By Chukwunonso Ekesiobi
A Luta Continua! Anywhere this is proclaimed serves as a rallying cry to galvanise support and solidarity against oppression, injustice and other social ills.
The Portuguese phrase (meaning – the struggle continues) was popularised by Samora Machel, the late Mozambique and African leader, radical philosopher and liberation advocate, who alongside fellow freedom fighters, formed the FRELIMO movement for the actualisation of Mozambique’s independence from Portuguese colonialists.
Overtime, it has evolved into a motto largely associated with unionism and activism to garner widespread endorsement in the pursuit of common goals.
From the 1970s, till date, Nigerian students at a tertiary level have also adopted ‘Aluta Continua’ as a slogan to mobilise and ginger themselves during demonstrations, rallies and riots to press for their rights. Although the Aluta groups continue to exist through various student union bodies across tertiary institutions (TIs) in the country, their collective voices are gradually becoming faint.
The salutation of ‘Greatest Nigerian Students!!!’ appears to have lost its energising push that evokes a thunderous and frightening response. Nowadays, most of those masquerading as student leaders and activists go about shouting ‘Aluta’ without knowledge of what is means or signifies. Perhaps it still sounds appealing to the ear and that is why it is still mentioned in some quarters, otherwise, it would have gone into extinction.
Aware of the relevance of the Aluta struggles, I was excited to that see some group of students under the aegis of “Concerned Great Ife Students” protesting against the worrisome escalation of rape incidents and murder across the country and the need for proper investigation, apprehension, and prosecution of the offenders. Why the excitement, you may ask?
The reasons are two-fold: first, in the midst of the recent shocking episodes of rape and killings, plus the commendable coalition gathering momentum across the country to fight the scourge, it was gladdening to see Nigerian students assembled outside the comfort of their homes (despite the lack academic activities) to identify with this worthy cause.
The second reason informs the crux of this write-up which looks at addressing the prevalence of rape among the youth in universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other tertiary institutions.
Beyond the meritorious award of degrees and satisfying our desire for certificates, TIs represent a citadel of excellence that provides the environment for the advancement of research, development of skills, inculcation of values, the liberation of the mind and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of society. They seek to thoroughly equip the body and mind in character and learning.
The character component brings us to the decision to focus on rape incidents in TIs. While the general uproar against rape should be sustained, it is only reactionary. To sustainably impede this menace beckons for the adoption of proactive measures and what better place to start this crusade than our TIs.
The sad truth is that our schools are becoming unsafe for learning (especially for the female students) as they now serve as breeding grounds for rapists and psychos that graduate to roam and terrorise society. Although students raping students in school constitute the bulk of rape cases in these institutions, incidences involving lecturers make up a tangible number which is very despicable and pathetic.
Data from the December 2019 Africa Polling Institute (API) and Heart Minders Advancement Initiative collaborative Survey Report on Rape and Sexual Abuse on Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria also corroborate this assertion.
The survey report, which focused on six TIs (University of Lagos (UNILAG), Lagos State University (LASU), Yaba College of Technology (YABATEC), Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Federal College of Education (TECHNICAL) Akoka (FCTAKOKA), and Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education Ijanikin (AOCOED)) in Lagos state, revealed that student cultists (33%), fellow male students (29%) and lecturers (21%), were the major perpetrators of rape and sexual abuse on campuses of TIs, while female students (79%) constituted the highest victims.
We should also bear in mind that, similar to rape cases in the society, the horrific episodes in TIs are predominantly unreported out of fear of intimidation, victimisation, stigmatisation or unfair social judgment.
These rapists left off the hook, become emboldened and continue the evil, their immoral charge Enjoying impunity derived from the loose legal and law enforcement set up.
Seriously, anyone with experience from TIs in the country cannot deny this existence because they were either affected or know someone who was. We equally cannot deny knowing some of these rapists who sometimes boast of their devilish exploits in the open.
Whether it is rape (by force, coercion, drugging the victim to make them horny or unconscious) or attempted rape, unsolicited kissing, unwelcomed smooching, uninvited touching of the bottoms, breast or genitals in the office, class, hostel or wherever, we are all involved. Worse still, instead of calling out the offenders, the victims are picked upon with reckless questions like what was she wearing?
Why did she go there? What was she doing outside by that time? Why did she go alone? etc. These senseless rationalisations further damages the already broken victim and reinforces the belief that they are better-off healing in silence than seeking redress.
However, institutions of higher learning should be a safe haven for an effective scholarship for students across socio-economic and socio-demographic classifications. Acquiring a degree should not come at a personal mental, physical, medical, psychological, economic, emotional or social cost. An Igbo adage says that “Onye agwọ tara na-agba ọsọ ma ọ hụ isi ngwere” which means that the head of a lizard can scare one who has been bitten by a snake.
Thus, our TIs cannot continue to produce women who live in fear for themselves, the opposite sex and the society. Coping with apprehensiveness should not be a life sentence. Growing and living with restrictions on what to wear, where to go, returning home before nightfall and who to talk to, eventually traps everyone and fuels a dysfunctional cycle.
It is time for the spirit of Aluta to rise to the occasion and fight for the rights and well-being of all students. Student groups and organisations (Student Union Governments, National Association of Nigerian Students and other similar associations) should extend the comradely struggle to cover the fight against rape in TIs.
This requires taking brave, confident, inclusive, sensitive and compassionate steps to conscientise the university community on the rape epidemic and purge themselves and the system of these culprits. Working with the university authorities is needed for the struggle to bear fruits and the university authorities have to desist from unnecessary interference with student associations.
Government and management of TIs in the country should step up efforts to provide decent hostels on campus to accommodate majority of the student population – residing off-campus should be a choice not the norm. Security in and around school environments should be improved and made a 24hour duty. There also has to be a functional system in place in these institutions where rape victims can safely and discreetly make their report.
This is required to eliminate the syndrome of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and break the culture of silence on rape matters – see something, say something. They also need to be assured of assistance and justice. Sex education and awareness campaigns on sexual abuse should form an integral part of frequent orientation exercises – we should not get tired of talking. Effective and transparent administration of TIs to enhance collaborations with civil society, non-governmental and/or faith-based organizations is also crucial.
A comprehensive database on rape and sexual related offences is paramount for the success of transforming TIs from a refuge of miscreants to a conducive shelter of all. Institutionalising efforts through the creation of a help desk/office (akin to existing Anti-cult units) and a Sex Offenders Register is also a welcome addition.
There is the need to strengthen and domesticate existing laws across states to handle perpetrators, with no room for compromise. The laws also have to guarantee a system to help victims recover and reintegrate seamlessly into society.
With these laws in place, TIs can internalise them into a well-defined policy on rape and sexual abuse to provide clarity on what constitutes sexual violations and the corresponding penalty (similar to what is obtainable for cultism and examination misconduct). Implementation of these laws will expose the repercussions of rape and sexual related offences and serve as a deterrent to all and sundry.
In conclusion, although the rape pandemic cannot rival the COVID-19 pandemic in spread, severity and fatality, the rape situation certainly surpasses the coronavirus in terms of longevity. It is therefore not surprising that it is still capable of creating social tension whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.
The advent of social media has thankfully aided the exposure of these rapists and their atrocities while giving a voice to the victims. In addition to today’s efforts to combat this menace, proactive actions should focus on TIs if we are to win tomorrow’s fight against rape.
The susceptibility of most youth in these institutions easily manifests in their inability to fully comprehend their evolving body features, shabby upbringing in a society of deteriorating morals and ready-made sexual content online, limited control of sexual urges, drug abuse and peer influence.
This places them on the path of sexual abuse and rape. To reverse this trend involves catching them young to breed responsible human beings and crusaders against rape in society.
In the words of Judith Lewis Herman, “since most sexual abuse begins well before puberty, preventive education, if it is to have any effect at all should begin early in school”. Universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other TIs are, therefore, a unique vessel in waging a productive battle against rape in society.
Student groups and organisations are critical to the success of this transformation campaign by better projection and protection of their comrades. Together with all relevant stakeholders the incidence of rape can be drastically reduced by producing agents of change to positively influence society.
It may not eliminate rape entirely but it is a good place to start – prevention is better than cure. A Luta continua, vitória é certa!
Chukwunonso Ekesiobi writes from Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Anambra State