I am angry, frustrated, tired, and I feel sick. One of my security aides has been arrested for rape. I have known him for over ten years, so he is not a stranger who just joined my team. I have written in the past about three kinds of children.
The ones you train well and who go out into the world showcasing all the values that have been ingrained in them. Those are the ones we call in Yoruba ‘Olu Omo’, ‘Favoured child’. Then there are those who are given the benefit of good home training but go out there and disappoint their parents.
Those ones are the ‘Akoogba’, ‘The child who was taught but did not learn’. The third are the ones who were not taught any decent values because there was no one to teach them – the parents were either absent or negligent. Those are the ‘Abiiko’, ‘The child who was born but not brought up properly.
This person, who for legal reasons I will call Mr XY, is a classic case of an ‘Akoogba’. If people out there in the markets of Ekiti State or in the garages can jokingly invoke my name as a caution against any form of violence against women and children, surely, a close member of my team should know better. There are no words to convey how bitterly disappointed and furious I am.
I was in Abuja last week for the launch of the Orange Pages, a directory of service providers for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Survivors across the country. It is a project of an organisation called INVICTUS, supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
Like all things related to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), the invitation was close enough to my heart to take me all the way to Abuja from Ekiti. Within two hours of my arrival in Abuja, Mr XY landed himself in hot water. His colleagues were understandably scandalized, but resorted to a default setting – they started to plead on his behalf.
I told them that anyone who pleads on his behalf will be redeployed from my service or arrested, they can choose the order in which those fates will happen. No one has shown up to beg since, and there is nothing to beg for because the matter is with the police. If the Nigerian Police Force decides to sabotage the case because it involves one of them, we are watching. I, Olabisi Oluyemi Adeleye-Fayemi will not be involved in the cover-up of the violation of any woman.
The rage I feel is not just about Mr XY and the charges he faces. As if the case of rape was not bad enough, the survivor (let me call her Mrs J) has another serious problem to contend with. After suffering through her sexual assault, Mrs J is about to be violated again.
She comes from a community where there are serious penalties for women who engage in extra-marital sex. There are no penalties for men, just the women, but let us set that matter aside. This community does not make a distinction between adultery and rape.
Any married woman who is found to have been the willing or unwilling participant in sex with a man she is not married to is guilty of desecrating her marital bed. I can force myself (at great pains) to understand why this would apply to cases of adultery (remember, in our communities only women commit adultery) but to claim that a rape victim is also guilty of adultery is a travesty.
Now, Mrs J, a rape survivor who strongly believes in this dreadful cultural practice, will have to undergo a public cleansing ritual in her husband’s community. If she does not do this, it is believed her husband will die. Right now, she is forbidden from sleeping in the same room with him and he cannot eat any food cooked by her.
Initially, I thought that this was an excuse to extort money, but I have since learnt that this is not the case. This practice is real, people have been socialized into believing in its importance as a means of enforcing social control. It is common in several communities in the South-South and South-Eastern parts of Nigeria and people truly believe in the dire consequences of non-compliance.
How do we expect to support survivors of rape if this is yet another hurdle they have to contend with? The physical and psychological pain of the assault, the fear, back and forth with law enforcement, re-living the attack while giving evidence, and now to be paraded in a town square for adultery with little children throwing things at you and hurling abuse? It sounds like something out of a badly written Nollywood movie.
We have many valuable traditions – our respect and care for the elderly, our traditions of giving, communal service, the celebration of lives well lived, there are many things to be proud of that we can pass on to generations after us. There are however some traditions that are simply discriminatory and dehumanizing.
Female Genital Mutilation, maltreatment of widows, child marriage, favouring boys over girls, all belong in the past. This tradition of publicly shaming a traumatized rape victim is another on this unsavoury list.
I know that it is very difficult to tackle age-old beliefs, but we have to try. We cannot afford to give up. A rape victim should not have to go through this, it is unthinkable. If you happen to know of this practice in your community, please ask questions. This is the point at which I need to re-echo a question someone asked at a program I attended a while ago, ‘Is it a crime to be born a woman?