Justice served in case of abducted Christian girl

CSW welcomes the verdict in the case of Ese Rita Oruru, who was kidnapped from her home in southern Nigeria in 2015 at the age of 13 and trafficked to Kano state in the north, where she was forcibly converted and obliged to “marry” her abductor.

Ms Oruru’s abductor, Yunusa Dahiru, was charged with conspiracy to commit abduction, trafficking, illicit intercourse, sexual exploitation and unlawful carnal knowledge of a minor under the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act.  On 21 May a Federal Court in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, acquitted him on the first count, but sentenced him to five years on count two, and seven years each on counts three, four and five. The sentences are to run concurrently.

Speaking to Nigerian media, Ms Oruru’s father, Charles Oruru, expressed satisfaction at the verdict, saying the truth had prevailed, and adding that he believed it would “serve as a deterrent to those engaged in trafficking people’s children.”

On 12 August 2015 Ms Oruru was abducted by Mr Dahiru, who was a regular customer at her mother’s food store, and is also known as “Yellow.”  He transported her over 800km away to his home in Kano State, where she was forced to change her name and religion, and was violated by her abductor.

Ms Oruru’s case highlighted longstanding and ongoing concerns regarding the abduction, forced conversion and forcible marriage of non-Muslim minors, which is particularly prevalent in rural areas of Nigeria’s Shari’a states. In early May the Hausa Christian Foundation (HACFO) reported that between 23 March and 6 May, eight Christian girls had been abducted and subjected to forcible conversion and marriage. Three of these abductions occurred in Kaduna state; four in Katsina state, and one in Kano state.

Parents seeking the release of abducted daughters are generally informed they have converted, married and are in the custody of local traditional rulers. Appeals to law enforcement agencies for assistance generally prove ineffective amidst threats of violence and assertions by abductors that the girls are not minors.

For example, following Ms Oruru’s disappearance, her mother, Rose Oruru, travelled to Mr Dahiru’s village, where she was insulted and threatened by the chief, who informed her that her daughter had converted to Islam, was now called Aisha, was “married” and was in the custody of the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi II.  Despite warnings, Mrs Oruru went to the Emir’s palace several times to petition for her daughter’s release. On at least two occasions she was insulted and assaulted by irate youth, and was refused direct access to her daughter, even when accompanied by police officers. Efforts by her father, who subsequently travelled to Kano to secure his daughter’s release, also ended in failure.

Ms Oruru was eventually freed on 29 February 2016, 24 hours after local newspaper The Punch launched a #FreeEse social media campaign that went viral and resonated with Nigerians both at home and abroad.  She was reunited with her mother in the capital, Abuja, on 2 March, by which time she five months pregnant.  She eventually gave birth to a daughter. On 8 March 2016 court proceedings were initiated against Mr Dahiru in Yenagoa, who pleaded not guilty. He was eventually freed on bail after an unnamed benefactor met the conditions, but was rearrested for failing to appear before the court on several occasions.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We welcome this conviction and hope it will mark the beginning of an erosion of the impunity surrounding these crimes, deterring potential perpetrators and their enablers. It is unacceptable that young girls in Shari’a states continue to endure multiple violations of their rights to freedom of religion or belief, education, parental care and liberty and security of person, among others. The only difference between these abductions and those committed by terrorist factions in north east Nigeria is that instead of trafficking underage girls to ungoverned spaces, these abductors attempt to hide behind traditional authorities who may have condoned their actions. We urge the Nigerian federal authorities to become more proactive in ensuring the immediate return of abducted minors to their families, and to consistently prosecute anyone implicated in such crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”

CSW, csw.org.uk