April 14, 2014, will remain significant in Nigeria’s shared history for a long time, perhaps forever. Two hundred and seventy six female students (mostly Christians) were kidnapped on the evening of that fateful day by Boko Haram from the Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State.
It was the most high profile case of kidnap in years by the terrorist group that has been bedevilling Nigeria for over a decade. Problematic for many reasons, the incidence is symptomatic of the deeper albeit dismissed problem of rape culture in the country.
A poll conducted by NOIPOLLS in July 2019, revealed that most Nigerians (85%) believe that there is a high prevalence of rape in Nigeria. According to the report, “about 3 in 10 Nigerians (26 per cent) disclosed that they know someone who has been raped in the past and the rape victims were particularly minors and young adults aged between 1 – 15 years (72 per cent) and 16 – 25 years (24 per cent) respectively.
This statistic implies that one in every three girls would have experienced at least one form of sexual abuse by the time they reach 25 years.”
Nigeria, for all its diversity across multiple culturally unique regions, has one thing in common – a deep and enduring conservatism. It is echoed through the minarets of mosques that dot cities and villages, repeated spiritedly by pastors eager to earn their keep, and passed down through traditional folk tale by traditionalists who are still able to hold on to a root that is largely whittled down by the rampant spiritual import that is Christianity and Islam. Sexual violence is still no less rampant here than anywhere else.
It is arguably worse because while we bemoan over women and girls whose violations occur within the purview of law and order, the magnitude of rape and other forms of sexual abuses which occur in Nigeria’s various conflict zones is unimaginable.
Who is doing all this rampant raping? The easy answer and one many Nigerians – especially men, love to fall back on is ‘bad men;’ men who are less men and more beast, ‘not real men’ if you will.
On the surface, the Chibok case and the subsequent widely publicised abduction of girls specifically, might seem complicated in that it has a ‘religious conversion’ twist to it, but it is more base than we allow ourselves to see it as. Nigeria’s deeply rooted religious conservatism which holds up a mirage of piety where it is anything, but means that many would perhaps unconsciously choose to not face the very base fact of men desiring the violation of women and using religion as a cover for that.
Boko Haram, and whatever other iteration of extremist groups there are in the world, use religious conversion as a cover for their perverted desires to violate women.
Four years after the initial abduction of the Chibok girls, with over 100 of the abducted girls freed, we have gained a better understanding of the abduction. A question remains, however, “Are we paying attention to what it taught us?”
Clearly not …
In the two years following their abduction that the Nigerian government seemingly did little to secure their freedom, stories of their harrowing conditions were commonplace – forced marriages, enslavement and starvation. The escape of one of the girls, Amina Alit, with her baby in May 2016, confirmed some of that – if any confirmation was needed.
Public discourse would still not address the elephant in the room; the rape culture that allows this to become a social norm. The colonisation of women’s bodies to the point that the slightest conflict could make of their bodies a battleground for men to flex their power.
Perhaps because of this, two years after, in March 2018, a fresh batch of unsuspecting girls trying to thrive in a society that dished them a losing card from the moment they drew their first breath found themselves abducted in Dapchi, Yobe state.
Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.
Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorisation of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
This is far from a uniquely Nigerian tragedy. Rape culture, which is rooted in patriarchal ideals that wittingly or otherwise commodifies women, is a global epidemic. What is unique about Nigeria is the tenacity with which we refuse to discuss it, often to protect the respectable presentation of religious institutions and theology.
While acknowledging and bringing it to the frontier of public discourse might not completely vanish the violence women and girls face from extremist groups, it will go a long way in nipping a harmful ‘cultural norm’ at the bud. At least enough to make supposedly ‘good men’ sit up and reassess the relationship they have with ideas, institutions and traditions that allows them and their ‘evil’ counterparts get away with participating in this menace.
It will remain telling of the complicity of self-acclaimed ‘good men’ if they stand in the grey zone of hesitant condemnation rather than active demolishing of the ideas, traditions and institutions – religious or otherwise, that water the grounds on which this menace thrives.