When the Mirabel Centre launched the #JusticeForUwa campaign on the 31st of May in response to the violent rape and murder of 22 year old Uwaila Omozuwa at a Church in Benin, the fire spread quickly across the internet with many enraged at the incident and determined to pursue justice.
Nigerians, home and abroad, lent their voices to the campaign and passionately asked for gaps they could stand in, to ensure that Uwa’s murderer doesn’t keep walking the streets after prematurely ending her life.
We were still reeling from the all too familiar pain of that loss when we were hit across the face with another woman whose death in the hands of rapists and murderers had led to another hashtag, #JusticeforBarakat. Barakat Bello, an 18 year old student at the Federal College of Animal and Production Technology Moore Plantation, Apata Ibadan, was raped and murdered in her home reportedly on the 2nd of June, 2020.
In the early morning of June 3rd, we were confronted with an abhorrent video of a young man kissing a girl who didn’t look to be more than 4 years old in ways only a consenting adult should. Not long after that, we had to bear witness to an account of the rape of a 4 year old girl by her teacher in Ibadan, Oyo state.
Two young women raped and murdered barely 3 days apart, and two girls who were sexually assaulted by adults in their lives who should have played the part of protectors.
Reports from United Nations (UN) Women estimate that 35% of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence by someone who is not their partner. The plot thickens and that percentage doubles to 70 for women who have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.
In 2017, an estimated 87,000 women were killed intentionally across the world. According to UN Women, more than half of those women, about 58%, were killed by members of their family or an intimate partner.
Bringing it home, the Mirabel Centre has served 5,400+ survivors since July 2013, providing free medical care and psychosocial support. The percentage of female survivors is a whopping 96% of that figure, with 90% aged 0-22 years.
During the lock down, it was noted that online reports of gender-based violence to the Mirabel Centre across platforms spiked significantly.
When you consider the fact that only a minute percentage of rape survivors formally report in Nigeria, you begin to have some idea of just how deep rooted and widespread this menace is.
The tenets of rape culture are woven deeply into the fabric of this country, but every time it is brought up, you can always find the fraction trying their hardest to drown the conversation in a muddy pool of ‘whataboutism’.
Some of the standard assumptions when a criminal commits the crime of rape include;
Assumption 1: She probably went to a club and got with some guy who raped her.
Reality: Uwa was reading in a church. Barakat was murdered in her home.
Assumption 2: She was probably almost naked.
Reality: She wasn’t.
When the most popular recourse for rapist and their apologists alike do not exist in the reality of the ongoing conversation, one would think they’d call it a day and move on.
Far from it. And this is why we must pay attention.
Littered on the streets of the internet were comments that blamed the dead for being murdered, whether that was by saying Uwa shouldn’t have struggled with the rapist or she should have simply read at home.
It did not matter that Uwa and Barakat did everything “right” according to the Nigerian Code of Morals. It did not matter that those 4 year old girls were minors, children who should have no care in the world except to be children.
In the end, none of it mattered, except the perverse determination of criminals who resolved to disregard the right of others to not only their body, but also their very lives.
We must be careful of disregarding those comments by rape apologists as ramblings from people who don’t know better. Oh, no. They know exactly what they are saying.
Beyond educating, we must also demand for accountability. We must take personal responsibility for rooting out this entrenched cancer by auditing our individual networks and holding criminals accountable. Rape apologists on the internet and elsewhere do not exist in vacuums; they are in our homes, at our workplaces, at our places of worship; in our schools, and at our larger family gatherings.
We know who they are.
And so it is not enough to simply be disgusted by that uncle who you are aware rapes little girls. Your private disgust does little to protect the numerous girls he will go on to rape. You know what would protect them? Reporting this pedophile uncle to organizations that can ensure he pays for his crimes and his access to those little girls is cut off.
The personhood of girls and women in Nigeria is threatened every day that we don’t do anything, every day that we allow words take root and grow into overarching structures that support rape culture in our society.
So, the real question is; how uncomfortable are you willing to get to effect change? What family ties will you no longer elevate above basic human decency? What hard conversations are you willing to initiate in your bid to sanitize the spaces you exist in?
Don’t expect it to be easy; it won’t be. But now more than ever, it is clear that it can no longer be business as usual. Our very lives depend on it.