OGUNRO: THE MOURNING AFTER ABIA GANG RAPE
IT is probably only in Nigeria that five young men would brutally rape a woman, record the vile act on video, circulate it on the internet, and yet go scot-free. Even in a country where murderers sometimes walk free, the ABSU rape scandal was a new low for us. It captured popular imagination, caused outrage, and made the international news circle. Not because it was the first rape incident in Nigeria, far from it; but its brutality coupled with the unusual callousness displayed by the rapists who recorded the act and circulated it through the social media was perhaps a first. The first digital rape, if you like.
The men in the video beat the unfortunate girl and took turns to sexually molest her. Her cries for mercy fell on deaf ears and only caused the men to laugh and do her more. Everyone who saw the recording of this shameful behaviour were either moved to tears or outraged. Mostly both. It touched the core of our humanity and made us one with the victim, a girl who appears to be in her teens. Her tears became our tears and even though we didn't know how she got into the room of the rapists, or her first name, we could feel her pains and were vicariously exploited.
There was unanimity in condemning the incident. It became a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre for human rights groups, women and especially young people who took to Twitter and Facebook to condemn the mindless rapists. For a people generally regarded as docile in fighting for their rights, the rape scandal galvanised Nigerians to speak up and act. Women groups protested, men disowned the boys in the video and the police promised N500,000 for anyone who provided information leading to the arrest of the rapists.
It was generally agreed that what those boys did was so un-Nigerian. We are generally modest and coy about sex. The general attitude being that what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom. So unlike Americans or the British, it is rare for Nigerians to display sensual feelings outside the privacy of their homes. It is abnormal to catch a boy and girl kissing outside, let alone doing the actual thing in the open. The rape of that anonymous girl put sex out in the open, in all its dirty ramifications. And we rightly denounced it.
But it is few months after and the uproar generated by the incident has quietened down. We have all gone back to our various businesses and have pushed memories of the vile act to the recesses of our mind. The rapists, who were not caught, may be somewhere drinking beer and laughing at the ineffectual Nigeria police. Or even worse, raping another girl and being cautious this time by not recording their immoral pleasure.
For the anonymous victim, she may nurse the wound for the rest of her life. It will certainly not be business as usual for her as the psychological and physical trauma may live with her for a long time. The fact that she didn't come out to identify herself and assailants should tell us about her state of mind and the grave fear she had for her life, or of secondary stigmatisation.
But it is not business as usual for one man: Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the Minister of Youth Development. When the rape story first broke, Mallam Abdullahi was the first government official to put out any kind response. He described the behaviour of the young men as depraved, despicable and immoral. He also noted that their behaviour did not represent the essential spirit of the Nigerian youth, and promised to rehabilitate the victim if she would make herself available to his ministry. He contacted the Minister of Police, the Human Rights Commission and other government officials in the bid to ensure that justice was done. In spite of their best efforts however not much was achieved as the rapists were not arrested and the victim failed to identify herself.
But beyond these public actions, the minister grieved privately about the incident. For weeks after he saw the vile video, he managed to turn every private conversation to the fate of that young girl. He wondered what trauma she must have gone through, and how the men could be so heartless to sexually exploit her for hours on end. 'This is unacceptable,' I heard him say countless times.
And being a man who walks his talk, the Minister insisted that we must have a conference and begin an advocacy campaign to stop the violence against women, especially rape. The result is the White Ribbon Conference, which will hold soon. The White Ribbon initiative focuses on the capacity of the individual to change and encourage change in others. It hopes to change the attitude and behaviours that lead to men's violence against women.
It is a novel idea in that it will focus on young men who are likely to perpetrate violence against women. According to statistics, 90 per cent of the time a male is likely to be the aggressor in a rape incident. It is then surprising that in Nigeria the focus is usually on the women, victims and potential victims, who usually attend conferences or come on TV shows with dour faces to recount their sad stories. The objective might be to curry our sympathy, but this has not stopped the violence against women over the years. The White Ribbon will bring young men, behaviour specialists and motivational speakers together with the objective of dissuading the men from becoming perpetrators of violence against women, and if they already are, to stop. The goal is to catch them young, to use a clichÃ©, and drum it that this behaviour is unacceptable and that violence against women is violence against self. The theme, 'The Impunity of Rape and Sexual Molestation on Nigerian Young Women,' is apt and will help to drive home this point.
Yes, we agree one conference may not change the hostile behaviour of all young men toward the female sex. But coupled with a strategic advocacy campaign, it may cause more than a dent, and perhaps prevent the kind of mindless rape that occurred with the ABSU case.