All clad in black shirts with placards of different messages against the monster: Rape, women Journalists hit the street of Abuja chanting, ‘Say No to Rape’, ‘We are tired’, ‘We are not Sex Toys, No means No’!
This was on the first day of a one week protest against the increasing reports of violence against women, specifically, Rape.
The threatening weather of that Wednesday morning could not stop us, from Print to Radio, T.V, and Online media.
Female Journalists converged on the FCT Secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Journalists Abuja to lend our voices to the campaign against rape after the country had been inundated by reports of sexual assault at alarming rates.
Outspoken women of the Nigerian Media Industry saw the protest as an opportunity to vent their anger against the increasing ugly stories on rape fast creeping into society.
Amazons of the media grabbed the opportunity to talk to listening ears.
In less than ten minutes of the protest walk along the famous Utako Road in Abuja, different voices of some men surged, respondi and countering the messages on the placards.
As we chanted, ‘Say No to Rape’, ‘No to Rape’, ‘No means No’, the voices responded saying: “You people should talk to the girls and women around you first, tell them to dress well. Tell them to wear clothes that will cover their body; tell them to stop keeping the thing away from us after collecting our money; tell the girls to wear what covers their chest”.
In groups, these men clustered around, watching the demonstrations against Rape.
Few respondents nodded in support of the protest walk, in the midst of the revolting responses. About two to three women abandoned their businesses to identify with the disapproval of assaults against the girl child and women. Some practically chanted ‘No to Rape’ in solidarity with the plight of the female folks.
As the protest walk continued, a set of women among us, broke off the movement line to react to side comments yelling: “What about the 3-month-old baby raped in Nasarawa State? What about the 80year old woman raped in Kano state along with 39 other women by a serial rapist? What about the 12year old girl in Ajah, Lagos State, gang-raped by four masked men? Were they all not well dressed?”
As much as we were determined to vigorously engage in the walk to the end, misery set in. I paused and muttered the words, “Nigeria, after all, is not the World headquarters of Rape, each year in the United States, an average of 433,648 victims of rape are recorded as the world’s highest in absolute terms.”
The Nawojians’ protest suddenly became an awareness campaign. They began to tutor observers on what rape means and how parents, guardians, and the society as a whole further complicate the problems of rape and its victims.
To the amazement of the female activists, a picky group among the onlookers, that almost succeeded in turning the protest to a lecture theatre, knew what rape meant as they quoted Nigerian laws on Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act(Section 1).
Some of them even understood the Criminal Code of Nigeria (Section 357 &358) which explains Rape as having unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, by force or by means of threats or intimidation.
Meanwhile, another set among us the “protesters” was deployed to the spot as circumstance warranted, clarifying that on no basis should a girl or a woman be raped irrespective of any situation.
The protesting women did not support the question of scantily dressed girls or women but rather owned up to the responsibility of clarifying the fact that no girl child be abused based on her attire.
Our audiences turned assessors on the issue of rape; they demanded reasons laws on rape are not being enforced.
They narrated some instances of rape where victims report cases to authorities and little or nothing was done about them.
They queried what the authorities hade done about the hundreds of rape cases reported to the Nigerian Police Force? Obviously none of us was ready to hold brief for the Police.
All we requested from the onlookers was for them to add their voices to our ‘No to rape ‘mantra and get our message. The audience further enquired about the level of sensitization on rape issues by the relevant authorities.
As we occupied the entrance of the well-known Utako Market in Abuja, drawing the attention of traders to the issue of rape, a passerby screamed, demanding from us in strong words “How do we make our daughters speak out on rape?”.
‘What a protest turned awareness programme’!, I thought aloud. Another observer said aloud: “Even the media, how much of rape cases have your media organizations reported?”.
Then we began to talk to ourselves on a possible retreat; we said it was time we ended the protest for the day.
The Nawojians filed out to retire to the NUJ FCT Secretariat, our initial take-off point for the demonstration. The debate resonated among us, on which way forward on the global social problem.
I forcefully dragged my fellow Nawojian, Gloria Essien, and I queried: What is the way to the end this endemic plague called Rape? Massive awareness or invoking relevant laws against rapists?
In the midst of it all I simply concluded that rape should never be the fault of the survivor under any circumstances, it is always the fault of the rapist.
I also concluded that Rape is a deliberate and conscious decision that must not be watched nor applauded.