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Rape Culture: More Than Just Another Conversation

By Dennis Da-ala Mirilla and Njideka Agbo
07 June 2020   |   6:00 am
On July 15, 2018, The Guardian Life wrote a cover titled, “Countering The Rape Culture in Nigeria”. In the cover, we argued for the need to understand consent. Consent, we wrote, “should not be assumed by body language, appearance, marriage, previous sexual activity, gender, silence, lack of response, or incapacitation.” Then in 2019, a handful…

On July 15, 2018, The Guardian Life wrote a cover titled, “Countering The Rape Culture in Nigeria”. In the cover, we argued for the need to understand consent.

Consent, we wrote, “should not be assumed by body language, appearance, marriage, previous sexual activity, gender, silence, lack of response, or incapacitation.”

Then in 2019, a handful of online activists took to the streets with the hashtags such as #YouCannotPrayRapeAway and #TheRapistCanAskGodForForgivenessInJail.

The hashtags were born under #ChurchToo, a form of #MeToo activism where survivors of sexual abuse found a safe space to speak up against religious perpetrators. With #ChurchToo, survivors became bolder and the terms, ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘enabling behaviour’ and ‘consent’ became subjects of public discussion.

The Guardian Life in an article, “Will ChurchToo Erode Rape Culture In Nigeria?” reasoned that while we were quick to count the pros that it would bring, we also recognised that “those who hope that their cases will be taken up are quick to forget that Nigerians are a forgetful people.”

“We have seen this film before. Screaming headlines and hashtags remind you that you must join the fight; an opinion against the general opinion and you are labelled an apologist to the average Nigerian.

Another distracting story and headlines turn to whispers and as one of the accused recently told his victim, ‘even if you drag me on social media, within a week, everyone would forget,’ thereby leading up to the final stage: the ‘E-Go-Better’ stage” and then the cycle repeats itself.

“E-Go-Better” Syndrome
E-Go-Better, a Nigerian slang, is the final note of acceptance. It is the average Nigerian telling you that hope is his last resort- the same hope he does not believe will solve his present condition but wants the receiver to hold onto.

Nigerians have developed a strong sense of E-Go-Better syndrome. But with every incident comes a stirring hope that the reality of what is at stake will result in actions from the people. What is at stake is the safety of men and women to exist in the country without fear of being sexually assaulted or harassed.

With the ongoing protest of the death of an unarmed African American man George Floyd in the United States, during an arrest by the police, a strong nostalgic feeling of patriotism has dealt Nigerians a tough blow. They realise seeing the Americans take to the streets to protest, that the people have the real power and now more than ever they will exercise theirs.

And so, when 22-year-old Microbiology student of the University of Benin, Uwavera Omozuwa was violently raped, beaten and left for dead at a Redeemed Christian Church of Christ (RCCG) in Edo state as the world celebrated Children’s Day, a 12-year-old adolescent in Jigawa was raped by 11 men and Barakat Bello was raped and murdered, the outrage was loud- on social media.

In a society where rape culture continues to have its apologists, these recent incidents have answered past conversations and arguments.

What was she wearing? Barakat was wearing a hijab.
Where did she go? Uwa was studying in a church.
What green signal did she give? The 12-year-old was raped by 11 men including a 57-year-old man.

For Hauwa Ojeifo, founder of SheWritesWoman- an organisation that offers a 24-hour helpline for people suffering from depression, her survival story attracted questions on her hijab including suggestions such as wearing hijab correctly reduces one’s chances of getting raped.

Nigerians took to social media to call for justice like people awakened from slumber. Soon, celebrities and influencers by the number joined the rallying cry. #JusticeforUwa was trending.

It seemed that Nigerians had reached the precipice, and with this story of a woman left to die on the altar of a church, the evidence was clear enough to think of a smooth ride to justice.

But is there a consensus?
Ten hours after it was reported that Uwa had died in the hospital, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, with mounting pressure from social media, finally released a statement.

“All I can do at this time is to pray for the family of Omozuwa and do everything possible working with relevant authorities to bring the perpetrators to book. I and members of my Family condemn this act strongly and urge everyone to stay calm as we are already looking into the matter and cooperating with the police to establish the facts of the shocking incident.”

It is also the doubt cast overstory and litany of advice from men on social media that raise the questions even higher whether or not there is a consensus about rape being categorically a crime in Nigeria.

It also seems that answered questions do not equally firm support besides trending hashtags.

In a country like Nigeria where cases are underreported, the International Centre For Investigative Reporting reveals that between 1973-2019, Nigeria has had 65 rape convictions.

It is important to note here that NOI Polls show that “33% of victims admitted that the perpetrators were family relatives and neighbours, 49% knew children between the ages of seven and 12 who were raped, 78% reported the case to the Police, but the cases were not acted upon.”

Out of the 99.1 million women in Nigeria, a 2014 national survey revealed one in four females experienced sexual assault as a child.

What is more? The Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA), notes that about 31.4 percent of girls described their first sexual experience as non-consensual.

Rapists are sentenced to life imprisonment under the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPPA) of the Criminal Code 2015, and Child Right Act.

Attempted rape attracts 14 years imprisonment and gang rape, a minimum of 20 years. Besides this, the Penal code sentences rapists to up to 14 years and seven years for gross indecency.

Under the VAPPA law, 12-year-olds are not exempt from the law. If found guilty, they face up to 14 years imprisonment.

A woman carries a placard as she shouts a slogan during the “walk against rape'” procession organised by “Project Alert”, a Lagos-based NGO focusing on women’s issues, in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos October 5, 2011. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye (NIGERIA – Tags: SOCIETY)

The Place Of Justice
The governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, took to social media to call out the murder of Uwa saying that justice will be served under the VAPPA law.

But that ship sailed and sank a long time ago. Nigerians are not just interested in justice for Uwavera Omozuwa. Nigerians desperately want justice for the many stories that come and go, many times too quickly, through the fast streets of the internet; Of women who told their stories on social media and those whose made it to the newspapers, of women who took it to the police stations; those that are yet to be reported and those that might never see the light of day and set the country on fire.

With the alarming increase, there have been several calls to take the cancel culture beyond social media and ensure that the rule of law takes its course on the guilty. “Rape is rape” and for Nigerians to get that poignant statement to the mainstream, rapists must have no place to hide.

The cancel culture argues that rapists should not be allowed to take refuge in loved ones who deeply know that they are guilty of the accusations but choose to believe them.

While we have seen the success of the cancel culture in the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and R.Kelly, this takes an unusual turn in Nigeria. This solution is one that begs the question, “Is it truly possible to love a criminal and hate the crime?”

In recent times, Nigerians have witnessed a series of accusations with proof of rape on celebrities and normal people alike.

But as we predicted in 2019, we are a forgetful people. For these people, even when a survivor is violently raped and left to die, they see their story being threatened by the truth and so survivors have to soldier on. From comedy to music to schools to the corporate workplace, #ArewaToo and #ChurchToo are examples too many.

What we have observed instead, is the rise of legal threats by the accused and no action. It is as if they are aware of the strength of the theory of silence and its immediate effect on survivors.

The only way this denial can stop is to cast our light on them and make the case that rapists have no place amongst us.

It is not enough that society learns to cancel on social media, there is a need to take the intensity of the war on social media to the streets until the message is passed to the average Nigerian and the government.

It is important that convicted rapists are made public until the proof of burden is no longer on the survivor but on the accused.

We can no longer afford to be forgetful.

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