When in the closing prayers after the church service his Pastor declared that it would be a week of INCREASE, according to a man on Twitter, he said a loud Amen. But that was because he had no inkling that the increase he would encounter during the week would come from DSTV subscription, pump price and electricity tariff!
Coming at a time the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is ordinarily seen as unfriendly to the poor admonishes the federal government to adopt supportive policies, the timing of these decisions could not have been more inauspicious. What I find more interesting is that these policy choices are coming from the same people who were not only calling President Goodluck Jonathan names but worked tirelessly to sabotage him. Those who were not dancing at Ojota nine years ago were enabling the dancers while others were propounding theories as to why the talk about subsidy was all about ‘corruption’ and asking, ‘Who is subsidizing who?’
Now that the ‘Change’ exponents have suddenly lost their voices, some of us can sympathise with the government. We are not only borrowing money from China, we also now depend on borrowed grains from ECOWAS. To compound the situation, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres warned last week that there is a risk of famine and widespread food insecurity in four countries, including Nigeria. But we need nobody to tell us that we are in dire straits. So, for those who ask for my position on the removal of subsidy and associated issues, I want to respond with the column published on this page on 13th October 2011 when President Jonathan was preparing to implement the same policy. It was the first part of a long series at the time. But it captures the story of how our country arrived at this sorry pass and the choices that have now been forced on us.
If the morning, as they say, shows the day, then we should brace up for trouble in the coming weeks. Following the public release of the 2012-2015 Medium Term Fiscal Framework and Medium Term Expenditure Framework, there is already a groundswell of opposition from labour and other stakeholders. And in the last few days, I have received several mails from readers who plead with me to throw my lot with ‘the people’ by opposing the complete deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum sector otherwise called removal of fuel subsidy.
I want to preface my intervention with a story I told sometimes in 1999 or thereabout which is still very relevant today. And like I did back then, I seek the indulgence of readers because the story is about a supposedly loving couple having problems which bordered on sex. The husband happened to be a man with healthy appetite hence he would not allow his wife any breathing space. After putting up with his antics for some years, she took the matter to her in-law as the ‘court of first instance’. After narrating her story, her mother-in-law asked whether her son was maltreating the wife in other ways; she said no. Was he providing for her as he should? She answered in the affirmative. The parents of the husband declared that the wife had no case because their son was only claiming his ‘rightful entitlements’. Case dismissed!
Defeated, the poor woman accepted her fate for a while before reporting to her own parents. Let us call this the ‘court of appeal’. Here, they equally asked the same set of questions her in-laws asked. Her mother however added: “Is your husband dating another woman?” She said no. In the ruling that followed, they scolded their daughter for attempting to shirk her ‘marital responsibility’. The appeal therefore failed and the man continued to claim his ‘entitlements’. Ultimately, the wife took the matter to their local pastor as the final arbiter, if you like the ‘Supreme Court’. The pastor sent for the husband so he could hear both sides. In his presence, the pastor asked the wife to retell her tale which she did. “Is it true?” asked the pastor to which the man replied: “It is true Sir but the problem is that I don’t want to have affairs outside.”
This, to the pastor, was a serious problem. But after a discussion that involved bargaining and trade-off, it was agreed that a maximum of three times a day was enough for any couple. Thus a ceiling was effectively placed on how many times the man could ‘harass’ his poor wife a day. It was a Friday evening and back home, the man, quite naturally, claimed his ‘quota’ for that day.
Then came Saturday. To cut the story short, by mid-day, the husband had performed his ‘matrimonial obligation’ three times and the wife thought she would be left alone. When he therefore started behaving funny again, she exploded: “What is the problem? Have I not met my responsibility for today?”
Looking crestfallen, the husband replied: “Yes, I know, but please lend me one from tomorrow’s”.
The friend who told me this story said it was a real life situation. He may be right or it may just be a ‘Fabu’ but what is not in doubt is that the tale is a metaphor for the Nigerian condition and our proclivity to borrow from the future. Like the irresponsible husband in the story whose marriage was definitely bound to crash at some point, we have been borrowing so much from the future that it is only a matter of time before we reach rock bottom. But I understand what the current agitation is all about.
Like most commentators, I can make a thousand arguments on why it is callous to overburden the poor of our people by removing the current subsidies on fuel. I can canvass brilliant ideas to justify why, if it is only cheap petrol that the people enjoy, so let it be. I can present moving stories of the social consequences of the removal of subsidy: The pain, the anguish and the tears to come. Yet given the situation on ground, there is no way we can continue with the corrupt, inefficient and unsustainable subsidy regime. To do so will amount to entrenching a culture of continually borrowing from tomorrow.
I have followed the drama in the Senate concerning a proposed motion by Senator Bukola Saraki where he noted that in the 2011 Appropriation Act, the sum of N240 billion was allocated for subsidy yet by August ending, N931 billion had been spent with a projection that by the end of the year, “we will have a fuel subsidy bill of over N1.2 trillion as against the N240 billion budgeted in the Appropriation Act.”
Making allusion to the (mis)management of the federation account and the subsidy abracadabra by NNPC, Saraki drew the attention of the lawmakers to the fact that the 2011 Appropriation Act was based on “a Capital budget of N1.1 trillion for the entire country yet a single agency of government can incur the same amount without due approval of the National Assembly.” As former chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Saraki is well aware the problem did not start with the 2011 Appropriation Act as fuel subsidy accounts mostly for the distortions we have had in budget planning and execution in the last decade just as it feeds the monumental corruption in our oil and gas sector.
Fortunately, President Goodluck Jonathan has finally come to terms with the reality that you cannot rule a country by Facebook! Given my understanding of Nigeria, our president, especially in these difficult times, must be like the man leading the orchestra: he has to back the crowd. Now President Jonathan knows. And he deserves our support. We must understand that he didn’t create the situation under which we find ourselves today. All the leaders before him, with our collective connivance as a nation, had been borrowing from tomorrow. Now that he has mustered the courage to say, “thus far and no more,” the least our lawmakers and other critical stakeholders can do is to offer their understanding and support.
However, while the argument for withdrawing fuel subsidy is compelling, there is an urgent need to carry along critical stakeholders in the media, civil society and labour because, to borrow an adage, it is much more productive to erect a fence at the top of the cliff than to build a hospital below. The days ahead are definitely bound to be very difficult and the month of December will be particularly critical. But I believe there is an extent to which we can continue to borrow from tomorrow.
NOTE: This conversation has just started.
The Ife Webinar on Sex for Grades
In the course of distributing free copies of my book ‘NAKED ABUSE: Sex for Grades in African Universities’, I contacted the Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife for their ‘allocation’. He immediately suggested a Webinar for the presentation where I could also speak on the theme of the book. That was what set in process the conversation of yesterday. I thank my brother, Laolu Akande, Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Vice President, who helped to secure the participation of his principal, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. His intervention yesterday was thought-provoking and should set the agenda for discourse. I also thank the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege whose bill on sexual harassment was recently passed by the Senate. That he attended much of the session that lasted more than four hours attest to his commitment to rid our society of the malaise. I also thank his Chief of Staff, Otive Igbuzor.
I must also express my appreciation to HRH Muhammadu Sanusi II, the 14th Emir of Kano, the First Lady of Ekiti State, HE Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Secretary General, Women Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), Hajiya Saudatu Mahdi, Director, West Africa Office, Ford Foundation, Mr Innocent Chukwuma and Prof. Joy Ezeilo of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. None of them hesitated when I called upon them and they made the session of yesterday very lively. In attendance also were many friends and well-wishers, including my Governor, HE Abdulraham Abdulrazaq who only got to know of the Webinar on Tuesday. I also appreciate the former Governor of Cross River State, Mr Donald Duke.
There were also former Head of Service of the Federation, Mr Steve Oronsaye, former Director General, Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Eng. Emeka Ezeh, Chairman, Caverton Group, Mr Remi Makanjuola, retired Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun President of the Queens College, Lagos alumni, Mrs Ifueko Omoigui Okuaru and Chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission (NSIWC) Mr Ekpo Nta.
My friends, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Waziri Adio, former Youth and Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi and Chairman of Phase 3 Telecoms Stanley Jegede were also in attendance. So were THISDAY Managing Director, Eniola Bello and his deputy, Kayode Komolafe and the ICPC Director of Legal, Mr Adenekan Sogunle. Chairman, Brooks&Blade, Ms. Funmi Onajide and my first boss in (Campus) Journalism, Mr Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, SAN were also in attendance as well. I could also notice Father George Ehusani, Dr Ngozi Azodoh, Ms Ifioma Malo, Dr Okey Ikechukwu, Dr Chidi Amuta, Brig-Gen. Mustapha Onoyiveta (rtd) and several others, including Feyi Fayehinmi (Aguntasolo) who hooked up from London and Sister Tina Chikezie, from Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja. Prof Jacob Olupona also joined from Harvard. I am sure there were many others I could not see but will extend my appreciation the moment I get the full list of attendees from Ife.
Meanwhile, Professor Oluyemisi Obilade of the OAU did a brilliant job moderating the event. Professor Funmi Soetan not only worked behind the scene to make the event a success, she was one of the discussants yesterday. To Dr Monica Orisadare and Engineer Adewara, I say a big thank you. Prof Ogunbodede, the wonderful VC of Ife who insists on addressing me as chief, even when I am not one, will be hearing from my lawyer!
For those who may not have watched the event, below is the text of my presentation at the Webinar that had as its theme, ‘Finding Safe Spaces for Female Students in Nigerian Universities’. I spoke on ‘Sexual Violence Against Women: Why Men’s Voices Matter.
In writing my book, ‘From Frying Pan to Fire: How African Migrants Risk Everything in their Futile Search for a Better Life in Europe’ published in 2018, I visited many cities in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. But it was on the continent (of Africa) that I was confronted with perhaps the worst instances of those emblems of shame for which our country is fast becoming notorious. In an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) centre housing trafficked under-aged girls in Bamako, the Malian capital, I met a Nigerian girl who shared with me her pathetic story of how she was cajoled to abandon secondary school by the sister of a friend who promised to take her abroad where she could earn big money working in a salon. And, as it so often happens, the story ended in Djinja Kayes, Southwest Mali, where she was sold to a notorious Nigerian ‘Madam’ who immediately forced the young girl into prostitution after subjecting her to a ritual oath.
In that book, I interrogated the desperation that made so many of our young citizens embark on perilous journeys that most often ended in the Sahara Desert, or on the Mediterranean Sea. But my experience in Mali opened my eyes to the vexatious issue of how vulnerable young women spend the prime of their lives satiating the pleasures of men and women who enslave and rob them of self-autonomy. I also encountered this phenomenon in Benin, the Edo State capital in Nigeria, where I spent considerable time interrogating the Italian connections that facilitate trafficking these women. I included a chapter on my investigations titled ‘Edo and the Prostitution Ring’ in the book, and I have written several columns on the issue since then. My experience led me to ponder the plight of women and girls in Nigeria more generally.
Writing ‘From Frying Pan to Fire’ left me with the uncomfortable realization that much of human trafficking and irregular migration, and perhaps so many other ills in our society, are underpinned by sexual violence. I also came to the conclusion that this is a societal problem and it is going to take all of society to solve it. However, for any intervention to be effective, it must deal with both the demand and supply side of the problem. Therefore, following the scandal involving Professor Richard Akindele and a female graduate student, Monica Osagie, at my alma mater, Obafemi Awolowo University, and at the Faculty of Administration from where I graduated, I saw sex for grades on our campuses as another dangerous dimension of the same malaise. And it occurred to me that to catalyse normative change, it would take all critical voices, male and female, joining in the conversation.
I am strongly persuaded that it is only when we succeed in curbing predatory behaviour on our campuses that we can truly begin to make education spaces safe for women and girls in our country and on our continent. However, in writing the book, I benefited from insights provided by respected female voices who are outspoken on the issue, including some that are here today. At the end, the use of two paragraphs from an online public statement at the back page of the book turned out to be a problem that generated social media storm. The position of the African Feminist Initiative (AFI), which I accept, is that use of a part of their public statement as a blurb for the book and listing their names without seeking prior permission, undermined the concept of consent which is at the heart of the issue dealt with in the book. The good thing is, I learned some important lessons from that regrettable experience. The many interactions that followed the publication and the choices I eventually made, led me to choose this topic.
Student-teacher relationships have facilitated an environment for unwholesome practices on university campuses across the continent and this sustains my conviction that writing ‘NAKED ABUSE: Sex for Grades in African Universities’ was worth the effort. However, I withdrew the copies in circulation to make amends in the back cover and also enrich the narrative, following the feedback that I received. A new edition will be available within the next four weeks. But that development has not swayed my determination that men should be an integral part of the conversation on sexual violence in our society.
My decision to embark on the project does not detract from the fact that she who feels it knows it, and it was never my intention to usurp women’s voices as some of my critics claimed. I understand that in this battle, women can speak for themselves. Not only are they doing so clearly, the rest of the society is finally paying attention. I agree with some critics that this is not an area where men “have a starring role,” but insisting on dichotomizing voices that can advocate for better social practices is not helpful in the long run. Everyone who has a conscience should raise their voice on this salient social issue in order to be counted. If men should reduce sexual violence, especially in institutions of high learning in Nigeria and across Africa to a “women’s issue” and sit back, they are just as morally complicit.
Meanwhile, I understand those who argue that a dialogue that reflects their unique perspectives and values should be left to peers. For so long, women have been excluded from important conversations, including those directly affecting them. But considering that sexual violence is a symptom of a society that has allowed sexism and other forms of inequality to fester, the issue at stake is an ethical one. The burden of uplifting our society can therefore not be reduced to “women’s problem” and men conveniently shut up. It will take a collaborative effort of all critical stakeholders to rid the society of the problem in all its manifestations. And every voice counts.
If we agree that it is society that is harmed by transactional sex on our campuses, then it would be counterproductive to restrict those who should engage on the subject because the perpetrators of the violence can hide under the silence of their fellow men. No voice, whether that of an individual or a collective, should be discounted if we are going to put an end to what has become “entrenched notions of control and entitlement.”
Fortunately, this point is being increasingly made by stakeholders: From Gloria Steinem, respected American journalist and activist who has for the past five decades championed women’s cause and is generally regarded as the ‘Mother of Feminism’ to Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party from 2010 to 2013. Men, according to Gillard, have a critical role to play in gender issues. While admitting that there is still a long way to go before there is a universal acceptance of equality of gender and that one should not oppress the other in any way or form, Gillard, who currently chairs the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, argues that, “we’ll only get there by drawing more men into the conversation.”
Here, let me make it clear. In this kind of conversation, it is important to reiterate that asking men to speak up is not tantamount to asking them to supplant women. What I advocate is for men to use the privilege that patriarchal society has afforded them to stand up to the same structures of power. As men, we cannot afford silence. We can use our voices to reinforce the argument advanced by feminist advocates. After all, we are stakeholders too. We have mothers, wives, and daughters who are affected by this issue one way or the other, and we have a moral duty to stand up for them. The International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) could not have been more apt when it says that a campaign like this works better when everyone plays since “both women and men live within patriarchal power structures, uphold those structures, are concerned by those structures, and are responsible for transforming them.”
In my book, I referenced Prof Oluyemisi Obilade whom I am meeting for the first time today, albeit virtually. She argued that not a few male lecturers see their female student as ‘fringe benefits’ and that, for me, is another reason why men should challenge their peers on entrenched bad behavior. Incidentally, shortly after my book went to press, a friend visited my office and while discussing the issue of sex for grades, he shared with me a story which confirmed Prof Obilade’s thesis. In the course of his visit to a town in the South-west where a federal university is located, according to his account, a lecturer-friend visited his hotel and reportedly told him: “I will send one of my female students to keep you company for the night. Since our pay is meagre, that is the only ‘fringe benefit’ we enjoy on this job.” That mentality is wrong on all counts.
When a university lecturer readily pimps female students to male friends as the aforementioned instance demonstrated, it must mean that he ‘rewards’ those exploited female students with inflated grades. There are two crimes he is committing: sexual exploitation and the debasement of knowledge. Since both harm the individuals (whose worth and the credentials they parade are diminished) and the larger society (left with certificated illiterates), ridding our campuses of such irresponsible male lecturers is critical. That is why peer to peer interventions should not be seen as encroachment on anyone’s turf. It is a collective moral responsibility.
The challenge, as Obilade also recounted, is compounded by the fact that in most instances, there are no avenues for seeking redress that students can access without compounding the harm being done to them. She cited cases of female students who would complain to their head of department about lecturers harassing them and the response they would get is: ‘Give him what he wants.’
What that suggests is an ingrained culture, and that is why interventions from men are likely to receive more traction. Taking advantage of the platforms that some of us have will definitely not hurt. Besides, as men, we can frame the narrative in a way that catches the attention of men, by looking at all sides, including those that women may find ‘offensive’ even when it is real. For instance, a chapter in ‘NAKED ABUSE’ addresses the ‘other side of the coin’ argument that men often make when it comes to sexual harassment and demonstrates that looking at the issue does not necessarily absolve perpetrators of accountability. The argument is that there are women and girls whose philosophy is to ‘use what they have to get what they want’. On university campuses, those kind of girls ‘willingly’ offer their bodies to lecturers in exchange for grades. It is important to address these kinds of argument, as I did in ‘NAKED ABUSE’, if we are to break down social resistance to gender equity.
Men’s voices are also important because they can reinforce that this is not an ‘us versus them’ situation that often necessitates unhelpful pushback. Men can amplify voices of the victims, contribute to holding an oppressive system accountable and put the message in places where the voices of women are discounted for the time being. From my experience, in using our voices, men can also unlearn some of the cultural gender discrimination we may not even be aware of.
The key issues in the phenomenon of sex for grades is the misuse of power and privilege on the one hand and abuse of trust on the other. But the problem is being reinforced by inequities that are “rooted in uneven dynamics that give disproportionate power to one group versus another”, and because of that, according to Laura Amaya, Clare Schroder, Sandra Medrano and Alexandra Geertz in their joint paper on why men must be drawn to the conversation, “Irrespective of the amount we invest in women, men also need to be willing participants in the redistribution of power between genders.”
I am well aware that when it comes to sex for grades on our campuses, one cannot canvass the argument of power redistribution since it is between the teacher and the learner but we can insist that such power be exercised with a high degree of responsibility.
When we were putting this programme together, I told the Vice Chancellor that I am more interested in listening to the views of our women, which is why we carefully selected the panel. I have certainly learnt a lot in recent weeks about gender. And some of the people here today are my teachers. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Saudatu Mahdi, Joy Ezeilo and many others that are not here, like Oby Ezekwesili, Ayisha Osori, Bimbola Adelakun, Chioma Agwuegbo, Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, Molara Wood, Maryam Uwais, Ifioma Malo, Yemi Adamolekun, Ayo Obe, Ndidi Nwuneli, Hadiza El-Rufai, Ngozi Azodoh, Jackie Farris. These are some of the voices I shall always listen to in these matters.
As I keep telling them, since we men are seen as part of the problem, it will not hurt if we are also part of the solution. Our joint endeavour today is therefore to begin a conversation on how we can find that solution, for the greater good of our beloved country. And continent!
- You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com