Yesterday, on campus, I saw a student in a camisole and shorts walking what I thought was a baby in a pram. Then I noticed the pram was remarkably smaller than I remembered baby prams being. And the student looked remarkably younger than I’d expect even a young mother to look. Inside the pram was the cutest puppy ever. I know because I had time to hang around. The student had no classes and was just enjoying the beautiful day. And it was a gorgeous day, the sun was out. Here and there, small groups of students sat at tables outside or on the verdant lawn. Talking, laughing, just being. Dressed for the weather.
Yesterday, on Twitter, someone tweeted about their friend, Chioma, a student of Education at UNN who was allegedly violated and humiliated by some academic affairs staff for dressing “indecently.” According to the tweets, the alleged abuse included Chioma being accused of being a mamywata, a lesbian, a witch, a cultist, of having access to funds she should not have. She was made to kneel down for several hours, the food she had on her was thrown away, her waist beads were ripped off. Her phone was seized, her photos deleted, her text messages read. They also allegedly wanted to examine her lingerie to see “what type of underwear she wore.” They prayed for her to “exorcise her” and handed her a Bible so they could take a more appropriate photo of her for her phone screensaver.
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Yesterday, in class, I could not get the story of Chioma’s alleged abuse out of my head. I could not imagine anyone harassing any of the young people in my class for wearing short tops or shorts or miniskirts or nose piercings. Or for wearing anything that did not meet the person’s idea of “decent dressing.” I could not imagine why it would be anyone’s business. However, when it comes to Nigeria and self-appointed morality police, I have learned from experience that nothing is too wild to be true. Many years ago when I was a teenager (that long ago), I went to some market to buy fabric. I can’t remember who I was with but I recall that it began to and we stepped under the awning of a stall to shelter from the rain. The owner of the stall asked us to leave because he did not allow girls who wore trousers to shelter in his property. We were bad girls apparently, spawns of the devil and deserved to be beaten by the rain. I hadn’t thought about this moment in a long time, but yesterday it came back.
Yesterday, Chioma’s friend’s tweets spawned other tweets of others’ experiences at UNN. Someone shared a message reminding students of their lecturer’s demand that they be present for “class prayers” before they were allowed to submit their workbook. “Attendance will be taken. Then immediately after that, you can move to the lecturer’s office, Room 310 of GS Building, to submit your workbook.” Someone else tweeted about their lecturer slapping a student for not answering to a roll call in class during exams even though the student was present; a friend told me of how when she was at university (not UNN), one of her professor’s started each class with a prayer and if the devil possessed you enough not to be present for the prayers, you were locked out of class. There was a professor in my year who “promised” to fail a student if he didn’t give up his girlfriend because “you’re in school to learn not to be chasing girls.” It was not unheard of that lecturers sent students out of class for not dressing modestly enough. The sad thing was that the students felt powerless to do anything about it. They got to class early to join in the prayers, the slapped student silently bore the pain of the slap, the male student pretended to have given up his girlfriend so that he could graduate.
Yesterday, on Twitter, I looked up the TL of the Chioma. I was gratified to see that she was getting some help. Apparently, her Rotaract family came through for her. I don’t know how or in what form, but there was a video of some young men (some of her Rotaract family presumably) outside the Students Affairs Department asking for a certain Rita. There were numerous tweets of people who claimed to be able to help to ensure that those responsible were punished, asking for more information in DMs. There is hope that those who violated her, those men and women who took it into their own hands to “exorcise” someone’s daughter, those who abused whatever authority they had, those more interested in moral policing than in doing their jobs, would be brought to justice. And there is hope that their punishment will be a lesson to others.