The Harvey Weinsteins of Nigeria

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While “The Godfather” remains the most successful novel of Mario Puzo, his second mafia epic, published almost three decades later, “The Last Don”, is equally engrossing as he takes the reader into the inner recesses of Hollywood where licentiousness seems to be the order of the day. Even when a lot of things may have changed, especially within the past two decades since the novel was published, that was still the world inhabited by Mr Harvey Weinstein until the bubble burst with the scandal that may also have changed the entire power dynamic in which women are expected to offer sexual gratification to advance their professional career.

It all started on 5th October, when two reporters with The New York Times, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, authored a story detailing how Weinstein, one of the most powerful American film producers, had, for three decades, been exploiting women in the movie business. He was specifically accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape involving, at the last count, no fewer than 60 actresses.

Following that publication, and the follow-up stories by other media outlets which revealed a pattern of sexual misconduct, Weinstein was sacked from the company he co-founded and expelled from all professional associations. But while criminal investigations into complaints against him from several women, who have suddenly found their voices, are ongoing both in the United States and United Kingdom, the scandal has also opened a new vista into the age-old debate about powerful men who abuse their positions to demand sex from women under their authority or influence.

As more and more women come out to expose a fallen Weinstein in the process of telling their stories, it is also becoming clear that those who whimsically violate the dignity of girls and women over whom they have power will no longer get away easily, at least not in the United States. But this is a scandal that has reverberated across the world, even though there is a deafening silence about the issue in Nigeria. That is perhaps because, as someone posted on Twitter, “it will be bloody” to have such exposition in an environment where men believe girls and women are theirs for the taking.

From the campuses of our various institutions of higher learning to the inner sanctuary of religious organisations, government and the corporate world, the Nigerian credo in the relationship between men in authority and women who need their intervention in the line of duty is most often: “Nothing goes for nothing”. And perhaps because of that, at some point in most Nigerian banks, the highest qualification a woman could possess would not be found in her academic credentials but in her physical attributes: fair complexioned and well-proportioned!

Let us be clear here. The charge against Weinstein is neither adultery nor fornication which is a problem between him and his wife (or his God, assuming he believes in one) but rather an issue of abuse of power. It is not about romantic relationships between colleagues in the work place either. It is about Weinstein exploiting his position to extract sexual gratification from actresses in an industry where his word was almost akin to law. Even if they submitted to his whims, as many actually did, it was because they did not want to lose their role in a particular movie or saw their submission as an opportunity to advance their career. Such sexual liaison cannot be described as consensual.

However, it should worry us that there is no discussion about Weinstein in Nigeria, essentially because what he did is a prevalent behaviour in our climes. Teachers sleep with students in exchange for marks. Religious leaders sleep with vulnerable members of their congregations who seek counsel. In the public/civil service, female applicants may need to see some men behind closed doors to secure job offers. Let us not even go into what happens in the private sector.

A 2013 Policy Brief of the National Crime and Safety Survey clearly depicts how our society seems to be living in denial when it comes to the issue of rape, sexual harassment etc. The report goes further to state that the reason why our women hardly come out to shame their oppressors is because of the fear that they would be stigmatised and suffer double jeopardy. But we cannot condone a situation where men use their position to rob the dignity of our girls and women without consequences.

In an article she did for Reuters Foundation two years ago, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani told the story of a 30-year old woman named Amina Ali Pulka who had an affair with a young man who worked in the kitchen at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp so she could have enough food for her children. Adaobi, one of the finest writers in our country, wrote:

Five months pregnant, Pulka has been abandoned by the kitchen worker, while she has not seen her husband, who lives in the capital of Abuja with another of his wives, for three years. Her oldest daughter, 15, is distraught about her pregnancy. “She asks me why I am pregnant when their father has been away for three years … other people in the camp also ask me questions,” Pulka said. “I did it because of my children.”

Even while living at the margin of society, the young man in the kitchen could still use the little power available to him to oppress another vulnerable victim by demanding sex for extra portions of food. But then, he could do that because he must have seen what was going on around him. In June this year, for instance, the American State Department released the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report which claims that Nigerian government officials, including military, police, and federal and state officials, were involved in widespread exploitation of women and girls in the IDP camps who were often forced “to provide commercial sex acts in exchange for food.”

Signed by Secretary of State, Mr Rex Tillerson, the report quotes President Buhari as having “instructed the inspector general [of police] to create a special panel to investigate cases of sexual exploitation, which resulted in the arrest of seven government officials and two CJTF members for alleged sexual misconduct towards IDPs, including sex trafficking”. Unfortunately, the report also concluded that as at the time of going to press, nothing had happened to the culprits.

Considering the fact that what we deal with here are violations that do not only demean women and girls but often leave victims with lifelong psychological scars, it is important that we generate a conversation around sexual exploitation of women and girls in Nigeria so that we can begin to deal with the problem. Just like other societies.

Maina: Who is Fooling Who?

In discussing the controversy around the reinstatement and promotion of the twice-dismissed former Chairman of the Presidential Task ForceTeam on pension Reforms, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina yesterday at our editorial board meeting, a member said something instructive. According to the person, while the former administration ‘democratised’ corruption, the current one has decided to ‘privatise’ it.

If any proof was ever needed about that summation, readers only have to check out what members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in both the Senate and House of Representatives said on Tuesday in their contributions to the motion on how the former level-14 civil servant with enormous power and wealth suddenly got back his job with promotion and a N22 million bounty in arrears.

While the tragic drama–which exposes the hypocrisy of this government and the so-called fight against corruption–continues, I doubt if anybody is fooled about Maina being declared “wanted”. This is a man who has not only been around in the country for a while before pushing his luck but was indeed one of the candidates touted two years ago to succeed Alhaji Zanna Umar Mustapha, when the then Borno State Deputy Governor died in office. Had Governor Kashim Shettima not shunned the pressure, Maina might have, since August, 2015 been the Deputy Governor of Borno State. Readers can check the story in this link: http://dailypost.ng/2015/08/24/pressure-mounts-on-shettima-to-appoint-maina-as-new-borno-deputy-governor/.

Apparently annoyed by the ongoing deceit, the Maina family yesterday in Kaduna addressed the media. Aliyu Maina, who spoke for his kinsman, said: “Abdulrasheed was in fact invited by this administration and he was promised security to come and clean up the mess and generate more revenue to the government by blocking leakages. He has been working with the DSS for quite some time and he was given necessary security. So, one wonders why all the agencies and various individuals responsible for his return are now denying”.

Indeed, it is an open secret in Abuja that Maina is a prominent member of the APC and given what Senator Shehu Sani has already told Nigerians about the disposition of this administration when dealing with friends and associates, it is only fitting that, just like the all-powerful ‘grass-cutter’, Maina be given nothing but a ‘deodorant treatment’.

That, after all, is the spirit of Change!

 

Pastor Azodoh @ 60

To the extent that the Bible makes it clear that many are called but only few are chosen, it stands to reason that a good number of those who answer to the title of Pastor in our country may just be on their own. But even at that, there are indeed many good Pastors around; though they are not necessarily the ones who dominate the media headlines.

Every pastor that is true to their calling, according to Scott Slayton, “walks through dark nights of the soul. The pain of betrayal, the sting of failure, and despair over people walking away from the faith is often more than the pastor is able to bear”. Yet, despite the sacrifices they make, I have also, at different times, seen the frustrations, discouragements and unfair attacks that some of these people suffer, even in the midst of their own personal challenges. I have been blessed by the ministry of such rare men of God.

My Pastor, Evaristus Azodoh who is 60 today retired from the military as a colonel before establishing his own hospital as one of Nigeria’s foremost consultant urologists. Even as a business owner with all the challenges that go with that in our country, Azodoh runs full-time Pastoral ministry dedicated to the service of God and his congregation. Whether in times of sorrow or that of joy, he is always there, regardless of the social status of the members concerned. He is also the first person to arrive Church and the last to leave, always holding himself accountable for the failings of members with the refrain: there are no bad soldiers, there are only bad officers.

While it amazes how Pastor Azodoh has been able to invest so much time, energy and personal resources in so many of us, it is also evident that the God he is serving has been rewarding his faithfulness. With three wonderful daughters (two medical doctors and a lawyer) and a son who is now one of the Lagos big boys providing knowledge-based solutions to practical problems in the growing tech-ecosystem in Nigeria, Pastor Azodoh has a lot to thank God for. And this evening in Church, we will join him and his family in that thanksgiving with a 90-minute session of praise and dance.

Happy birthday Pastor Azodoh!