If you have been following the news from Nigeria, then you have most certainly heard about the #ArewaMetoo movement. Inspired the sexual assault and rape of underaged girls in Kaduna, Kano and Abuja, women across Arewa (the traditionally Muslim North) began to share their stories about how prominent Northern families have hidden the indiscretions of their children, how politicians have abused their influence to sexually assault young women and how the culture continues to perpetuate misogyny and violence against women. The #ArewaMetoo movement is only the most recent of a wave of pushback by young women against sexual assault, violence and patriarchal structures that enforce them. Maybe it is time for women who live in South-East Nigeria to join in on the conversation.
Last week Thursday in the town of Umuoli Ikpem, in Imo state, a 16-year-old SS3 student Chibuzo Ohaneme stabbed his classmate Olamma Ekwebelem multiple times, leading to her to death. The suspect had been trying to coerce Olamma to enter into a relationship with him and had ignored her many attempts to dissuade him. Olamma even went as far as informing her parents that she was being harassed by Chibuzo and her parents stepped in to ask him to leave her alone. Furious that she would involve her family and deny him in such a public way, Chibuzo stalked Olamma, ambushed her when she was alone and violently assaulted her.
The death of a 16-year-old at the hands of her classmate is a tragedy so profound, it should move all of us to act. It is well known that in South East Nigeria, the culture positions women as property with girls as young as 13 being courted for marriage by significantly older men. It is not uncommon for men to ‘pay’ brideprice for underaged girls without their consent and groom them for eventual marriage. This doesn’t even mention the culture when sons are prioritized and girls are valued only for the monetary value they will bring in marriage. It is that culture that made Chibuzo Ohaneme so entitled to Olamma Ekwebelem’s affections that he felt justified in pursuing her even when he knew she had no interest in him. It is that culture that made him feel entitled enough to take her life.
One life is more than enough for us to demand a reckoning. Eastern Nigeria needs its own #NdiIgboMetoo moment.
“The suspect stabbed the victim in her stomach and she died. As I speak to you, the case file and the suspect have been transferred to State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Owerri, for further investigation.”