Over the weekend, Nigerians on Twitter yet again shared in the unrelenting grief of Nigerian women as millions rallied frantically online and offline in search of Iniobong Umoren. She was found dead.
Iniobong, who until her murder was a Philosophy graduate of the University of Uyo, had tweeted a call for any job opening, anything to do in order to in her words, “Keep mind and soul together while contributing positively to the organisation.”
Responding to a job offer by another Twitter user, Uduak Frank Akpan, Iniobong was reported to have gone for a job interview on Thursday 29 April 2021. Her friend, Umoh Uduak, who raised the alarm that set the frantic search for her and the person she was to go see for her job interview in motion, shared screenshots of Iniobong’s texts to her indicating how she was very aware of what could go wrong and the precaution she took.
“I don send the person number and where I’m going to [with] my sister,” one text read.
Less than an hour later and a 1-second voice note from her following which calls to her phone went unanswered, her friend tweeted a distress call for people to help find Iniobong. Barely 48 hours later the primary suspect, Uduak Frank, was arrested and he confessed to murdering her over what he said was ‘a disagreement’ and burying her corpse in a shallow grave.
This is not the only viral case of femicide in the first quarter of 2021 alone.
On 13 April 2021, 58-year-old Mrs Doris was raped and murdered by a four-man gang in her home at the State Housing Estate in Calabar. Her teenage househelp was arrested along with other suspects for the crime.
Femicide – the killing of a woman or girl, in particular by a man/men and on account of her gender, is more commonplace in Nigeria than we care to admit.
Part of this non-admittance is rooted in the refusal of mostly men to take responsibility for some of the seemingly harmless attitudes towards women that they have which is ingrained in them by a culture that treats women as less than human beyond that which they can give for the benefit of men. Sex, free labour and aesthetic improvement.
“Not all men, but certainly you.”
Largely by happenstance, I spent a good chunk of my weekend in the company of cis-heterosexual men. It is not something I would normally do, but the alternative of sparring with the cold words of strange cis-heterosexual men when I could do the same with the handful in my life wasn’t appealing, particularly at a time when social media is chockful of trauma-inducing stories.
We took the time to unravel some of the perennial litanies of advice cis-heterosexual men are in the habit of giving women each time a tragedy like that of Iniobong comes to light. Thereafter, the realisation hit home that when men say ‘not all men’ it is often because it is certainly them in that context.
“Women should be extra cautious, there are so many maniacs out there.”
Iniobong was careful. Careful enough to share the phone number, location and identity of the person she was going to see. She still didn’t make it out alive.
“Women shouldn’t arrange to meet strangers, and if they must they should go with a friend or share their location with one.”
On Thursday 5 May 2016, 37-year-old banker and mother of two, Ronke Shonde, was beaten to death by her then-husband of 8 years, Lekan Shonde. Reports said that he had been physically abusive for a long time before the murder. Her children were discovered the next morning at the crime scene next to their mother’s cold body, by which time the father was on the run. Lekan has since been sentenced to death by hanging.
Ronke, like many femicide victims, was murdered by someone she had known for years.
The burden of blame
It is human nature to seek to understand tragedies. We want to know that things happened for a reason, and if a reason isn’t immediately apparent we try to find one anyhow. The alternative makes us shrink as we come face to face with our place in the grand scheme of things and realise the world doesn’t revolve around us.
A rule of thumb in the search for a reason is to start with the knowledge that there is hardly ever any scenario in which a victim of femicide is to blame for her murder. Seeking to establish one is open complicity that should have grave consequences for those who dabble in it.
Yet, perhaps because of the absence of consequences, many still dabble in trying to find:
- A reason they believe must have ‘tipped the man over’ to commit such atrocity.
- Why they think had the woman not been at that place at that moment she would have been safe.
- Something they think the victim could have done differently and she will still be alive.
News reports of the Lekan Shonde case, perhaps unintentionally, kept hitting on the fact that the deceased was repeatedly accused of infidelity by her killer throughout their marriage. He was, however, the only one of the couple to have an alleged child out of wedlock, a possible byblow of his infidelity that was never confirmed. Before her death, his wife had been aware of this. She didn’t murder him for it.
The problem is men
My cis-heterosexual friends are adamant about not taking responsibility for something they said they have not partaken in. “I don’t get hailed for the successes of men over the years, why will I be made to feel guilty over the wrongs of the same?” I agree and disagree.
Throughout the same conversation, these men had proclaimed the rightness of men’s place ahead of women in society because “Men toil to provide for women.” Not one of them is in a position to provide for a pet parakeet, but they glory is this statement they take as canon.
We have seen stories of sexual violence against women by uncles, pastors, imams, fathers, brothers, really every iteration of human relationships a woman could have.
It is the rough and weather-beaten man on the streets, it is the svelte-dressed executive in a padded office in a high-rise in Lekki, it is the potbellied politician in his starched agbada, it is also the half-formed teenager of 17 in his favourite footballer’s jersey bantering with his friends. It is all men because the language men use to talk about their relationship with women is one that demeans while it objectifies.
“You sef, if you see that girl you know she set die, you can just tell she is good in bed,” my cis-heterosexual acquaintance said about our other acquaintance’s new friend. He said “you sef,” because he believed the caveat is necessary since I’m a gay man. He hasn’t had even a one-liner exchange with the said girl but his mind is wrapped around her vagina.
That is far from an uncommon perception of women by men.
When we say all men …
‘Good guys’ in the context of a society like Nigeria that has normalised the dehumanisation of women are just men who know what to say in different spaces.
In the company of their fellow men who recount the story of how they pestered a particular woman till she gave in to their sexual demands, they guffaw and hail their bros for having game. They also hold beliefs on the natural superiority of men over women because, “Men are biologically built different, stronger and with more innate aggression,” my cis-heterosexual acquaintance argued.
In the company of women – most of whom they hope to sleep with someday, they interact with a cordial sweetness underneath which lies a cold calculation of when the sex will drop and if it won’t what the best exit strategy is and when it can be deployed.
They may not rape or kill anyone, but in sitting comfortably in conversations that paint women as irrational, weaker, greedy and tempting, they make it okay for the men who will.
Great fathers can rape their secretary at work and return home to a hearty dinner with their daughters with no sense of irony or make their femicidal friends comfortable in their criminal intents with the language of loathing they use to describe ‘skimpily dressed harlots.’
Until men make men’s space uncomfortable for harmful discussions about women. Until men begin to see women as equal humans no less smart, strong and deserving of dignity, the Uduak Akpans of the world will only continue to spread their evil.