Different reactions accompanied the court dismissal of the rape case filed by Busola Dakolo against Biodun Fatoyinbo. Twitter was divided into two major factions following this latest news. One faction saw the judgment as unfair while the second faction believed the verdict was justice at its best. In the midst of these reactions are lessons to be learnt.
#Lesson 1: Don’t go to court without enough evidence.
When Biodun Fatoyinbo was sued for raping Busola Dakolo 20 years ago, the first thing people around me asked was “does she have evidence”. Of course, even if there were evidence, 20 years is enough for it to be altered or completely destroyed.
A lot of good cases have been lost as a result of lack of evidence. We see this in Nigeria today, especially in the rural areas. For instance, in my village, there was this parcel of land in dispute. One of the parties claimed that the land belonged to their family but was given out on lease to the present occupant. So, they want the occupants to leave or buy the land at its current value. On the other side are the present occupants of the land, who claimed that the land was the collateral given to their grandfather when he lent money to its former owner. Since the borrower couldn’t pay, he forfeited the land as the loan repayment. However, there is no evidence of this transaction and the witnesses have all died off. Now both parties are threatening seeking legal action since umunna couldn’t resolve the issue. But then, what will be their fate in the court?
There are so many other people that easily seek legal actions without sitting down to ask themselves if they have tangible evidence to use. People need to remember that the court plays a different ball game altogether. They shouldn’t let their emotions take the best of them.
#Lesson 2: Court doesn’t grant revenge; it gives justice.
The second major reason Dakolo’s case against Fatoyinbo was struck out is that she sued him out of bitterness. She started by calling him out in the media. By the time she went to court, a lot of people have asked for Fatoyinbo’s head. This played against her because the presiding judge, Justice Oathman A. Musa, stated that her case was born out of cruelty and not from seeking justice. He saw the case as empty and sentimental.
As confusing as that assertion may be, it spelt out one thing – the court may not satisfy your thirst for revenge.
I believe Dakolo was called cruel because she raised so much dust before taking the matter to court. I’ve heard that things like this can affect court’s judgment. In other words, if you seek legal action for wrongs done to you, kindly refrain from making so much noise about it so you don’t appear “cruel”. At least, that’s how it is in Nigeria.
#Lesson 3: Don’t wait too long before going to court.
They called it “Statute barred”. Honestly, I didn’t know there is expiration date for offences, even in rape cases. However, the Dakolo-Fatoyinbo case has made it known that if something happens more than six years ago, it will no longer be valid for hearing in a court of law. This may sound inhuman but that’s how it is. So, obey it (my creditors, take note).
#Lesson 4: Judiciary is unsentimentally sentimental.
The first thing everybody will tell you about court of law is that the law knows no one and doesn’t play on sentiments. But I don’t think the judge was being unsentimental when he said Dakolo wasted the court’s time because that statement was emotionally constructed. Out of whatever emotion that gripped him then, he declared that Dakolo should pay Fatoyinbo the sum of one million naira, which should have been 10x more because she wasted the court’s time. Even if Dakolo lied against Fatoyinbo, there is no evidence to prove that. So, asking her to pay that amount of money was born out of sentiments, which is in favour of Fatoyinbo.
Secondly, it is wrong for a judge to tell someone that seek redress from the court that he wasted the court’s time. If not for anything, the court is there for the masses. It should give a listening ear to anyone that runs to it. Let me ask one more thing, will a judge tell the PDP presidential flag bearer that he wasted the court’s time because he rejected the presidential election result and took the matter to court?
#Lesson 5: Nigerian courts can’t handle rape cases.
A lot of people predicted that Dakolo will lose; and they have been proven right. The first person that told me that she will lose asked me if Fatoyinbo was caught in the act. According to this person, who happened to be a police officer, rape cases can hold water in Nigerian courts only in the following instances: if the rapist was caught in the act; if there are evidences such as torn clothes, pictures and video recordings; if the victim screamed during the act and people heard her; and if there are related bodily injuries and medical report indicating forced penetration.
This evidence will be hard to obtain because of several reasons. The victims’ screams would have been the easiest evidence to get if there is anyone willing to show up as a witness. Besides, most of these victims were muffled or threatened to comply with deadly weapons.
We know that a lot of rape victims do not come out to talk in Nigeria. Most of them bear the pain and take it to their graves. It will then be unfair not to find ways of granting these victims their much needed justice just because there is no concrete evidence or that it has passed the number of years that made it valid for hearing in a court of law. From what I can see, rape victims will withdraw deeper into their cocoons since the court of law has shown its lack of expertise in handling their cases.
Note that I am not insinuating that any of Dakolo or Fatoyinbo was saying the truth. What I’m after is that the court should have shown more expertise in the way it handled this case. It seemed so uncharacteristically quick to pass judgment. However, it’s good that Nigerian system has learnt to handle grave matters within a few months. This means there is hope for all the people awaiting trial while they rot in detention.