She was eight years old when she came to Nigeria from Ethiopia; having lost her parents at such a young age, moving to Nigeria with her aunt in search of a better life seemed like the best decision. One could argue that it was. Her aunt had recently married the Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia, securing herself the comfort many diplomats and their families enjoy – a life of constant travel to luxurious places, concierge services afforded to the highest in society, and diplomatic immunity.
Although she was only eight years of age, she was told to look after a 3 and 5-year-old. This wasn’t a problem for her, and she did her job the best way an 8-year-old knew how to, grateful for the roof over her head, the clothes on her back, and the food in her belly.
One rainy season in 1999 when her aunty traveled with the kids on vacation, the ambassador walked into her room and started touching her – all around and nowhere in particular. It seemed a bit strange, but she didn’t think too much of it. She was never taught by her parents to never allow a man to approach her in certain ways. Besides, in her mind, the ambassador was the most wonderful man she had ever met. Whenever her aunt scolded her for not behaving like an adult, it was the ambassador that reminded her aunt that she was only a child. He stroked her legs and held her hands, and told her she was beautiful. She said thank you, and he went away.
Three days later he came back again, with direction and precision. This time he slid his hands in between her legs. This time she knew something was wrong. She asked him to stop but he refused. For over 30 minutes she pushed his hands away, but his hands just kept finding places to touch and pinch. His mouth finding places to kiss. Sweat pooled all over her body. In this panic, she couldn’t yell at him, and she was too afraid to scream for help. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. He was drunk on his favorite drink, the brown one he sometimes sent her to fetch; cognac she would later learn it was called. If she could just hold him at bay long enough, maybe he would remember she was only 8 years old. Thankfully, this time he stopped, and no territory was lost.
The next day he came to her room again. This time he came with a purpose. He grabbed both of her skinny hands in his one fist and squeezed them tight. She never realized how powerless she was until that day. With his other hand, he pulled down her underwear and forced himself on and in her. There was blood everywhere, and she was in a lot of pain. He went into her bathroom and cleaned himself up as she sobbed profusely on the floor. The world now seemed so cold, and she seemed lost in it.
She had to practice walking through the pain, and she withdrew into herself, speaking less than she already did. The ambassador was his usual chummy self. He wondered why she was quiet and told her that what they did was a thing to be enjoyed and not ashamed of. There was psychopathy in him that she had completely missed before… a certain gap with the pain of others he had managed to mask. She remained silent as he spoke, wishing him away in her head; confused by everything, by everyone. This strange land, Nigeria, was supposed to be her redemption, a chance at a better life. Instead, it was a taker. It had taken away her time. It had taken away her childhood, and the night before it had taken away, most violently, her innocence.
The keys to her room door were taken. She suspected it was the ambassador that took them. Luckily he had forgotten to take the keys to the bathroom. That night she laid out a bedspread on the bathroom floor and tried to find sleep. She heard his footsteps in the middle of the night, and then she heard him call the guards to search the area.
For the week that passed she avoided him. The guards, the cook, the driver, all noticed that her countenance had changed. She was distant… overly cautious. She suspected that they all suspected what was going on. But no one said anything. Not the soldier that protected the gates… not the cook… not the gardener – no one even asked her if something was the matter.
Her aunt finally came back from her summer vacation in Europe. She wasn’t sure how or if to tell her aunt about all the things she had gone through in her absence. But they were kin, and she had been through enough. Surely her aunt, if not for anything, for the love of her father, her aunt’s late brother, would protect her.
[Now, this is where my emotions went from heartbreak to anger… when the little girl told her aunt all she had been through, her aunt dismissed her.]
‘I see you like men,’ her aunt said… ‘It is not possible that he would do such things to you.’ she said. ‘What do you have that he could possibly want,’ she said.
Still, the aunt called the ambassador downstairs and of course, he denied it. The aunt warned her little niece to stop telling lies about her husband and sent her to her room.
Another holiday came and the aunt, as she had always done, set out to travel with her two children. The ambassador came to the little girl’s room again, only this time she did not try to fight it. It was her fault after all; her aunt did say she looked like she liked men. She looked like she enjoyed sex. She allowed the ambassador to have his way with her that night and the many nights that followed, losing her will to fight every time he stood over her. This went on until she was 12 years old, around the same time her period first started showing. She told her aunt about her period and her aunt reminded her to stop allowing men to touch her. ‘You know you like men?’ the aunt would say often. ‘It’s in your eyes. It’s’ in the way you look at them.’
Another summer came. This time the aunt was going back to Ethiopia. The little girl begged to go with her. She had just about had it with Nigeria. She wanted to go back home and be with her siblings. To be far away from Abuja. Her aunt refused.
One summer evening when she thought all the domestic staff had gone for the day, she picked up a butchers’ knife from the kitchen and stabbed herself. Blood splattered on the floor. Blood splattered everywhere. She was done with life. Her only family in Nigeria had abandoned her to live a life of comfort… of ignorant bliss. Why would anyone lie about such a thing? Why else would anyone not look into it? She twisted the blade and tried moving it to the other end of her stomach. At that very moment, the chef walked back in. He had forgotten his cigarettes or something. He screamed at the scene, then at her. He pulled out the knife and rushed her to the nearest hospital. According to the nurse the wound, although deep, wasn’t that serious. What was serious was that a child would do such a thing to herself. But the little girl was done talking. She was done with life. They stitched her up and let her go. There is much to say about the lack of social services for a nation of chronic physical abuse, but that is an essay in itself.
She started feeling feverish; nauseous. The pharmacist said it was malaria, and they treated her for it. The nausea didn’t stop, so they reluctantly tested her for pregnancy. When she told the ambassador about her pregnancy his reaction was not what she expected. He was happy; thrilled. ‘You will give me a son,’ He said. His happiness was genuine too. It showed in the skip in his step, and in the things he said. ‘Make sure you feed extra well. You are now eating for two.’ Perhaps it was then that the little girl knew this man wasn’t just foul… he was sick.
A few days before the little girl’s aunt returned, the ambassador’s countenance changed. One early morning he came into her room and asked her to get dressed. They went to a clinic where a doctor stood in awe.
‘Is this the person you talked about?’ He asked the ambassador.
‘Yes,’ the ambassador said.
‘But she is only a child,’ the doctor said, furiously. The ambassador couldn’t look the doctor in the eye, but somehow the girl knew his shame wouldn’t be long-lived.
Moments before the anesthesia was administered, the little girl asked the doctor to not allow her to wake up. The doctor’s eyes welled with tears. ‘You will be fine,’ he said. He prayed for her… and she fell asleep… and it was done.
The whole ordeal had made her frail. She hardly ate, and her skeletal frame was pronounced. Her aunt returned from her trip and immediately noticed her niece’s sickly appearance. The ambassador said the niece had been battling with malaria and typhoid, and that was the end of the matter.
One fateful day the ambassador had to leave on a business trip. That night something woke the girl up and she went out of her room to check it out. A man was standing in the living room with a gun in his hand. He pointed it at her and led her upstairs. Trails of blood laid in front of them. Upstairs the security men laid on the floor, blood oozing from their heads. ‘Where are the children,’ the little girl asked. One of the intruders said they were still sleeping in the room. ‘And my aunt?’ He pushed open a door and in there she saw two men raping her aunt silently. They asked for the ambassador’s whereabouts. He was the one they came to find. He was the one they came to kill. She would later hear rumors that the men were sent from Lagos… something about an arms deal… she wasn’t quite sure. After they were done raping the aunt they turned their gaze at the little girl. The men made it clear to her aunt, it was either the girl or her aunt’s children. The girl cried. She tried telling them she was still in pain after the abortion she had just been through. They didn’t care, they had their way regardless. The pain was so excoriating that the girl passed out.
She woke up in the hospital. Her aunt was by her side. ‘Do not tell the ambassador about what they did to me,’ the aunt said. Perhaps she had said more, but it was the only thing she remembered the aunt saying ‘He must never know.’ He must never know she was violated… contaminated… damaged. He may never look at her the same. Men can be that way. As tainted as they are they expect purity from their woman. It was all too ironic when you think about it.
And so once again the aunt chose to bury the truth and ride out the lie. Best to keep things simple. Best to bury the pain.
The girl was in the hospital for 3 weeks. For some reason, her wounds wouldn’t heal. She also needed a blood transfusion and popped painkillers on a constant basis. Her aunt came to see her every day. The Ambassador didn’t show up once.
When she returned to the ambassador’s house it didn’t take him more than a fortnight to come to her room. She told him she was in pain, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care even when he saw the padding between her legs, put there to stop the bleeding. He had his way with her still. That would be the last time he ever touched her. The next day she reported him to her French teacher at school who called a lawyer to look into the case. The lawyer gave her shelter in her home for a month before taking her to a popular Abuja church. The church called for a meeting between them and the ambassador. Again he denied everything, pointing out to them that he had many daughters of his own. In the midst of their investigation they came to realize just how powerful and well connected the ambassador was, and after constant pressure from the ambassador’s people, they conceded to take the girl back to the ambassador’s house.
Three days later he came to have his way again, but she wouldn’t have it. Again, she ran away, this time, never to return.
She is not little anymore. Now a thirty-year-old woman, it is safe to say she survived her ordeal. She told her story after reading an article we published titled “Rape Culture: Consent in the midst of Nature and Nurture. In the article, I theorized that there are two kinds of rapists; the specialist, like the ambassador, whose leanings stem from nature; and the generalist, like the intruders, who rape because the opportunity presented itself.
There are also, the people that create a safe environment for rapists to thrive, like the aunt, who in a bid to save face, refused to protect her niece from the ambassador. The doctor, who although was saddened by all the girl had been through, took no further steps to ensure that the ambassador was brought to book or even the girl to safety. And there was the church, fighting but not being strong enough against a powerful adversary. There is also myself. Before I started writing this article I consulted with one too many people. I was concerned more about my safety, my reputation, the people I may offend. I was also concerned about the ambassador’s children, and what an article like this might do to them. It is not their fault that their father was the way he was. Do they deserve the stigma of their fathers action?
The time now is 12:16 pm on a Sunday afternoon. My hand keeps hovering over the send button, not knowing if this article is right for our rape culture. Not knowing what further damage it might bring to the victim and her family.
The story has been told. My job is done. Only you the reader can decide who will win this war of injustice.
Story via Festive Media, an Abuja Times partner.