I will be the first to admit my profound disappointment and shame that at this time in the life of Nigeria, we are gathered to discuss the brazen organized assault on women in Nigeria and Abuja in particular. That we are having this conversation is a grave indictment on our country. It is an embarrassing testimonial to our irresponsible disdain for women and our collective criminal silence in the face of this enterprise contrived to extort and profit off the misery of our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters in the name of sanitizing Abuja. There are times to be angry and profoundly so. This is such time.
We are living witnesses to a value system that continues to disrespect, commercialize and subjugate women. We are living witnesses to unprovoked raids on women, labelled as prostitutes but without any information or arrest of their patrons. We now live in a city where our women cannot walk the streets in the evening without being harassed or arrested by security agencies who now possess supernatural powers to determine a woman’s trade or profession by just looking at them. This assault on women now enjoys the institutional imprimatur of the Federal Capital Authority and the coercive resources of various security agencies in Nigeria. It will be then true to say that the Nigeria state is at war with women.
Permit me therefore on behalf of the menfolk to offer a long overdue apology to women and girls across Nigeria. I apologize for lack of appreciation and gratitude for the life you gave us by your blood and pain. I apologize for a prevailing culture that undermines the importance and significance of womanhood. I apologize for our ignorant prejudices that deceive us into believing we can amount to anything without women. I apologize for the violence, abuse and most shamefully for our silence in the face of the state sponsored and culture influenced subjugation of women. Our apology is meaningless without action. So this assault on women stops now. We will not keep quiet. We will not relent until we awaken the conscience of this nation to its fundamental duty of equal protection. We will not stop until we force this country back to the values of its constitution and the decency of a modern state. What is happening in Abuja and across the country is simply unacceptable. No nation can survive treating women this way. It is in our collective interest to save our women and in so doing, save ourselves.
We have invited you here today to view this painful documentary aptly titled Silent Tears. This documentary tells a story of a culture of exploitation and abuse of women in a society that is numb and apathetic to the plight of women. It chronicles the culpability of the Nigeria state in not only tolerating this culture but actively promoting it. It is a story of helplessness and courage in the same breath. It invites us to do something and awakens the best in us to bravely confront these issues.
I have employed very strong words in this remark. I have also dispensed with the niceties required for an event of this stature. But how can we dwell on niceties when our women and girls are being raped routinely in a state sanctioned operation without any appreciable consequences for perpetrators? How do we begin to sound polite when wives and mothers are now fair game in the hands of unscrupulous security officials hiding under the cover of protecting the environment? Where do we find the words to comfort parents whose infants girls are defiled by vile adults without an ounce of sympathy from agencies that are supposed to stand up for them? Perilous times like this requires a different kind of language. A language of desperation and harsh truth.
In 2014 some very brave Nigerian women went to the ECOWAS Court of Justice to seek remedy for the abuse they have suffered in the hands of Abuja Environmental Protection Board AEPB. They argued that the discriminatory and arbitrary raid on women in Abuja in the name of sanitizing the city was direct affront to their fundamental rights and a targeted abuse against women. The ECOWAS court agreed with them. The court ruled that the raid was a breach of the fundamental rights of women and even awarded damages against Nigeria. Years after, Nigeria has not complied with any of the ruling in the judgment. If anything, a country that holds itself up as rule of law state is brazenly contravening the ruling of a regional court. Nigerian officials are on record trying to justify disobedience of a valid court order. An order that only seeks to protect our women. What does this say about our country?
Every duty bearer in this hall today (and this include both government and citizens) must commit to changing this ugly narrative. What is happening to women and girls in Nigeria is despicable and barbaric. We have to make it stop. We need to change minds. We need to speak out for those without voice and lift those who are already trampled upon. We don’t have a choice of inaction here. We are guilty and we are all victims. The interconnectedness of our destiny and mutuality of our humanity bind us in unbreakable bond. None of us can actually stand if anyone of us is down. Changing the fate of our women is the only way we can change our fate and the fate of this endangered nation.
Remarks at the Screening of Silent Tears Documentary on Sexual Violence against Women by Ilo, who is the country officer and head of Nigeria office of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.