I had read Michelle Matthew’s account on social media about the debacle that she helped prevent on the 3rd of May 2017 between the male students of Ireti Grammar School and the female students of Falomo Senior High School both in SW Ikoyi. The gist of the story is that the male students had planned to rape and sexually molest the female students as part of their graduation ‘rites’ from secondary school. Apparently, it is routine for the boys to rape the girls annually as part of their end-of-secondary-school celebrations. They planned to do this in broad daylight with both the target female students and the adult neighbours fully aware of what to expect. The helpless girls came prepared (as they needed to get on with the business of education and examination) walking in clusters and wearing various layers of spanks aka cycling shorts for protection.
A part of the piece that came alive as I read was where Michelle wrote “…my mind runs through and is still running through all I have seen. I have a friend who normally stops to help distressed persons or attend to traffic situations and I always warn him to desist and he will say someone has to do it…”
Very recently, I was in the same room with Michelle and I listened intently as she shared her experience of that Monday evening. As she described the horrifying event, she emphasized that she would normally walk away from riots, violence or any form of mayhem. I grimaced as I recalled the part of her posting on social media that I previously quoted because my tendency is usually to avoid trouble and encourage those dear to my heart to do same too. I try very hard not to stir the hornet’s nest, not to rock the boat!
I would normally walk away from anything that feels like chaos, stampede or mayhem… that is my instinct.
Thankfully, that Monday evening Michelle did not respond to her instincts but to her insides. Her friend’s words “…someone has to do it…” must have been a seed that blossomed that day. Only Heaven knows what would have happened to those young girls if she had ignored the noise, walked into her car, turned on her air conditioner, wound up her windows, secured her child, turned up the volume of her radio and driven off in the opposite direction- minding her own business! But she did not, that day she refused to walk away. She stood up for those girls.
Three pervading thoughts encapsulate my mind as I listened to that story that Saturday morning; “Why would teenagers or young adults consider violence and sexual assault a fun activity and an expression of freedom?” “Why would ‘responsible’ adults know that these acts occur every year and do nothing to prevent it?” “What effect does constant exposure to assault, terror and violence have on the psyche of the unprotected and vulnerable Nigerian?”
As I turn these questions around in my head, I come to some very disturbing conclusions especially regarding the reason ‘responsible’ adults in the neighbourhood would do nothing to prevent this annual occurrence. With my psychological background, I can hear the thoughts running through their minds: “… Don’t start what you can’t finish! They will come after you and your family! If anything happens to you who will take care of your children? The Police are probably in on it; these boys may have bribed them! They may be armed with weapons they got from people in authority! You don’t how well connected they are! What has happened to others who spoke up in the past, where are they now? Know yourself is not a curse o!”
When you have lived your entire life in a country where you have witnessed avoidable nightmares come true and watched your highest hopes crumble into bleak despondency, the tendency is to learn not to expect anything from anyone. Hugely disappointed by community, government and even family, most Nigerians have stopped feeling; getting by from day to day and simply existing. How else does one explain adults in a community standing by and watching a group of boys sexually assault young girls every year in broad daylight, and their only response is to take pictures with their telephone; perhaps to post on social media and gain some momentary popularity, significance or relevance?
The male student perpetrators are confident that no-one and nothing can stop them; the adult observers are convinced that nothing they do will matter or work and the young girls are bewildered and traumatized by their helplessness and vulnerability. The entire scenario reminds me of the bigger Nigerian picture. In my mind, the male students (The Perpetrators) represent the Nigerian authority figures that are sure that they can get away with anything that they do. The on-lookers/ observers represent the ‘unaffected’ Nigerian (presently unaffected by the prevalent danger) who goes about his/her business so sure that nothing they do will count or matter. The female students (The ‘affected’ Victims) that are running, gasping for air, looking for help, yet so sure no help will come represent the ‘affected’ Nigerian populace who are running and gasping for air, looking for help everywhere and yet so sure from experience that help will never come. They are punching the wind using every resource at their disposal including armed robbery, assassination, child trafficking, bribery, kidnapping, ‘obtaining under false pretences’ (419), assassinations, armed robbery, spiritual manipulations and black magic to protect themselves and put an end to the feeling of vulnerability – a desperate struggle for survival.
My heart broke in many places as I listened to Michelle M speaking that day and I wondered how many people will dare answer the questions I have been struggling with. Like Michelle and her friend have illustrated… SOMEONE HAS TO DO SOMETHING!!