“All Rape is an exercise in power, but some rapist have an edge that is more than physical. They operate within an institutional setting that works to their advantage and in which a victim has little chance to redress her grievances”
– Susan Brownmiller (Feminist)
This appears to be a season of metaphor of the times. At the peak of George Floyd murder protest in the US and around the world, I got a WhatsApp message with the title “Check yourself, some people under you cannot breathe”. The thrust of the WhatsApp
message which was trending on social media platforms, is that the case of George Floyd is not just about racism. Racism only represents the sign of the times. George Floyd’s case represents the rise of people being consumed by hate such that there are no feelings of empathy for others. It’s also about holding onto a negative attitude such that it erodes every sense of reasoning.
That most of us are as guilty as that cop is not in doubt. When some people attain a particular position in life, people under them can’t BREATHE. Some just hate their fellow human beings for nothing, maybe because of differences in religion, tribe, gender; maybe they have parallel choices of candidates or even do not belong to the same social class.
There’s always one insignificant reason to justify why someone dislikes the other. Some people can’t let go of negative feelings towards someone. They allow jealousy, financial power, lack of forgiveness cultivate in their heart, and of course it germinates to hatred and escalates to destruction. Before condemning that cop, check yourself. This captures the entire message.
The WhatsApp message set me thinking as I know it did to several other persons who must have received it. It is always very easy to condemn, without explicit evaluation of things we do that follows the fundamental principles of the very act we rise up to condemn. One similar case in the land for which there is unanimous condemnation lately is the increasing number and sophistication of rape cases.
Rape in the ordinary meaning of the word follows three key principles. These are the act of expropriating sex without consent, the use of force or threat of force and pathological assertion of power over a victim. It follows that rape in socio-economic perspective is about expropriation of public or private resources without consent, by the use of force or threat of use of force, or assertion of power over the victim. The victim from the foregoing may be an individual or the society.
Unfortunately but true, victims face the situation where expropriation of personal resources, some through violent means and others through non-violent means, is the norm, leaving victims with little or no means of seeking redress. I will go through a few and leave us to our consciences so as we condemn rape in the sense of sexual abuse, we should also re-examine our actions and the other forms of “ rape” we face daily.
Banks in Nigeria may be very profitable. Their model is unique but the people pay the price for the high profits they declare. The charges placed on bank customers without their obvious consent is worrisome. From charges for text messages, to arbitrary monthly charges on all sorts of services. If the banks send customers unsolicited messages, why then are the customers charged for value-adding services like transaction alert, charges for use of other banks Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), charges for bill payments using electronic channels etc, debit card maintenance fee, and other innumerable arbitrary charges? This is in addition to Stamp duty, VAT, WHT and other forms of charges which nobody is willing to explain. The average Nigerian lives with this and can only murmur. The Central Bank of Nigeria, which is the regulator of banks is the only one institution customers can fall back to for redress but that is another issue altogether. Let me fairly acknowledge that last year CBN was able to make recoveries to the tune of N76.75bn of illegal charges from banks and other non- bank financial institutions. This was out of 16,000 reported cases by customers. This expropriation of money belonging to individuals or corporate firms through non-violent means is as criminal as expropriation of sex through violence.
Banks are not the only institution technically “raping” the people. Electricity distribution companies may be worse offenders with estimated bills, reconnection charges to charges for electricity units not delivered. The Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission( NERC) Act and regulations made it mandatory for all new electricity connections to be made strictly with the provision of metering systems, and customers are entitled to functional meters. It also gave electricity users right to transparent billing and right of refund for over-billing. However, the truth is that today between 4million and 7.4million customers do not have meters installed in their premises.
Unfortunately, citing technical reasons and long term neglect or underinvestment in the sector which they inherited, Distribution companies (DISCOs) serve the people estimated bill without following laid down protocol knowing that you have no alternative and little or no window to seek redress. Worse still, even for electricity units not delivered, you are forced to pay or face the threat of disconnection without being served notice as required by the law. The impunity with which DISCOs treat consumers on matters of estimated billing for their own failure to provide metering, disconnection charge for which they did not get their customer’s consent before disconnection, and bills for “darkness” served is criminal and can be likened to taking one’s resources through non-violent means. Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the regulator of the sector that should come to the rescue of consumers seems hand-tied.
I understand how complex the issue is but that does not take away the fact that consumers are totally helpless. Nigerians are extorted when they are forced, for fear of staying without power, to purchase transformers, poles, and cables which is the responsibility of DISCOs. I am also informed that some estates and organised neighbourhoods with epileptic power supplies have to consent to paying some ludicrous tariff before they can obtain average to constant supply. This is even when
Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has a regulation to address such asset arrangements known as the “Regulations for Investments in Electricity Networks in Nigeria”. Arguably, DISCOs know consumers can get little or no respite so they are technically “raped”.
Still within the context of expropriation within institutions is the conduct of most of our university lecturers. Without necessarily exerting physical force, lecturers rape students emotionally, intellectually, etc. when they threaten students to submit to sexual harassment for grades or face unpleasant consequences. It has been called sexual harassment or like the BBC-aired report, “sex for grades” or but not rape. Like rape, laws are in place to punish offenders but how many persons really get punished? Lecturers who threaten students for sex on the one hand, know that the probability that they will be made to face the law is low whereas students who are threatened for unethical trade-off on the other hand, know that the probability that they will get redress is also low. The problem with sexual harassment in Nigeria goes beyond universities to politics and workplaces in general.
Other forms of rape take place within the context of extractive industry that exposes our environment to danger without qualms, low quality education by our universities “raping” our students of intellect and their dignity, health care where the quality of care is sheer rape on our life though non-violent means. It is pathetic that the common man cannot receive the basic first aid from our health care umpires in times of emergency without being asked for a financial deposit.
The biggest rape, which seems intractable, is the one we all know about, public officials “raping” our commonwealth with the opportunity cost being fretting social services.
It is interesting to see the scale of condemnation against sexual rape prevailing in the land today which is encouraging, and I see the movement against rape as a lever to challenge other forms of socio-economic rape going on in our country which has remained unchallenged. Regulators must wake up to their responsibility lest Nigerians turn the heat on them for betraying the trust of the people.
Rape in a wider sense is fast becoming a way of life in Nigeria. Only Nigerians working assiduously can stop this madness and recreate our society to function in a way that people don’t abuse institutional power .
•Dr Dakuku Peterside, former Director-General of NIMASA, can be reached by email: [email protected]