#MeToo storms conservative northern Nigeria where women had no voice

Fatiatu Inusah February 22, 2019
Schoolgirls in northern Nigeria -- Photo: AFP

The #MeToo movement shook various countries in the world since October 2017 when American actress Alyssa Milano popularized the hashtag which was started in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke to give a voice to victims of sexual abuse since many have been held up in quietude for so long. #MeToo storms conservative northern Nigeria where women had no voice

Furthermore, Top figures in America including Harvey Weinstein were hit by the #MeToo movement after several women accused them of sexual abuse and harassment.

More often than not, victims of sexual abuse are blamed and shamed when they attempt to report the crime. This culture of accusing victims of abuse has festered an attitude of silence among victims of sexual abuse.

Consequently, it has drowned victims into keeping quiet about their ordeals and encouraged the crime to continue uninhibited. The movement has had a lot of people, including celebrities, share their experience using the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter.

The phenomenon spread throughout America and parts of Europe and Asia. However, in Africa, only a few countries joined the movement and after over a year since it started, the movement has finally found a footing in conservative and predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria which is locally referred to as Arewa (Hausa word for North).

Northern Nigeria is the country’s largest region and known to be a conservative society where women are still expected to be shy and quiet despite some cultural changes in the 21st century.

Until recently, many girls in the region have faced marginalization as they are treated differently from boys who are offered formal education while they (girls) are prepared for marriage. Amidst the struggle to be empowered, many women in the north fall victims to sexual predators and abusers.

This phenomenon has received a swipe by some Arewa women on Twitter who have joined the #MeToo movement with #ArewaMeToo to give girls a voice to speak up against rapists, paedophiles and the like.

“I am so happy the #MeToo movement has finally reached our side of the world in the form of #ArewaMeToo .. There must be recognition among men that there are repercussions for their inappropriate and violent behaviour towards women. Women will no longer stay quiet or shamed,” tweeted a lawyer who goes by Zainab on Twitter.

Right after acknowledging three women believed to have started the movement in northern Nigeria, Zainab was attacked by some male Twitter users from the region who were either calling for a gender-balanced campaign or not in support of the #ArewaMeToo.

“Nobody said this was meant to be for women alone we sympathize with anyone who is a victim regardless of their gender,” said a Twitter user.

Another Twitter user who was in disagreement of the movement said: “Ask those have been implementing it how their lives have been ….. they have been lonely and miserable …. Rayuwar turawa ba !!”

#ArewaMeToo started in late January 2019 after a Twitter user who goes by the name Khadija named her abuser who was her ex-boyfriend. Khadija had blogged about the abuse in January 2017 after Lawal Abubakar physically assaulted her and threatened to “kill and bury her body”.

Lawal Abubakar had locked his account to avoid the barrage of reactions against his action and calls for him to take responsibility. After several weeks of conversations surrounding Khadija’s plight and those of others, Lawal Abubakar admitted to the abuse and apologised.

#ArewaMeToo then gained more prominence after Northern Nigerian activists on Twitter made up of lawyers, feminists and media personalities joined Khadija to seek social media justice for victims of sexual violence in the region.

Many women anonymously sent their stories to some of the leaders of the movement and they were shared on Twitter creating a shock wave of anger and denials by named and shamed suspects with many locking their accounts to prevent access to their walls.

One high-profile name that kept coming up was Abubakar Sadiq Aruwa who was a former aide to the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, and currently an aide to the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed.

He was accused of rape by multiple women and he denied the allegations in a statement he shared on Twitter which accused seven leaders of #ArewaMeToo of “defamatory commentary” on his person and “spurious and unsubstantiated allegations of rape” via their Twitter handles.

#MeToo storms conservative northern Nigeria where women had no voice

A copy of the statement published on Twitter

He also filed a police complaint against them and activist Maryam Aiwasu was arrested on Feb. 19 in her office in Kaduna by a convoy of officers from the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who attempted to gain access to her laptop and mobile phone. She was reported to have been transferred to their Abuja office for questioning.

Amnesty International condemned her arrest and called for her immediate release. #metoo

“Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Maryam Aiwasu who has done nothing more than speaking up for women’s rights. Her arrest appears to be an attempt to intimidate and harass both her and other women supporting #ArewaMeToo,” they said in a statement.

“Maryam and the other brave human rights defenders working with the #ArewaMeToo movement must not be silenced or punished for the vital work they do,” they added.

Maryam Aiwasu announced her release after 3 days on Feb. 22 and took to her Twitter page to thank those who called for her release.

The arrests and intimidations have not stopped the #ArewaMeToo campaign which has resulted in the reported sack of Abubakar Sadiq Aruwa from his job and is offering girls and women justice through social media.#metoo

The conversation is ongoing and more people are using the hashtag to join the fight against abuse of girls and women. Some males have also come out to tell their stories of sexual abuse which have been given an equal measure of attention. #metoo

Here are some more reactions from #ArewaMeToo on Twitter.

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: March 19, 2020


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