A 13-year old girl lies six feet under the ground. Dead. Lifeless. Her dreams cut short, her breath snuffed out at a time when she should have no business contemplating the possibility of being non-existent. If she died of some terminal illness or had been a victim of an accident, maybe her death would have been easier to bear…maybe. But none of that is the case. The circumstances surrounding the death of Ochanya Ogbaje is a prospect every female prays against. Many would choose the option of being felled by the bullets of night marauders rather than the victim of serial rape. That frightening possibility of bodily violation that lurks in the corners of every woman’s heart became Ochanya’s reality.
I have made no pretences about hesitating to write on the subject of rape. It is one topic that sears not just my mind, but my entire being. I consider rape to be worse than death. Every time I encounter a rape story in the news, my eyes well up instantly—I am deeply saddened, angry, despondent— and enraged at the same time. I do not understand it, I find it difficult to comprehend the desire to access another human’s body without their permission and the audacity to go through with such abominable depravity; especially when it involves a minor.
Ochanya’s story is a painful reminder of how far we still have to go as a society. How unsafe our minors even in the places and spaces that should ordinarily be safe havens for them. The heart-breaking narrative of her short life makes one wonder if all the activism and advocacy surrounding rape and other forms of sexual assault are yielding any fruits.
.The questions are unending—what exactly would anyone find attractive in the physical anatomy of an eight-year-old? Why would any sane human seek to destroy the innocence of a child— more so, one who was left in their care after the demise of her mother? In a society where sex is as cheap as a bottle of soda in some cases, why can’t a full-blown adult find sexual expression with a fellow consenting adult, rather than defile a child?
Even though the Criminal Code and all other laws relating to rape prescribe life imprisonment for anyone who has been convicted of the crime of rape, I am unwavering in the belief that until the despicable act attracts the death penalty, we may never make real progress in reducing the prevalent incident to the barest minimum. The reality is that more often than not, the sentence delivered to convicted sex offenders is tantamount to the proverbial slap on the wrist. A man takes sexual advantage of his house help for years on end and at the end of the day, when he is caught, he is sentenced to ten years in prison. Soon enough, he is out and free to perpetrate his twisted desires once again.
Ochanya is dead. Unmoving. Gone for good. No amount of wailing will bring her back, and maybe that’s just as well considering the trauma she had gone through battling VVF and other sundry diseases that plagued her tiny body. The bigger question is, “What are we going to do to ensure the probability of this happening to another child is next to zero?” “What are we going to do?”
One of the biggest issues we have as a society is the unfortunate ability to move on too quickly from tragedies. Boko Haram kills hundreds of people in Borno…we decry the act on social media, create hashtags and in less than a week, we are back to discussing the possibility of a dalliance between Tiwa Savage and Wizkid. A child is abducted and beyond a few tweets and posts on virtual platforms, everyone moves on as if nothing happened. Ochanya has been raped to death and thankfully, many people seem to be angry enough to demand justice from the authorities, but there’s always that fear that somewhere along the line, we will grow weary and allow the case to go cold. As usual.
However, we must remember that a society that cannot protect its most vulnerable is a failed one. Our tall gates and security apparatuses will not always save us. We will not be with our children all the time. The girl child is not safe, but so is he boy-child. Boys have been subjected to abuse by caregivers and aunties and female teachers. Young ladies are at a risk, older women aren’t left out.
It defies comprehension to suggest that Mrs Oguja, who became the primary custodian of Ochanya after her mother’s death was unaware of the ignominious happenings under watch for five consecutive years. It has to be the eighth wonder of the world!
In this quest for justice, none of the people who lived with Ochanya during the period of the repeated rape must go unpunished. Ochanya’s case must send the sternest signal to paedophiles and sexual perverts of all forms that rape will be penalised in the stiffest way possible.
I would like to reiterate that the crime of rape should attract the death penalty. It’s the only way to deter beasts masquerading as humans.