Just last month, a major controversy hit the literary space. The deputy editor of the digital literal journal, Brittle Paper in the person of Otosirieze Obi-Young released a statement that he was leaving the journal as a result of its lack of freedom. This came after he wrote an article concerning Hadiza Isma El-Rufai, the wife of Kaduna State governor after she was initially reluctant to condemn her son’s attitude on twitter.
This attitude we speak of was more of a threat. Bashir had apparently gotten into an argument with a twitter user over the government of President Buhari and when things got heated, Bashir had apparently sent direct messages to the twitter user threatening gang rape on the tweep’s mother.
Upon reporting this incident on Brittle paper, Otosirieze revealed that he was asked to take down the post despite editing out his personal opinions. He refused. This led to a lot of tension and resulted in his resignation. A lot of conversations have risen from this incident, especially conversations on freedom of the press and political correctness. However, one important conversation we might be forgetting is the origin of the entire drama.
The big question is “what is it about the threat that has raised so much dust?” What even is gang rape and why does it bother everyone so much? Let’s begin by acknowledging that Nigeria has a rape problem. We feature as number 9 in the top 10 most dangerous county for women and number 6 on the top 10 countries with the most harmful practices towards women. The UNICEF reported that 1 in every 4 girls and 1 in every 10 boys in Nigeria have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. Not only do we have a rape problem, gang rape seems to feature heavily in the picture.
Gang rape is defined as the rape of a single victim by two or more violators . Usually a rape gang is united by religious or ethnic similarities and events like civil wars escalate incidences of gang rape. Threatening a person or their family with gang rape in Nigeria goes beyond a threat to become an ethnic slur. So how did we get to the point where gang rape is casually thrown into a twitter argument?
We got to this point by playing down the oppression women have faced over the years especially when it comes to sexual violence. We got here by not taking rape seriously amf ignoring the gang rape problem that persists in southern Nigeria. We got here by failing to question and call out harmful languages; by not teaching our sons that they couldn’t “pass a girl” to their friends even as a joke because a woman is not an object. We got here by doing nothing.
But we can only do nothing for so long and that time is far spent. No self respecting person should be allowed the freedom to openly threaten another person with sexual violence. It’s high time we made the room uncomfortable for these kind of people.
We must continue to speak up against casual threats of rape and gang rape and if possible, alert the authorities. We must also unlearn harmful rape culture that has been normalized through years of misogyny. Finally, we must teach our children the right thing; a woman’s body belongs to the woman. Put it on a T-shirt if you want.
Chisom Anastasia Nwaezuoke is a physiotherapist, writer, public speaker and yogi. She is also a sexual health and reproductive rights advocate and volunteers for HandsOff Initiative.