#NoMore: Why These Sexual Assaults Must Not Be Covered Up! By Ireti Bakare-Yusuf

It was Saturday, May 5, 2018, and there it was on social media, a platform with 84 million Nigerians, 4.68 per cent of who are Twitter users. Without a major international media interview, @OhTimehin still managed to arrest us throughout that day.

For many like myself who had been willing, hoping, and campaigning that someone, just one person, would dare break the mould, @OhTimehin’s revelation was as commendable as it was courageous.

As I continued to read one post after another, a combination of sadness, anger, empathy meshed together, one unidentifiable from the other. As I lay in bed later that night, it occurred to me that @OhTimehin by coincidence had endorsed the reason that I started an iteration of the #NoMore campaign.

Ireti Bakare Yusuf

It isn’t that Nigerian women haven’t called out their abusers in the past. In fact, a handful, inspired by #Metoo had begun calling out their predators. Some called out former employers, others former lecturers and most recently, high-profile individuals.

However, despite the statistics, society has maintained an obstinate character with oblivion and indifference. For many, what difference can a bunch of “trouble-making women” cause in a country of over 180 million people with a dominant patriarchal structure?

If justice and legal redress have been delusional, where then is the parish of support from the Nigerian national, independent and online press? Many had expected the interview by CNN’s Christian Amanpour with prominent writer and feminist Chimamanda Adichie, which aired a week before, would trigger a tremor. With bated breath, we watched, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Olutimehin Adegbeye is an accomplished, writer and activist. Her TED talk is listed as one of the best of 2017, alongside those of Elon Musk and Pope Francis. Olutimehin is a multidimensional public speaker with a particular focus on social issues to “deconstruct the violent and exploitative power structures that underpin globalised societies with the ultimate goal of re-inscribing the intrinsic value of human life”.

Going by the tone of her subsequent posts that day and days later, Timehin was ready for the trolls. She was geared up for the “mans-planations” that would be tendered to diminish her story. Nigeria is not a country where calling out a sexual predator is supported, let alone commended.

Those who dare to point the finger often end up with hundreds of hands poised ready to deflect the strike. In many ways, even with the global success of #Metoo, calling out your attacker, even in its home field of America, doesn’t earn you a badge of honour. Worse, in Nigeria, naming and shaming is an invitation for ostracisation and professional suicide, punishable by total condemnation.

@OhTimehin’s allegation was an audacious act of defiance. As she said in one of her posts “#itsTime” to call it what it is. She would speak her truth, in her words, giving as much detail as she sees fit.

Her confidence, strength and conviction were apparent. The critical fact would have bolstered her candidness. @OhTimehin’s status as a successful independent freelance writer of international repute gave warrant to her bravery, whilst augmenting the authority of her story.

For the #NoMore movement, this was indeed a moment! It has become necessary for women of influence to speak up and join voices, and here was a woman of influence who didn’t just speak out, but pronounced the names of two men as her alleged assailants. This was an intrepid posture of #NoMore.

Two years ago, @OhTimehin had written a thread on Twitter about three separate sexual assaults, by three different men on three unconnected occasions. The most repost her tweets received in 2016 was 10, with a handful of support. This week, someone asked her on Twitter, “are you the only one that everybody will sexually assault?” At my last count, her revelation had been reposted over 500 times.

Dinah Washington sang; “What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours, brought the sun and the flowers, where there used to be rain”. It took 17,520 hours for Timehin to call out her alleged rapist. Two years ago, global tolerance for sexual violations was high. Ignorance, apathy and indifference were legitimate, and more importantly, #Metoo, #TimesUp, #ItsTime and #NoMore were yet to be birthed.

24 months ago, the silence was deafening. Assailants, justified by wilful neglect, had society as their ally, facilitating their motion from victim to victim like mutant mosquitoes.

Today, irrespective of what one might think of #Metoo, the world is more educated, more knowledgeable, more informed and less charitable about crimes of a sexual nature. This is not to suggest that the weed has been fully cleared. We are many years away from that kumbaya. But somewhere, between the dense wood, gleams a ray of light which cannot be dismissed.

The same ray of light that must have gleamed on the day a Pennsylvanian jury found America’s Dad “Bill Cosby” guilty of three counts of aggravated sexual assault. Ultimately, it boiled down to “consent”. The difference between consensual and non-consensual sex can no longer be conflated.

One of the primary objectives of #NoMore is to shift the tone of conversation away from victim and victimization, to survival and survivors by supporting more women to articulate their experience and, should they wish, to disclose the identities of their attackers.

Critics of #NoMore and #Metoo have suggested that asking women to call out their abusers is tantamount to bullying, intimidation and emotional pressure. What these critics have forgotten is the power of numbers.

Sexual violation is one of those crimes which mostly occur without a witness, making it a case of “He said”/”She said”. Furthermore, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff instead of the defendant.

In the case of Cosby, there were 60 “she saids” over a period of 50 years, yet he only stood trial for a single case! In Nigeria, convictions for rape cases are very low. According to the Mirabel Assault Referral Centre, out of the 2,250 rape cases reported to the police in a two-and-a-half-year period, less than 20 convictions were recorded. Source: Mirabel Center/Press Reader

It has been 9 days since @OhTimehin named of two of her alleged abusers on Twitter. Surprisingly, despite the high profiles of the named, this has not made a single headline.

Not even a copy-and-paste story by any of Nigeria’s olofofo press gossip blogs. One of the men named is a controversial character who owns a popular nightclub in Ikeja, an affluent suburb in Lagos, who is known for his misogynistic proclivities and other outlandish fashion.

The second man is a successful and popular celebrity Radio and TV host, and more recently the voice of the just concluded highly popular and continent-wide South African digital television production. He is also the co-host of a talk show with an all-male host that tackles topics such as women, sports and sex broadcasted on one of Nigeria’s trendiest TV stations.

What could explain this anomalous indifference to such scandalous public accusations made against two young celebrities? It wouldn’t be improbable to suggest an intentional and purposeful muzzle had been applied.

This isn’t simply a media blackout. It has been an asphyxiation. Andre Blaze Henshaw’s brief response was a short post on Twitter declaring his innocence, followed by a statement from his employers:

Lagos, May 14 EbonyLife TV has been made aware in the last few days of allegations against Andre Blaze Henshaw, one of the hosts of its programme, “Men’s Corner”. Mr Henshaw has refuted the allegations on social media.

Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife TV, stated, “I am very concerned about these allegations and I am determined to find out the truth. Naturally, we do not condone sexual assault against or unwanted advances towards women, therefore we are investigating whether there is any merit to these claims. We will issue a further statement as soon as we have more information.”

To date, only Bill Cosby has been tried and found guilty of a #Metoo crime. If the mighty United States is struggling to obtain justice for victims, where is the hope in the corrupt, laborious and woefully inadequate Nigerian legal system?

Nigerian women, who reveal sexual assault stories, don’t expect a legal remedy. Their motivation is to achieve a form of catharsis. A time to let out, unburden and exhale.

Most Nigerian hospitals don’t stock rape kits. Police officers are not trained to handle rape crimes, and the country’s first court dedicated to sexual and domestic abuse was only recently inaugurated.

Finding justice is a game of Russian Roulette. Like @OhTimehin, a considerable number of Nigerian women are speaking out about sexual violations which occurred in the past, in a society still struggling with inefficiencies of its legal system, the chance of a detailed and effective investigation is elusive.

Whatever the weakness of #Metoo, even with only one conviction, an undeniable result, is the ensuing consequences of job losses by the men who have been named. Such an outcome remains unattainable in Nigeria.

It is for these reasons that I started the #NoMore movement. To amplify the debate and ignite self-examination. This is not about the oyinbos or “those white people who have nothing to do”. This is about you, me and us. This is about our society, our children, our home.

#NoMore is about the majority of our men, who as boys were sexually assaulted by female predators and about our girls who like women are still being hunted like game in the jungle.

It is about the culture of silence that has paralysed our society and emptied our mindset. #ItsTime for us to take responsibility for our complicit stillness and our failure to stop it before it became a plague.

We allowed it to fester and germinate. #NoMore! Sadly, many men in Nigerian have, at one point in their lifetime, committed one form of sexual assault or the other; some knowingly; a minority, ignorantly. The daily cases we hear about are merely a drop in the ocean. The actual rate of incidence is far more than the statistics can capture.

We have work to do. We must do something. So, I challenge you to look at your daughter, son, sister, girlfriend, mother and try to justify any form of sexual violation to yourself. If you can’t, then you know #ItsTime to say #NoMore!

Ireti Bakare-Yusuf, the founder of Nigeria’s #NoMore campaign, is the principal partner at NottingHill Media, a marketing, public relations and media company.

Also Read: Malala Yousafzai discusses role of men in her movement

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