It is no longer news how rape is a canker-worm eating deep into the Nigerian society. Every day we see stories and news reports of women of all ages, getting raped, sexually harassed and abused either in their workspaces, schools, in public, and in what should be regarded as the safest place of refuge—in their homes. With the advent of social media, these stories get more coverage than they would have in the past. We recall especially the Busola Dakolo interview, and how that changed the perspective of these stories to not just dwell in ‘unknown’ faces, but to be experienced by people who have social celebrity status and affluence. For as long as we know, the Nigerian woman has been blamed for issues arising from rape cases; focusing on what she wore, what she did or where she went before the incident. There have been very few times where the actual rape has been placed on the rapists who are the criminals. Always, the victim bears the brunt of the crime, and she is either chastised by the public or worse, by her family or even the family of the rapist.
Then in May 2020, young Uwa Omozuwa was viciously raped and murdered in a church, and Barakat Bello was raped and stabbed to death behind her own home in Ondo State. Two young women with promising futures cut down in the prime of their lives. The question now comes again to mind: if women are indeed the ones to blame for our rapes, why is it then happening in supposed places of safety and refuge? Why did it happen in a place that Nigerians constantly allude to holiness? As a deeply religious nation, we revere the Church as a sanctuary that is meant to protect us. This was why I believe Uwa went to the Church to read—of all the places in the world where a woman can feel safe, the Church seems to be the only logical place that would provide such safety. Because from the moment a girl-child is born, she is subjected to the despicability of men who commit these hideous acts. Barakat was murdered at the back of her own home, a familiar place she was aware of, where she was supposed to feel safe. But no, apparently that was not safe enough. Where else can women go? Where can we stay safe, away from brutality subjected to us? The home has lost that sanctuary for us, the school is filled with pedophiles, the public in general is an open mouth with teeth waiting to devour us. Where else would a woman feel safety but in the House of God, where it is constantly preached that we are made to feel whole? And yet, even there, surrounded by the ambience of its quietness, these rapists found their way to rape and torture a young girl to a brutal death.
We are no longer going to pretend that this will go away, or worse yet, that it is just like every other rape case that will be forgotten. Sexual violence in Nigeria is something that must be addressed, tackled, choked at the throat with all vehemence. Every day, young girls and women are living in unimaginable fear of dying in the hands of rapists. And if we are fortunate to live, we are being subjected to harrowing futures of mental degradation and torture from the psychological trauma lived. We are beginning to get tired of asking security authorities to protect us from these perpetrators who are roaming our society and causing havoc and grief to our women and families. We are tired of being hashtags, tired of being subjected to ruin because of the virility of men who cannot control themselves. We will begin to call out rapists amongst our society and will subject them to the same ruin that they have inflicted on their victims. You will see us, hear us, and will suffer for your crimes both at the full extent of the law and at the morality of justice within the society and its people. We will no longer be silent; no longer just become a body that is subjected to pain and destruction.
The Nigerian society must learn to listen to women, it must learn to protect women and girls. So much respect and acknowledgement is given to motherhood, but before we become mothers we are women first, young girls who must grow in safety and dignity. We deserve to live as free as you would accord your sons. Our rights to our bodies and speech need to be protected. When women say no, we mean no—accept the consequences of your actions when you do not obey or respect women’s demands. For the voices of Uwa, Barakat and the thousands of girls and women who die at the hands of rapists every day, we say enough is enough. Something must be done. We stand against this cancer eating deep into our society and its system, and with one voice we at Yiaga Africa stand together to join the demand for;
Will you stand with Women and Girls in Nigeria?
Lawyer, Author & Masters Student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, United States. She is also part of the Media team in Yiaga Africa.