Friday, September 7, 2012

Francisca Okoli; Courageous till death

Shehu Sani Friday, 07 September 2012- Nigeria Tribune Online
DEATH came knocking on the door of her family house. It lurked in the corner for  a while until it threw its pang on the once vivacious and vibrant Francisca Ngozi Okoli, snatching her in her prime and puncturing to uselessness and eternity, all her lofty dream for a better tomorrow.
Some dare devil armed men had, in their dastardly operation and satanic mission, visited the family house of Mr & Mrs Okoli in
the Awka Etiti community in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. After robbing the already impoverished family of their precious belongings, they attempted to rob their precious daughter,
Francisca Ngozi Okoli, of her prized virtue through attempted rape. They herded her into an isolated dilapidated building while her parents were securely locked inside. She resisted their attempt with all the feminine force in her and the gun men, out of annoyance, killed her with a pestle. This sad event occurred in a morning raid on their premises on Sunday, 29th July, 2012.
Since the painful and untimely demise of beautiful and promising Francisca, heavens have not ceased outpouring grief just as her mother, parents and every Nigerian with conscience have been thrown into mourning.
Francisca, no doubt, stood out as a shining star and model for her display of such an uncommon and exemplary courage even in the face of imminent and unwarranted death. She stood firm despite having an option to succumb to their lustful wishes and thereafter lick her wounds while suffering in silence.
At this juncture, we ask ourselves some salient questions: What has gone wrong with our moral values. Why is our conscience and ability to choose what is right so dead that nothing good comes out of us? It is sad that such an evil could be visited on such innocent and defenseless girls, women and mothers in our society. Francisca, our hearts are pained and our souls soured. We share in the grief of your parents and we take solace in the fact that the law of karma would take its rightful effects, when the perpetrators of this dastardly act may have forgotten their evil deed. We shall continue to salute your uncommon courage while we bid you farewell as you rightfully join the martyrs and heroes of courage.
Courage is an attribute that is not common today. It is a quality possessed and applied by very few people like Francisca.
So many other women around the world have equally displayed such courage in the face of imminent rape and after such a horrible experience.
In Meerwala, Pakistan, 32-year-old school teacher, Mukhtar Mai, was gang-raped by four men in connivance with two other accomplices. Unfortunately, factors of social stigma, culture, taboo, discriminating law and victimisation threw a spanner in her attempts to seek redress in the court. She persisted, despite doing it alone, and won the court case, leading to their being sentenced to death on June 22, 2002.
In South Kivu’s provincial capital of Bakavu, Congo, Jeanetta Nbaragu Manana was raped by four soldiers under the leadership of Shelala Tamasieme in November 2008. Despite the social stigma, she pursued her case at the Bakavu’s Military Tribunal and the main culprit, Shelala Tamasieme, was finally sentenced to 20 years in prison, ending Jeanette’s sustained struggles to convict these rapists.
Rape has, no doubt, become a recurring decimal in our country today and even beyond. Men and women are victims altogether. While boys are sodomised, girls are violated. No one is secure anymore. Worse still, rape has no class barrier; kings and celebrities are involved in it, just as the poor are also enmeshed in the act. Celebrities  had at one time or the other been linked to rape, just as many unidentified poor people have also been involved in it. Not too long, some young men reportedly raped old women in Enugu State. The state government intervened, tried to rehabilitate them, and gave them succor. But these rapists went back to the recovering women and raped them repeatedly, until many of them ran out of the state.
All these indicate that rapists are on the prowl and we must be more proactive enough to contain this ugly crime.
Rape is defined as a sexual intercourse with a woman or man without her/his consent and chiefly by force or deception. Rape is a crime of felony, regardless of the offender’s relationship with the victim. Rape is an internationally recognised human rights violation and a crime of violence, rage and hate that demonstrate an extreme disrespect for the wishes and feelings of the raped.  The committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (EDAW) stated in its general recommendation number 19, that gender-based violence was a form of discrimination which the convention required its state parties to eliminate in all its ramification. Nigeria ratified the convention on June 13, 1985.
Though it is enshrined in different acts of all the states in Nigeria, the federal law for rape prosecution is found under section 138 (1) Evidence Act, Cap 112, laws of the federation 1990. Despite the existence of the law, most rape victims do not seek redress due to social stigma. They prefer to suffer in silence. Even when they try to go to court to press their case, the nation’s judicial process becomes so frustrating and harrowing for them and thus a successful prosecution of rape cases becomes a mirage. The burden of proving the incident solely rests on the victims. The complainant must prove beyond reasonable doubts that in the unlawful sex, which is not between husband and wife, complete penetration of the woman occurred without her consent. She must also prove that the suspect had the prior intention to have intercourse with her without her consent or was reckless, with or without her consent. The evidence can be corroborated but this condition is optional.
Despite all the stringent legislations, rape incidents are on the increase and many more women are keeping such violations to their minds, suffering alone in the process. Rape saga is not peculiar to Nigeria alone; it is a global phenomenon. But unlike Nigeria, other countries are trying to be active in its control.
Though the offence is a crime in Nigeria, it is not listed in the police crime statistic reports. Perhaps this is so due to the extremely low frequency of occurrence or unwillingness by victims to report the crime to the police. In cases where there are statistical evidences, these are at times disputed by authorities and regarded as exaggerations, arguing that the official crime statistics fail to give the full pictures of the incident.
Several factors predispose people to rape. These include hatred of the opposite sex due to unresolved and problematic childhood incident, sexual cleansing and ritual practices. Rapes are committed everywhere and anywhere for instance, on highways, pathways, in refugee camps, night buses and prisons.
The impacts of rape have been high and devastating, causing feelings of hopelessness and trauma that may lead to suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, insomnia and madness, or sudden aggressive behaviours.
Rape should be prevented with extra vigilance, provision of adequate security and shunning  of provocative dresses. As a society, we need to do more to prevent rape cases in our midst. It is so sad that the young Francisca had to die this pathetic way.
Insecurity of lives and property in Nigeria is on the increase and government must do everything possible to address the problem.
The pain of losing her is too much for us to bear, but we must bear its pain and take solace in the fact that it is God who gives and it is God, who takes away. The robbers have done their worst, but they cannot live in peace. If they have children, they should know that nemeses will catch up with them, no matter how long.
We should have the courage to say no to things that are demeaning to our soul and spirit. We should have the courage of the heroines like Francisca, who will continue to live in our hearts and serve as a positive reference point.

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