If you haven’t read Nigerian blogger Sugabelly’s blog post on her alleged sexual assault at the hands of her former boyfriend, you should.
It’s harrowing, graphic and provides a depressing but unsurprising, insight into rape culture in Nigeria. In between paragraphs, where she details the shocking abuse she suffered, there are selected screenshots of reactions to her story.
It is pure vitriol.
She is called everything from a prostitute and a whore to a liar and a monster. In the post, she explains that there were several instances of sexual assault at the hands of accused rapist and his friends but she felt too afraid and alone to break free from him. His parents were powerful and she didn’t trust the police. Worst of all she loved him.
And that’s where commenters get really shocked. ‘How could she love someone who raped her?’ ‘Why did she keep going back to him?’ ‘She’s just bitter because wanted to marry a governor’s son and she failed.’
Rape and sexual assault are often topics swept under the rug in Nigerian culture. The stories are there but they are ignored until they are forced into collective consciousness for a time and then forgotten.
In 2011, a video of a student from Abia State University being gang raped by five men went viral. The nation and the diaspora were enraged but what happened next was typical. Denial. The Governor of Abia swiftly denied the assault had happened in the state. This was followed by victim blaming; the police state command said the victim ‘consented to the rape‘ because he didn’t see the victim resist in the video. This was followed by nothing. No charges, no arrests, nothing.
The accused and his lawyers are pandering to the belief that sexual assault is a linear narrative, which fits perfectly into the way society understands it.
In Sugabelly’s case, there is no viral video, no photographic evidence, just her story, which the accused has desperately tried to pick holes in. He has swiftly denied any wrongdoing; in an interview he said he had been in a short consensual relationship with Sugabelly who desperately wanted to marry him and resorted to accusing him of assault to gain fame.
His lawyers have gone a step further. In an attempt to prove the innocence of their client, they released past email correspondence and Facebook messages between Sugabelly and him. In her messages she professes her love to him; recounts their sexual trysts; and talks of about how much she misses him. Never mind that she had already detailed this on her blog prior to the story breaking, in their eyes this is the smoking gun that proves she’s a liar, because how can a person love an abuser?
Nigeria is a country with just 18 recorded rape convictions in its entire legal history.
The accused and his lawyers are pandering to the belief that sexual assault is a linear narrative, which fits perfectly into the way society understands it. An attacker, who is unemployed and poor, assaults a victim, who is female, sexually inexperienced and dressed appropriately. She goes to the police, the police arrest the attacker and the attacker goes to jail.
But things don’t work like that.
Nigeria is a country with just 18 recorded rape convictions in its entire legal history. 18. A country where if you belong to that elite club of politicians (or happen to be their offspring) you operate by a different set of rules; you have the money to buy the silence of the police, the courts and your victims. Then there’s the social stigma attached to being a rape victim, not to mention some of the language used when discussing a rape case. In Audu’s interview, for example, he was asked, ‘What do you think she [Sugabelly] wants from you?’ The tone of the question is assuming, laced with the implication that the victim wants something; it’s hardly neutral.
He was also asked if he has ever raped anyone. Among other things he said, ‘I am happily married. I have three little daughters. I can’t even imagine it,’ as if being married with children somehow means he is incapable of rape. Or the fact he plays football with the son of Dr Oby Ezekwesili (former minister of education and founder of the Bring Back Our Girls movement) proves that he is of good moral character.
Sugabelly has been set upon by the social-media brigade who have taken turns to question her character and her sex life, as though being chaste is a prerequisite of being a victim. She has been reduced to posting pictures on her blog of the anti-depressant medication she has to take to ‘make her life livable,’ defending herself on Twitter and painstakingly trying to explain that it is possible to be an abused woman and love your abuser.
The hope is that Sugabelly’s story paves the way for an honest and ongoing dialogue about sexual assault in Nigeria.
What tends to happen after a story like this is silence but in admitting his relationship with Sugabelly, Audu has implicated himself in a crime, statutory rape; she claims she was 17 at the time of their relationship. Despite the criticism, Sugabelly has received a lot of vocal support from women and men outraged at what she has been through. Former House of Representatives Abike Dabiri who sponsored a bill on violence offered to work with her while others have commended her bravery.
The hope is that Sugabelly’s story paves the way for an honest and ongoing dialogue about sexual assault in Nigeria and gives others the courage to come forward, share their stories and seek justice. The hope is that her story like countless others isn’t swept just the rug and forgotten about. There’s hope, but sadly history is not on our side.