Sunday 29 November 2015

Nigeria: Time to bring accountability to sexual assault in all forms

Let’s talk about sexual assault
Two very notable and important stories appeared in recent weeks and pertained to accountability coming to men who had either been accused of or indicted of acts of sexual assault. The men concerned due to recent events were about to assume high political or academic office and it is my hope that neither do, as a sign that we are beginning to recognise that sexual assault in whatever guise is unacceptable and punishable too.
I did not comment much on any of the cases in particular, but I had decided to write about that one that did not hit social media like a storm, eliciting commentary from all and sundry, reflecting how society still finds itself scandalised to the point of silence, acquiescence and the acceptance of sexual assault as the norm.
Not knowing how to begin the blog for days, I let the idea percolate in my mind until this morning when through a direct message on Twitter, I was asked my views about the rape story and the following messages formed my impressions of the matter.
Expressing an opinion
I am more interested in the UniUyo sexual assault one which I have been trying to write about, but in a few tweets yesterday, I expressed my frustration with how victims are victimised many times over if they share their ordeal.
I believe a young girl was taken advantage of by people who had an entitlement to impunity and the audacity never to be made accountable because of their status and how society protects them from sanction.
I guess my blog has begun.
To the comment that the current case was confusing, I responded.
I am not confused at all. Consent has a wide spectrum just as rape does. A student can consent to sex with a lecturer under duress with the threat of failure, whilst the student willingly engaged in the act, the method of obtaining consent comes into question. In my view, an act in the rape spectrum has occurred whilst the law terms it sexual harassment.
With power and influence the poor girl was trapped in a situation she had no control over, she was already on a slippery slope to sexual assault the moment she encountered dishonourable men and they took advantage of her naïveté to satisfy their lusts.
That this what I have to say in general about the case that has consumed social media as I begin to discuss the one pertaining to the University of Uyo.
This abuse of power was egregious
I was interested in the University of Uyo sexual assault case because, the man at the centre of the issue is now the prospective vice chancellor and the outgoing vice chancellor, Comfort Ekpo has asked for this appointment to be suspended until the matters at issue are properly resolved.
As it transpired, Enefiok Essien allegedly demanded sexual favours of Linda Onyebuchi Essell who was accused of examination malpractice by the then Mr Essien who is now a professor in 1995. However, it appears Mr Essien might have gotten his way at some time and then threatened to ruin Ms Essell’s academic career if she did not accede to his proclivities.
Invariably, having manipulated the university system against Ms Essell and the courts found that he was involved in utterly reprehensible and disreputable conduct, having stood as accuser, judge, jury and executioner leading to Ms Essell’s expulsion from the university in 1997, one must commend Ms Essell for fighting her case through the courts to win at the Federal High Curt and the Court of Appeal in 2005.
Does anything matter here?
Her victory set aside her expulsion and she eventually went on to complete her degree at the same university, but the court also found and indicted Mr Essien for forgery and sexual assault. It is staggering that a man with such as reputation slur should have remained in academia, been promoted through the system as a professor of commercial law and had become the dean of the faculty of law at the University of Uyo.
It is either both reputations and indictments count for nothing or victims of sexual assault, no matter how egregious especially when it also involves the abuse of authority, power and office are irrelevant in the scheme of things.
Either way, it is astounding that any man accused of forgery by the indictment of a high court, even if he was presumably absent in the UK working on his Ph.D. will be considered for higher office on the one hand and that he on returning to Nigeria will do nothing to clear his name.
This smacks of complicit ineptitude
Professor Kimse Okoko who is the pro-chancellor of the university and headed the committee that appointed Professor Essien the prospective vice chancellor of the university says he only received notice of the standing indictment after the appointment was made, which really beggars belief, because the university and Mr Essien were co-respondents in the cases brought by Ms Essell, and it was the university that took the case to appeal where they lost again and had to rescind their decision to expel Ms Essell.
Now, either the university is completely lax in record keeping that suggest a reputation-shaping case just 10 years ago was forgotten or they like society had acquiesced to the view that the powerful and prominent are never answerable for sexual assault criminality that they must be excused and the victims further victimised by further approbation and vindication of perpetrators of sexual assault.
Is there any justice in this world?
In a just world, Professor Enefiok Essien should not only be dismissed on the basis of that indictment of 2005, he should be stripped of all honours and then made to face the courts for his alleged dishonesty, abuse of process and sexual assault which I might be persuaded to belief did not just involve Ms Essell.
If Professor Essien does become the vice chancellor of the University of Uyo on the 1st of December 2015, it would be a travesty and the battle that many victims of sexual assault fight to get justice would have been setback seriously, rubbished and lost.
For the very first time, let society speak up for the victim and speak loud and clear that there is no statute of limitation for making anybody accountable for sexual assault, no matter where that person is placed in society and what time has passed since the event happen. There is no statute of limitation of the lifelong damage that is done to the body and the soul of a person violated sexually, neither should there be one for calling the perpetrator to account.
I hope she is doing well
Finally, all the laurels must go to Linda Onyebuchi Essell who challenged the pre-eminence of a system that is rarely made to account for its accounts in a country where the pursuit of justice comes at a high and almost unaffordable price to the many. I hope she is doing well and I hope her fight for justice will not only be recognised, but commended by more.
The least of all in recognition of her should be that Professor Essien is never inaugurated as the vice chancellor of the University of Uyo.

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