BY LAILA JOHNSON-SALAMI
When the Nigeria Police Force recently published numbers for citizens to call to report cases of rape and sexual violence, many women responded asking what the mobilisation fee will be for reports to be taken seriously. Nigeria’s rape culture has existed for decades, with no end in sight to the deep rooted oppression women face systemically and culturally. It is not a new culture, but one that continues to terrorise the lives of far too many and much of the conversation is performative, with little justice for rape and sexual violence. From Uwa, who was gang raped in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, to Jennifer, who was gang raped by five men in Kaduna State, to Farishina, who at the age of twelve was gang raped by eleven men – reports over the past few weeks have been horrifying. While more cases are certainly being reported across the country, far from enough women are speaking up, because it is not safe to do so.
#WhyIDidntReport trended on social media recently, with several women commenting on their fears of coming forward. Certainly, this was educational for a larger demographic, but it came with a very practical and unsettling example of why most women choose to remain silent.
In a series of tweets, a young woman named Seyitan Babatayo, accused celebrity D’banj of raping her in December 2018. She demanded a public apology from the artist, who stayed silent on the accusations for a few days while he celebrated his fortieth birthday, but he was certainly also cooking up a plan to her detriment. On Tuesday, the artist took to his Instagram page to post a letter dated June 15th, sent by his legal representatives (Mike Ozekhome Chambers) to Ms Babatayo, asking her to pay a sum of one hundred million naira within forty-eight hours as compensation for falsely accusing him, or risk legal action. Staggering. Although Ms Babatayo is likely to have expected this legal response, I am sure she was caught off guard by what transpired next, as were many of us.
As soon as the letter was published, several rape apologists trivialised her allegations. Journalist Joey Akan, who recently interviewed the artist, stated: “All of you agendaists gingering that poor girl on the timeline and trying to harass me for interviewing D’banj. I hope you’ll contribute money for her legal fees, and also show up in court to go clear her name of slandering him.” – Now there are several problems here. Firstly, Mr Akan decided to assume that a letter from D’banj’s legal representatives to Ms Babatayo denying the allegations, provides proof of slander, which is false. Secondly, Mr Akan decided to get defensive over a rape allegation, which tends to happen when people are uncomfortable with the subject for one reason or another. Globally, ninety-eight percent of rape allegations are proven true, but the false accusation card will always be the default mode of a rape apologist.
Shortly after the letter went public, it was reported that Ms Babatayo had been picked up by the police and detained in Sodipo, Ikeja. This was later confirmed by journalist and activist Kiki Mordi, who had been in contact with Ms Babatayo’s lawyers. She stated that around midday on Tuesday, Ms Babatayo was detained and denied access to her lawyers and family. Imagine! So your alleged perpetrator, through money power or influence, can have you detained for alleging he abused you while he the accused, walks scot-free? What happened to a court of law? This is one clear reason why there have only been 65 recorded convictions of rape in the country over the past 47 years.
Although sources close to Ms Babatayo have confirmed that she is out of police custody, I cannot remember the last time I have seen such a blatant and horrifying display of the abuse of power. While in custody, all prior statements were deleted from her Twitter account and new tweets were published denying that she had been arrested, with a retraction of her original allegations. A tweet promoting the artists new music was also published on her page, while Ms Babatayo was then reportedly being kept at D’banj’s manager’s house. If this is true, for the police force to not only have detained her, but given her alleged perpetrator or those around him access to her, is numbing. Of course, it was hardly convincing that a young woman who had mustered the courage to speak up just a few days ago had, by her own will, denied all that had been previously stated and decided to promote the music of her alleged rapist. This was also confirmed by her lawyer, Olamide Omileye, who in an interview with a news agency stated: “They forced her to make those tweets when she was in custody. They forced her to delete all her tweets and intimidated the hell out of her life.” – And we are still asking why women do not report?
Speaking up remains highly theoretical and there are several dynamics to Nigeria’s rape culture that we need to deconstruct for women to be safe. Firstly, both men and women have to start holding people accountable for rape and sexual violence, there are far too many rape apologists in our society today. The constant watering-down of the conversation, excuses made for people’s actions and denial needs to stop.
Anyone can be a rapist. Is it not ironic, how every woman knows a woman who has been raped or sexually abused, yet somehow no man seems to know a rapist? These are critical questions.
On a radio programme I hosted two years ago, we were speaking about the prevalence of rape and sexual violence on air one day when a caller dialled in, throwing me off balance: “I’ve been listening to what you have been saying on this topic of rape for the past few minutes and I had to call in to tell you what I’m thinking”, he said. I paused for a moment and before I could ask him to go ahead, he continued, “when you see all these small small girls in small small skirts, why won’t they be raped?” – So, if a woman’s dressing has anything to do with someone raping her, how does one explain the case of a three-month-old baby raped in Nasarawa State this week? Unfortunately, far too many people in society today are oriented to think this way and there is much to unlearn. Therefore without a drastic overhaul of sex education, we cannot expect much change. We must normalise the concept of sex and ensure it is identified as a consent-driven and respected part of human life. This is key for human behavioural change and eradicating concepts like victim shaming that continue to drive the culture.
We also need to critically amend our laws. For example, under section 357 of the Criminal Code Act, men and boys are not protected from rape and this is one of several reasons why it fails to serve as an inclusive and protective act against violence. Senator Oluremi Tinubu addressed this in 2019 with a bill to amend sections of the act, including its current definition of rape. The bill passed its second reading and we were told that it was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary for more legislative work, but since then, we have heard no more. I also recall former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode pushing for the amendment of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Law (2007), recommending a stiffer twenty-five year jail term for perpetrators of rape and sexual violence in Lagos State. We heard no more of this too. Even the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (2015), which is possibly the most robust piece of legislation that we have in the country today protecting all citizens from violence, has only been adopted by 14 states over the past five years. It is important to hold your governors accountable as they have recently declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence, and if they are true about this, we must see protective legislation signed in to law. Lawmakers too have been speaking on enacting stiffer punishments in our laws for rapists, but with a constant and general lack of enforcement, it is hardly convincing that things will change any time soon.
To allege or report that you were abused, only for you to be detained by the police, is rape culture. In order for this to change, we need to stand firm and we need to stand for justice. Like several other people out there, I strongly believe that Seyitan was coerced into retracting her initial allegation and I am outraged that agencies that should protect and investigate allegations, are criminalising us for speaking up. What message are we sending to society? How many women are going to feel safe enough to come forward to report abuse following this incident? Although the Inspector General of Police has ordered a probe into the allegations against D’banj, the system remains corrupt and trampled on by powerful people and until this ends, Nigeria remains unsafe for women.
And in response to rape apologists, yes, we “agendaists” will do everything that we can to ensure that power and money are not used as tools, once again, to shove serious allegations under the bus.
•Johnson-Salami is an Anchor on ARISE NEWS Channel, The Morning Show