The law doesn’t protect, women do.

TW – Gender Based Violence

Last year July, a distressing video depicting the unwarranted attack of a woman, Ms Osimibibra Warmate, in a store located in Banex Plaza, Abuja circulated the internet. The perpetrator was recently the elected Senator Elisha Abbo, representative of the Adamawa North Senatorial District under the Peoples Democratic Party.

In the video, we saw Senator Abbo unleash onto Ms Warmate, in the presence of two male police officers, because she was defending her friend, Kemi, from the violent customer. Brought there to harass the store owner, the police men, sworn to uphold the law and protect Nigerian citizens, did nothing in the face of this injustice. Thankfully, after the social media outcry – although Ms Warmate had already reported the May 11 incident at the time it happened – Senator Abbo turned himself in, and charges were brought against him on July 8.

Then came today’s update on the case. Last month, on June 28, Senator Abbo’s case concluded. The verdict? None. The case was dismissed.

If you’ve been paying attention to social media these past few weeks, you’d easily have picked up on something quite disturbing on your timeline. From the casual attitudes towards the physical harm of black women to the targeted harassment and vitriol they are subjected to online, women are constantly being stripped of their humanity as they are afforded a lesser level of care and empathy than their male counterparts.

Last week, we learnt that rapper, Megan Thee Stallion was involved in a shooting where she suffered gunshot wounds to both her feet following an altercation at a party in Los Angeles with rapper, Tory Lanez. While many, including myself and the hotties, were worried about the rapper’s safety, social media was rife with insensitive comments and jokes regarding the shooting, all conspicuously rooted in misogyny and transphobia. Like clockwork, while a black woman was in pain, jokes surfaced online about a lover’s spat between thee Stallion and Tory Lanez, with grown men and women flagrantly justifying the shooting as fair game, because we’ve come to glamourise abuse in romantic relationships thanks to regular consumption of. problematic entertainment like Netflix’s ‘You’ or the eons of misogynistic music.

These casual attitudes towards the harm of women, especially black women, are not new to any of us as we’ve seen countless times society’s track record with handling similar cases. It’s why news of women dying at the hands of their abusive partners are met with no concern because we have justified abuse as being ancillary to romantic love. While the rumours and speculations detract from the actual harm that has been done to this woman, it has exposed the dark truths that women have been saying for years: that society is unable to reconcile the gravity of the violence when it comes to women’s issues and we failed to protect a black woman the moment we trivalised Megan’s case.

 

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Here, in Nigeria, attitudes are pretty much the same. However that is no surprise, given that our society is inherently misogynistic, and our history has always had a way of silencing powerful and dynamic women amongst the fold. Growing up, we learnt with horror how brave women along the years had been silenced, slut-shamed, harmed, or even worse, killed. We’ve all heard the phrases like ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’ and that is particularly the case in the life of late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti who met her fate after she was flung out of a second storey building and later died as a result of complications from her sustained injuries. The reason for this horrendous attack – that resulted in her death – was the sinister desire to silence Mrs Ransom-Kuti, a strong woman determined to speak up against injustices that women faced.

Today, the playing field is no different as women are still being purposely harmed and attacked  simply for wanting better for themselves and other women, particularly those who take on these very public roles of advocating for sex and gender-based injustices. There is undoubtedly an epidemic regarding these specific injustices, as official data shows that 1 in 4 Nigerian girls are victims of sexual violence before they turn 18. During this global health crisis alone, we’ve lost the lives of many Nigerian women to rape and many survivors have also used social media as a medium to offload their trauma and demand better for themselves and other women.

What is often the immediate response from many men and women online, is to berate and slut-shame those brave enough to come out with their stories, further telling those yet to speak up that they should remain quiet and keep their pain to themselves if they are not taking it up with the ‘appropriate authorities’.

Nigerians are all painfully aware of the gross failures of their police system and the government, and today’s reporting of the outcome of the case against Senator Abbo is just another reminder that ‘appropriate authorities’ are not effective in their duty to carry out justice. Despite the video evidence brought forward, the apology posed by Senator Abbo (in which he admitted to having acted out against Ms Warmate as an expression of his anger), and the testimony from the victim herself the magistrate presiding over the case still retained:

“The IPO (Investigating Police Officer) did not investigate this case at all or she just charged the defendant to court via the F.I.R (First Information Report) without due care and attention. In fact, she has succeeded in creating a doubt in the mind of this court during cross-examination and the Supreme Court held that where there is a doubt in a criminal trial, such doubt should be resolved in favour of the defendant”

It is worth noting that this investigating police officer of this case was a women, Mary Daniels – it is a woman who stood up for Ms Warmate, and a women who was later told that she did not do her job effectively. If this is the proven outcome of seeking justice against blatant acts of criminality, how then can anyone maintain that ‘reporting through the right channels’ is the only appropriate way to seek justice when it involves women’s issues?

The law rarely offers any sort of justice in Nigeria, and that is why many brave women, seeing a gap that needs to be filled, have opened up sexual assault referral centres or NGOs of their own or have become mediators through which other women can comfortably share their stories with the world. We’ve seen this from women like Uche Umolu who in her teenage years set up an anonymous Tumblr account through which survivors could speak about their trauma without any fear as they are the ones who take the brunt of society’s attack. It is us, who find ourselves navigating a society that does not protect us while having to show up as advocates for other women in moments like these. It’s an incredibly thankless job and many of these women are met with hate and vitriol for choosing to speak up for the marginalised in our society because the truth is only respected when it is interpreted through the archetypal male lens.

Last weekend, we all witnessed in real time how members of the STER community and well-known feminists like Kiki Mordi were constantly attacked for their involvement in the very high-profile case against D’banj and Seyitan Babatayo. In the past months, we’ve watched the case develop online from Seyitan herself taking legal action against D’Banj, with the continuing support of STER and legal representation from Mrs. Akeredolu (SAN) to being closed through what STER report to be “a private non-monetary agreement”. The case then took a horrific after another mediating party, Segalink took to Twitter to release a bunch of incendiary tweets calling out Kiki Mordi and her ‘coven of feminists’ for threatening himself and Seyitan, while in the process igniting an army of misogynistic men on the investigative journalist.

While Segalink claimed he was threatened by Kiki Mordi and that the investigative process was derailed by her and her cohorts, he was unable to back the claims up with any actual facts of this threatening and instead played on the incendiary nature of the case. It’s a known act that D’banj is a big public figure who is widely adored by his stans, who are known for troublesomely viewing their favourite stars though amoral lenses. By claiming feminists who sought justice for Seyitan were lying and manipulating the facts of the case, Segalink knowingly fed fire to the flames on a movement that is already widely criticised by the larger public for simply trying to ensure justice for women in a patriarchal society.

What followed next was horrific as Kiki Mordi and a host of other feminists were attacked and insulted online, escalating to the point where Kiki Mordi was threatened by a man who knew of her house address. For a woman who has only helped alleviate relief efforts for survivors and offered a prod into our tertiary institutions by highlighting the Sex for Grades scandal, this is grossly inappropriate and unfair. It’s no different from what’s happening in America with rapper, Talib Kweli who has been harassing the woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her for over two weeks.

Abusing the right to freedom of speech, social media has undoubtedly made targeted harassment and bullying rife, as it’s opened up a space where violent ideals, like doxxing and misogyny, are the common currency used as ammunition to target and harass women that go against the grain.

What people fall to realise is that social media has real-life consequences and in many parts of the world, there are laws and initiatives in place to combat social media trolls bent on causing and inciting violence. Talib Kweli’s Twitter account was suspended after weeks of harassing a black woman, so was Katie Hopkins’ account, but here in Nigeria, we don’t have these same protections. Now, as a larger percentage of the population becomes digitised, we are beginning to see the harmful effects of not having these online protections. Seeing as leaders like Senator Abbo would rather control what we post online by proposing laws that are by their very nature harmful, the road to proposing publicly beneficial protection laws for those that are targeted snd harassed online looks like a long and arduous one.

Our perception of womanhood is inherently faulty as we are often told that our mothers and their mothers were ‘strong and resilient’, feeding into this perception that women must suffer in silence and take on the violence without complaints. The strong Black woman trope needs to die, and with it the male hubris that fails to leave space for sensitivity to the dilemmas of women. I don’t know what it’s going to take for us to give Nigerian women the respect they deserve, but it has to happen. There is a painfully obvious lack of care when we talk about the violence that is perpetrated against (Black) women and given that social media vitriol is detrimental to our mental health, according to experts, we all have a collective social responsibility to make online spaces safe for everyone – especially women.

Featured image credits/BBC


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