I don’t like writing about rape and sexual assault. It is deeply traumatising. Not just to me who is doing the writing, but to those who may read it. I am conscious in my writing to, as much as is possible, do no harm. Furthermore, on the issue of rape in Nigeria though, if I was to begin to write all I know, all I have experienced and all I have heard, there will not be enough space, enough heart and enough forbearance for me to write. Also, there are many experiences which are not mine, or not mine alone. Each person should be able to control how, if and when they tell their stories. And in the case of sexual violence, where we are talking of a fundamental seizure of bodily control. At least we should be i control of our stories. At least we should have that.
So why am I writing now, you may ask? Over the last week/weekend (24/6/2019-30/6/2019), the wife of a well-known Nigerian musician accused a prominent Nigerian pastor of raping her when she was under-age and under his ‘spiritual guidance.’ There have been widespread social media discussions, protests at church branches and said pastor has stepped aside— for now. You can read more here and here.
We should also note that this is not the first allegation against said pastor, not the first horrific rape allegation in Nigeria, but we seem to have found an ‘acceptable victim.’ And that says a lot about us and who we are willing to defend. Someone we are willing to protest on behalf of. And that is sad. Note that I have intentionally not mentioned any names here. Because what I am concerned with here is not just the instant case, but the overwhelming rape culture in Nigeria. It is said that 90-95% of Nigerian women have experienced some type of sexual assault. Stories are pouring out all over social media and the rape apologists and enablers are out in force, gas-lighting and derailing and sealioning. Or just plain using foul language in a bid to make people keep quiet. But it seems that people have had enough. We shall see.
In what was meant to be a short note, I would like to point out 5 things that enables sexual violence and how these things contribute to creating, maintaining and increasing the rape culture in Nigeria.
Status of Women in Nigerian Society
It is apparent to me, and I have commented on this several times, that in Nigeria, we do not see women as actual people. Women are reduced to their sexual functions. And that is all. So, women are not expected to have dreams apart from getting married and having children and staying married. An unmarried woman is incomplete. A childless women is deficient. A widowed woman is defenceless. All male-female interactions are therefore confined to those expectations, and become relationships of control. If a women does not conform to these expectations, she must be controlled. If a man wants a woman, then he can have her, it does not matter what she wants, because she does not matter, she is not a person like a man. She is not a person. Thus men do not understand rape till they can think of it through the experience of someone who is attached to them. Then it is a violation directed at the man not the woman. A Nigerian woman only matters when is connected to a woman. A Nigerian woman must be controlled. A Nigerian woman must be kept in her place. Rape and sexual assault is an extension of that desire to control. Which is why those who have done work in this area assert that rape is not about sexual desire, but control:
‘Rape is not an aggressive expression of sexuality, but a sexual expression of aggression’ [Seifert]
The interesting this, is that this ideology is ahistorical and acultural – Some rape apologists, ardently explain that rape is just cultural. But as Sakina Badamasuiy explains, our understandings of gender roles and the place of women in society are not traditional, but colonial.
‘colonization brought with it permutations of violence, some of whose targets were, specifically, women. These permutations included the systematic reorganization of gender roles, the demonization of self-dependent women and the complicity of “native” men in the construction of new, patriarchal, hegemonic societies. While both men and women under colonial regimes suffered unspeakable forms of repression, women faced a distinctly complicated ‘othering’ within the contexts of colonial violence. These contexts relate, in particular, to the forced domestication of women and the relegation of women to the dregs of society—making them, indeed, the wretched among the wretched, to exercise Martinican philosopher, Frantz Fanon’s terminology.’
But we must remember that irrespective of cultural norms, pseudo-religious dictates, and colonial artefacts, women have inherent value. No matter what. Women have value not because of how we look, not because of how we fit into whatever evolving and misogynistic standards of beauty people ascribe to. We have inherent value not because of who we are attached to romantically or by marriage, not because of whose name we bear, how many children we can bear, whether we choose to have children, whether we can cook or not, whether we choose a career, whether we are soft-spoken or loud, full-bodied or slender as a reed, whether we like makeup or not. We are women. And women have inherent value. Because we are women. Because we are. Not even because we are human. Because human is often unconsciously defined as the male of the species and his other. No. No. We are valuable. Priceless. Beyond price. Beyond estimation. Of immeasurable worth. Incomparable. All this and more. Because we are women. We have value because we are. Full stop. Rape is an attack on that value. And is an absolutely heinous crime. And anyone who defends or enables it should be called the wretched of the earth.
A Culture of Impunity
In a country where people commit terrible crimes and reap the benefits without being punished, and are often aided and abetted by the criminal justice system in getting away… (see my article on the origins of the Nigerian Police.) It is to be expected that sexual assault will continue to be on the rise. When you know that you can do something criminal, that you think you are entitled to do (see above) and not be punished, there is really nothing stopping you from doing it. The Nigerian police has imbibed a culture of brutality, exploitation, suppression and oppression. Because it seems that the only way to maintain stability of a state uncertainly nonconstituted is by persistent and repeated shows of brute force. This is the role of the police and in certain cases the army. The police are more likely to arrest people reporting a crime than a person suspected of committing a crime. A crime is only ‘criminal’ when it involves resisting the force of the state. Even when we have crimes against the state, such as corruption, looting, unsafe housing and roads, nobody is ever punished. In a country where women are seen and not-men and thus dispensable, it is unsurprising that crimes that are majorly against that demographic are seen as property wrongs against the men that own them, or the families they belong to, rather than crimes against women that demand swift and unequivocal justice. A culture of impunity enables a rape culture.
The Lack of an Education System
Nigeria does not have an education system. A system suggests some sort of organising principles or plan or aims that are reviewed are in place. We do not have that. We do not even have education. What we have are a series of arbitrary dictates that must be obeyed. These dictates come from society, religion and are pretty random and have no purpose but maintaining status quo. There operate to complete destroy the potential for critical thinking. As I explain this in a earlier post: ‘Our schools were set up primarily to enable communication between the coloniser and the colonised. In that sense they were mainly centres of instruction and not education. ‘Educating’ is teaching by EXPLAINING how something is done, while ‘instruction’ is simply TELLING how something is done. The goal of teaching/education is facilitating mastery. Telling/instructing involves an active teacher and mostly passive learners. The result of telling is that learners remember some of what the teacher said and assessment becomes a test of memory and not proficiency. The result of teaching is that a learner has absorbed and internalised information and progressed towards proficiency. A learner who has been educated may surpass her teacher in knowledge. A learner who has been subject to instruction only can never surpass the level of their teacher.’ We are taught obedience as paramount.
And while men can be mavericks and disrupt or transgress social mores, women must always obey without question. Without question. Women must always conform. Without question. Which is why I find the picture below amusing. I imagine the look of consternation on his face suggests complete confusion as to why a woman who has been raped should object to that. Why other women should mobilise to question that. ‘They must be children of disobedience ni sha! Questioning constituted authority fa! Constituted authority!!!’
There is No Nigeria
As I have argued previously, there can be no Nigeria if we do not build it. But we have not and so there is no Nigeria. Therefore, there is no collective protection of women, no education system that understands our history and encourages critical thinking, no legal system and so we can say without shame, with all our chest, that in the history of Nigeria only 18 men have been convicted of rape. Every woman in Nigeria knows at least one woman who has been raped. Nobody knows anyone who has been convicted of rape. There is no Nigeria.
Nigeria was born on the 1st of October 1960, a colony-state, bound in freedom. And with no adjustment to structure or content, the postcolonial state carries on the work of the colony. By retaining the nature and boundaries of colonial entities, what African states got at independence was not freedom, but entrapment into borders that could not of themselves become viable states. The Niger-Delta burns day and night so that cars can drive across a globe that will not once taste a drop the fetid sludge that fills the creeks. For those left behind, freedom is a still-born wish. Freedom that is ‘granted’ is never going to be true freedom. Ever. The non-state is a problem. It was created to be vampiric and toxic to its people and will continue to suck the life-blood out of its people until there is nothing left and then walk around in their corpses till we turn to dust. We cannot restore what never existed, we cannot rebuild what never was. The vampiric state must be done away with. It has never protected her women. It only offers minimal protection to the men. But the women! Nigeria’s women are broken daily, against the rock of an inexorable nation that does not care for them is maintained by their suffering. There is no Nigeria.
Nevertheless, there must be individual responsibility. If you are socialised into a society that treats women as less than human, into a society that is a non-state with no discernible criminal justice system and no identifiable justice system, you can still stop yourself from raping people. You can still take individual responsibility. Maybe the poster below could be helpful. You do not have to rape people. It is not something you are entitled to do.
Fanon, Frantz. The wretched of the earth. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007.
Funk, Rus Ervin. Stopping rape: A challenge for men. Philadelphia, PA: New Society, 1993.
Mackinnon, Catharine. “Rape: On coercion and consent.” Writing on the body: Female embodiment and feminist theory(1997): 42-58.
Oyěwùmí, Oyèrónkẹ́. The invention of women: Making an African sense of western gender discourses. U of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Oyewumi, Oyeronke. “Conceptualizing gender: the eurocentric foundations of feminist concepts and the challenge of African epistemologies.” (2002).
Russell, Yvette. “Woman’s voice/law’s logos: The rape trial and the limits of liberal reform.” Australian Feminist Law Journal 42, no. 2 (2016): 273-296.
Russell, Yvette. “The rape trial and the limits of liberal reform.”
Seifert, Ruth, and Alexandra Stiglmayer. “War and rape: A preliminary analysis.” The Criminology of War (1994): 307-26.