Six months ago, I was on a date with an urbane and I must admit, very fine Nigerian brother. I met him as most meetings occur; randomly and fortuitously. I was at a café and seemed tired and so, he made me smile. He asked for a date and I said yes. One date became two and then three. On the third date, we regaled each other with tales of our University days and then, he told me two stories that chilled me to the core.

In school, he resided in a hostel notorious for loud frat parties. The dorm had a reputation for Freshers’ welcome raves. At the end of the annual drink fest, guys would pair up with girls and the lucky guys would lead fresh conquests to their rooms for a night of sweat and sex. I thought this was all pretty normal until he told me about the screams.

Screams of women would rise through the halls after every party. On deeper inquiry, he told me somewhat shamefaced, that these were women who were being “punished”. “Punished”, I asked? “Yes”, he replied, “Punished for leading the guys on. For enjoying the party on a guy’s financial tab, only to then refuse to repay the night’s festivities with sex”. He then told me another story of a friend who was infamous for assaulting women anytime he was drunk. He’d been in trouble many times. All his friends knew about the guy’s indiscretions, but no one spoke up because of some weird guy code. I wondered briefly, if the same code would apply if the guy were dating their sisters.

I recalled this conversation with my date as I thought about the rape stories we hear in Nigeria. I have heard many “reasons” adduced for rape and surmise that many of our men do not even know what rape is. Or, they secretly believe that in some cases, it is justified. For dialectical purposes, I shall define rape here. According to Dictionary.com, it is “The unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse” (Please note the word, “unlawful”, as I shall refer to it later.) We seem to live in a society where many of our peers feign ignorance of such a straightforward definition.

I have talked to many men. I acknowledge their pain and rage over being financially taking advantaged of by women who pretended to like them, but whose sole mission was to take from them. The deception was Machiavellian in conception and Napoleonic in execution. While many mothers teach their daughters to avoid sexual predators; who teaches the men to avoid financial predators? Sadly, bitter experience does. Arguably, a woman’s most precious possession is her body. For a man, it’s his ego and money. When some men are taken for fools, they justify their animalistic reaction of taking that which is most precious to the woman – her body – through rape. Many times, it’s not even the woman who perpetrated the “financial crime” who suffers. It’s the next woman or wife who is raped and punished.

Now, remember I asked you to note the word, “unlawful”? In developed nations, the consequences of the law restrain a man or woman from perpetrating rape. No matter how skimpily dressed women seem to be when a Nigerian man travels for Summer; it rarely occurs to him to rape the women, because of the long arm of the law. So, we cannot have a robust discussion about rape, without discussing legal protections in Nigeria. Without consequence, mankind will run amok. As a wise man once said, “where there is no law, there is no sin”.

I’ve similarly spoken to men who feed on porn, and the sad victims of sexual addiction. They have been subtly programmed to believe inflicting pain is a sign of masculinity, and that rough sex does not need to be consensual. This brings to the fore the subject of mastering one’s sexual drive. How many people have? There are boys who feed on explicit music videos and believe that any half-dressed woman with a big booty or enticing titties is fair game. After all, the celebrities say so and endorse such behaviour.  Very few say differently out loud. Few discuss issues of sexuality in chat rooms, on social media, in religious places of concourse, in families, in relationships and in marriages. There are very few sexual trauma centres in Nigeria and even fewer counselors at affordable rates. Our society is exposed to Western culture without the social safety nets of those same cultures. At the point at which Nigerian traditional values (whatever they may be) co-joined with Western values, who exactly was tasked with dealing with the fall-out? Who takes care of raped minors, by the way?

There are entire families reeling from generational abuse; fathers teaching sons to denigrate women; politicians purchasing virginity for school fees; deacons sponsoring monthly orgies in palatial homes. The list goes on. Is it any wonder that sexual molestation is tolerated in Nigeria? Do we even have respect for sex or the body that provides it? Aren’t sexual partners easily traded anyway? (Remember, Nigeria is said to have one of the largest populations living with HIV in Africa.)

Men typically advise women, “If you don’t want to have sex, don’t play with men and don’t turn a guy on”. Perhaps there’s some merit to this. But how exactly does this apply in a trusted committed relationship? At what point do you lose your right to say no? Should all girlfriends take a vow to stop visiting their boyfriends’ houses for fear of rape?

My submission is this. Addressing the rape issue in Nigeria includes speaking against it and speaking the truth about it. It requires a deeper understanding of the factors that fuel it and the players – both men and women. It requires a cleansing of the legal system, a reorientation of the culture that empowers it and a robust response to the media products that compound it.

I rest my somewhat disjointed case.

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