Two lawmakers in the House of Representatives have told Nigerian women rape incidents could reduce if they dress more decently.
Sex crimes have dominated the national discourse over the past week after three high-profile cases of rape that also resulted in the murder of two of them.
Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old first year student of the University of Benin was raped and fatally wounded in Edo State last week, and died days before 18-year-old Barakat Bello was raped and murdered at the home she shared with her family on Monday, June 1, 2020.
The Jigawa State Police Command also announced last week the arrest of 11 men who had, at different times and on many occasions, allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl.
During plenary at the lower chamber of the National Assembly on Thursday, June 4, Rotimi Agunsoye, representative of Kosofe Federal Constituency in Lagos, raised a motion of urgent public importance on the need to condemn the rising cases of sexual violence and other social vices against women in Nigeria.
In their contributions to the motion, many lawmakers said stiffer penalties, including the death penalty, should be made to discourage all manner of sex crimes in the country.
'Girls, women dress terribly', says 53-year-old lawmaker
While making his contribution, Henry Okon Archibong, representative of Itu/Ibiono Ibom Federal Constituency, Akwa Ibom, said he supports calls for punitive measures for rapists, but that the law alone is not enough to solve the problem.
The 53-year-old said the fundamental issue leading to rape can be traced to the moral decadence in the Nigerian society.
"The families have failed, the religious bodies have failed, the school system has failed right from the primary school system.
"Now, we know that because of the economy of the country, parents don't spend time with their kids anymore, and that is supposed to be a foundation where children, boys are trained.
"If this foundation is faulty, there is no way we can build on a faulty foundation," he said.
The lawmaker said children are bound to become 'psychologically deranged' when they have faulty sexual development, and said rape is a kind of 'psychosocial malfunction'.
Archibong then submitted that women could be making rape incidents easier because they dress indecently.
He said, "I totally support any punitive measures for people that actually go around raping people; but there's a saying in my place that says when you're addressing the hawk, you also have to address the chicken.
"Mr Speaker, the way our girls and women dress these days is so terrible."
A female lawmaker could be heard in the background saying, "You can close your eyes," immediately he made his submission.
Archibong's contribution was then immediately cut short after Mohammed Tahir Mongonu, representative of Monguno/Nganzai/Marte Federal Constituency, Borno, raised a point of order that his colleague was not wearing a tie to complement his outfit, in accordance with the rules of the chamber on dressing.
The Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, representative of Surulere I Federal Constituency, Lagos, then told Archibong to sit down because he was in violation of House rules.
'Men are not wood,' pleads Borno lawmaker
When Gbajabiamila later threw the floor open for amendments, Ahmed Jaha Babawo, representative of Damboa/Gwoza/Chibok Federal Constituency, Borno, proposed two for his fellow lawmakers to vote on.
In his first amendment, Babawo, a former Borno Commissioner for Higher Education and Youth/Sports, proposed that all state governments should domesticate the Child Rights Act, Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, and Anti-Rape Law.
The amendment also proposed applying the maximum penalty of death, or life imprisonment for convicted rapists.
Proposing his second amendment, the 46-year-old said Nigerian women need to dress more decently to avoid abuse from men.
"Women should cultivate the habit of dressing properly and decently to avoid unnecessary harassment and abuse by men, because men are not wood," he said.
Gbajabiamila raised alarm at the final part of his remark and then said he believed the lawmaker threw it in just to 'make the mood lighter' in the chamber.
After a majority of lawmakers accepted Babawo's first amendment through a voice vote, the Speaker asked him if he wanted to press ahead with his second amendment.
The lawmaker answered in the affirmative and rose to read the proposed amendment again, this time without adding 'because men are not wood'.
A faint verbal disapproval was heard from another female lawmaker in the background while he read the amendment.
The proposal was then seconded by Abdullahi Saad Abdulkadir, who represents Ningi/Warji Federal Constituency, Bauchi.
The amendment was very loudly rejected by a majority of lawmakers when Gbajabiamila finally put it to a voice vote.
Tense face-off on moderation of motion
An overwhelming majority of the contributions made on Agunsoye's motion were made by men in the male-dominated chamber.
Before he allowed contributions, Gbajabiamila announced that he would only call on male lawmakers, and not the female ones, to show that the issue was not a gendered one.
"You'll allow me to just give men the opportunity to contribute to this debate just to show that this cuts across gender," he said.
After calling on only one female lawmaker out of four contributors, he again pleaded with female lawmakers to stop raising their hands to contribute.
"Let us show that men are in support of this, please," he pleaded.
However, his pleas fell on deaf ears as Lynda Chuba-Ikpeazu, representative of Onitsha North/South Federal Constituency, Anambra, raised a point of order after a sixth male lawmaker had been allowed to contribute to the motion.
Chuba-Ikpeazu accused the Speaker of stifling the freedom of expression of the women in the chamber by refusing to allow them contribute to the topic.
"I understand the reasoning behind your ruling that the men who are supposed to be culprits should speak and support, but it doesn't mean that I can't also give my own opinion," she said.
Gbajabiamila refused to back down from his position, leading to a back-and-forth between the two, before the Speaker resolved to allow her kick off the rounds of amendment proposals.
Chuba-Ikpeazu, 53, proposed that the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should embark on a sensitisation programme to educate Nigerians on the evils of rape in the country.
She also called on rape survivors to never be ashamed to speak about their experiences so that perpetrators can face justice.
As the only other female lawmaker allowed to contribute to Agunsoye's motion, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, representative of Isuikwato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency, Abia, said many rape victims don't get justice because Nigerian institutions are too weak to protect them.
"We have about 70% unreported cases, but these ones that have been done in broad daylight, they should begin to prosecute these people.
"Let's see that they're dying, that these people are being extinguished the way they are extinguishing people," she said.
Reps vote against proposed castration of men who rape minors
James Faleke, representative of Ikeja Federal Constituency, Lagos, proposed that men convicted of the rape of minors be castrated, the removal of a man's testicles, and jailed.
However, the motion was rejected by a majority of the members in a voice vote.
Gbajabiamila noted that the proposal did not account for female perpetrators of rape.
"What's interesting about this is that, in the rare event that a woman rapes a minor, what do you do to the woman?" he asked.
Faleke's amendment was later brought up again, when another lawmaker pointed out that he was being particular about the rape of minors, but it was voted down even more loudly when the Speaker put it to a second voice vote.
A proposed amendment by Enitan Dolapo-Badru, representative of Lagos Island I Federal Constituency, Lagos, to open a national register of convicted rapists, and publish it regularly in newspapers was accepted by the lawmakers in another voice vote.
Gbajabiamila described rape as a 'sick, despicable and ungodly act' and noted that the House Committees on Women Affairs; Justice; and Human Rights have a lot to do on the issue.
"We need to look into our laws and the punishments," he said.
A one-minute silence was observed for rape survivors, and those that were killed, before lawmakers moved on to other issues.