Impunity is Nigeria’s Holy Grail. Every day, lawlessness unstrips decency and both dance naked to the brutal drums of anarchy as the clock ticks down to the zero hour when Nigeria would inevitably collapse upon all of us. Armageddon lurks, absurdity rocks but drunken and dazed Nigerian leaders poured more alcohol into the gourds of power, frolicking, dancing, stomping, sweating; drinking our future milk and honey together with the wine of today.
Today, I write as a survivor of serial sex abuse. I write because almost five decades after my experience, the scars of horrific molten images are still burning deep inside the depth of a mind that recalls clearly the defilement of a kid by a young lady, who was a close family friend. I still remember her name, Aunty Iyabo, the lastborn of Iya Ijebu, our landlady on a popular street in the Onipanu area of Mushin in Lagos State. I was loved by her family that lived on the ground floor while my family lived on the top floor. Iya Ijebu, a big-time cloth merchant, particularly loved me, and so did her first son, who was popularly called minister. Minister would always buy me a bottle of soft drink whenever I came home with my report card from school. I really don’t know why, but Iya Ijebu, a light-complexioned, plump, old woman, and her family doted on me.
So, whenever her daughter took me to her room, everyone thought her gesture was in line with the family’s love. Aunty Iyabo would lock me up in her room, strip naked and do unprintable things with me. I was too young and naïve to know there was a difference between her strange fantasy and the washing of plates or sweeping. At times, she would get me under the tap in the bathroom, carry and press me insanely to her naked body. Later in her room, she would put my tiny hands to every part of her body and I would watch her wriggle. For some minutes, it could be fun to me – watching this ‘big aunty’ playing with a little me, covering us up with a huge blanket as she tickled, giggled and laughed. After a while, I would lose interest in the groping, telling my big guest I wanted out, but she would beg with candies and biscuits and place my head on her bosom, rocking me with pleas and promises. I decided to open up on this personal experience because parents, guardians and the society largely believe that only female children need to be protected against sex predators. In my own case, though I found it strange, I didn’t even know what the aunty was doing wasn’t good, hence I didn’t deem it fit to report. Aunty Iyabo was a friend to my mum’s youngest sister, who lived with us.
The next case of sex abuse involves a postgraduate student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Monica Osagie, who has pointed the finger at her lecturer, Prof Richard Akindele, for allegedly demanding five days of sex (not rounds o) from her in a viral telephone recording. Also, in the Land of Uncle Sam, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nasser, would spend 175 years in prison, following conviction for criminal sexual conduct after evidence and Victim Impact Statements by 156 women were heard by a federal court. Judge Rosemary Aquilina, who delivered the judgment, said she wouldn’t trust Nasser with her dog, adding that the 175-year sentence would begin after Nasser completed his 60-year federal sentence for child pornography. Several heads rolled in the wake of the scandal which was broken by the Indiana Star. Investigation revealed that the 54-year-old Nasser had been sexually abusing teenage athletes under the guise of medical treatment since 1997 before the law caught up with him in 2017 and his sentencing in 2018. The team doctor had, in 2004, used PowerPoint presentation to prove to the police that his treatment was justified when a 17-year-old girl accused him. Survivors of Nasser’s sexual abuse, including Olympic champions Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, said the Olympics team doctor touched them inappropriately. The employer of Nasser, Michigan State, agreed to pay an unprecedented $500m as settlement to 332 alleged victims who filed a class action suit against the Michigan State University, where Nasser worked, just as law suits and claims pending before various courts have been on the increase. According to reports, the university will also set aside $75m of the settlement for future claimants alleging sexual abuse. An attorney to some of the victims, John Manly, said in a statement, “This historic settlement came about through the bravery of more than 300 women and girls who had the courage to stand up and refuse to be silenced.” Following the scandal, the President of MSU and the entire USA Gymnastics board resigned, acknowledging the need for institutional change. It was heard in court that allowing Nasser to examine and treat athletes alone in private rooms for over two decades was in violation of USAG’s standards of conduct. The MSU, however, argued that as a state institution, it enjoyed sovereign immunity, which shielded it from civil liability. Legally, complicity and collusion are not criminal offences per se in this instance, argued USAG, but a survivor of Nasser’s abuse, Olivia Cowan, said, “I want MSU and USAG to know what they have done is on the very same level of accountability as the crime Nasser has committed.”
The OAU sex scandal and the Nasser narrative explain the difference between Nigeria and the US. Whereas the US Senate, following the report by Indiana Star, wrote a letter to USAG president and CEO, Steve Penny, expressing concern and calling for immediate steps to report the complaints received and install future safeguards, the Nigerian Senate has never discussed nor taken any action on the everyday reports of rape and other sexual abuses across the country. Instead, the Bukola Sarake-led Senate failed to sit for duties for a whole day when it visited Senator Dino Melaye who allegedly got injured while attempting to evade trial for some purported offences.
In Nigeria, perpetrators of sex abuse are seen as victims, who need deliverance themselves, but in the US, they are seen as criminals whom the society needs to be delivered from. After the OAU sex scandal broke, some members of the society said Osagie, probably, would’ve consented to the professor’s advances if he didn’t demand five days of sex. But a national outrage greeted the unmasking of Nasser in the US. Victims of Nasser’s ignoble actions freely came out to testify in the US, but many Nigerian victims of sex abuse keep silent for fear of stigmatisation. As soon as the Nasser story broke, police began their own independent investigation but the police in Nigeria have not said anything on the OAU sex scandal several weeks after. When the law eventually caught up with Nasser, he received its full wrath. At no point was there any plot to subvert justice or make Nasser get off with a light sentence. The reverse is always the case in Nigeria.
Whereas all relevant organisations made public statements in the case of Nasser, the Nigerian Presidency, Senate, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Federal Ministry of Education, National Universities Commission etc have refused to comment on the wave of sexual abuse plaguing the nation’s higher institutions. When these public institutions don’t even see sexual abuse as an alarming scourge, how would they find a solution to it?
The imprimatur of our national failure doesn’t reside only in the army of youths plaguing our day with bank-robbery horror or the orgiastic ritual killings stalking our night. They’re also located in the complicity of a maladministered and misdirected government weakened at the seams by corruption, suspicion, ineptitude and lack of vision.