To say the least, the past two weeks in Nigeria have been nothing short of a beehive of dramatic revelations which set off a cascade of unending discussions transcending the social media space into a seemingly united Calvary of patriotic Nigerian people, who had become too tired of the “business as usual syndrome” which is common among Nigerians. Whether it was the issue of alleged rape by a popular Nigerian pastor or some other more political issues, you would easily agree that every other day in Nigeria does not pass without one new topic for discussion.
I mean something must happen somewhere- this is the Nigeria we live in today. However, quite unique was the way Nigerians handled the sexual assault case; you don’t get to see a mass protest in a church on a Sunday morning every day!
Beyond the mixed reactions and responses that trailed the rape allegation, it is important we understand the nature of sexual violence and why too many cases either go unreported or not legally handled when reported. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual violence is “Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work” . As captured by the world’s apex health body, there are many forms of sexual violence with rape being the most common.
Sadly, yet again, this problem disproportionately affects women and girls just like most other global development concerns. In 2015, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) reported that one in four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. The victims in question are not so far away when you look more closely, they are the same young girls and boys we see every day in our communities. Another report stated that almost 32% of girls in Nigeria said that their first sexual encounter had been rape or forced sex of some kind. Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) at some point in their life.
The menace of rape has eaten deep into the fabrics of our society as Nigeria now ranks 8th worst country in the world when it comes to child abuse including sexual assault. According to the #MeToo and #TimesUp report, Nigeria is the 9th most dangerous country in the world for women. These shocking statistics confirm the innumerable number of cases of sexual violence reported in many corners throughout the country. As alarming and shocking as the problem may seem, perpetuators have grown from being first time offenders to serial rapists. They present themselves in various forms-father, uncle, brother, cousin, neighbor, etc. lurking in their cocoons waiting for the next prey.
Now, back to the most recently reported case allegedly perpetuated by a pastor, we all can agree, without any complex analytical skills, that the victim in question broke the ice by speaking up. Such courage and bravery! The fear and shame attached to speaking up and coming out to report cases of sexual abuse are undoubtedly the bane to finding a perfect solution to the problem. Even with the best legal framework in place to put offenders behind bars forever, it is still ineffective if victims do not speak up, especially those who can. We must commend Busola Dakolo, whatever the case may be, for speaking up despite what was at stake and how it may affect the flourishing musical career of her husband.
Her act of bravery has raised a lot of awareness on the several faces offenders may wear, and has indeed given millions of other victims the courage to speak up. In less than 24 hours of releasing her story, social media went buzzing with many other stories previously untold unveiling themselves one at a time. More victims came up with their cases and boldly spoke about ways of avoiding rape without fear of public victimization or shame. This is exactly what movements like #MeToo and unbroken.ng have tried to advocate for, in a bid to curb the age-long menace. While there are several other ways of preventing sexual violence in our society, including effective legal framework to prosecute all offenders, strengthening community security, increased awareness among women and girls, public enlightenment on the Nigerian Criminal Code as it affects sexual violence, however, the ability to speak up when it happens remains the first and most vital step to solving the problem.
There are many advantages of speaking up. According to Nwafor (2019), sexual violent victims should not only report cases, but must also present early so that adequate evidence can be collected. That voice, however broken, must not go mute because it can be made to sing again. Every woman, girl or boy who has been a victim of sexual violence must speak up. Speaking up is the first phase of recovering from the trauma. It can also prevent other associated health issues such as infectious diseases including HIV, teenage pregnancy, depression and mental illness, suicide and many more.
Finally, everyone must join hands to end sexual violence in Nigeria. We must support victims who speak up and end all forms of victimization. The government, civil society, NGOs, religious groups, traditional rulers, business and corporate world, organized women groups and the media must synergize to achieve a collective and robust approach to solving the problem. The advocacy community while providing victim safety and offender accountability, and most importantly in preventing sexual assault, must not isolate itself from other relevant stakeholders. It must be emphasized that we want to see many more Bukolas springing up from their shadows across the nooks and corners of Nigeria, making bold to share their stories and demanding for justice.
It is noteworthy to add that social media is gradually changing the Nigerian society and will continue to do so in years to come. As little as a video released on the internet can go viral in a matter of seconds largely influencing and dictating the outcome of vital issues that affect out wellbeing as a nation. We must be able to leverage on this technology to increase awareness on rape and other sexual violence acts against women and girls. Victims can easily share their stories and be heard on platforms such as #Metoo or unbroken.ng. May I add that unbroken.ng was created by Busola Dakolo to share her story to the world and give other victims the opportunity to tell theirs too. Irrespective of the outcome of her case in the court of law, she has indeed set herself free from the bondage of the silent agony of reliving her sad experience for the rest of her life and also given other victims the strength to do so.
That broken voice must be heard again; this time, it is no longer restrained in the shadows.
Broken Voices: A call to Action to End Rape in Nigeria is a position statement of Betty Anyanwu Akeredolu Foundation (BAAF).