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Sexual harassment is not normal

I wanted to write something happy this week because all the bad news coming out of Naija (and the world) has drained me. I am…

I wanted to write something happy this week because all the bad news coming out of Naija (and the world) has drained me. I am exhausted all the time, and so I’ve started to avoid the news. I spend what free time I have watching comedies and Nollywood movies on Netflix. I curate my TL on social media so that I don’t stumble onto the gory videos our people tend to post without thinking. Yet, bad news finds its way to me, from Deborah Samuel’s murder (about which I have written elsewhere; may she rest in peace) to the riots on the streets of Sokoto (what wanton destruction of property).  So there I was, tending my heart, trying to keep away from more bad news when I saw a post about a woman who was sexually assaulted on a bus in Lagos. In broad daylight. The fear of other passengers’ presence didn’t stop this nonsense man from touching the woman’s breasts. She’d warned him the first time, but he pretended it was accidental. Then when he thought she was asleep, he began to touch them again. She accosted him and began to hit him. She let the other passengers know what he’d done, and when she confronted her co-passengers with their silence, the only people to react were a few women who whipped out their phones and promised to share his face on social media to warn others. ALL the men on the bus – including the driver- were silent. They faced their front and “minded their business.” The only one to speak after they were called out for not apprehending the criminal and allowing him to alight from the bus (without even as much as getting his name) suggested that the victim didn’t have a nice body to be desired. How sickening!

What I found equally maddening was the number of people under the TL of the Tweet exposing the predator (with his picture and video) who couldn’t understand why it is wrong to keep quiet in the face of sexual assault. Keeping quiet in the face of evil isn’t minding your business. It’s you being complicit. When you keep quiet in the face of evil, you are responsible. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian who was also a participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, said it better: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” So there. Your silence makes you culpable too.

There were those who turned the request to help find the predator and bring him to justice into a gender war. Some ignorant young man questioned why men should be asked to come to the defense of a woman when “women say they don’t need men.” He might even have dragged feminists too.

Then of course, there were those who didn’t think that a crime had been committed. They didn’t see what the issue was with a stranger touching a woman inappropriately and without consent. In fact, some of them suggested that the victim should have been happy that she was found “worthy” of being” admired.” Na wah!

The road is far for our men in naija! Women are not free from harassment on public transportation, but they (we) are also not free from harassment in a space as public as the market. In a 2019 survey of 105 women by The Guardian Nigeria, more than 70  of those surveyed reported that  they had been harassed by male traders in the market. They’d been touched. Two years ago, in an article in a newspaper, a trader, Emmanuel Ugorji, blamed women’s indecent dressing for the harassment. He was quoted as saying that, “There are women that dress indecently, prompting the touching… it’s a sign they want men to touch them.”  Such nonsense! When Damilola Marcus organised a protest march, “Market March” at Yaba Market, the women chanted “stop touching us,”  while some  male traders hurled  stones and sachets of water at them, shouting in protest, “We must touch.”   It’s scary to think of any man thinking that women’s bodies belong to them. “We must touch.”

Who’s raising these people? It’s high time we included compulsory sex education in Naija schools because the way some of our men feel entitled to women’s bodies  or think that “tapping current” is innocent like some of them on Twitter suggested, is not normal. And yet it’s been normalised. Therefore, we must, with urgency, begin to de-normalise it because our women deserve respect. They (we) deserve to be safe. We demand it.