Monday, 14 October 2013

Deflowering Nigeria

During the time of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa almost 20 years ago now, when we were still under military rule, The Punch newspaper bravely published photographs of two women in Rivers State being flogged and raped. There are four photographs altogether. The first shows a woman being beaten. The second shows the same woman being raped. The third shows another woman being beaten. The fourth also shows that woman being raped. Both soldiers are in full battle dress, one wearing a floppy hat, the other with a bandanna around his forehead. One of the victims said that she was raped in public ‘so that I cannot hide it any more’.
‘I deflowered my wife’ was the headline in a recent edition of The Punch. The fellow in question is apparently a comedian – literally, that is - who goes by the stage name of Holy Mallam. I had never heard of him before but perhaps that wasn’t surprising, although why he should want to subject his wife to such prurient public speculation which concerns nobody but the couple concerned is as perplexing as why the deflowered was happy to collude. Equally mystifying is why a national newspaper should want to run such a headline but that is a question for the editor to answer, especially since she happens to be a woman herself, not to say the recent winner of a CNN award for her services to journalism.
‘It was three days after the wedding because I was too scared,’ the deflowered wife further explained in the course of the interview with her comedian; ‘[b] husband said, “we can’t continue like this. I have paid and have done everything”.’ It’s a pity we weren’t given an exact figure – the reporter was not doing their job – given our ringside seat at the moment of deflowering (‘I read it on the internet and was ready to guide him’), and we recall the furore over a certain senator’s purchase of a 13-year-old Egyptian girl for $100,000 but I don’t suppose the sums much matter: each according to his pocket. Woman as chattel – literally, in the case of some age-old traditions: ‘How can a property inherit a property?’ as one man said of his brother’s widow as he proceeded to divest her of all she had struggled to build with her late husband – but then so is the country to those with the wherewithal to plunder it as they like.
I suppose one lesson we are enjoined to take from the interview is that the deflowering comedian’s wife wasn’t ‘spoilt’ – damaged goods - before he had his wicked way with her, an obsession with many Nigerian males, which is presumably why it was considered a suitable story in the first place. This is said against the background of an apparent upsurge in cases of rape, especially against minors, to wit: ‘CPN has recorded over 50 cases of child rape across Gombe State, but more cases have not been reported. Bauchi State recorded 11 cases of rape with a particular case of one police officer raping nine under-aged girls and a lecturer of one of  the tertiary institutions  raping a teenager.’ It also explains why, amongst other things, most rapes in the country remain hidden, the victims and their families reluctant to admit to a stigma that will lower their price in the matrimonial marketplace.
The double standards involved in all of this are hardly worth dwelling on given that the question of our Holy Mallam’s own pre-marital sexual peccadilloes (we can’t put it any higher than this) is treated as entirely irrelevant, in keeping with the prevailing mores. We also know that the police are notoriously tardy in prosecuting such cases when they aren’t themselves complicit in them, as in the example quoted above, but we needn’t get distracted on that score. As I argued in a previous blog, the police are themselves part of the system we have chosen to make of our cherished independence but who just happen to be the most visible symbols of our decadence, the ones who stand on the public highway collecting N20 and shooting those who refuse to pay up. We hear about – but don’t see – all the billions stolen by our public servants (as they sometimes like to flatteringly call themselves in moments of expansiveness), in addition to their obscene salaries, which is merely theft by other means.
We can continue to rape the nation if we like, and however we want to disguise it. Nobody will stop us. It is our prerogative. They will only wonder why we want to do so, why we want to persist in our clownishness, deadly as it is. This is said against the current speculation concerning President Jonathan’s announcement of a proposed national dialogue. There is no doubt that such a dialogue is way overdue but what is it that we are going to talk about? We bandy about fine concepts like ‘resource control’, ‘true federalism’ and ‘devolution of powers’ but what does it all amount to when we treat each other and the gifts we have been given gratis with levels of contempt that few other nations would tolerate?
In truth, nothing much has changed since the days when soldiers were unleashed to rape and plunder at will. The underlying mores which made all of that possible remain the same now that we are supposedly a democracy. Restructuring Nigeria politically, desirable though that is, is more than just a matter of tinkering with the constitution but interrogating the way we treat each other and, by extension, the country we have inherited. This is the real challenge we face but the one we have barely understood. Until we begin to do so, we will continue to rape when we don’t deflower as though, for all the world, it was a perfectly normal way to go about our daily lives, even boasting about it in the pages of the newspapers, which themselves ought to know better.
© 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, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

No comments:

Post a Comment