The weather is gorgeous this Easter Sunday. I am blasting Naija music, deliberately choosing joy, which means I’m keeping away from the news (Russia, Ukraine et al) and from Naija Twitter. Yet, inside my silver of bliss, what my friend, the late Pius Adesanmi, called “the tragedy of Nigeria” snaked in. Someone persuaded me to go read the tweet responses of a Nigerian’s terrible experience in Zanzibar.
Zainab Oladehinde travelled solo last year to Tanzania for her 23rd birthday. She booked a “well-regarded” hotel, going by the number of stars it had on Google. The night she checked in, she woke up to a strange man, with a distinct smell, pawing her. She managed to escape. The next day, she reported the incident to the police. Both the police and the hotel management refused to do right by her.
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Zainab, still understandably traumatised by the terrible ordeal is only now, one year later, telling her story. And what have the responses been like? A few sensible ones. And then there have been some blaming her for daring to travel alone. And yet others questioning how a woman her age could afford to travel. Where does one start, abeg? How does the account of a sexual assault become about how to control women and even extend to casting aspersions on a woman because she could afford to travel and treat herself?
Zainab’s assault and the inaction of those who ought to have ensured her safety highlight one of the many ways in which women are made vulnerable because men are assisted in getting away with bad behaviour. For example, it took the management of, Warere Beach hotel, where Zainab was assaulted, one full year to come up with their ridiculous claim that Zainab asked the man—a security man at the hotel—to come up to her room to have sex with her, sent him out to get a condom, and then for some reason, not only did she change her mind when he returned, but she also decided to accuse him of sexual assault. The police that Zainab reported to the next morning did not help – since rape had not occurred, they were not interested. It is easy to see what emboldened that security man to enter the room of a guest and attempt to rape her. Zainab’s case, sadly, is not rare as some of the testimonies on Twitter attest.
It is reactions like these that shut victims, women and men, up. It’d be nice to discuss sexual abuse (particularly of women) without blaming the victim. But this is Nigeria, after all, where to be a single woman, with the audacity of independence, is seen as demonic. This is Naija where men who get into arguments with women throw out, “I have your type at home.” This is Naija where women are reminded that “no matter how many degrees you have, it’s a man that will marry you.” We’ve heard the stories of women denied rental properties because their ring fingers were bare. We’ve heard of women who have to pretend to be married to avoid being harassed by random men. So, some of those misogynistic responses I read shouldn’t have shocked me. But they did because one always hopes that even the most hardened misogynist would be moved by the account of a young Nigerian woman sexually assaulted in a foreign country. Perhaps, it is the nature of the beast that nothing moves misogyny and whatever change happens will not happen by appealing to the better nature of misogynists but by calling them out.
In 2005, I extended my stay in Nairobi after a workshop and moved into a cheaper hotel. That night, two men tried to enter my room. My door was chain locked. They mumbled something and left when I refused to open the door. The next morning, as early as I could, I checked out. I’ve never shared this story before now because even though nothing happened, the thought that it could have still traumatises me.
I cannot even begin to imagine the strength it’s taken Zainab Oladehinde to share her story, and how upsetting it must be for her to be met with shallow-minded people asking how she could have afforded the holiday, somehow extracting from her ordeal, the senselessness that women should not travel alone. Folks, no. That’s not the lesson in this at all.
Women are equal members of the human race , and our freedom shouldn’t be curtailed for being women. The world belongs to all of us after all. Instead, let us demand that those who prey on women, whether they are women travelling alone or women in the work place be punished to the full extent of the law. Call them out. Stories of women being assaulted shouldn’t be the opportunity for misogynists to remind women to “know their place.” Enough is enough.