In April, a 48-year-old actor, allegedly big in the Yoruba language film world, Olarenwaju Omiyinka aka Baba Ijesha, was arrested for sexually molesting a 14-year-old girl whom he had allegedly been assaulting since she was seven. He was caught on tape, and more importantly, he confessed to it. In July, a producer, Yomi Fabiyi, whose name I’ve just learned, released a movie about the case (still in court) , using the real names of all involved and insinuating that there was a mutual sexual relationship between the minor and Baba Ijesha, and that Baba Ijesha was set up by the girl’s guardian, Princess, who had Baba Ijesha arrested. Enough noise was made by right-thinking people and YouTube has pulled the movie, ‘Oko Iyabo,’ and TAMPAN (Theatre Arts and Motion Picture Practitioners’ Association of Nigeria) has also apparently summoned Fabiyi to appear before the committee on 11th July, 2021.
The saddest aspect of the Baba Ijesha case is the public vilification of the victim and her advocates. Princess has been accused of everything from rabble rousing to obstinacy by her colleagues. In a BBC Yoruba interview, a 78-yearold actress, Iyabo Rainbow, said she had advised Princess not to escalate matters by taking Baba Ijesha to court. According to a translation of parts of the interview in The Premium Times, she complained that she did “everything humanly possible… (and) urged (Princess) not to let this matter get louder, but she refused.” Per the same interview, she advised TAMPAN to “try every possible means to settle things amicably between the factions, whether Baba Ijesha is guilty or not.” Tufiakwa!
In Nigeria, to be sexually molested is a mark of shame on the victim to be hidden at all costs. That is why ‘elders’ would rather see a perpetrator of rape go free than see the victim get their deserved justice. One of the most vocal advocates of Baba Ijesha’s victim and whose name lends Fabiyi’s illadvised movie its title is a 43-year-old actress called Iyabo Ojo. Ojo has also been extensively and publicly criticised by some of her colleagues.
Most ridiculous is an attempt by a man called Sir Koro to shame her for being an alleged rape victim. In an Instagram video he made, he asks: “Do you know that Aunty Iyabo has been raped before? Please don’t be offended Aunty Iyabo, it is because I know how pained you are over the matter. The secret about Aunty Iyabo’s rape is also known to Baba Ijesha and it is a top secret and this why Aunty Iyabo feel (sic) offended.” If a TAMPAN member were burglarised or 419ed by a colleague, Iyabo Rainbow would presumably not ask the victim not to seek justice but to “settle things amicably whether (the accused) is guilty or not.” Sir Koro would not shame a colleague for being kidnapped or murdered. In a society where victim blaming is rife, to be sexually assaulted is to take on the shame of the perpetrator, and it hardly matters how old the victim is or what the circumstances are.
Years ago, I watched ‘Osuofia Speaks French’ in which Nkem Owoh’s Osuofia character rapes a young girl in his village and goes off to some francophone country.
Years later, unable to find a wife, he is encouraged by a friend to return to the village and do right by his victim and in return inherit a ready-made family. The victim who has a son as a result of the rape has been ostracised by her community for having a child out of wedlock, is unable to find a husband and her child is the target of bullies for being a ‘bastard.’ Osuofia returns to Nigeria , asks to marry the woman, her parents are thrilled that their grandchild would no longer be a ‘bastard,’ the woman is thrilled that she’s been rehabilitated and Osuofia redeems himself. Lots of laughter. Lots of teeth. Credits roll.
I watched this movie in company and one of the people who watched it with me couldn’t comprehend my anger and disbelief. They asked if I would have preferred Osuofia to never have claimed his son and for the rape victim to remain a pariah. Yes, I would have preferred to have seen Osuofia acknowledge his crime and to have been punished for it. I would have preferred to have seen the victim not being shamed for the crime against her. I would have preferred not to have seen her parents rejoice at the return of the rapist to marry their child. The person told me I wasn’t being realistic. If this sickness is being realistic, then it is the place of our creatives not to encourage it. Our imagination should be bold enough to accommodate and present not only what is real but what we dream could be possible. That is the difference between fiction and real life. The former isn’t merely a regurgitation of life without any form of interrogation. Where is the creativity then? The lack of it in ‘Osuofia Speaks French’ and in ‘Oko Iyabo’ and every other film like these two is indicative of an absence of a moral compass in everyone involved in making them. And we should call them out on it every single time.
Beyond calling them out, we should also actively work towards destigmatizing conversations on sexual assault as a first step towards breaking down victim blaming. Victims should be able to say, “I was raped,” without it being a moral judgement on them. A friend recently recalled a conversation he had at UNN years ago when he denounced the ubiquitous student culture of getting a girl drunk to have sex with her. Another student, seemingly on his side added that he wouldn’t waste his money on drinks when he could simply force himself on his victim because she would never say what happened. We embolden assaulters when victims cannot count on the support of their community to help bring them justice and to heal.
While it is not just in Nigeria that this culture of victim blaming exists (when the then 18-year-old Desiree Washington accused Mike Tyson of rape, people asked why she was in his hotel room; when women began coming forward with sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby, they were accused of wanting their 15 minutes of fame), our society makes it, arguably, more significantly likely for it to happen and therefore for perpetrators to go free. We must turn things around. The moment to start, in however way you can, is now.