Online communities give us power
In spite of the shiny illusions of corporate, economic and educational equality – Nigerian women occupy positions of power in every imaginable area of business and universities are full of young Nigerian women pursuing advanced degrees – the recent Abia State University (ABSU) rape case proved once again that Nigeria is still a most unfortunate place to be a woman.
In a shadowy room, five men laughed as they took turns raping a young woman. They beat her, threatened her and ignored her pleas while they filmed her terrible ordeal for their entertainment. After finally letting their frightened victim go, they thought nothing of distributing the video to the entire school.
Regardless of how horrifying this crime was, very few were surprised, least of all myself, that the initial response was as barbaric and cruel as the rape itself.
The students, the school administration, the government and the police failed the victim of the ABSU gang rape on all levels. The rape occurred on 16 August and the footage had been circulating since then among students, none of whom thought to report it. Even worse, the governor and the head of police insisted no rape had occurred even when presented with the video. It was not until a month later on 18 September, when news of the rape and its video hit the internet by way of Linda Ikeji’s blog that the tide began to turn.
Like many others, I was deeply upset by Ikeji’s post, but especially so because of a similarly traumatic experience at 17. When I was raped, there was no proof, it was merely my word against theirs. The few years I had lived on earth as a Nigerian had taught me that going to the police, especially to report a rape, was setting yourself up to be mocked, ridiculed or even arrested and charged with prostitution.
This time, there was proof. Incontrovertible proof in the form of a video, and after watching it with my heart in my mouth, I decided it was time to speak up.
My blog post calling on Nigerians with information about the case to come forward quickly went viral – to my surprise and slight alarm – but the response it garnered was inspiring. Suddenly, we went from being a country of people that didn’t seem to care to a huge community of concerned citizens working together to get justice for one of our own.
The speed with which the news of the ABSU rape spread and the strength of the reactions that spilled over from the net into real life and forced our leaders to act was unprecedented. Never before had a purely online campaign for or against anything in Nigeria resulted in decisive action on the ground.
The online community of Nigerians seems to have reached a tipping point, and our interconnectedness has given us power. Now, with the victim safe and a full investigation underway, perhaps there will be a happy ending … this time.