Lupita Nyong’o, perhaps Africa’s front-line actress in Hollywood, confessed to fear. She played the role of a nubile girl in a play set in the Liberian civil war. In the drama, three girls wallow as sex slaves to the vile virility of a rebel soldier.
The play, titled Eclipsed, and written by a Zimbabwean writer, Danai Gurira, shows how a human can translate from innocence to beast, and even sometimes enjoy that bestial metamorphosis. That explains why Lupita was terrified to act that part.
If an actor quakes over that role, imagine the innocents who have lived it, and those now living the nightmare as though routine. If to pretend offends, imagine the life Ese Oruru just walked out of. Imagine the others now highlighted profusely in the media, like Progress Jacob, Blessing Gopep and Lucy Ejeh. They are all underage, human and enslaved.
We can lament this about religion, and it is true. We can grieve over the impunity of some bigots who have claimed that being Muslims make them lords over a young girl’s flesh. We can also wonder at the perverse stamina that propels a young man to take a 13-year-old on a 15-hour road trip into servitude.
Then we imagine her. A girl who grew up in trousers and tee-shirt, in skirts, her waist that wiggled to the beats and subversion of rap music, who walked free on the street, who loved the vanity of braids and other hairstyles, who knew only play and school work and mother’s errands. This same girl, only 13, is now presented as suddenly wise or wild. We are told that she left all that to a devout devotion. She became Muslim, and followed a man up North without her parents’ consent. And they expect us to accept it.
We also imagine the sort of conversation she now gets accustomed to. She speaks a different language, and when she speaks to her mother in Urhobo she is bullied into speaking an accepted one. Imagine the cuisine. She did not have the right to be hungry for the right food. She, an Urhobo girl, was not permitted to crave usi and banga.
If the matter lasted a week or two, we might have excused all the big names and institutions involved. But it lasted an eternity from August 2015 to February 2016. It might have lasted longer but for the audacious front page of The Punch, in language and aesthetics. It said Ese Oruru was abducted and “forcefully” wedded. The right, word, “forcibly,” tells the right story. Not to worry.
So all that time, no big man could give an order to release the girl? The Governor, Seriake Dickson, was busy swaggering around over election, and he did nothing about it. Was that not irresponsible of a governor who is the chief security officer? He woke after the media hoopla and issued a rhetoric of concern. Neither the Emir of Kano nor Emirate Council have acted with wisdom.
The police, the DSS and others kept silence. Why? They did not want to offend the big power vortex. They did not want to lose their jobs for doing their jobs. It is because we have not decided what law is important. That is the bigger issue. Where is our loyalty? Is to tribe, faith or royalty? So, when we brandish our fidelity to the rule of law, we must ask ourselves, what law? Is it the rule of Islamic or royal or Christian law? Or is it the federal constitution? That was the innuendo buried in the IG’s words that Ese’s matter lay in the hands of the Emir of Kano.
We are in a democracy but we do not have a democratic sensibility. We are in a modern world but we still exude ancient values. Laws will make no sense until we have sorted out what kind of society makes sense. We still live in a universe where a senior lawyer can cloak impunity and ask a flock of senior lawyers to defend him. These are SANs sans shame. It is no different when an adult debauches a minor.
King Solomon calls it “folly set in great dignity.” So, for a rule of law to make sense, we have to decide whether sharia law has a place in Nigeria, and if it does, when and how. We have to decide what law takes precedence, the constitution or the sharia, or the renegade fury of a monarch. The Nigerian conscience is a war zone between the “king is law” and the “law is king.”
When Vladimir Nabokov wrote the novel Lolita, the western world fell into a scandalised rapture. The novel, rated one of the best ever written in the English language, was about an adult romping with a girl of Ese’s age all over America. The lascivious man did not end well, the girl ruined for life. The movie is hardly acted because the girl who acted Lolita the first time was unable to soar in her career. A stigma sullied her brilliance.
The prosecution of pedophile Yunusa and the battle release of others, including Lucy Ejeh, will help begin that sojourn to our concept of the rule of law. The legal positivists tend to give credence to the sources of law over the concept of natural law. I think when natural law supervenes, we have justice. We must have all those involved fall under the hammer of the Nigerian law. We either have Nigeria or not.
The most disappointing for me is the silence of President Muhammadu Buhari. He cannot wage a corruption war and act as though the Ese saga is not corruption. Corruption of childhood, of law, of religion, of natural rights. A girl was abducted, coerced into the family way, and made to swear to a God against her will. You cannot be the president of all and cocoon yourself in silence. It is not right, nor presidential. It is even more potent since he is a devout Muslim.
The failure to tackle the Oruru matter is a failure of Nigeria as a village. Hillary Clinton wrote a best-selling book, It takes a Village, and showed that nurturing a child is a communal effort. She took her inspiration from African ethos. Of course not the Africa that failed Ese. Ese means gift in Urhobo, and Oruru means it’s well done.
Nigeria gifted Ese an abduction, and early pregnancy and eviscerated future. Girls of that age know little about motherhood. As a reporter in the U.S., I reported a story where teenage girls simulated the lives of mothers. They had toy babies that woke up at night, cried at odd moments, etc. The girls told me they would only become mothers when they were temperamentally ready. In the movie Spotlight, a character says, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse it. That was Ese’s story.