After writing countless number of application letters and sitting for some tests in 1995, I was directed to the office of a prominent Nigerian for a job.
As the door closed behind me, I noticed that it was an electric door, because the man
controlled it with a button on his large desk.
Greetings over, I sat down and stated my mission. He looked at my result, commended it profusely, and promised to fix me up. A ray of hope glimmered in
my heart. A job was finally in
the horizon, I told myself. Then the music changed. His tone changed and he became chatty and chummy. He began to pry into my private life, asking about my girlfriend. I was uncomfortable. Seeing that I was not forth-coming with details, he reeled out a chain of stories of his sexual escapes with girls. I was no longer at ease. My discomfort mounted. But I tried to relax. Soon after, things fell apart: he stripped and asked me to strip so he could see my manhood. My jaw dropped. I knew that this handshake had gone beyond the elbow. Time to leave, I told myself. But how would I do it without annoying this Big Man, especially one that had promised to fix me up with a job? I chose to bide my time.
He went on with other overtures and demands, cajoling me and making other promises, but I continued to ask him with all the respect I could muster to stop it. Sensing that his words were not effective, he brought out some pornographic magazines from his drawer and dropped them on the table before me, opened. I stood up and told him that I wanted to leave.
I was not sure how he would react, but a few things made me certain that he would be circumspect with me. First was that I could hear the voices of his staff in the outer office. He would not want me to shout, even though I was convinced his staff knew what their boss did behind closed doors. Secondly, he was a person who had held a federal appointment, and would not want a scandal, and I had made up my mind to see Chief Gani Fawehinmi if the man had used force on me. Thirdly, he was a member of the elite group of his noble profession, and he would not like his image tarnished.
He pretended to have been hurt and wondered why I could not do such “a simple thing” for “Chief” who had been so nice to me and had promised to do other special things for me. I thanked him for his kindness and asked him to open the door. I knew that my CV and credentials that I left with him would be shredded once I walked out of the door.
However, the first time I encountered sexual harassment was in boarding school. I heard of homosexuality in school but never witnessed it until a Chapel Prefect, who “liked me so much,” tried it on me. Some public holidays fell on the two days before the weekend and many students travelled out of the hostels. He was the only prefect in the prefect’s cubicle, and asked me to join him and keep me company that night. I suspected nothing when he locked the door, which opened into hall where other students were. We chatted for a long time. Then he moved over to my bed so we could talk quietly, as it was late. I was surprised when he began to touch me strangely. Since he was a senior and a prefect, I took his hands off with respect. I noticed that he was sexually aroused. Then he came back with more force and persistence.
I pushed him off, rose from the bed without a word, opened the door and went to my bed. I thought that was the end of the story. No. The next day, for some flimsy reason, he unleashed some strokes of the cane on me and then completed the thrashing with his hands. He was like an enraged bull. Nobody would ever imagine that it was the same Azuka he “liked” so much that he was beating like a criminal. Ours was a school where the prefects were feared more than the teachers. That was the end of our friendship.
On November 25, the world marked another International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. If as a man growing up in a country where homosexuality is publicly condemned I was sexually harassed, how does a woman fare in this nation? Right from birth, the girl child is vulnerable. She is the constant target of paedophiles: uncles, cousins, domestic servants, teachers, instructors, neighbours, religious guides.
As she becomes a teenager, there are amorous advances from classmates, teachers and other adults. If she rejects such advances, she is beaten up most times. Sometimes, she is lured into a lonely place by someone she trusts and is gang-raped. She may even be killed after the rape. If she is unfortunate to be an orphan or from a poor home, even the man under whose roof she lives may end up using her as his sex tool even while she is as young as 14 years. If she says no, she is thrown out.
When she gets into the university, she is faced with an assault from male students, including violent members of different university cults, as well as lecturers. If she does not accept to be sexually exploited by the lecturer, she may be failed. If she is an intelligent student, the lecturer would give her the lowest grade of pass, to dent her overall result.
Then when she is out of the university in search of jobs, her fate becomes like that of a lamb thrown into a jungle filled with wolves. Many men would demand sex to give her a job, even when she is qualified for the job. Even when she gets the job, her bosses would constantly sexually harass her. And when she rises by a dint of diligence and performance, she is accused of using “bottom power.” If she wants to act in a movie, producers and directors demand sex. If she wants to be a model, the modelling agent demands sex. If she wants to go into politics, godfathers demand sex.
In her relationships, if she falls out with a man, the man bathes her with acid or gets her beaten up or even raped. When she is married, most disagreements with her husband end up in a beating. The excuse is that her mouth runs like a typewriter. But then you ask the men that give such excuses for beating their wives if they beat their female bosses when such female bosses unleash the venom in their tongue on them? Don’t they usually take the venom from their bosses silently? If they can take the venom of their female bosses quietly, why not also take the venom from their wives and use other means to get back at the wife, if they must?
But it does not end there: If her husband dies in his prime, even through an auto crash, she is accused of killing him. She may get thrown out of her home without a kobo by greedy in-laws. If she is lucky to have a husband who wrote a will or included his wife’s name in his property, she may be lucky not to lose everything. If she is blessed with longevity, she is termed a witch, especially if some of her children have died before her. She is accused of renewing her life with the blood of her children.
Any time a lady walks into my office in search of a job, I remember the ordeal I went through in the office of that Big Man. Harming or sexually exploiting a woman is cowardice, not bravery. What if it were your daughter, sister or mother?