Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
Trigger warning: This interview contains descriptions of sexual violence.
It’s been a heavy week for Nigerian women across the country. Most especially for survivors of sexual violence. A couple of days ago, news broke that Vera Uwaila Omozuwa a 22-year-old girl who had gone to read in a church was brutally raped and killed. Shortly after news broke about Farishina, a 12-year-old girl who was raped by 11 men. For the woman in this week’s what she said these stories have moved her to open up about her own experience.
“Hi Toke I sent you an email last month, but I didn’t follow up. Social media has been very triggering for me today, so I thought I’d reach out again to share my story.”
“I’m sorry I missed your email”
“It’s no problem.”
Where would you like to start?
Whew, I don’t even know. I haven’t talked about this in years. Plus it feels weird to be talking to a complete stranger, no offence. I’ve only ever told one other person.
I understand, how old were you?
It happened when I was 17, I’m 22 now, so that was seven years ago. It was my Uncle, my dad’s elder brother.
Where did it happen?
It happened at home, in his house, in his room. I call it home because we lived in a sort of communal setup. One big happy family in one very big compound. We were always in each others houses doing one thing or the other. There are 5 houses in the compound my Uncle’s is the biggest, so we tended to flock to it more.
Also, my grandfather is dead and he’s the first son so he’s sort of the pseudo leader of the family. There was always something going on at his every weekend for as long as I can remember. It was always one party or the other.
But I can remember every single detail of this particular day. It was a Saturday, April 20th, 2013. Around 5:00 am that morning, my mum woke me to come to help them prep in my Uncle’s house. He was hosting some society meeting.
My mum had told me about it the day before but I was hoping she’ll forget. I already hated going to his house. He used to do this strange thing where he’d slap my ass after I greeted him for something. He made it seem like it was innocent, like a thing you’d do to a little child. But I was 17 and it felt very out of place to me.
So I pretended I was really deep asleep, hoping she’d go without me. But she wasn’t having it. Every time someone hosted something in the compound all the women had to go and help. If my mum had gone without me my aunties would have complained.
We were cooking at the back of the house, I was helping to put food in packs for security men, drivers those kinds of people when one of his wives told me to go up and ask him what he wanted for breakfast. This was around 7:30 am. When I went up I stood at the door but he asked me to come in further, that he couldn’t hear what I was saying. His room was very large. I stepped in a little and he shouted at me in Isoko that I should close his door so that mosquitoes won’t enter his room. He asked me to come in and shut the door behind me so I did.
Then he asked me to sit at the corner of his bed while he got ready so that we’d go downstairs together. He was wearing trousers and a singlet and holding a shirt in his hand. I thought it was strange but I didn’t want him to report me to my dad that I was rude. So I sat down backing him. Next thing I knew he was in front of me pushing me back into the bed. I was so confused, I didn’t process what was happening until he touched my legs. I was wearing a sort of kaftan and he was pushing it up. I started saying he should stop, then I started shouting it. He hit me across my face and turned me over pushing my face into the bed. I kept screaming but it was muffled. And then he raped me. I screamed I cried throughout. He didn’t react, he didn’t even tell me to keep quiet. When he was done he got up and went into his bathroom, he didn’t say a word to me. I just lay there the way he left me. When he got back he snapped at me to get up, go wash up and head downstairs to help. So I did in a daze. By the time I came out of the bathroom, he was already downstairs.
I don’t have the words to explain how sorry I am this happened to you.
What did you do when you got downstairs?
I told my mum that my period had just started and I needed to go home. She thought I was just trying to dodge work so she was very angry at me, but she let me go. You know what was weird? I didn’t cry after. Once I got back home I just stayed in my room staring at the ceiling for God knows how long. The next thing I remember was my mum calling for me that I could stop faking my period and come out of my room that the work had finished.
Did you tell her about it?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t think she’d believe me then and I don’t think she’ll believe me now. My Uncle is like a small god in that place. He funds a lot of things from people’s school fees to the NEPA bills. People tend to react violently when you attempt to tear down their god. Till today I keep wondering if anyone heard me. His house was very large but I still think it’s almost impossible for no one to have heard me crying and screaming. But when I came out of the room no one asked me anything. No one asked me why had been in his room for so long, or why I was even coming out of his room alone. Or why I clearly looked like I had been crying. My face was even a little red from where he hit me. My mum didn’t ask about it, no one did. It was like it didn’t happen. I remember waking up the next day and wondering if it was a dream. Then I saw him outside and the reality of the whole thing came rushing back.
How was it like living in such close quarters with your rapist?
It was terrifying. I kept expecting it to happen again. I spent all my time and energy hiding from him. Not even just him, all my uncles. Nowhere felt safe. If we gathered at his house to prep for something, I’d pick a task that’ll keep me as far away from the men as possible. Ironically, my family noticed. My Aunties used to ‘tease’ me if you can call it that. About how I washing from all the men in the compound because I was growing small breast. But I shouldn’t worry. No one was looking at me like that. The funny thing is he barely even acknowledged me after it happened. There were many kids in the compound when I was forced to greet him. He’d just nod at me vaguely and look at me like he was trying to place who I was.
Did you ever tell anyone at all?
I didn’t tell anyone until I was 20. A very close friend was telling me about how she got raped by her lesson teacher when she was 14. So I shared mine with her. We held each other crying and cursing our rapists for hours. It was the first time I had ever felt any kind of reprieve about the incident. I had always just shoved it into a deep dark hole in my mind. I couldn’t have told any other family members, because no one would have believed me. My family is deeply traditional. Apart from the fact that my Uncle is their god, women are second class citizens to them. Girls belong in the kitchen boys in the offices that kind of thing. I feel like the only reason I got sent to University is that I’m an only child. If I had told anyone I’d have only increased my suffering. The only thing I could do was plot my escape and 2 years ago it finally happened. I came to Lagos for NYSC and I never went back.
Where’s your Uncle now?
He’s dead. He. Had a heart attack and died a couple of months ago. My parents asked me to come home for the funeral but I didn’t. It caused a very big fight, my dad still isn’t speaking to me.
How did it make you feel?
Nothing I felt absolutely nothing. I didn’t feel glad or happy or angry he was dead. I felt the same way I’ve felt since the day he raped me. Like someone took a piece of me away. Him dying didn’t fix that, I still don’t feel whole. People think that when your rapist gets put in jail or dies you finally get some kind of closure, justice is served or some shit like that. But it’s all bullshit, him dying doesn’t take away the fact that he raped me. It doesn’t take away the guilt I feel about not speaking up. Because he was probably raping God knows how many of my cousins too.
It’s sick. I mean we were all just there for his taking, like chickens in a coop. But we were forming one big happy family. I know people knew what he was doing but no one ever said thing. No one ever treated him different, in fact, they all reverenced him. I mean my speaking would probably not have saved them but I’ll never know. There’s no justice for rape survivors, just don’t fucking rape us.
If you’ve found this interview or Uwa and Farishina’s cases triggering, imagine how much worse sexual violence survivors must feel in these times. We need to lend our voices to decry sexual violence, but it’s also important for us to do all we can to help. And here’s how you can start. Donate to organisations and causes doing the hard work of providing reprieve in so many forms for women who have been sexually violated or abused. Here’s a list you can start with.