Rape is something we rarely talk about in Nigeria. I think if we, as a society, talk more about this, acknowledge that it does happen, don’t dismiss victims, and help bring perpetrators to justice, only then we will be able to curb this. Especially when the perpetrators are family members or religious leaders.
I was faced with psychological and physical violence, dark trauma, and verbal abuse at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect me at an early age. Most times, I feel terrible and disgusted about my life. I am always timid, and easily frightened. And it did take me a long while to understand what I was going through, and to finally write about it. I am beginning to realize that I did nothing wrong. I did what I could to survive.
The fact that people shield behind religion, culture, and family ties in this part of the world and do a lot of unspeakable things, and no one is ready to talk about it, and deal with the situation is absurdly alarming.
I was a child living with my mum, dad and siblings in northern Nigeria. I was comfortable because I had all I needed. As a child, I was happy and full of life and energy.
It all started when I lost my father, and I was forced to go and live with my extended family. In the northern part of Nigeria, children are not allowed to be raised by only the mother once the father is no more. In most cases, the father’s family takes full custody of the children, with no legal binding. In my case, I was forcefully taken away from my mother. My siblings and I were shared among other family members.
From there, I went to an extended family member’s house. It was different from what I was used to. Life changed drastically. This was when my ordeal started. I wasn’t treated as a child anymore. I was tasked with many domestic chores, and I could barely get enough food to eat, which wasn’t worrisome to me – not until the abuse set in.
One night, it was a cold evening on a rainy day, and I had just finished my homework and house chores – doing the dishes and putting the house in order – in preparation for the next school day. I went to bed shortly after, but I woke up to the extended family member raping me. I was shocked but tried to brush it off as I thought that was a one-off. Little did I know that that was just the start. I was sexually abused by two family members from eight years old, through to fifteen years old. The abuse quickly escalated into physical whipping.
I remember going to school one day after I had been whipped by this family member. I couldn’t concentrate, and my body ached. I sat in the back seat, and one of my friends started crying as soon as she saw the scars and bruises on my body. I couldn’t tell her the actual reason behind the beating. Instead, I told her that I had offended my extended family members. I was sure that this reason wouldn’t be worrisome to my friend because in Nigeria beating a child is still an accepted way of disciplining them.
It got to the point where to survive this period of my life, I just had to stop resisting the abuse.
This eventually became my reality. I often ask myself ‘Why me?’ What had I done to deserve this? There was no one I could confide in. I dreaded nights, weekends, and holidays because I was stuck in a house I hated. My school became my happy place because I could be among my classmates – and be happy.
I was able to leave after I had completed my secondary education at the age of 16. That was the best decision I ever took for myself. It was indeed tough, but much more rewarding. For the very first time in my life, I felt liberated. But then I wished I could erase this agony from my memory, I guess I have to live with it for the rest of my life.
I was chatting one day with my roommates at university. Most of them had their first sexual experience through rape, and mostly with a family member. How disturbing – yet, sadly this has been happening in so many Nigerian homes. Too often, the women protect the men. They do not want such news to come out about their supposedly perfect homes.
I have come to the conclusion that to stop the widespread of rape and violence against women and children, we must keep raising awareness and help people recognize that a child's mental well-being is more crucial than preserving family ties or religious convictions.