Nigeria Has Long Failed It’s Female Population
There is a saying, “when it rains, it pours.” That is exactly what it has felt like over the past two weeks. While still reeling from the shocking murder of George Floyd as a Black person living in America, I heard of the death of 22-year old, Uwa, who was gang-raped by a number of assailants resulting in her death in a church, and the rape of a 14 year old by 14 men, in Nigeria.
Nigeria, the place of my birth, with such strong heritage, culture and traditions, amazing food, diverse tongues, always the funniest people on earth, beautiful and brilliant people, has among all its many failings, failed constantly and woefully for generations its female population. I am pressed to see any country that has failed its female population more than Nigeria has. Not that the nation has done a whole lot for men, but being a patriarchal society, men enjoy cultural and a variety of other privileges that makes the situation of girls and woman close to unbearable.
Let me start with the basics. According to the World Health Organization, a Nigerian woman has a 1 in 22 lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum/post-abortion; neighboring country Ghana’s is way less. According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey of 2018
- 19% of teenage girls in Nigeria age 15–19 have begun childbearing.
- 14% have given birth, and 4% are pregnant with their first child.
- 97% of Women in Nigeria have no health insurance.
- 36% of females are uneducated in Nigeria, compared to 27% of males.
- 65% of women ages 15–49 are currently employed compared to 86% of men in the same age group.
- 31% of women aged 15–49 have experienced physical violence.
- 9% have experienced sexual violence.
- 6% of women have experienced physical violence during pregnancy.
- 36% of ever-married women have experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence.
- More than half of women (55%) who have experienced physical or sexual violence have never sought help to stop the violence.
I say it again, Nigeria has failed its female population. You might recall that in 2014, 276 girls were kidnapped in Chibok, Borno State. What you might not know is that according to UNICEF, more than 1000 girls have been kidnapped by men in Nigeria between 2013 and 2018, while Nigeria has stood idly by and its leaders continue to loot its coffers.
Let us go back to the current crises, which is this issue of rape. One in four girls under 18 in Nigeria reported experiencing sexual violence in childhood. One in four! 31.4% of females in Nigeria report their first sexual encounter as rape. Even Pastors, ordinarily the moral voice of the society have committed it and gotten away with it. Rather than investigate the accused pastor, the Nigerian police pulled in the woman who accused the pastor of rape and investigated her of criminal conspiracy. Police Officers, Lecturers, Fathers, Brothers, Uncles, according to media reports, daily commit this atrocity and laws that are not universal across each state ensure that justice is not served in many cases.
A 2006 Amnesty International Report said “there is a near total failure of the Nigerian state to protect women and girls from these terrible crimes. The Nigerian government has taken no meaningful action to translate its international legal obligations towards women and girls into national law, policy and practice”. This holds true today going by recent events involving Uwa. Since its inception in 2015, the Nigeria sexual offender register has only recorded 22 cases of sexual violence in Nigeria, a laughable attempt given the daily news or social media reports on this cases.
I have often wondered: where are the Fathers, Brothers, Uncles and Nephews? Where are the leaders, 94% of whom are men in Nigeria? And in case someone has not stated this clearly, will hands be folded if 1000 boys were kidnapped? Would hands be folded, and a blind eye turned, if boys were being raped callously in Nigeria? Why are Nigerian men’s self-esteem and ego so badly damaged that they need to forcefully sleep with young girls, particularly, to feel whole?
It is also not enough to blame only the man because Nigeria is a country where women have often put men on a pedestal higher than God. The male child is the sign of a woman’s pride in Nigeria. Why else would 28% of Nigerian women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife as compared with 21% of men? So rather than hold the men accountable for their actions, women are the first to criticize the victim. Her dress is too tight, her skirt too short, her breast is out, she is confused, she is jealous, she was old enough to stop it, it was the devil, she tempted him and so on. Blame being poured on the victim. This alone explains why 45% of girls/women affected ever report the gender based violence they have experienced.
Fourteen years later, failings of the Nigerian Government shared in the Amnesty Report have only been amplified. We have failed our female population and it must stop. Enough is Enough. Just as the cry for the end of racism is ringing loud across America and the world, now is the time for Nigerians to rise to put an end to this epidemic of rape. We need to stop having debates on TV, Radio and social media and put together actionable plans that bring about result.
I have heard so much about how women need to do a better job of training their boys, so they don’t become rapists, but who is addressing that woman’s trauma? Who is addressing the injustices and inequalities she is facing in her home or workplace? Who can she confide in about what someone has done to her in the past?
I think I speak on behalf of Nigerian women when I say, we are tired of men making excuses and men being more concerned with not being counted as part of those who rape than they are to fight for us or at least beside us. Why are men not standing up and condemning the men around them who are entertaining these thoughts and conversations towards women that could very well be their mothers, sisters, nieces, and daughters? Why are men still friends with men who are marrying girls younger than 18? What religion condones how men in Nigeria treat women daily?
This article does not proffer answers to any of the questions above but here are few thoughts on what can be done beyond a conversation:
- How can women in the society hit men in the pockets in tangible ways for them to enact change? Money talks!
- Women need to start publicly calling out the men who have in any way shape or form harassed or molested us sexually. Maybe if enough people were called out people would know how systemic this issue. Think of it as how video evidence has changed the game in America regarding racism and police brutality.
- We must demand that the laws are changed in Nigeria. Whatever it takes, the federal government should introduce legislation that would prescribe harsh punishment for convicted rapists across all 36 states. There should be very severe punishments when it involves girls who are minors.
- The Nigerian government needs more competent women in places of position and power, from the local to the federal government. Women must have a seat at the table if there is going to be any lasting change. It is time to shine Women!
- There needs to be less victim shaming to ensure women who speak up not be re-victimized.
- As a people, we need to put our money where our mouth is. If rape survivors are going to speak up, the community must come together to help set them up financially and in other tangible ways till they can get back on their feet. Organizations that are in this fight must understand that they have significant role in helping the brave women who speak up, stand back up.
- Nigerian government must train the police and healthcare workers on how to handle these cases sensitively and appropriately when they are reported.
- Religious leaders, Muslim, Christian and traditional leaders, must vehemently and publicly condemn rape and all gender-based violence.
I am afraid that like the Chibok girls, Nigerians’ attention will quickly fade and not only will those who raped Uwa not be held accountable, there is the sad possibility that nothing will change. Nigeria this is our “Kairos moment”, our opportune and favorable moment for decision and action, and we must not miss it for our daughters and granddaughters.
I would like to thank Dr. Tunde Olugboji for constantly editing my work for me.