On Nollywood and its culture of silence.
We often joke that if you’ve seen one Nollywood movie, you’ve seen them all. One plotline that is prevalent in Nollywood movies, specifically the Yoruba ones, is one where a woman is raped, often by a (more) powerful man, is traumatised, but is eventually called into a family meeting where she is asked to ‘forgive’ her rapist. They often conclude with the victim getting married to her abuser. This is already horrifying, but to see this blatant confirmation of the rife rape culture in the industry is even more jarring.
A few months ago, news of a Yoruba actor popularly known as “Baba Ijesha” molesting a child broke. This was in part thanks to one of the loudest voices who made sure it was not swept under the carpet, fellow Nollywod actor Iyabo Ojo.
She put her career on the line to publicly show support for the victim while fighting for justice. Iyabo Ojo on many occasions openly condemned the accused – Baba Ijesha, his supporters and even protested at the police station in Adekunle, Lagos when news that he was about to be released broke.
I was and am still extremely proud to witness her firm stance on the side of justice and what is right, and truly horrified at the amount of support this rapist has been shown, all of which should be directed at the victim, who is a CHILD. I am disgusted to see the rallying around a rapist who openly confessed to his crimes, after being caught on camera about to rape the child once again. Many of Iyabo Ojo’s colleagues have openly condemned her stance, and supported Baba Ijesha.
The Theatre Arts & Movie Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), headed by the chairman: Jide Kosoko, recently suspended Iyabo Ojo, Nkechi Sunday for their involvement in the case and in calling out their colleagues for rape culture. According to their statement, both women were suspended due to “professional misconduct”. Earlier, they had refrained from making any statements on the case and disassociated from one of their actors who made a statement defending Baba Ijesha.
Another association affiliated with the industry; the Association of National Theater Arts Practitioners, (ANTP) had issued a statement refusing to suspend Baba Ijesha on grounds of the allegation, stating that they will wait for the courts to decide if he was guilty or not.
This is simply rape culture. Powerful bodies and systems whose job is to protect the interests of the industry are quick to take firm stands until the stand is against sexual abuse. A body whose support to the child (who is also a daughter of a member of their community) should have been loud having remained mum but have now turned their focus to policing brave women who threw their weight behind the family of the victim. Shouldn’t the ostracising be done to the rapist, an abuser who violated her in such a way? There’s a straight line to be drawn from the realities of rape culture unfolding in real-time, to its interpretation, or the lack thereof, in the industry’s storylines.
Rape culture thrives on silence. It ostracizes the victim, rather than the perpetrator of such a violation. It counts on the shame of the victim, it relies on the silence that is borne of that shame, but it also relies on the behaviour of other people to continue to allot that blame and that shame to the victim, instead of the rapist and abuser. It counts on voices like that of Yomi Fabiyi and the leadership of associations like TAMPAN who make decisions that further alienate victims and the voices that support them.
The media trial of Iyabo Ojo is shameful and is directly telling this 14- year old child that has been violated in such a horrible way that her voice doesn’t matter, that her life doesn’t matter, that her rapist is more important than she is. I, however, reject this. The shame belongs to Baba Ijesha and his supporters, and we STILL stand with Iyabo Ojo, we stand with the truth and we stand for justice.