are angry about, a lot of injustices have been going on across the country but this Abia rape incident was too… not because a lady was raped but because five guys would rape a girl, record the video and post it on You Tube and spread it around,” said Gbenga Sesan of Enough is Enough, one of the groups supporting the rally.
“It is because they know that they can do it and get away with them. If things continue to happen like this, it means that one day people will walk into anybody’s house, rape them, record the video, take pictures and post it in newspapers because they know they’ll get away with them,” Mr. Sesan added.
A Walk for Justice
The walk, which had a lot of women in attendance, was aimed at bringing the perpetrators of the heinous crime in Abia State to book, amongst other objectives.
“We are here to let the government realize that we as civil society groups, we are becoming concerned that the issue of sexual violence in Nigeria is increasingly assuming epidemic proportion and something needs to be done,” said Josephine Chukwuma, the Executive Director of Project Alert, a non governmental organization.
“Our children need to be safe,” Mrs. Chukwuma continued.
“Some people will want to argue that maybe she didn’t dress well… But if that is the case, then how come four, five and six year olds are defiled in the homes, schools, communities, and religious environments. What is going on? Why has it become that there is no safe space for women or young girls anymore.”
Less than one month after the Abia State Police Command launched investigations into the rape case, police authorities say they have met a brick wall.
According to J.G Micloth, a police officer, investigations have led to two arrests but “nothing to pin them with.”
“We are searching for unknown victim and suspects, investigation is not about magic but realistic evidence,” said Mr. Micloth, an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Abia State.
But Mr. Sesan insisted that it would no longer be business as usual.
“Let justice be done because if it is not done, it will become like the average rape case that has happened before now. It happens, people make noise, they are silent, and nothing happens at the end of the day.
“We know the Nigerian police. We know they are liars and they always reach a dead end just like they reached in Bola Ige’s case. They would always reach a dead end until a minister’s daughter is involved,” said Mr. Sesan.
In addition to the Lagos rally, similar walks had been planned to hold simultaneously at both Abuja and Abia State.
The organizers alleged that state security officers thwarted efforts to stage the protests in the two locations.
“What happened in Abuja was (we were) trying to get permission and all that but the SSS made it obvious that there is no assurance on security, which is a tactical way of saying ‘don’t walk,'” Mr. Sesan said.
Mrs. Chukwuma added that the Abia State government “threatened participants” not to take part in the walk.
“Categorically, someone called from the CP (Commissioner of Police)’s office that the walk cannot take place there.
“Meanwhile this is the same place that, three days ago, a stage managed walk was done in that same Abia State alleging that they were being stigmatized as a rape university.
“If this happened three days ago, why can’t those from the other side have their own walk? This is democracy for God’s sake.”
More than 85,000 people worldwide have signed a petition on www.change.org calling on Nigerian officials to continue investigations until the five men are arrested. The petition was started by Adetomi Aladekomo, a rape survivor, after she was sent the horrifying video.
In her address to the crowd of protesters outside the Abia State governor’s lodge, after tempers had been calmed, a senior official at the liaison office pleaded for more time for the governor.
“I’ve heard you people, I’ve seen what you are doing but I’ll need your letter to pass it to the governor,” said the official who identified herself as F.A Akaranta, the Director of Administration.
“The governor will deal with it, they are working on it over there so you should give them time to be able to do everything, please,” she said.