How family ignored lawyer, ‘pardoned’ cleric who raped 16-year-old

rape victim
Rape victim used to illustrate the story [Photo: guardian.co.uk]

It appears efforts to bring to justice, Abdulrahman Habeebulah, the Islamic cleric who raped a 16-year-old, have failed with the withdrawal of the court case by the victim’s family.

In July, PREMIUM TIMES published an exclusive report on the rape of the teenage girl, who attended the cleric’s Qu’ranic school in Ede, Osun State.

The culprit did not deny the allegations but claimed the victim was his wife.

Aside from not being able to provide an evidence of marriage, his claim was debunked by the girl and her family.

The Child Right Act of 2003 forbids child marriage as it considers a marriage to anyone under 18 null and void.

Speaking with this newspaper, a lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, said the victim should be allowed to seek justice irrespective of her parents’ or guardians’ stance on the case.

“He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. Her views and consent cannot, therefore, be taken for granted,” he said.

“How can the parents attempt to shave their daughter’s head in her absence? That is why she threatened to kill herself.

“Why is the accused seeking settlement outside court when he knows the consequences?

“There should be some sort of compensation for the girl who has passed through the psychological trauma and all, otherwise, there is nothing apparent in the so-called settlement term that is in any way beneficial, or of utilitarian value to the victim,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

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Yemi Abiona, an activist, promised to represent the girl in court in company of some other lawyers.

The culprit was, however, discharged without any compensation for the victim after the court sitting last Thursday.

Pressure

The cleric was under trial at a magistrate court sitting in Ede with a charge of abduction against him.

Although Mr Habeebulah earlier sought an out-of-court settlement, the victim and some members of the family objected.

This caused a rift in the family as the older members of the family wanted to yield to the suspect’s request.

The pressure from her late father’s family was intense to the point that the victim threatened suicide if the family did not allow the law to take its course. She ran away from home the following day.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that she was transferred to an unknown location in Lagos by the proponents of out-of-court settlement the Sunday preceding the adjournment date, Thursday.

Troubled legal representative

The lawyer representing the victim in court, Abdulrasheed Maisolati, told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday that he was not comfortable with the verdict of the family members and the victim.

“They (cleric’s team) begged the victim even without my consent. They begged her. They begged the mother. They held a meeting with the family and it was resolved at the meeting that the case should be withdrawn,” he said.

He said he interviewed the victim personally and noted that “she was brainwashed after the journey to Lagos”.

“She was so categorical that she’s no longer interested. The way I saw her that day, she was totally different from the first time. She has become a confused, different person entirely from the girl I met months ago.

“They have brainwashed her. In fact, if I had insisted, they would have employed the services of another lawyer and the case would be automatically be withdrawn.”

The lawyer said the representatives of Amnesty International also spoke with the victim and she maintained her stance.

On the demand for compensation, he said the family struck it out.

Read also: $11 Million Fraud: Obinwanne Okeke hires Nigerian lawyer to lead trial

“The family head, when I asked about the money we’ve been asking for, maintained that I should not talk about that. I asked about her education, they said they have arranged for that,” he said.

“I told them that from the money we want to collect from the accused person, we will open an investment account for the girl so that by the time she will finish her secondary education, it would have multiplied.”

He however explained that the case “was discharged and not acquitted.”

“The girl can raise the case again if need be,” the lawyer added.

In Nigeria, many cases of sexual abuse hardly lead to the prosecution or sentencing of suspects, usually due to pressure from the suspect’s family or stigmatisation.

When the state police spokesperson, Folashade Odoro, was asked if the police had prior knowledge of the withdrawal since it is a criminal case, she stated that the case is out of the agency’s jurisdiction as it is in court.

Criminal cases are tried by the state and not individuals and thus, prosecuted by the police.

She noted that the function of the police is to investigate and file charges in court. The decision of the court is not the business of the police.

Aggrieved community members

The elder brother of the victim, Muideen Oloyede, as well as some members of the community, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision to withdraw the case.

When contacted by this correspondent, some of them claimed that the decision will “massage the ego of the cleric as his moves do not equal repentance”.

The victim was accomodated in Mr Oloyede’s residence before the family removed her.

“I am not happy at all. I tried all my best to stop them but I was labelled as a bad egg in the family. The man (accused) is not sober at all,” Mr Oloyede told PREMIUM TIMES.

A resident of the area, Saleem, said the cleric was “pardoned ignorantly”.

He said the cleric, on several occasions, had boasted of the influence he wields and ended up having his way. “I am totally disappointed,” he said.

The cleric declined comments when contacted on Monday by this correspondent.

He accused PREMIUM TIMES of maligning his personality and trying to smear his religion.

“What do you want me to say again? Don’t call me again. I’m telling you to back off this case,” he yelled on phone.

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