TOWOBOLA, LIKE MANY OTHER WOMEN, ARE BEING ASSAULTED BY THE SYSTEM BUILT TO PROTECT THEM
Basking in the joy of having just concluded her compulsory youth service, Towobola, a graduate of the University of Ibadan was assaulted and mocked by representatives of the very institution made to guard and protect her life- the Police.
Towobola, an online store owner, was caught in the middle of a raid when police officers found her in the home of a suspected kidnapper and armed robber.
For a lady with dreams of a better life for her future, she had no inkling that the man who had invited her to his home was of questionable character. Therefore, the sudden appearance of the Police and the realization of what they have come to do left her scared out of her wits- a weapon the Police used against her.
After subduing the kidnap suspect, the officers handcuffed Towobola and accused her of sleeping with the alleged kidnapper.
While one of the police officers recorded, Towobola was asked about her sexual life, she answered questions regarding her virginity and how many men she has slept with. There she was, terrified, while the policemen mocked her. One of the men further taunted her, saying if he was to woo her, Towobola, like other girls would turn him down but would rather have sex with criminals.
Details of how long Towobola spent in police custody is unknown. However, the video of her travails in the hands of the Police is another testament to how vulnerable and endangered women are in a society that slut-shames the female gender.
The line of questioning indicated that the Police were not necessarily interested in finding out if Towobola was an accomplice. Instead, it seemed like questions being asked by a predator who had found its prey.
Following the outrage the viral video sparked online, the Nigeria police have arrested all the people involved in harassing Towobola. Police say Investigations are currently ongoing and the culprits in the viral video have been identified as ASP Tijani Olatunji, Inspector Gboyega Oyeniyi, CPL Aiyedun Akeem and a civilian named Ope Owoeye.
WOMEN HAVE ACCUSED THE NIGERIAN POLICE OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Towobola’s case once again brings to fore the issue of sexual assault by security officers. Last year, some women who were arrested at different nightclubs in Abuja for alleged prostitution said police officers raped and assaulted them before letting them go.
According to reports, the women who had no money to bail themselves were forced to sleep with the police officers as some form of payment.
“The officers picked us and slept with us one after the other because we did not have money to give them,” one of the women told Premium Times.
TACKLING THE PANDEMIC OF RAPE IN A SOCIETY THAT ENABLES IT
On June 12, the 36 Governors in Nigeria declared rape a National Emergency. Over 700 rape incidents were reported to the Police in the first five months of this year. Worrying as the numbers may seem, that is only the number of reported cases in a country where rape victims are too afraid to speak up and get justice.
Their fears are not unfounded as many victims of sexual harassment have faced humiliation, harassment, and unending stigmatization for daring to seek legal redress in a country where victim-blaming and slut-shaming rape survivors is prevalent.
Many victims of sexual assaults are pressured by policemen to settle out of court. Which further prevents victims from getting justice.
In February this year, a lawyer named Goodness Ibangah was assaulted by the Police in Enugu for resisting pressure from the Police to withdraw a rape complaint and settle out of court.
The lawyer, who accompanied a 21-year-old woman to file a rape report at the Enugu State Police Area Command on January 27, 2020, told Human Rights Watch that the police officers were hostile from the beginning.
According to Ibangah, the officers asked the young woman if she was raped “with or without consent” and rebuked her for speaking about rape at her age.
With police officers with mentalities like the ones in the viral video, and the ones at the police station Ms Ibangah met in Enugu, how would a victim of sexual assault be bold enough to file a report?
The Police, perhaps having identified this problem, decided to strengthen its gender-based unit across the States in the first week of June.
However, this move has not shown much improvement as Seyitan, a woman who accused Nigerian singer Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo popularly known as Dbanj was arrested after Dbanj filed a counterclaim against her.
Reports say she has backed down and would not be continuing with her case against Dbanj. Unfortunately, the public would never know the true reason behind her decision.
While some argue that rape and sexual assaults can only be proved by substantial evidence, the case of Monica Osagie shows that society is not ready for the fight against gender-based violence.
Monica Osagie had to resort to recording her lecturer who was pressuring her for sex to up her grades before she got help in 2018 when she was a postgraduate student of Obafemi Awolowo University.
Even with her substantial evidence, Osagie in an interview with CNN said she faced severe backlash from the public after the university made her identity public as a lot of people blamed her for “harassing” her lecturer identified as Richard Akindele.
Although Akindele eventually got sacked from OAU, and subsequently served a jail term, Osagie told Premium times in August 2018, that she could not get a job because of her notoriety.
“The last job interview I went for about three weeks ago, the guy asked if I was “ the Monica Osagie” and I said yes, and the next thing he said was sorry ma, we don’t need a whistle-blower!,” Monica revealed.
In a recent interview with Punch, Ms Osagie, who had to change her identity on social media to avoid backlash, said people called her a witch for exposing the man who harassed her. “Some people described me as a witch; they claimed that I destroyed his career and that since I was not a virgin, I should have given in to his demand to have sex with me.”
Others tried to emotionally blackmail her by begging her to let go for the sake of Akindele’s career. According to Monica, she was told to change her statement “because the lecturer had worked for his career for more than 20 years” and her speaking out would “destroy his legacy.”
They said if I came out, I might not be able to get married because of the stigma and harassment,” Osagie told Punch.
Ridiculous as the excuses above may sound, it, unfortunately, reflects the perception of the Nigerian society, where women are blamed for the sins committed by men.
And as Monica Osagie’s case proves, the society is unforgiving to women who dare to speak out against their oppressors.
This systemic wickedness has encouraged a culture of silence among rape victims and other Gender-based violence survivors.
Unfortunately, it has also emboldened more men, including law enforcement officers, to believe that they have the right over women’s bodies. The officers questioning Towobola were obviously not interested in how innocent or moral she is. They evidently believed they had a right to choose who she decides to have sex with- and there lies the bane of the problem of gender-based violence.