The same abuse of women by Nigerian soldiers happened in Liberia many years ago during the Liberian Civil War. When it happened, the Nigerian authorities did not take the soldiers’ actions seriously. There was a cover-up. Nigerian soldiers went to that country and populated it with children from war-ravaged women who were seeking refuge.
Today, these children are grown up and back in Nigeria, looking for their fathers. But this time around, we all must rise up to say no to the sexual abuse by our soldiers. A few things the Federal Government should do include; one, it must immediately set up a special court martial to try those erring soldiers.
Secondly, so as to encourage the victims to talk, there must be women rights groups who will go to the IDP camps and interact with the abused women. If the authorities go in during the investigations, they are likely not to get the facts as the victims would not talk.
Sexual abuse is a situation whereby even if the women say they consented to the act, it does not free the soldiers from the crime. These soldiers are in a position of authority and in a position where the women could hardly resist them. So, they had no right to touch any woman. We should not accept testimonies from any woman saying that she consented to the act. Any soldier said to have been raped any IDPs must be prosecuted and jailed like a civilian.
Abubakar Tsav (A former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State)
This case of sexual abuse is a serious disloyalty on the part of the soldiers and a failure of the system. The Federal Government asked the soldiers to protect the women and instead of carrying out that responsibility, they resorted to sexually abusing them.
It is very bad. It is morally wrong and professionally unethical. In addition, if these soldiers are identified, they should be dealt with.
If the women can also identify the people who raped and impregnated them, the culprits should be compelled to marry them.
We must also not forget that in a case of rape, it requires immediate medical report to prove the act in court. I advise the government to take the welfare of our women in the Internally Displaced Persons camps very seriously.
The condition of the IDPs is not commendable at the moment. If the condition is not disorganised as it were, there would not be opportunities for soldiers to take advantage of the women.
The responsibility of the government is to look after the women and that was why the soldiers were brought in, in the first place. I also subscribe to the idea of deploying female soldiers to the female section of the IDPs. This will go a long way in guarding against sexual harassment against the female IDPs.
For serving soldiers to be caught abusing the women under their care, this is unacceptable.
Such soldiers should be arraigned for rape. Apart from violating their professional code, such soldiers can also be arraigned for rape and tried in a court of law. What the soldiers have done is a violation of the Armed Forces law.
On the IDPs, the government should ensure that military women are posted to our female IDP camps. As a government which is concerned with the protection and welfare of its citizens, the way to guard against this abuse is to let female soldiers be around our female IDP camps.
Ngozi Okoro (Coordinator, Child Protection Network)
It is a very painful scenario. The suspected soldiers should be apprehended and if found culpable, dismissed. If some of them are punished, it would serve an example to others.
The women are already in a tragic situation and then, you have some soldiers, who are again trying to manipulate them. The soldiers are not making things easy for these women. If the soldiers rape our women, who then can we trust to protect them?
The solutions to this are; one, the government should consider deploying female soldiers to the female section of the camp. Let the female soldiers attend to the women. The women should be empowered; they must be taught how to stand for their rights and how to say no to abuses.
For the pregnant women, the government should rise up to its responsibility and take adequate care of them by ensuring proper antenatal care.
Michael Ejiofor (Ex-Director, Department of State Services)
The President has actually set up an investigative panel to look into the allegation. For now, the sexual harassment by the soldiers is still at the level of allegation. But without preempting the outcome of the investigation, we know that such harassment cannot be ruled out.
And if this is true, there are procedures of handling offenders, especially in the military. Some of these officers have been tried before for cases of corruption and diversion of allowances. If a soldier is found culpable, he should be tried appropriately.
The victims are vulnerable women, whose rights are being abused. The Federal Government should carry out its own investigations and get to the root of the matter.
On the welfare of the women already put in the family way, we should remember that the camp is made up of male and female occupants. Therefore, there is the possibility of some male inmates being responsible for the sexual assaults on the female inmates.
Generally, the IDPs are more or less a society of people and whatever is the outcome of government’s investigation, the authorities should do the proper thing.
The government also owes a responsibility to get the women, especially the young girls, rehabilitated. The government should look into the funds raised for the camps and ensure that the funds were disbursed appropriately. This goes beyond the Borno State Government.
We need the Federal Government and even international donors to come to the aid of these vulnerable women. This is a matter that should be handled with urgent attention.
Professor Ayo Olukotun (Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife)
Nigeria needs a mechanism to do data gathering on these issues and not rely on foreign reports, which are sometimes said to be tilted.
Having said that, I also believe the government needs to respond to this allegation swiftly. A quick fact-finding should be done to determine those soldiers who are culpable.
Of course, sanctions should be meted out to those found guilty of such an ugly and nasty behaviour. It is a pity that having been delivered from the ugly grip of the Boko Haram, these women again fall into a second tragedy.
It is a bad turnout of events that those who are to protect them have now become their predators. So, having identified the culprits, we cannot avoid sanctions to serve as a form of deterrence.
Going forward, the country must ensure that this does not recur in our IDPs. We must have watchdogs and monitors in our camps. As it is in the police, we must have monitors who could even arrest erring policemen. There should be monitoring from several government agencies and departments. It is an embarrassment to the country.
Lateef Akinborode (Head, Community Women’s Rights Foundation)
With respect to the harassment of our women in the Internally Displaced Persons camps, the government is supposed to come up with a plan for the financial empowerment of our women. If there is a plan for these women, we would not be at this story state of sexual harassment.
The government has, for most part, abandoned them in the IDP camps without a concrete plan of teaching these victims of Boko Haram insurgency how to earn a means of livelihood.
These women need to be able to stand on their feet and face their future. If their stay is not meaningfully engaged, sexual abuse is inevitable.
The IDP camps are not supposed to be permanent residences. The government needs to have a plan for the empowerment of these women. If the women are gainfully engaged, soldiers would not have the room to abuse them.
Meanwhile, there should be serious sanctions for the soldiers who are abusing our women. There should be female paramilitary officials and soldiers around our women and children. The female soldiers should be encouraged to be in the IDPs camps.
Like the practice in the country’s university hotels, female porters and guardians are the ones visible most of the time. This will help to guard against abuses. For the pregnant women in the IDPs, there should be a plan by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs to take up their welfare.