BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
Nigerians are about marching out to elect a new President to take over from one of the World’s most incompetent Presidents of all recorded history-Muhammadu Buhari whose horror-filled two terms of four years each will elapse in May this year.
The electioneering campaigns are almost over with less than a week to February 25th when the ballots will be cast by over 80 million registered voters including millions of infant voters in the North and elsewhere captured in the national register of voters prepared by the Yakubu Mahmood led Independent National Electoral Commission that has so far refused to clean up the voters register to remove the underage voters.
But one thing agitating the minds of some of us in the human rights sector is the apparent neglect of the main candidates seeking to be elected as the next President, to elaborately state out what plans of actions they have in place for the wellbeing of Children and infants who are for now the most disadvantaged members of the contemporary Nigerian society that has not effectively implemented the Child Rights law that was passed about 20 years ago during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Children suffer all kinds of marginalisation and deprivation including the violations of their human rights such as the respect for the dignity of their persons in such a way that they are exposed to sexual predators in the families and in the larger society, especially in their schools and even places of worship. Many Islamic teachers and so-called Pastors have been arrested for sexually exploiting children in their care. Sexual violations of kids do also occur and concealed within families because majority of adult males that are sexual predators of kids are related biologically to the Parents of such victims.
A typical example is the information that an Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic and Violence Court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced a 51-year-old pastor, Nduka Anyanwu, to life imprisonment for defiling and impregnating two teenage sisters.
Justice Abiola Soladoye handed down the sentence after finding Anyanwu guilty of the offence.
Anyanwu was arraigned on April 17, 2022, on two counts of defilement by the Lagos State Government.
The offence was said to have been committed between 2019 and August 2020 at Arowojobe Street, in the Oshodi area of the state.
According to the prosecution, the offence is punishable under Section 137 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015.
The defendant pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned, trial commenced and ended on October 11, 2022.
The prosecution called six witnesses, while the defendant testified as his sole witness.
When the matter came up on Tuesday for judgment, Olushola Shoneye announced his appearance for the state, but the defence was not represented.
During the trial, the first prosecution witness testified that though she is now 15-year-old, she was 13-year-old at the time incident happened.
She testified that the defendant was known to her as the pastor of their church and that he had been having sex with her and warned her not to tell anyone.
The victim stated that the defendant said she would not get pregnant, but she eventually got pregnant and had a child for the defendant.
The second prosecution witness, the older sister to PW1, now 19-year-old, but was 17-year-old, at the time of the incident, collaborated the first witness’ testimony that the defendant was their pastor.
She narrated how the defendant had sexual intercourse with her with the consent of her parents, that he would take her abroad for greener pastures, and she started visiting him.
A guardian and counsellor with Lagos State, Mrs Memunat Dawudu, who collaborated on the evidence of the victims, testified that she got to know about the matter on August 3, 2020, from the Oshodi Primary Health Centre.
The father of the victims, in his testimony, stated that he knew the defendant, as he was a church member, and also his friend that he was responsible for his two daughters’ pregnancies.
He said he was aware that the defendant was having sex with his daughters.
The mother of the victims, in her evidence, stated that she was shocked when she found out that her two daughters were impregnated by the same man.
Anyanwu, who testified, in his defence, said it was the father of the victims who gave him the second prosecution witness, as a wife and they were having conjugal relations.
While delivering judgment, the judge held that the prosecution was able to discharge the burden of proof placed on it, on the charge of defilement.
Justice Sholadoye held that the three ingredients of defilement, were that the child was underage, the defendant had sexual intercourse with the victim and the consent of the child was not sought.
She said,” I am convinced of the evidence led that the defendant is guilty as charged for the offence of defilement.
“The police shied away from their responsibility by not charging the father of the victims along with the defendant.
“The parents of these victims are highly irresponsible and reckless in their parenting. The negligence of their children has contributed to them now being grandparents of two additional mouths to feed. They should have been sanctioned and brought to justice.
“The parents of these two victims, who are biological sisters, acted irresponsibly by allowing their so-called pastor friend to deceive them that he will help them take their children abroad when the defendant cannot even help himself.
“Nduka Anyawu, you are hereby sentenced to life imprisonment, in respect of count one and count two.
“The sentence is to run concurrently, his name should be registered in the Lagos State offenders’ register.”
This case is not in isolation because there are a thousand and one of such cases of sexual molestation of school pupils and children happening almost all the times in Nigeria. In most states, Justice administration is mirred in bottlenecks and corruption.
In Lagos few days back, a father of an 8 year old pupil that was raped by the school driver was killed in a scuffle with the sexual predator and till now it is unclear if the Lagos State Government has arrested this rapist.
In Nigeria, aside the Child Rights law that was passed to be domesticated by other states through their legislative Chambers which makes it weak and ineffective, there is no central criminal law provisions to protect and safeguard the Nigetian children as is present in the United Kingdom where they have a law known as “Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929” witn Changes over time for: Section 1.
Information from the British government says that on Changes to legislation that there are currently no known outstanding effects for the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, Section 1.
On what Punishment that there is for child destruction, the law stated thus:”(1)Subject as hereinafter in this subsection provided, any person who, with intent to destroy the life of a child capable of being born alive, by any wilful act causes a child to die before it has an existence independent of its mother, shall be guilty of felony, to wit, of child destruction, and shall be liable on conviction thereof on indictment to penal servitude for life:
Provided that no person shall be found guilty of an offence under this section unless it is proved that the act which caused the death of the child was not done in good faith for the purpose only of preserving the life of the mother.”
Specifically, a clarification on the law offers the following guide thus: “(2)For the purposes of this Act, evidence that a woman had at any material time been pregnant for a period of twenty-eight weeks or more shall be primâ facie proof that she was at that time pregnant of a child capable of being born alive.” This law is so strict that it says that “Reference to penal servitude for life to be construed as reference to imprisonment for life or any shorter term: Criminal Justice Act 1948 (c. 58), s. 1(1).”
So why are the leading Presidential contenders such as Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Kwankwaso and a few other serious contenders, not saying or presenting their clearly defined programme and blueprints on protection of the Nigerian Children from all societal harms such as the threats posed to their life by rapists and sexual predators?
According to a widely publicised data from unicef.org, Nigeria is a `country of the young with almost half the entire 180 million strong population, 46 per cent, currently under the age of 15.
Importantly, the current total for children under the age of 5 the statisticians insist, stands at nearly 31 million while each year at least 7 million babies are born. From 2019 till Yesterday, 17,000 babies were born by women and girls displaced by the boko haram terrorists attacks in the North East of Nigeria.
While a little over one in three of Nigeria’s whole population lives below the poverty line, among children this proportion surges to 75 per cent, so argues the UN.
The UN say too that when considering the low levels of birth registration, in some areas up to 62 per cent, known data about child health issues are likely to underestimate the true scale.
UN says a 2016 national campaign linked to healthcare services resulted in the registration of about seven million children, but large population growth is impacting progress.
Nigeria’s 40 million women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) it submitted, suffer a disproportionally high level of health issues surrounding birth.
While the country represents 2.4 per cent of the world’s population, it currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers.
Latest figures show a maternal mortality rate of 576 per 100,000 live births, the fourth highest on Earth.
Each year approximately 262,000 babies die at birth, the world’s second highest national total. Infant mortality currently stands at 69 per 1,000 live births while for under-fives it rises to 128 per 1,000 live births. This writer had argued that under no circumstances should women bringing forth young lives be put in the way of mortal danger. Therefore, a clearer implantable national policy on babies in Nigeria must be introduced as an enforceable legal framework. This is the import of this piece.
The aforementioned statistics by the UNICEF on the stark existential issues affecting babies no doubt represent the hard core data that necessitated this reflection alongside the unmitigated hardships that faced millions of families as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why are these candidates not paying attention to issues of child welfare? What are their solutions to all forms of exploitation of the Children? What are their solutions to baby factories and what do they have to implement reforms of the laws relating to the practice of abandoning children by their Parents in such places like Akwa Ibom in the guise that they are witches?
What are their individual blueprints on the mandates of agencies that protect the rights of children that currently are weak such as the National Human Rights Commission, NAPTIP, the Nigeria Police amongst others?
What are their individual baby’s blueprint for the Nigerian Children?
What about early marriages and the disturbing case of street children all across Nigeria including the ten million out of school children?
What are their individual programmes on pregnant women dying from pregnancy related avoidable afflictions? What are their solutions to the abandonment of babies by girls who due to a number of factors think the best thing is for them to throw their babies away? Do they have plans for single mothers who are not financially buoyant to care for their children?
What are their individual positions on ABORTION and the urgency of the moment to safeguard the lives of the unborn?
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.