Mrs. Abidemi Ronke Ekanem who was assaulted as a growing child experienced brutal rape at the tender age of 19 in the year 2001. Thirteen years after, now 32 years old and married, she is still full of fury. Her anger stems from the brutality and frequency of rape cases which is not helped by the erroneous societal notions that leave the victims suffering alone in silence. This led her to found a Non-Governmental Organisation which she named End Rape and Sexual Abuse (ERSA).
It appears she is still battling with her decade-plus inner pain. She blurted out: “No woman deserves to be raped, no matter the circumstances. That is why rapists must not be left off the hook or allowed to go scot-free. While the physical hurts can be mended overtime, it is the inner struggle that people cannot see that is hardest to deal with because it has no set time limit. For all victims of rape, the emotional scars lasts a lifetime.”
Abidemi Ekanem hails from Ijio, Ile-Ife. After completing her secondary school education, she gained admission to the Lagos State University (LASU), Iyana-oba, Lagos to study Law though she was a science student in her secondary school days.
She narrates her story: “At some point after the registration, I realised that my reasons for wanting to study Law at LASU was not viable. I wanted to be an activist. But I felt I could actually be a doctor or another kind of professional. I knew that I caught the activism bug due to my brief participation in the late Moshood Abiola June 12 struggles. So, I went to my dad and pleaded that I was studying Law in LASU for the wrong reasons and begged for a change of course and college. Of course, my dad was unhappy with me. But after much pleading and as his first and only child by my mom to him, he helped me through his friends to get admitted into Adeyemi College of Education (ACE) in Ondo State to study Mathematics which as a course, I loved so much”.
Her period of admission to the Adeyemi College of Education (ACE) coincided with the one year anniversary of a deceased student union activist. The occasion became so violent with gun shots being fired everywhere. As a result, almost all the students had to vacate the campus. Abidemi also left and went back to Lagos. The school was closed till further notice.
Some weeks later, she learnt that the school was to be re-opened. Full of enthusiasm, she promptly left for Ondo the next day. On getting there, she found the campus still under lock and key. However, instead of returning to Lagos, she went to the off-campus hostel of her female friend whom she had been squatting with all along. She said in the hostel which is right across the campus there were other friends with whom she was relating. One of them, she said, is “a very kind-hearted guy, Seun, almost like our blood brother who always ensured all was well with us.”
She narrates her story further: “I was in our hostel one afternoon awaiting the re-opening of our campus when my father sent a letter through a guardian for me to take to a female friend of his who was then the Registrar at the Federal University of Technology (FUTA), Akure, because she was to travel out of the country the next day. My dad, who was a banker then, sent the letter for the fact that he didn’t like my attending a college of education when all of his friends’ children were in the universities across the world. So, he wanted me to change to FUTA because he felt embarrassed when his associates asked where his daughter was schooling. And he was a man given to ardent reading.
“My dad’s instruction was that I must not just drop the letter and run off. He said that the woman would see me and take necessary action as they had discussed and agreed. And prior to that, while in ACE, he had made me to sit for the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) exams, which I reluctantly, but obediently did as I was content being in ACE. But when the first list came out, my name wasn’t on the list when I went to check it. As for me, I closed FUTA’s chapter. But my dad won’t. He wanted his child in a university.”
Though reluctant, Abidemi decided to obey her father. It was during her trip to Akure that she had her traumatic experience. She recounts her experience: “Mine is a story of a first and only one-night multiple rapes. Please, don’t get me wrong, not all the five men infiltrated me, only Kunle did, but the others actively participated in more demeaning ways.
“I did not leave for Akure the day my father sent the latter. I had to prepare, ask friends how to get to Akure and others. I intended to stay only one day since I didn’t know anyone in Akure. Prior to that time, we had a very stern no-nonsense lecturer in ‘Education 101′ in ACE called “Baba Koleosho”. With him, every student sat up and faced his or her studies. You dared not miss his class without a very cogent reason. As for his ‘cut-off mark’, we all strove hard to match up. So, he was one lecturer every student knew so well and we dare not dare him.
“Along the line, I also knew the name “Kunle omo Baba Koleosho” (Kunle, Baba Koleosho’s son); but I never really knew who was so called. However, I had seen this ‘character’ a few times, and I said a ‘hi’ to him. To me, he was just one older person on the bloc. But I never knew he was the one called Kunle. So, on the day I was to go to Akure, I had actually set out when Seun, my friend and brother-in-ACE called me back that ‘Kunle omo Baba Koleosho’ was going to FUTA. My instant reaction was ‘so’?
“Seun, now on the benefit of hindsight, persuaded me out of a pure heart that I should move with Kunle to make my journey easier and the rounds I would make on campus also faster. But what no one knew about Kunle, as I later found out, was that, at home, he was the good child while in his school, he was beastly.
“I left with Kunle. On the bus, each of us paid our fares and when we got to Akure, he urged me to quickly run to the woman registrar’s office. He ran with me and I was so thankful. He told me not to worry since I was his father’s student. He then left me at the registrar’s office and went his way. At the office, the secretary told me that her boss was in a meeting, and indeed, series of meetings, but that by 5.00pm, she should be through to attend to me. A few minutes after 5.00pm, the woman being nowhere close to her office, I jumped off my seat and told the secretary that I had to drop the letter since the woman should know how to connect with my dad and tell him her decision.
“But the secretary persuaded me to stay till 6.00pm saying that her boss would not work beyond that time as she also hated getting to her home late. So, I sat back, waiting. About 6.00pm on the hour, Kunle showed up at the registrar’s office and asked how far. I told him I hadn’t seen the woman and needed to start rushing to Ondo before the day got dark or darker. Kunle said it won’t be right for him to be there like a ‘big brother’ to me and allow me to embark on such a dreary night journey.
“I was hesitant outright and told him not to worry. But he assured me not to worry that ‘my elder brother, Seun’ back in Ondo, would be sad if he heard that I was left to travel at such an odd hour. Then, the registrar’s secretary also concurred that since someone was willing to help me, it would enable me return to the school first thing early the next morning, a Saturday, to catch up with the registrar whose regular routine was to come clear her table before embarking on her trip much later in the day. And since she won’t be as busy, I felt that was better for me.
“As a teenager, I never slept in any other person’s home besides my father’s home and our hostel. So, it really felt strange following Kunle to his home in Ilara-Mokin but I learnt students call it “Ilara Monkey”, there in Akure. One queer thing about him was that he looked like a responsible man. Moreover, I never heard any bad stories about him and as my lecturer’s son, I didn’t feel any pessimistic inclination he could be capable of such.
“Moreover, the day, a Friday, was like any regular day. I had planned to return to Ondo same day, not Saturday. It never occurred to me something unusual lurked. So, after thanking the registrar’s secretary, I left with him. When we got to his house, there were many people on the outside because it was a ‘face-me-I-face-you’ apartment. He greeted some of the people, shook hands with few and introduced me as his ‘sibling’. So, that made me calmer and when we got to his room, I thanked him so deeply. He told me it was nothing that he only did what he would do for his younger sister. At that, I felt really at home.
“And though I wasn’t afraid at this point in time, I was really relaxed. Also for most of the time, he didn’t come into the room. I had eaten at a local cafeteria on my way from FUTA; so, all I did was to read my books as I always travel with one or two. He encouraged me to relax that he was still out with his house mates. And I heard them talking and laughing but remained in the room alone.
“A few minutes close to 12.00am, it was time for me to observe my ‘wakati adura’ (hour of prayer) as my dad brought me up that way as a white garment church member. I had on a pair of black jeans trouser with a round-neck T-shirt. I even thanked and prayed to God for Kunle’s blessings. Later, I laid in one corner – not on his bed – of the room and slept. I wondered why he could stay out that late. It wasn’t my business.
“Shortly, he came into the room, touched me and I turned. He said he thought I was asleep. Then he left and went out again. Barely five minutes later, I felt a painful jerk at my waist. Startled, I opened my eyes to see five men surround me. I quickly jumped up. Meanwhile, my gown was not transparent. They told me to get up and I remember I started sweating profusely in that early hours of the morning. I was also shivering and Kunle asked me what had they done that I was quivering and weeping. The he said: ‘cry as much as you like, no one can come here to rescue you’.
“Quickly, I knelt down and begged him. I told him to see me as his ‘younger sister’. He said I wasn’t his family. As I kept pleading with them, one of them called Olumide slapped my mouth and told me to keep quiet. But it was quite hard for me to be quiet at such a time. Then, a third guy pulled out a gun and pointed it at me. He told me I could be killed and easily discarded without any trace.
“Kunle then callously asked me to ‘willingly’ undress. I begged him so passionately and when they saw that I wasn’t yielding, one of them kicked me in the legs and I crumbled. Before I could turn to balance myself to stand up, one of them pulled my legs and with the gun again to my head, ordered me to remove my trousers and that was it. When I tried to tear at any of their skins, they beat me. Oh, I was badly beaten. I was crying but no one in the house came close to the door.
“So, Kunle’s friends pinned me down for him to have me for as long as he wanted while they ran their hands across every sensitive part of my body. One of them lifted up my pants to show me and said it had become their ‘exhibit’. I wept bitterly, still begging Kunle to kindly stop. I told him to remember how his father would feel knowing his son could do such. I even told him to think of how his girl friend, Funke (surname withheld) would feel hearing this madness. Another slap from his cronies stopped me. I was then ordered to keep silent. At this point, I did.
“Kunle’s friends started pleading to have a go; he told them to be satisfied with touching me, that for that night, I was his. Hearing that said of me, I shrieked and wept sore. After some time, he said he was tired and got up. Quickly, I tried to run out but they pushed me back into the room. So, I coiled up in a corner and cried more. I got so exhausted, I slept off.
Towards the morning, probable about 5.00 am, Kunle returned to the room. Again, he hit me hard and this time, he pulled me with so much force, you would think I was one heavy object. I just stayed still. I didn’t give any fight as before. I was 19 in the home of a total stranger. He had had me. If I fought this time, what difference would it have made? The only thing I could do was to pray, ‘God, help me don’t let this man kill me’. He was so rough and forceful you would think I had offended him at some point in his life. He would hit me to be participatory but I was too deadened to react. He did all sorts of despicable things on me I could not imagine that was my life being briskly transmuted from a sane to a septic being.
“When he was through, he kicked me to get up and clean up as it was morning already. He then mumbled that I should remember I had an appointment to keep and if I liked it, I could as well forget about getting educated. After he left, I quietly pulled up my pair of trousers, picked up my little stuff, tucked them into my bag and waited for 7.00am. Meanwhile, his friends left with my pant. As I stepped out of his room, I felt so dirty I fell down on the floor and wept. Few people around just walked past me. That was when I heard someone mumbled ‘Pity, those cult boys have dealt with this one again’. I looked up sharply. I could not make out who said it.
“I was still there when a guy touched me and introduced himself as Omotayo. He then asked if Kunle and gang had raped me. Even though I didn’t answer him, he wept and apologised that if he hadn’t gone for his church vigil service, he would have averted the evil as he had done in time past. On hearing that, I began crying again as I walked toward the motor park to where, I really could not tell. Surprised, I saw Kunle beside me whispering ‘Omo girl, o ni binu ni o. O ti sele, ko si nkan ta le se si’. (Well young lady, it’s happened, there’s nothing that can be done to undo it. Just don’t be upset with me.) I stayed bowed. I could not look up even till I paid for my bus fare back to Ondo, I wept so much people would have thought I lost a dear one. And yes, I did. I lost me.
“When I got to our hostel that day, I walked tacitly to my colleague’s room. I knew eyes were on me like ‘what’s the matter with Abidemi’? But I could not look at anyone. It was like the whole world knew what had befallen me. I wouldn’t know who told Seun I was back. He came to our room a few minutes later and met me crying. Without hearing anything from me, he just asked ‘were you raped’? I didn’t dare utter a word. Seun wept like he was my older brother. I too, kept crying. Nothing, not even my friends could console me.
“Within the period, classes resumed at ACE, but I could not go to school. I lost interest in everything entirely. And as I ruminated on the incident, I started asking God why such fate could befall me few minutes after prayers. I was angry with my dad for wanting me to change school because of his ego. I was angry with Seun for making me to go with Kunle instead of leaving me alone. Seun begged that he never knew Kunle was such a guy. About two weeks later, Kunle came to see his dad in school and Seun picked a fight with him. Instead, he didn’t fight with Seun but came to my room and said ‘haven’t I said I was sorry or which one is this crying over town you’re about’? I just shouted on him to get out of my room.
However, I couldn’t continue life in that environment even though I doubt if anyone apart from Seun knew what had happened. I left and returned home and became quite vicious and disrespectful towards my dad. I was angry with him because it was his laxity that made me to be abused between ages 4 and 6 when he put me in the care of an uncle, one of his brothers, who abused and assaulted me for two years of my early life. Then, the man kept me suppressed by always having a whip around him pretending I was very naughty and needed to be curbed. But when no one was with us, he would beat me to undress. He so much kept me in fears warning that if I ever told anyone, he would kill me.
“In fact, my father invited a psychologist to examine and calm me after I attempted suicide and was too ashamed to note the reason behind my action. Yet, I was never able to tell my father till early this year in March 2014. And since then, I have really seen my father quite sober and pained that his first child had been so debased.
“After some time, I went to look for a job at an events place called Purrples. I kept away from anyone called a ‘male’, ‘boy’ or ‘man’ not wanting a mere ‘hello’ from them besides my male siblings from my dad’s wife. I won’t even greet my father’s male friends.
“Months after it happened and I refused to return to ACE, I began working with an events centre. I was there when another list was released at FUTA and my name was on it. But the mere thought of going to that school traumatised me. I wish I could avoid it. But I needed to get educated. However, I buried myself in my work at the events centre. But after a while, I went to resume at FUTA. I didn’t run into Kunle until after I had completed one year in FUTA as I did all I could to avoid crossing his path. But one day, I was rushing to school as usual when I bumped into his group. On seeing me, they mocked me sore. I ran as much as my legs could carry into my class.
“I later realised that since they knew I was in the school, they began to trail and taunt me. My crying days returned and I began to dress in black. I stopped running from them but did not become their friends either. I continued with my studies and would not allow them to distract me knowing they would soon leave school anyway. Their time was up and they graduated. I moved on with my life.
“At the time I was working at the event centre, I met the guy that was fixing all the computer systems in that company who wanted to become my friend. But I kept off him. However, because I was the company’s contact person, he had my number. Yet, I refused to budge. For the first five years, the man, who later became my husband tried to be my friend. But I resisted. After another six patient years, on September 10, 2011, which incidentally was his birthday, I asked to take him out on his birthday to appreciate him for the years of steady encouragement. It was then he said he didn’t want to be my ‘boyfriend’ but my ‘husband’.
“Prior to the rape experience, I never had a boyfriend or any wilful sensual encounter with the opposite sex. I didn’t know he had observed me so closely. So, when he said he wanted me to be his wife, I just told him without thinking: ‘Do you want to marry a woman that was gang-raped by ‘five men’? He stood stunned and asked what I meant. Carefree, I told him what he heard. I was not worried because I wasn’t looking for marriage anyway. After some days, he returned and said he would still marry me because I needed to get over it instead of living my life in struggles. We eventually got married. And despite the fact that he’s been supportive, there are times I still push him off me as I would scream because the image of Kunle and his friends still hunt me.”
Culled from The Nation