An Islamic cleric in Osun State, Habeebulah Abdulrahman, (popularly known as Al-Edewy), has been accused of raping a 16-year-old female student of his Islamic school.
In response, Mr Abdulrahman told PREMIUM TIMES the teenager is his wife and he had the right to have sexual intercourse with her.
The victim, born in 2003, lost her dad at a young age but stays with her mother in Ede, a town in Osun State. She recently completed her junior secondary education in the town.
PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation revealed that the cleric, in January, invited the girl to join his Islamic class not far from her house, for proper Qur’anic teachings. The girl yielded with the consent of her mum.
But the Islamic scholar after a while requested her hand in marriage. The girl on several occasions rejected the proposal but Mr Abdulrahman persisted until he raped her.
It was gathered that he gave the victim several gifts with the motive of luring her into marriage, but when confronted he claimed he was only supporting because she has no father.
How it happened
On April 18, the scholar travelled to Ilaro in Ogun State for an Islamic lecture alongside the girl and two other male students.
While the two male students were lodged in a separate room, Mr Abdulrahman booked a single room for himself and the girl. He attempted sexual intercourse with the girl but she raised an alarm and got the attention of the hotel’s receptionist, she said.
The girl claimed he eventually raped her that night.
On their way back to Osun State, Mr Abdulrahman visited his relatives in Abeokuta, where he again allegedly raped the teenager.
According to the teenager, at Abeokuta, he forced himself on her in the absence of the two male students and the scholar’s relatives.
“Before I knew what was happening, the whole house was empty and he told me not to attempt running away because everywhere had been locked.
“The bed was stained after he had his way and he instructed me to go and wash his singlet that was also stained.”
How It Started
Narrating the events that preceded the rape, she said; “Barely four days after I joined the Islamic school, he asked me to marry him but I said my studies will be affected and that he is too old for me even if I want to marry anyone at all.
“There was a day he came to my house and because no one was at home he entered my room while I was trying to undress. He told me we should make use of the opportunity but I refused.
“Even when he told me he would be coming to my house to ask for my hand in marriage, I refused immediately.”
Meanwhile, after the alleged rape, the girl stopped attending the Islamic class and the family was silent about it until some of the brothers who stay outside Osun State got the information during a visit to Ede in June.
According to the victim’s mother, Mrs Ibrahim, the cleric started by checking on the girl’s performance in school, which made her feel he had the interest of the family at heart.
“When he learnt the girl has a boyfriend, he was furious and we all thought he was concerned for a good cause.
“When he started giving gifts, I also asked him and he said he was doing it to help a fatherless girl. Even when he said he wanted to marry the girl, the only grouse we had against him was that the girl objected to the marriage,” the old woman said.
While recounting her experiences, she rained curses on Mr Abdulrahman, saying: “he felt he could step on our rights because he is influential and we are nobody, but my God will judge him and his family.”
We’re Married, Cleric Claims
In response to the allegation, Mr. Abdulrahman claimed that it was not a case of rape because he had been married to the girl in the Islamic way, a day before they embarked on the journey.
“She is my wife and not an ordinary student. She misbehaved and I told the family that I was no more interested in her. The family want to coerce me to marry her. What she did, I don’t think anyone can accept that. She went to another man’s house for two days.”
“After 15 days, I saw those pictures. I went to the family and her mom and showed them that picture. It was then that I declared that I am no more interested in her. Since then, they have been peddling lies for me to marry her.”
When asked if there were documents or pictures to back up his marriage claims, he provided none but stated that two of the girl’s brothers and his friend witnessed the ceremony.
“We did the ‘Aqd Nikkah’ in her brother’s house in Ile-Ife with one of her brothers, Monsur. While I was on my way to Ife, I picked one of my friends, Abu Husaynah, and he witnessed it as well.”
Aqd Nikah refers to the contract of marriage in Islam.
This claim was supported by Mr Husaynah who, however, added that he was not aware of their mission until they got to Ile-Ife. He also said the girl on several occasions did not consent to the marriage until the event in Ile-Ife.
However, both brothers from the girl’s family denied knowledge of such and stated that it was a meeting to resolve issues surrounding the marriage request by the cleric.
The girl also debunked the marriage claims.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, Abanikanda Kehinde, whose home in Ife was where the meeting took place, said; “I requested that the girl come to my house because of the pressure from Alfa. We talked about it and told Alfa to allow the girl to focus on her education. She is still young”
“How will I give out my sister’s hands in marriage in the absence of my mother? Even though our father is late, his relatives are still alive. And they are the only ones that can approve the marriage,” Mr Kehinde added.
Mr Kehinde’s stance was corroborated by Mr Monsur. He (Monsur) said he only served as a tour guide to Ife because he was the only one who knew his elder brother’s house in the town.
When PREMIUM TIMES interviewed some of the residents in the neighbourhood, they said they never heard of any marriage between the cleric and the girl.
Mr Shuaib, a civil servant and resident of the area, said he was furious when he heard about the issue and approached the scholar. But he was dumbfounded when the cleric claimed he was married to the girl.
He added that the cleric could not substantiate his claims because everyone he called in his presence denied being part of the marriage process.
The community leader at Oke-Iresi area of Ede disclosed to PREMIUM TIMES that the scholar had been sending people to beg the family of the victim. He explained that “the issue can’t be resolved if he refuses to accept the fact that he erred.”
The victim is underage, which makes the scholar’s claims (if valid) a case of child marriage.
However, child marriage (one involving someone below 18 years) is a violation of Nigeria’s law. Section 21 of the Child Rights Act of 2003 says: “No person under the age of 18 is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and void.”
Osun is one of the two-dozen states in Nigeria that have domesticated the Child Rights Act to be applicable in the state.
Apart from such child marriage being illegal, this reporter also learnt that on two occasions, the family of the girl expressed their disapproval to the cleric’s request for marriage.
PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that on both occasions, which occurred in Sekona, the hometown of the girl’s father; the family rebuked the scholar after the girl made it known that she is not interested in tying the nuptial knot.
It was also revealed that the cleric gave the girl fifty thousand naira while they were on their way back to Ede from Abeokuta, as some form of dowry.
When contacted, an Islamic scholar, Opeyemi Kewuyemi, faulted the marriage process (if at all it was true) on the basis that it was not consensual. He said dowry is an important part of the process even before any form of sexual intercourse.
“The money is not paid to the girl but the parents of the girl. Even the Holy Qu’ran forbids that you have sex with a woman before paying the Sad’aki (dowry),” he clarified.
Mr Kewuyemi added that the lack of a marriage certificate also makes the marriage void in Islam because it is the only official document recognised by the law.
What The Law Says
According to Section 358 and 359 of the Criminal Code Act- part five, anyone who commits the offence of rape is liable to life imprisonment; while attempt to commit the offence is felonious and such offender is liable to 14-year imprisonment.
Also, Section 31 of the Child Rights Act 2003 stipulates that a person who commits an offence of ‘defilement’ is liable on conviction to life imprisonment.
Although yet to be domesticated in 11 other states, the Osun State Government passed the Child Rights Act into law in 2017.
A legal practitioner, Yemi Abiona, noted that the accused can be convicted under the provision of the Child Rights Act of 2003 because any marriage to an underage is invalid.
He restated that the age of consent is 18 years and that the cleric, who did not deny sleeping with the 16-year old, is liable to life imprisonment upon conviction.
“Sharia law does not operate in the South-west, not to talk of being applicable to Osun State. The culprit must be made to face the wrath of the law.”
Meanwhile, the family of the victim, in a petition submitted to the police through a legal firm based in Ibadan, on June 13, demanded that an investigation be conducted to bring the accused to book.
The petition was titled “Petition against one Habeebulah Titilope Abdulr-rahman (A.K.A Aledewy) over a series of acts of rape, indecent assaults, inducement of an underage girl, molestation and threat to life of Miss…..
“Unless this man is urgently investigated and prosecuted accordingly, other innocent girls will suffer the same fate as our client,” Crescent Chambers wrote.
When Mr Abdulrahman was confronted with the stance of the law on underage marriage and rape, he insisted he did nothing wrong as he was married to the teenager and had the right to have sex with her.
Police, Activists’ Efforts
When this reporter contacted the Family Unit of the Osun State Police Command, where the case is being handled, the respondent to the telephone call said the law enforcement agency was conducting an independent investigation.
“We are working on it. Although we have invited the Alfa, he was not around at that time. We have heard from the girl and we are still investigating the case.”
“Be rest assured that we will get to the root of the matter and justice will prevail,” the official told PREMIUM TIMES.
Also, the state coordinator for the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Abayomi Ogundele, promised the commission would follow up the case with the police.
“I told the Divisional Police Officer to investigate it himself and not assign anyone to the case. We’ll monitor the police and make sure they do the needful.”
“You cannot say you are married to a 16-year-old child. Child marriage is forbidden in the state. Anyways, we’ll wait for the police to conclude their investigations before we do anything,” He said.
More allegations surface
While making enquiries on to the records of Mr Abdulrahman, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that a similar allegation was made in 2014 by a father who had sent four children to live with the scholar.
Ishaq Adeoye was based in Ibadan then but wanted his children to attend a sound Islamic school and found Mr Abdulrahman’s school suitable for them.
In a telephone interview with this reporter, Mr Adeoye said one of his daughters once complained of being assaulted by the scholar but they did not take it seriously until she got married in 2014.
“Those times when she came home, she complained to my wife but we thought she was being mischievous until when her husband told us the same in 2014.
“Her husband told us that he didn’t meet her as a virgin and that it was Alfa that deflowered her in one of the assault encounters she had with him.”
When quizzed if the cleric was approached and reported, Mr Adeoye stated that he confronted the cleric who denied the allegation. But he did not take legal actions because he did not want public attention.
Also, the husband of the victim who preferred to be identified as Saleem explained that he used to be a friend of the scholar until his wife disclosed that to him.
“I was shocked and told her to swear that if she was lying, she should run mad in the next seven days. She did. Then, after that, some revelations came up. The man is really evil.”
Reacting to this, Mr Abdulrahman did not deny knowing Mr Adeoye and his four children but said the allegation of rape was false.
He further said the family had something different against him but did not clarify when asked by this reporter.
“If someone has something against you, it is possible that you don’t know what it is about,” Mr Abdulrahman said.