Those who took time to see the video where 16-year-old Barakat Melojuekun and her father, Adesola, pleaded with Nigerians to forget the allegation of sexual harassment levelled against the Ogun State commissioner for Environment, Abiodun Abdul Balogun, would notice a common phrase in their speeches. Both father and daughter said they just realised a “few misconceptions and misunderstanding” and would therefore “want Nigerians to please allow this matter to rest.”
For the benefit of those who didn’t see the video, let me just recap. After introducing herself, Barakat said: “You can recall that I was the young lady in a viral video about sexual harassment by commissioner for environment in Ogun State. I am using this opportunity to thank all Nigerians that show their love and support towards the matter and I want you to know that there were few misconceptions and misunderstanding between I and the commissioner. And I now want to use this opportunity to appeal to Nigerians to please allow this matter to rest. Thanks.”
Similarly, her father said: “Afternoon Nigerians. I am Adesola….the biological father to…Barakat who is in the news recently about sexual harassment between her and the current serving commissioner for environment in Ogun State in person of Honourable. Abiodun Abdul Balogun. I want to thank the media for their doggedness and aggressive support to make sure that justice prevailed.
“I am using this opportunity as well to thank the international community and well meaning Nigerians and all Ogun State indigenes that showed their love and encouragement to this matter and sincerely I discovered that there were few misconceptions and misunderstanding along the line between my daughter and the honourable commissioner. And having discovered this, I deem it fit to come to the public and inform Nigerians and the international community that this matter should be allowed to be laid to rest.”
Curiously, the picture painted in this latest video is completely different from the initial story that Barakat told the public a few days back. Then, she had vividly explained in detail how she was lured into the Ogun commissioner’s house through her uncle and what transpired in the bedroom. Her words: “He (her uncle) told my grandmother that someone needed a computer operator and asked me to dress corporately so he could take me there. He then took me to the commissioner’s house and asked me to wait at the gate.
“By the time I got inside, I saw someone who claimed to be the aide of the commissioner who had been calling me. He said I should follow him to where the computer was and I did. Immediately the commissioner came into the room, his aide left and he locked the door and kept the key in his pocket. He asked for my school and class and I told him I was in SS3.
“The commissioner then asked if I was interested in any business and I said no. He asked if I had New Year clothes and I said yes. He kept asking me what I needed and I told him nothing. He asked if I would collect a cash gift from him and I said I would. He then started pushing me onto the bed and pressing my breasts while chanting incantations. So I started shouting on top of my voice.
“He jumped off me and brought out the key from his pocket. He offered me N2, 000 but I rejected it. He locked the door again and threatened not to let me go until I collect the money. I collected it and he pushed me out of the room.”
In what seems to be a further proof that Barakat probably had a clear perception of what she just went through, she reported the incident to her parents who in turn reported the case at the police station. The police equally sent a formal letter of invitation to the commissioner on January 1, 2021 and asked him to appear at the station before 1 p.m. on the same day.
So which part of the story was misconstrued? And what constitutes the few misconceptions and misunderstanding in all of these accounts? We need to know. I know that I am through this article, doing the exact opposite of what Barakat and her father asked for. But I am sorry we cannot all afford to keep quiet, gloss over this and pretend as if it never happened. Here are a few reasons why we cannot afford to allow this matter to be laid to rest. Rape and sexual harassment are major societal maladies in Nigeria. Unfortunately, despite this, conviction rates have been very low, suggesting a serious systemic problem. A study says one in four girls and women will experience rape and/or sexual assault in Nigeria before the age of 18. Another says one in every three girls would have experienced at least one form of sexual abuse by the time they reach 25 years. And according to the United Nations, there are fewer than 80 total recorded rape convictions in Nigeria.
Aside this, about two million Nigerians (mainly women and girls) are said to be raped every year. A poll conducted by NOIPOLLS in July 2019, revealed that most Nigerians (85 per cent) believe that there is a high prevalence of rape in the country. According to the report, “about 3 in 10 Nigerians (26 per cent) know someone who has been raped in the past and the rape victims were particularly minors and young adults aged between 1 – 15 years (72 per cent) and 16 – 25 years (24 per cent) respectively.
One can hardly doubt these statistics. Personally, most Nigerian females that I have interacted with have at one time or the other, experienced one form of sexual harassment or the other growing up. You need to be where girls talk (or should I say women) to understand some of these things. Those who are fortunate to be raised in homes where they are well shielded from predators will tell you how they are either harassed in schools or work places. I once shared my story of sexual harassment as a student at the University of Lagos. We have a serious problem at hand and we can’t pretend about it. For me, this is a case that our Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, ought to have shown more than a passing interest in if we are really serious about fighting the scourge of rape and sexual assault in our country. Some of us can still remember the brutal rape and murder of Grace Oshiagwu, a student of Oke-Ogun Polytechnic in Saki, Oyo State; that of 100-level student of the University of Benin, Uwaila Omozuwa; Barakat Bello, who was raped and killed in her home; and that of a 12-year-old girl who was raped by 11 men in Jigawa, northern Nigeria. This is a country where women and girls are easily captured and turned into sex slaves and violated at will. For example, on May 7, 2013, insurgents seized four women and eight children from a police barrack in Bama in Borno State. So, how can we keep quiet just because a victim and her father are telling us to do so? This story has too many loose ends that need to be tied up.
The public has a right to know the specific areas of misconceptions and misunderstanding. More so when the sudden misconception script came to fore shortly after Ogun State suspended the accused commissioner. Right or wrong, the public may conclude that it is either Barakat’s life is being threatened or that her father has been handsomely settled by the politician. None of these postulations should be allowed to stand in a normal society.
We need to strengthen our criminal and justice system. In fairness to the police, they have played their role well in this matter. They were swift in inviting the commissioner to their station and they have also said that they would continue with their investigations in spite of the new turn of events. However, the police would have to do a thorough investigation to get anything meaningful on this matter. As it is, this case is as good as dead except the police come to our rescue. The police have to investigate the reason behind the sudden new song from Barakat and her father. Could it be that both father and daughter had wanted to discredit an honourable commissioner for pecuniary gains? We need to know. If that is the case, justice must prevail and appropriate punishment meted out to the offenders because the law should protect everybody- the strong and the weak alike.
One of the major findings of a yet to be published research study on class representation in crime reports in Nigerian media, is that the rich and the elite in Nigeria do a lot of things to escape prosecution for their crimes. We need to know if the Ogun State commissioner for environment has done anything to get himself off the hook. There are too many questions begging for answers, hence, the reason why we cannot allow this matter “to be laid to rest.”
This is no curse; many Nigerians will still come up with rape allegations either now or in future. We want to be able to take them seriously. So, we should get to the bottom of this matter. Allowing this window of misconception and misunderstanding to stand as it is, is like either providing armour for the rich and the elite in our society to easily wriggle out of criminal proceedings against them or allowing the ordinary Nigerians to easily lie against their leaders at will. We certainly can’t afford to live with any of these scenarios!
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org