12 June 2016

Misogny, Domestic Violence and Nigerian Men

Two reasons account for this article. The first was the brouhaha generated when the Sunday Telegraph chose to headline the appointment in 2014 of Rona Fairhead to lead the BBC this way - “Mother of Three poised to lead the BBC”. Commentators argued that the Sunday Telegraph failed to take into consideration the fact that she was a former CEO of the Financial Times with profits of £55 million a year, that she holds a double first in Law from Cambridge, and MBA from Harvard. She had also worked at ICI, Bain Consulting, Morgan Stanley and serves as a non-executive director in large corporations such as HSBC, The Economist Group and PepsiCo. It is difficult to determine whether the Sunday Telegraph was trying to be disingenuous with its headline; I suppose this was probably their way of celebrating the first woman appointed to lead the BBC. However, what is not in doubt is that the headline would have been different had a man been selected to head the BBC.

The second event that propelled me to write was the release of the video that showed Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens player hit his then fiancée, now wife, Janay with a ferocious punch that made her pass out inside a hotel lift. What was more galling about the video was his indifference to the almost lifeless body of the woman he professed to love.

These two incidents got me thinking, not about American Ray Rice’s behaviour or a British newspaper’s subtle chauvinistic headline, but about the very serious level of misogyny and domestic abuse in Nigeria. I have no doubt that this is not uncommon to other countries, but in many of them, the law protects women. Almost in every culture and sub-culture in Nigeria however, there is a subtext that encourages putting women in their place. There appears to be a vicious and routine habit of de-personalising women and stamping on their rights. This subjugation of women has been successfully perpetuated partly because, from childhood, we let boys know they are more important than girls. Girls on the other hand are made to believe their worth is measured in their ability to cook and take care of their husband and children. For example, in some parts of Nigeria women still do not have inheritance rights to their father or husband’s assets. Incredibly, in some tribes, a wife is made to drink from the bath-water collected from washing her dead husband’s body. Worse still, family members often chase a wife out of her marital homes soon after a husband’s death.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we consistently send out the message that women are primarily objects, first for men's gratification, and secondly their possession. Because of this tragic narrative, our society is rife with wife battery, domestic assault, child marriage, extreme control and rape. Talking about rape, if a woman should visit a man, it is generally accepted that he is within his rights to force her to bed. Many people would not consider this as rape. What was she doing in his house if she did not want it? The twisted logic is that a woman that visits a man must be morally bankrupt. In that case she deserves whatever happens to her, never mind the horror and emotional damage of being raped. In Nigeria, rape happens everywhere. Male students rape female students in our universities and schools, male domestic staff rape female domestic staff. Because of our sheer indifference, neither of these two is ever taken seriously. This creates the mind-set that women are for the taking. The victims also usually do not know what to do or where to report.

As you can see, the scales are heavily weighed against women in Nigeria. We treat the unmarried ones as if they are diseased. We define the married ones as someone’s wife, not usually by their name or personal achievement. This is an institutionalised phenomenon that is often done impulsively, even by women. Among the illiterate male, women fare even worse. A friend’s driver derogatorily referred to women as ‘people who pee from behind.’ Apparently this, in his view, makes women sub-human and certainly inferior to men. I was stunned, and forced to admit we have a big problem.

Many of our men take decisions without consulting their wives, because unlike siblings, a wife is not fully considered as family. These men love the respect from their wives, but could never countenance their wife calling them by their first name. For many men, the exchange of animism or idol worshipping for Christianity is acceptable, the exchange of patriarchy for equality is however beyond the pale. They just cannot stomach it. Incredibly, many of these men are leaders in their churches and mosques. How a person derives fulfilment from the misery of a fellow human being is beyond me, none the least a woman he marries.
In my opinion, five things stand out in the systematic way women are subjugated in Nigeria:

  • ·       Ownership - Women are psychologically abused by their husbands and are often kept in the dark about assets and properties. Their views are also totally disregarded because wives are themselves regarded as part of their husband’s chattels.
  • ·       Violence - Nollywood films routinely show women being beaten by their husbands – a tacit admission, and one may add, approval that beating a wife is not out of place. Some men are quick to say ‘I have never laid my hands on my wife’ as if they should be awarded the Nobel Prize for being different from the norm.
  • ·       Control - Women who are lucky to escape physical abuse suffer from aggressive control by their husbands. This includes what they can wear or not wear, whether they should take up a job or not, the type of business they are permitted to do, who they talk to and friends they could keep etc. Some children suffer too in the process of their dad trying to ‘teach’ their mum who is boss.
  • ·       Sexual Exploitation – Many of our anecdotes, stories, proverbs, sayings and actions promote and encourage the objectification of a woman’s body, and the chronicle that they are to be sexually exploited.
  • ·       Workload - Many men hide under the covering of culture, and sometimes religion to overwhelm their wives with excessive work, not minding if they are  able to cope. almost as if they are slaves

Other behaviour that we instinctively adopt without realising to be misogynistic include:

  • We instinctively call a woman 'asewo' (prostitute)
  • We instinctively do not trust women with driving, leadership, emotional intelligence, and we are unable to see that this is linked to our treatment of women.
  • We instinctively suspect women when their husbands die.
  • We instinctively demand that a wife appease her husband even when it is clear she had been wronged and her husband is blatantly being nasty. The belief is after all, men would always be men.
  • We instinctively blame a woman for the misdemeanours of a wayward child.
  • We instinctively task mothers with the educational progress of their children.

In our society, the subjugation of women is worse than racism. It is ever present, it is rampant and as stated above, condoned by religion, tradition, culture, and very sadly, even by some women. For example, in certain parts of Nigeria, it is culturally acceptable to ‘give’ young girls, like mere presents, as wives to men that are much older; men they neither knew nor love. It has also become an existing part of our culture, partly as a result of our inefficient economic system, that a huge number of our young girls have become sexual preys to ‘moneyed’ men, old enough to be their grandfather. Our political leaders have buried their heads in the sand and feign ignorance of this injustice, forgetting as the Yorubas would say that the person who helps a thief to bring a keg of palm oil from the rooftop is an accomplice in thievery.

We are all aware of the former governor turned senator who brazenly married a 13 year old in flagrant disregard to the law of our land. Even our highly educated and ‘polished’ Senate President, Bukola Saraki doesn't’ see anything wrong with this. We know of southern obas and northern emirs in their seventies and fifties who accept teenage girls as gifts into their ever expanding harem. We turn a blind eye too. On the rare occasions when these are reported, Lamido Sanusi comes up with a sobbing and pathetic pontifical riposte of co-operation between kingdoms, as if the 18 year-old girl he married at 54 really has a say in her marriage. It is clear from the ‘respected’ emir’s statement that the young lady is a mere trading item in the rapprochement between two ancient dynasties.

Regrettably, some of the greatest proponents of misogyny and abusers of women are religious leaders. We hear pastors who preach the subjugation of women and the need for them to know their place in society. The undertone of this assertion is highly disturbing. If it's ever possible to check the mindset of some of the most respected and outwardly gentlemanly Nigerian, one may find he probably harbours the belief that women should be put in their place.

Even agencies of government and some of our laws and regulations are complicit. Until recently, a woman has to seek her husband’s permission before she can obtain a passport in her name. She also has to go all the way to Abuja to obtain a new passport in her married name irrespective of where she lives in Nigeria. We kept quiet about this too.

Given the status quo above, many of our men find it very difficult to respect any woman irrespective of her position in society; after all, a guy once opined about a woman  'is it not a man that mounts her?' I have no doubt that we need to start lancing this festering boil of dehumanising women.


It is highly concerning that we fail to see that the violence and abuse perpetrated against women in our country has roots in religious and cultural bigotry. I am personally concerned by the increasing ruthlessness, wickedness and anger directed by our young men against women. Only four years ago a husband brutally murdered his young banker wife in Lagos. This received widespread media attention because it happened in Lagos. The reality is that there are probably several cases all over Nigeria, aided and supported by a society that sends the message, clearly and repeatedly, that women are sexual objects for men’s gratification and possession.

It isn't that Nigerian men are necessarily worse than others, what is shameful is our inability to acknowledge what happens in our midst, our shamelessness about it and the fact that we are not doing anything to redress it. This sin of indifference is almost as bad as the evil itself.

Given the pervasiveness of this evil, the rights of women in our society must certainly become the civil rights issue of our time and I believe, we men must be in the vanguard of championing this cause. We must begin to speak up for our daughters, sisters and mothers. The injustices they suffer should incense us all and at the same time energise us to want to do something about it. We must preach it from our pulpits, teach it at home, enshrine and enforce it with our laws. We can no longer pay lip service to this anymore. Our obas, emirs, and igwes must teach their people. No doubt, some men have a vicious and maniacal hatred of women and may not want to change easily. Our lawmakers must ensure that our laws are employed to protect women from the hands of such people. 

The following are a few steps that can help us on the way to fight for our women:

  • The defence and rights of women should be enshrined in law. This will cover harassment, rape, female inheritance, education, inheritance for wives, child marriage etc.
  • We should set up a fully equipped enforcement agency present in all the states and local governments with the powers to prosecute offenders.
  • We must prosecute all forms of domestic violence
  • Given that many of our men do not see rape as a 'big deal', we must urgently develop a process of education on rape and its consequences.  This process should also cover what rape victims should do and where they can get help and support.
  • All schools, universities, companies, religious, corporate and social organisations, churches, mosques must be made to develop policies on sexual harassment, rape and gender discrimination. This should cover how they wish to educate their members, and what they would do in the event of any contravention. A quarterly report on any incident should also form part of the submission to their respective boards of management.
  • We must include respect for women rights in our school curriculum to ensure that we develop a new generation not tainted by the past.
  • We must develop laws that punish revenge porn and its publication.
  • We must ensure all Nigeria girls go to school and have quality education at least up to secondary school level.
  • We must set up a domestic abuse register for people who have been convicted of the crime. Women would be able to find out if their boyfriend or husband-to-be has a history of domestic abuse.
  • We must develop a system of educating society through our homes, school curriculum, and religious bodies about women rights. 
  • We must stop forthwith the very discriminatory practice by the Nigerian Immigration Service that forces women to have to go to Abuja to change their passport to their married name.
  • We must definitely stop using religion, tradition and culture to mask our bigotry.

Women rights must become the civil rights issue of our time. Although many will raise eyebrows, however the defence of women should not be seen as a destruction of men. It is not a zero sum game.

Finally, I would like to borrow the words of Jesus encouraging us to ‘do unto others as you want them to do to you’. Let us therefore treat our women with the same dignity and compassion with which we want to be treated. We must do right by ourselves and for the sake of our daughters and sisters by turning away from the hatred and subjugation of women. Whatever your justification, it is evil and it must be stopped. It is time to stand up for our women and their human rights. 

I enjoin you all to start from your respective homes. PostcardfromLagos.com

Photocredit
Picture 1 of Susan Peters courtesy of Nigeriamovienetwork.com 
Picture 2 courtesy of Romancemeetslife.com 

09 April 2016

TINTED CAR WINDOW PERMIT & OTHER PUBLIC AGENCIES' SCAMS IN NIGERIA

It is unpardonably hot in Lagos. There is hardly electricity. Fuel is scarce too. This unholy triad of heatwave, lack of electricity and no fuel means that life, at the moment, is unbearably difficult for most Nigerians. The queue at petrol stations can be miles long making traffic impossible everywhere. Electricity would have mitigated against heat, the same way availability of fuel would have lessen the burden of lack of electricity. Sadly, we only get one or two hours of electricity in a day if we are lucky.

Apart from the above issues, economic activity is at a record low nationwide. Companies are laying off staff left, right and centre. Many who still have their jobs have not been paid for months, including some government employees and pensioners. I know of two companies that have not paid their staff for more than one year. The naira is in free-fall translating to expensive imports. Given that we import most things, the effect on the average man on the street is monumental.

You will expect that with all these multifaceted problems, our government and its agencies would be busy devising strategies to make life a little bit easier for people. Not so in Nigeria. A responsible government should for example be advising its citizens on how to handle the heatwave - what to wear, how to keep hydrated, perhaps even sending out water tanks to assist in cooling people on the streets. Not so in Nigeria.

It is at this hard and uncertain time that the Nigerian Police Force suddenly realised that tinted window permit issued to motorists needed updating. Although they came out with the usual nonsensical security reasons behind this, everyone knew that it's yet another extortion strategy for the police and its sister evil agencies – the FRSC and VIO. To obtain this new permit, which is ostensibly free, you need to have your biometrics taken. Guess what! This can only be done in one centre in Lagos, a city of over 10 million people. If this sounds like a joke to you, wake up! It isn't. The reality of Nigeria is that practically every public agency including the police, the passport office, FRSC, the civil service, conspires to daily frustrate Nigerians. And the government stands idly by. Our government and its agencies appear to be crudely but determinedly contemptuous of the people.

This is not the first time Nigerians are witnessing this type of shadow chasing and criminal injustice. A few years ago, I watched the then head of FRSC, Osita Chidoka argued on television that migrating to a new number plates system for the second time in three years will reduce road accidents by 5000 a year. I felt he was having a laugh, but the suckers at the national assembly fell for it. Everyone else knew the change was an outlet to enrich his pockets and those of his powerful sponsors at the expense of hapless citizens.  After all, this is Nigeria.

There are so many questions that begs for answers about the new tinted permit exercise:

·       Why is there any need for tinted window permits in the first place? The argument could be made for totally blacked out vehicles (tinted windscreen and front windows), but not for factory fitted tint on back seat windows. 
·       Why does the permit have to be renewed once it has been issued? The only plausible answer is that this is a money making exercise for some people at the top.
·       Why is there a need to capture biometrics for this type of permit?  In any case, the FRSC, INEC, passport office, banks, mobile phone companies have already captured our biometrics. Is there no way all these agencies can talk to each other? What about the security implications of having peoples data everywhere?
·       Why is it that we have to renew our driving licence every three years? By the time you go through FRSC process and eventually obtain the licence, it is usually only valid for a maximum of two years.
·       Similarly, Why do we have to renew our passports every five years when it is 10 for most countries? Again an opportunity for corruption at the detriment of poor citizens.
·       Why is our government indifferent to all of these state-sanctioned extortions and corruption?
·       Why do our so-called representatives at local, state and federal levels allow these agencies of government to terrorise citizens?
·       Why are our churches, religious bodies, obas, emirs and igwes silent at the predicament of poor Nigerians?

I have a sneaky feeling that nothing will happen and that the police and the FRSC will get away with this exercise. The story of Nigerian is one of disappointment and betrayal. There is a conspiracy of silence from the media, politicians, the church and civil society. It isn't an organised conspiracy but often that of indifference and ignorance. Like every other Nigerian, I suspect that, in grappling with the challenges of the country, it may not even cross the minds of these groups that they have a duty of care. For some, it is a conspiracy of survival. They do not want to be labeled so they close their eyes to the suffering of the people. Others benefit from the chaos, so why change it. In our inefficient system, some people get their fuel, driving licence and passport delivered to them at home. Why bother about everyone else? I have observed that Nigeria turns people into heartless creatures. It is hardly surprising therefore that most Nigerians distrust and detest every agency of government.

This is my own attempt at shouting for an intervention from those in authority. Please act! Not just regarding the permit, but also on the wider matters raised above. These things do not make sense. Help us to build trust in our public agencies and institutions. We are in such a difficult situation that people are losing faith in Nigeria. I have never observed this widespread despair and hopelessness in people. I was surprised today when the pastor of my church who usually was an advocate for staying and building Nigeria changed tune. He said, he is grateful he had no options. If he did, he would not hesitate to leave the country immediately. I understood him.

Finally, I do not believe that the president should have to resolve all problems, but in this case, I have no alternative than to say, Mr President, can you please have a look.




28 March 2015

NIGERIA ELECTIONS 2015 - THE QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU VOTE

Your vote is the rare opportunity you have to determine, to some extent, your destiny and those of your children. So before you vote, these are some of the questions you should ask yourself:
  • Is your life better today than four years ago?
  • Are the lives of Nigerian children better today than four years ago?
  • If there were to be a medical emergency in the middle of the night, would you or your family member be able to call an ambulance to get you to a hospital where you will be guaranteed quality treatment that is also free at the point of need?
  • Do you know the federal government's policy on education or health?
  • Do you feel that the President, the Governor of your state, your constituency senator, your constituency’s member of the House of Representative or your local member of the House of Assembly represent your interest?
  • Apart from during national elections, do you have any means or opportunity of holding any of these people to account?
  • Do you believe that any of the above people have never been involved in corruption or shady activities that would have led to their resignation or perhaps landed them in jail in other societies?
  • Do you believe any of the above people i.e. President, Governor etc see themselves as servants of the people or behave as such?
  • Do you think any of them are consumed by the passion to fight for your cause and for the poor and weak in our society?
  • Do any old people in your family who have never worked for any government body, agency, school or civil service receive pension from the government?
  • Do you feel the police protect you from criminals and uphold justice?
  • Have you found it easy to renew a passport, obtain a drivers’ license or any other benefits of citizenship in the past four years?
  • Has your Senator, member of the House of Representative, or House of Assembly member campaigned for the funding of the hospital in your local area?
  • Has he/she vigorously fought for a new hospital to be built in your ward or city?
  • Have new primary and secondary schools been built in your locality as a direct result of the effort of any of the above politicians?
  • Has your representative helped to improve the transport situation in your area? 
  • Can you mention one policy or issue that your constituency’s Senator, member of the House of Representative or House of Assembly member has helped to bring to the statute book? 

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘No’, then use your vote to get rid of them in this elections irrespective of the party they may belong or sentiments such as ethnicity or religion. This way, the next lot would learn to better represent you.

17 March 2015

2015 ELECTIONS - WHY NIGERIANS SHOULD STOP DANCING AND START THINKING

A few Sundays ago, we had just left church. Rather than go home, we made a short detour to one of the side streets where assorted fruits and other food items are varied and cheaper than what obtains where we lived. Our children were sound asleep in the back of the car oblivious to their parents’ shenanigans. Everyone on the street appeared to be haemorrhaging sweat as the scorching sun unrepentantly rained down its heat. My wife alighted from the car to buy fruits at one of the stalls. I drove a bit further to make a U-turn.

Then I saw her. She looked worried and unkept. She had a baby on her back held with a tiny ifunja. Just like the mother, the baby whose sex I could not make out looked rather unkept too.  In Lagos, there are many people who are destitute and poor, however, this lady stood out to me. She looked at me as she approached. I felt awkward and she walked away. My car was bang in the middle of the road at a T-Junction. I summoned up courage and hooted to get her attention, she glanced back, I hooted again and beckoned to her to come. As she approached, she began to cry, I offered her money, and she thanked and prayed for me, ending with the customary name of Jesus. After she left, I felt I should have done more, perhaps ask about her general well-being and possibly take her number. I didn't. I regret not doing so.

There are many people in the same situation of this woman and her child. Our governments – local, state and national have no strategy for them. None at all. This is why I am a bit vacant about the 2015 elections and the brouhaha it has generated. Everyone appears to be talking about it. The discussions may appear unintelligent, lame and parochial at times, however, Nigerians deserve an Oscar for being consumed by the elections.

What gets me worried is that our governments have no strategy for anyone who has the misfortune of developing cancer or any other serious diseases in our country. How our politicians sleep at night is a marvel to me. In 2015, Nigeria still has no nationwide emergency telephone line. So in the event of a fatal accident, many of the casualties bleed to death. In the last month alone, two young people in their twenties have received the distressing news that their eye problem is inoperable because of the prolonged damage to it. Both have had no recourse to medical help until a charity with which I am involved intervened. Our politicians on the other hand, think nothing of going abroad for medical attention and flaunting it before the people. Of course, they know that Nigerians cannot fight back. Having experienced prolonged oppression; the people are incapable of knowing they have rights let alone fight for these rights. Most Nigerians are battling to survive and eat, fending off death on the road, in the hands of armed robbers, ‘one-chance’ agents and ritualists and from every other issue with which they are confronted. They have little or no strength left to know that the government owes them a duty of care for good roads, drinkable water, electricity, and security.

Everyone knows this too, from church leaders to traditional kings, the intelligentsia and journalists. We all know that our governments are evil and are only interested in their personal well-being. However, all of these people too – journalist, church leaders, traditional rulers - are fighting for their mouths and survival. In other countries, the media are on the side of the public and they hold the government to account on every front. In Nigeria, Reuben Abati, probably the most prolific Nigerian  columnist joins a corrupt and visionless government and turns native.

Last month, Bishops of the Church of England published a 52 page open pastoral letter calling for political parties to come up with “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be” before the general elections in May. Their letter touched on such issues as ‘education, ‘who is my neighbour’, ‘political neutrality’, ‘what voters should ask of candidates’, ‘the role of the state’, ‘role of family’, ‘the economy’, ‘poverty and inequality’, ‘unemployment’, ‘health’, ‘welfare reform’, ‘immigration’, ‘environment’ and many other issues. In Nigeria, like little children meeting Father Christmas, our church leaders become excited whenever the president and other politicians visit their churches to canvass for votes. Some of them believe that a politician’s visit is a measure of their success in ministry.  

In other countries, voters take their politicians to task on the issues they are passionate about. In Nigeria, the electorate are mostly illiterates (including those who have a degree) and do not have the intellectual capacity to take a politician to task. Instead they fawn over politicians when they meet them. The Nigerian electorate have developed a Stockholm syndrome loyalty to the politicians that colonise and encage them. Don't take my word for it, watch any of the rare occasions our politicians meet electorates on TV or read any of the political threads online. What you hear from the electorates are “your excellency sir”, “ride on my president”, “we are with you”. You will also see commentators throwing abusive words against each other along ethnic or religious lines. Typically, the important issues are neglected. Anyone that brings them up is shut down with a pseudo-religious abuse.

As election 2015 approaches, our politicians have been gracing our television and our streets in over the top clothes and laughable postures to ask for our votes. They are distributing rice and cooking oil to poor people and hosting community parties. Some are buying votes for 5000 naira. The politicians know that poor people are not bothered about the future, they are concerned about what they will eat today. This is the way politics have been played and our politicians are in no mood to change the status quo. It suits them perfectly.

The election posters show how little regard the politicians have for the electorates. Many of them have no serious policy agenda. They must believe the way to win an election is by looking good in pictures or posing in white jackets and massive geles. Instead of serious policies, Mrs Tinubu’s campaign slogan is “Restoration 2015, prosperity for all.” What this means is beyond me. She knows she doesn’t really have to campaign, the people are gullible. She would win. Goodluck Jonathan has hired every space on the Internet with GEJITES, TAN, etc. to convince us of how many first he has notched as Nigerian president including the first president to have a Facebook page etc. Unfortunately we can hardly see any of the so-called achievements though we open our eyes wide. The person who is almost certainly going to win in my senatorial district looks like a mafia boss in his campaign poster. I have been informed that he really is.

So what are the real issues?

Health - Why do we regularly see on the pages of our newspaper appeals by individuals for funding to have a kidney transplant in India? Is there no government in Nigeria? I am not advocating for governments to rise up and fund such individual cases, the fact that the people concerned are forced to seek help through the media shows a fundamental failure of our health system. What is the strategy of the minister and commissioners for health for comprehensive health care for every Nigerian?

Education – How many ministers and politicians send their children to school in Nigeria. Why are our politicians mortgaging the future of this country by neglecting education and allowing it to slide over the years? We have no technological basis, our university students live in ghetto hostels, their lecturers are not well paid and unappreciated so they do the barest minimum. Last month, I was at Yaba College of Technology where a generator on the second floor of one of their buildings spewed out noise and fume. No one can learn a thing in an environment like that.

What does the Minister of Education really do?

Welfare – What is the government’s strategy for the likes of the woman I saw that Sunday afternoon and for her child. This is not a federal affair only, What is Lagos State doing? There are several of those women in the country, some begging for money on the roads, some married to an abusive husband if only for protection and provision, some are supported by family, some slave away for 10,000 a month cleaning toilets and offices. Nigerians must think carefully before they vote.

Employment – The federal government’s strategy towards unemployment is a joke. Goodluck Jonathan set up SURE-P to get young people to paint the side of our highways green white and green. He still hasn't sacked Abba Moro, his Minister for Interiors who last year, caused the deaths of several young people through a bogus employment drive. Who is holding the president to account? Not the press, not the so-called ministers of God whose god is their belly.

For me the greater issue is not even the presidential and gubernatorial elections. I feel every Nigerian should be more involved in who represents them at the state and federal assemblies. The test is very simple. If you have never seen the member of your state house of assembly, house of representative or senator, whoever they may be, vote them out this election. The next lot will learn to represent you better.

So rather than get animated about the elections, I wish we all can ask these questions and use our vote to determine the future of our children’s children.

I urge you to do so.