Friday, 3 May 2013

Raping the nation

On 16 August 2011, a video was released on YouTube (since censored, although the audio version can still be heard) showing five male students from Abia State University taking turns to rape a young woman. In the hour-long video, filmed and uploaded by the rapists themselves, she pleads with them not to do this to her but they tell her that if she doesn’t consent peacefully they will make sure that they torture her for two days. As the rapes progress, she begs them to kill her so that she won’t have to live with the shame of what they are doing to her but they just laugh as they continue recording.

The video immediately went viral and caused national outrage. The ensuing publicity forced the police to act but two months later (by which time three of the rapists had been identified by name, complete with their degree courses) the police suddenly decided that there was no case to answer. According to them, it was evident from the video that she had acquiesced in her ordeal and that, in any case, gang rape was often videotaped as a ‘tool’ by undergraduate boys to ‘rubbish the self-esteem of snobbish girls,’ and that, even if she had not consented, she might have been a girlfriend of one of her assailants ‘and must have probably cheated on him and when queried insulted the boy hence he probably assembled a gang to teach her the lesson of her life!’ With the intervention of certain prominent people, including Ms Abike Dabiri, one of the more energetic members of the House of Representatives, the case was re-opened.  One year later, after ‘exhaustive investigations,’ it transpired that that the rape didn’t actually happen in Abia but in neighbouring Rivers State, and that the woman in question, who wasn’t even a student, had in fact been raped by another bunch of men in reprisal for something or other.

From the start, the university authorities themselves appeared more concerned with protecting the name of their institution than investigating the allegations: ‘We want to vouch for the enviable reputation of our students and therefore want to disassociate them from this immoral, animalistic and dehumanising act,’ and threatened legal action against those peddling the story. The state government swiftly followed suit: ‘Henceforth, the state government would undertake extreme legal actions against any person or group of persons who trade in spreading dangerous rumour against it.’ Which is all well and good but other sources (necessarily anonymous) have claimed that rape is a ‘regular occurrence’ on the campus but that most victims are reluctant to go public - which is hardly surprising. Nor need one single out ABSU, which merely had the misfortune to be thrown into the limelight. Just recently, five students were expelled from Ekiti State University for raping ‘a number of women’ (and which, to its credit, the university is not denying, having handed over the culprits to the police), and yet another video making the rounds shows a woman being raped at the University of Benin earlier this year.

In the case of the ABSU rape, at least one activist has pointed out what many believe, which is that the perpetrators of this ‘immoral, animalistic and dehumanising act’ are rich men’s sons – ‘Igbo men of timber and calibre,’ was how he put it – and so ‘the officials want to sweep this matter under the carpet’. Given that we live in a country where a former President was recently rumoured to have kept a hit squad in Aso Rock, and that under his watch a number of prominent ‘sons of the soil’ were mysteriously murdered when they began to prove difficult (including the then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice), covering up a rape seen online by one-and-a-half-million people worldwide would seem to be a small matter. We live in a society where ‘the full weight of the law,’ as the authorities like to put it, is visited selectively, for instance the young woman who was imprisoned for one year for stealing a handset worth N4,000, or the young man imprisoned for six years, also for stealing a handset but worth N50,000.

It is this impunity enjoyed by the privileged (a severe minority) which explains why the police are so anxious to ‘deal with’ the not-privileged. There’s little point having laws unless they are visited on some people, who must be further made to pay for those who are exempted, a sort of redistributive justice. In the meantime, civil society organisations have since tracked down the woman and attested to her psychological state: ‘The girl is a ticking bomb right now; she is a potential suicide case.’ They have also called on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to book but this is not going to happen. The witnesses who initially came forward have now decided that it was a bad idea after they were warned off by the police, and the university authorities are rumoured to have threatened ‘to rusticate the victim if she escalates the matter,’ in the process acknowledging that she is a student of the institution, after all.

But the story goes beyond the woman concerned, beyond all the other women raped the length and breadth of this land (both in and out of university campuses) to the rape of the nation itself. The police weren’t being disingenuous or especially callous when they quipped that she had invited the ‘lesson’ - if she hadn’t indeed acquiesced in it. This is perfectly in keeping with the mores of the society we have engendered over the years, a society in which rich men’s sons know they can get away with anything at all, having watched their fathers do the same. Indeed, there’s no point knowing you can do what you like and ‘nothing will happen’ unless you actually do it – and post the resultant video on the internet to prove it to your and everyone else’s satisfaction.

© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:



  1. You nailed it Adewale...and the poetic irony is, having watched their fathers rape the nation (and some of the nation's women), rich men's daughters do it too...

  2. Strikingly similar to an episode in Hablia's Oil on Water. I wish this story was fiction. A damn tragedy.

  3. Yikes. (That's an understatement, I meant how terrible, if the girl has continued in school like nothing happened.)