Nigerian Women: Caught Between Benevolence and Rape, By Garba Shehu

Garba Shehu

Are there countries in which women are worse treated than in Nigeria? Yes, I would say, there are, especially in those dictatorships that profess to practicing Islam in the way it should not, and in all those countries, where capitalism has transformed women into sex slaves.

In this country, under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, there has been a very visible effort to raise the involvement of women in public affairs. Despite their disadvantages in other areas, women in large number have been made ministers. One of them Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is both Minister of Finance and the de-facto Prime Minister, the highest-ever position achieved by any woman in Nigeria. There has equally been a rise in the number of women achievers in fields as diverse as business, entertainment and sports.

As many are bound to believe, we live in a country where most of the population is underprivileged, and so therefore, one cannot isolate women and talk about their problems. But to say this is to make a grave omission of the prejudices and crimes against women that are so pervasive and deep-rooted  Crimes against women have crossed all limits and must therefore become a matter for serious concern to the authorities in Nigeria. The fact that we have a woman “Prime Minister” and CEOs of banks and corporations does not mean that women in Nigeria have freedom and safety.

The recent conviction by a Magistrate’s Court in Kiyawa, Jigawa State of a senior academic and professor (names withheld) of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria has tragically highlighted the type of sexual harassment women (married and unmarried) suffer in work places. In pleading for a remission of his sentence to a two months period of imprisonment, the Professor confessed to his sexual predation and pleaded his age, saying he was a grandfather. The universities in the country have for some time now become “free zones” where the Nigerian State has ceased to exist and no cases of rape or sexual harassment get any serious attention. In fact, victims in such cases are often told to remain silent for the sake of propriety.

The rising incidence of rape against women calls for urgent government attention and a roll-back plan. A recent survey by the Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA), investigating the reasons for high HIV prevalence and lower age of first sex among adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years found that “forced sex was the main reason for sexual debut” after love and peer pressure. Thirty-one percent (31%) of girls, many of them with HIV, reported that their sexual debut was rape.

Many blame the Nollywood and foreign movies for the rising incidences of rape, which in my view is largely untrue because there are millions of people like myself who watch movies daily and don’t think that rape is the right way to go.

No one would however, deny that Nollywood is a bad reflection of the Nigerian society when it comes to the issue of women. In movies such as “Blackberry Babes” and “Fazebook Babes”, women are portrayed, to quote the words of another writer, “as cold and two-timing, always in search of a rich man or sugar daddy… (films) do their bit in normalizing rape culture in Nigeria and generating sympathy for rapists and abusers.

There is also a truism in the assentions made to the effect that rape happens because of the Nigerian culture. One Morufu Garba, a fake prophet was recently nabbed by the police in Ebute-metta area of Lagos. His victim, one Aminat Ajale told “Crime Alert” that Garba requested to have a few words with her and from the moment he tapped her shoulders, she lost control of her senses and action.

In this country, rape occurs in some police stations, and even in the Aso Rock. There was the reported case of a personal assistant to President Jonathan and for which a clampdown of silence was allegedly imposed on Villa staff.  And as many Nigerians would recall, rapes are also happening in the hallowed palaces of our rulers as in the celebrated story of the “royal rape” involving the Youth Corp member who narrated how a traditional ruler raped her during service. Military operations like the one in Odi, Bayelsa State have often been dogged by allegations of rape. None of these, in their horrid details, amount to the chilling rate of South Africa rapes where a uniquely rape phenomenon, the “corrective rape” by which lesbians are targeted and raped to “cure” their sexuality, is currently sparking a massive outrage.

This notwithstanding, the treatment of women in Nigeria leaves one with no option than to say it is regressive and depressive. As many are bound to argue, there are many communities in this country in which it is the man who is at the receiving end from the woman. This is true in many homes where the woman is the bread winner and the poor man would just fear to even comment. But to tell the truth, both government and the citizens need to come out of their deep denial and act together to roll back the pervasive crime and prejudice against our women.

To borrow the words of Mrs. Onikepo Oshodi, President, Women Empowerment Movement, “we want the government to come out and tell us what their position is especially the Ministry of Women Affairs. We cannot continue to watch like this. They have to do more than they are doing.”

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