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Two to tango?

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Couple, Photo: Palm Beach

“Joanna* met Ibrahim on the way back home after the school holidays. He was a primary school teacher and 12 years her senior.

Soon after they met, Ibrahim started buying her gifts.

This isn’t the start of a love story. Ibrahim isn’t her boyfriend.

Joanna is just 17. And he’s the father of her child.”

These were the words I wrote only today, telling the story of a teenage mum in Uganda who’d been deserted by the man she thought would support her once she told him she was pregnant, then kicked out by her mum. A high school drop-out with no means to survive, she’d moved in with her grandmother and living off whatever small cash she can get from her aunties. Sure, she loves her baby, but she doesn’t know if her life will ever get back on track, or if, without an education, she will ever become of nurse, a career she’d always dreamed of.

Joanna’s story is not an exception. It’s not a love story. It’s as old as time itself – that of a man in position of power and a girl who falls prey to his advances because she feels she has no choice.

By now, the sex for grades scandal at the two leading institutions of West Africa, University of Ghana and University of Lagos exposed by BBC Africa last week is almost about to become today’s akara paper (a metaphor that doesn’t quite work for the digital age, I am aware). There’s been so much talk on and off social media with so many people expressing outrage, naming and shaming lecturers in other parts of Nigeria, sharing stories.

Then there has also been a fervent minority taking the ‘it takes two to tango’ stance. Their argument simply is as long as there are young women ready to do anything including sexual favours for lecturers, there’s little hope for innocent girls who are victimised too. While I appreciate there are a few women who will do anything to get what they want – whether it is grades, or a foot in the door or the corner office – this doesn’t absolve men who are in power to hand these over to them and who take advantage of their position of power.

It is the words of Dr Boniface caught on camera by the undercover journalist posing as a 17-year-old student seeking admission into UniLag, which may have created this perception:

“You know I’m in my fifties. What will shock you is that even at my age now, if I want a girl your age, a 17-year-old, all I need is to sweet tongue her and put money in her hand and I’ll get her.

When she goads him on with a coy “Really?” he says “Yes” with a sleazy smirk.

You’d be forgiven to think that any 50-year-old man could sweet-talk or pay his way into the panties of a 17-year-old. The truth is, in most cases, that 17-year-old is a prey, powerless at the mercy of the man who won’t get anything in the way of taking advantage of her lack of power, status or money.

Meanwhile in Ghana, one Dr. Butakor was trying to proposition another undercover journalist pretending to be a prospective MA student to become her ‘side guy’ – on their second ever meeting, and offered her a national service placement at his department even though he told her the deadline for applications had passed.

Dr. Butakor told the BBC he vehemently denies any amorous behavior with the reporter or student saying he follows all university sexual harassment and misconduct rules.

Is this any different than erstwhile Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein smugly denying allegations of any misconduct or sexual abuse at the height of the Time’s Up movement? Worlds apart, in terms of geographical location, industry and the colour of their skin, these two man are united by their unashamed belief that they can get away with committing the most shameless act of abuse and still get away with it because they are men in positions of power, well respected in their communities.

She may be anonymous and powerless, but it’s in the words of one of Dr’s Boniface’s victims interviewed by BBC Africa lies the truth:

“He likes to pick on struggling students because he knows that they are very vulnerable and there’s nothing we can do.”

So please, next time you’re tempted to pin a miscreant’s indiscretions on a handful of savvy seductresses, absolving him of his sins, remember that as a man in a position of care and duty is the one in control – no matter what a girl says or does. Much like he can choose to turn off the light and lock the door in a bid to recreate the ‘cold room’ experience with an unsuspecting and unwilling participant, he can also choose to shun the advances of a willing and wanton seductress.

It takes two to tango alright, only if you’ve agreed to dance in the first place.


In this article:
Sinem Bilen-OnabanjoTango
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