In April 2014, Nigerians were confronted with a monumental tragedy when 276 female students were abducted from the premises of Government Secondary School, Chibok by Boko Haram insurgents. While more than 150 of them have, at different times, regained their freedom—many of them with physical and psychological scars that they will carry for the rest of their lives—the primitive instincts that led to their abduction by those who claim to be fighting for God also account for the criminal behaviour of some male students of Ireti Grammar School, Falomo in Lagos State who last week assaulted and would have raped their female colleagues but for the intervention of a passer-by.
While we must commend President Muhammadu Buhari for staying the course and the tenacity of the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) coalition that led to the release of additional 82 of the Chibok girls last weekend, we must also deal with the bigger issue of the way we treat our women and girls. If we must be honest, the reason the depraved Boko Haram insurgents carried the Chibok girls into captivity is not different from the madness that drove the Falomo boys into attacking their female colleagues. But in a society where the sexual domination of girls and women has become an expression of power, it must worry all of us that the malaise is so deep-rooted that secondary school students now believe rape is just another sport.
In January 2004, Amnesty International released a damning report about our country titled “Rape—The Silent Weapon”. Although it was about how the personnel of the police and other security agencies allegedly use their positions to sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls in Nigeria, any discerning reader cannot but come to only one conclusion: the infractions reported are not exclusive to the law enforcement authorities, they represent a general problem within our society.
That much can be glimpsed from the “Gender in Nigeria Report 2012” sponsored by the British Council on which several Nigerian female professionals collaborated. With the Foreword co-written by the former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her then Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) counterpart, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the report is quite revealing of the hurdles before our women and girls in a society where the seemingly strong take pleasure in oppressing those considered weaker.
Whether we want to admit it or not, rape is becoming a problem in our country essentially because of gender hierarchy and we must begin to deal with it like most other countries are trying to do. For instance, in her piece titled “The Psychology of Rape”, Melody Sundberg wrote that a 2010 study conducted in South Africa revealed that “466 out of the 1686 men participating in the research, had forced a woman to have sex with them against her will. Most commonly, they stated that they did this out of a sense of sexual entitlement. In other cases, they raped to inflict punishment on girlfriends and other women, or sometimes simply as entertainment.”
I am sure that the situation is not much different in Nigeria but since there has been no attempt to analyse the challenge, we can all pretend all is well on that front. It is also within that context that we can situate the unfortunate incident at the Falomo school which, as it is now coming to light, is actually a common occurrence.
According to the eye-witness account, a crowd of boys had overpowered and surrounded two girls and were being hailed as they attempted to gang-rape them in the public glare: “People are looking and some security guards in the office near us are recording it. I open my car in disbelief and shout at the boys to break it up, while shouting at my security and the second driver to assist me. As I make my way towards them, I see another group and this time, they have cornered one of the girls who falls while running from them. I see her kicked down, she bravely pushes herself up and another guy tries to clear her legs and she lunges at him and then a guy takes a pair of scissors in his hands and with one swoop, tears her skirt from the bottom and also a part of the black ‘spanx shorts’ she has underneath…”
That some men who should have intervened were more interested in recording the ugly scene, evidently to post on Youtube, is a sign of the troubling times. But the Lagos State authorities and the Police have so much lead to work on in this matter. All the boys involved in the disgraceful and criminal act must be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law. The authorities of the notorious Falomo School from where such scumbags graduated must also bear vicarious responsibility for what happened given reports that it is a familiar scene.
However, when taken together, the episode at Falomo and the Chibok tragedy presents an inconvenient truth about our country and the culture of rape—physical and metaphorical—that pervades the land. While this has become a sociological issue that we must address in a larger context, given its manifestations in several areas of our national life, it also provides explanations for why some politicians have chosen to intentionally hurt the parents of the Chibok girls by calling the abduction of their children a hoax.
As a father of two girls, I can imagine what any parents with such harrowing experience would be going through and I will strongly recommend to those who see politics in everything that a little compassion will also not take anything from them. In case such people have spoken out of ignorance rather than in mischief, they should reflect on the hopes and dreams that have been derailed as well as the potential that may never be realized, all because these girls decided to go to school, like their peers in the country and around the world.
Besides, not knowing where your daughter is or how she is being treated or whether she is in fact alive or dead is perhaps the hardest thing for any loving parent to face. It is a roller-coaster kind of existence that can try the soul of any human being. That is why the Yoruba people would say ‘my child is dead is better than my child is lost’. One minute you could feel a surge of optimism, the next, you are back to the depth of despair. That has been the story of the Chibok parents in the last three years. The only thing we can offer them, especially those still awaiting the return of their children, are words of comfort and love; not bile and reckless statements that are based on some petty politics and can only hurt and damage.
Indeed, if there is any lesson that politicians and public officials must take away from the Chibok tragedy, it is that in times of crisis, playing the blame game is not the right thing to do as it was partly responsible for the inability to rescue the children when there were opportunities to, at the initial stage of their abduction. That should teach us never to elevate political cold calculations above our common humanity.
What we must understand is that in an atmosphere of dread and terror, it is difficult for parents to send their children, especially of the female folks, to school. Yet to the extent that education remains the only path to sustainable progress, we must do everything we can to ensure that some sexual perverts do not stand in the ways of our girls who seek knowledge. That is why the rapists of Falomo School must be severely dealt with so that other animals like them will know that there are consequences for such criminal acts.
The Model Policemen
Until Dr Reuben Abati paid homage to him on Tuesday, I did not know that Mr Taiwo Lakanu is now an Assistant Inspector General of Police. As many senior journalists would attest, everything Reuben wrote about Lakanu is true as he has been—for almost two decades that many of us have known him—a shining example of what a policeman should be. But for me, the real essence of Reuben’s tribute is that as much as we like to talk about the bad eggs in the police, it is also good to promote those who take their jobs seriously and are professional in their dealings. As difficult as it may be to believe, there are actually many Lakanus in the Nigeria Police Force. I encountered some recently.
On 27th April, 24 hours to the public presentation of my book, “Against The Run of Play”, it suddenly occurred to me that I had made no provision for security. I called TheCable publisher, Mr Simon Kolawole, to ask whether he had the phone number of the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr Fatai Owoseni. He immediately sent me the man’s number. I called the Compol and introduced myself and he was very warm and friendly despite the fact that we had never met before. When I told him about my book presentation and that I would need security, he asked me to send him a text message containing venue of the event and time. I did as instructed.
By the time the event started the next day at the Nigeria Institute for International Affairs (NIIA) in Victoria Island, a detachment of police from the anti-bomb squad (based on the inscription on their vehicles) led by a female officer had been drafted to the venue. While I noticed their presence throughout, the real surprise for me was that, none of the policemen or their leader approached me for the customary “we-your-boys-are-on-ground” salutation. And because I did not know when they left, that meant I also did not have the opportunity to say thank you to them. They just did their job professionally and left after their operation without any interaction with me. I am therefore using this opportunity to thank Mr Owoseni and the Lagos State Police Command.
Meanwhile, I am overwhelmed by the incredible support I have been receiving from many Nigerians, including those I do not even know, who have taken it upon themselves that I must reap the financial benefits of my book, following the hacking of the online edition. The online campaign undertaken by some groups that those who have been forwarded the free online copy should pay into the publisher’s account or buy their own have also been very effective. I am grateful to them all.
However, as I stated last week, we must collectively join in the efforts to fight piracy and theft of intellectual property. Our society will be the better for it.