If you asked Grace Bako, 10, or her sister, Janet, 14, what careers they’re interested in when they become grownups, they would reply, Medicine and Pharmacy. And if you asked why, their explanation would be: to treat people, especially little children, who are dealing with trauma.
What they may not immediately disclose though is that these crucial life choices are not unconnected to distressing events that took place in late 2017. Only nine and 12 years old at the time, Grace and Janet were sexually assaulted by their landlord, Ossai Anthony, who is now at large.
Their mother passed away in September 2013. Since then, their father, 44-year-old Samuel Bako has become a single parent. Being a security guard, Bako is not always around to keep a close watch on his two daughters. He resumed work at a hotel in Wuse II, and worked for seven days without a break, after which he had a week to rest. During weeks when he was away, he would stock the house and leave his three children under the care of his sister, Cecilia.
On Tuesday, December 19, 2017, he received a call from Cecilia. She discovered her nieces had bought a new pair of shoes for their brother and had their hair plaited. She wondered where they got the money from. Later, the children told her they got a cash gift of N1000 from the landlord. At that time their father was owing rents, and the landlord had been asking for it.
“He told me he wanted to send money to his family,” Bako recollects what the landlord told him when asking for the rent. “I told him I’d not received my November salary, he said okay. So, I didn’t know how he got the money he gave them [the girls].”
Bako hurried home the next day. After a lot of persuading, Grace narrated what happened while Janet insisted she was neither raped nor was aware of her sister being raped. He was outraged and wanted to act rashly. “My plan was that if I see this man, either of us has to die; but my sister begged me and said I should not do that.”
Examinations soon conducted by a nurse at a nearby pharmacy confirmed the girls had been “severely tampered with”. From there, they proceeded to the Mpape Police station. It was at this point Janet came clean to her aunt. The landlord has been sleeping with two sisters for a while.
The DPO recommended that more credible test results be obtained from Maitama District Hospital and instructed a police officer, Emmanuel, to accompany the family. There, the doctors also confirmed both girls had been defiled. The DPO then asked Bako to inform the police when they see the landlord so they can make an arrest. It’s been over 18 months since then and Anthony is still nowhere to be found, nor have attempts to find him yielded results.
Rape for rent
It was almost time for church service one Sunday morning, two years ago, and the young Bakos were preparing to attend. The youngest had gone to see their aunt who lives nearby and Janet had asked her sister to fetch him so they could all bathe. While waiting, the landlord stepped outside and asked to send her on an errand. She was about to have her bath, she explained, but the man insisted it was urgent.
Anthony, who worked as a carpenter, lived in a two-room apartment inside the same compound. When Janet arrived, he was seated in the room. Then, in an exaggerated manner, he began to search for money. “Kai! Where did I keep the money just now?” he’d asked rhetorically.
He left for the second room and instructed her to keep searching. As she did so, Anthony suddenly and silently sneaked up on her; she could feel his presence. Quickly, he held her hands and flung her on his bed.
“My voice was not loud,” Janet says as she fidgets with her toes. “I did not know what he used to cover my face, pillow or wrapper. The time he threw me on the bed, my wrapper nearly came off because I did not tie it properly. As it loosened, he lied on my body. Then he put his mouth in my private part. I was shouting but my voice was not loud enough.”
When he was satisfied, Anthony released her and stood up. The young girl threatened to reveal what had just happened to her father, but the landlord’s response shocked her. There is nothing his tenant can do about it, he mocked adding that, “I have done this for the first time, and I will do it a second time if your daddy does not pay his rent.”
Anthony, taking advantage of her naiveness, also threatened to take Janet to the juju back in his village, which he said would kill her, if she dared tell anyone.
It wasn’t the first time Anthony harassed her. On another occasion, when their father was away, he walked into their room and said he wished to sleep with them that night. The girls refused and managed to escape. At other times, he would invite them to his room when they were preparing to bathe, but they refused—though having no idea what he had in mind.
From her account, it appeared Grace suffered more at the hands of their landlord. Once, while her sister was in the bathroom, Anthony called her to help him wash plates and kitchen utensils.
“As I wanted to wash the plates, he called me and pushed me to his bed, and then …,” her muffled words peter out as she struggles to describe the scene. He had asked her to pull off her clothes and had his way with her. She cannot count how many times she was abused but says it is between five and 10 times.
According to Nigeria’s Criminal Code, “any person who commits the offence of rape is liable to imprisonment for life, with or without caning.” The same punishment is prescribed by the law for the offence of defiling girls under the age of 13, whether or not consent was given. The Sexual Offences Bill, passed by the national assembly in 2015, also stipulates life imprisonment as the penalty for the offence.