The likely reason for the rampant paedophilia in Nigeria unfolds in Twitter conversation about the age of consent

The flimsy endurance of the Twitter trend cycle of 24 – at most 48 – hours has only on extremely rare occasions respected the gravity of a topic of discussion. The widely publicised disappearance and subsequent discovery in death of the job seeker, Iniubong Umoren – rest her soul, who was a victim of sexual violence and suspected ritual murder, comes to mind.

There is a connecting thread in that tragic story that held the attention of a country as riddled with tragic tales as Nigeria is and the recent conversation about the rightness of older adults entering into a sexual relationship with younger adults. That thread may explain the endurance of that conversation in Nigeria’s Twittersphere, as well as its transcendence of sexual orientation.

Report after report, and seasonal lamentation after seasonal lamentation, Nigeria as a society and Africa by extension is keenly aware that we are drowning in sexual violence against children. The continent has the highest prevalence rate of child sexual abuse around 34.4%, as reported by the NGO Women at Risk International Foundation, (WARIF.) 

Let’s bring that number closer to home. According to a report by NOIpolls in 2019, “about 3 in 10 Nigerians (26 per cent) disclosed that they 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.

If, like the vast majority of young Nigerians still using Twitter notwithstanding the ban on the microblogging site by the Federal Government, you had allowed yourself to go through the lengthy and vastly angry exchanges on the subject matter of age of consent you would have noticed a few things.

  1. A disturbing number of men – either boldly or as a slip of fingers succumbing to the content of one’s true heart – declaring that there could be no wrongness in a much older man scoping girls in their late teens so long as they have reached what they believe to be the legal age of consent – 18 years.
  2. A worrying number of adult men and women placing the blame at the feet of young adults for what appears to them to be a deliberate attempt by “these babes,” to ensnare older men because they desire access to the resources that their much longer stay in the world has given them access to.

“These girls refuse to date boys their age because they enjoy the lavish treatment they get from older men,” a tweet will read under whose comments section you will find a good amount of oohs and aahs of agreement.

That, as disturbing as it is to the discerning, is far from the worst thing.

A Twitter user pondered what the world is coming to that, “You wait till legal age of consent, make dem no call you paedophile. Boom! They promote you to predator.”

The tweet – widely quoted with replies drawing the attention of the account owner and the over 150 Tweeps who liked it to the fact that that is in fact exactly what it means to be a sexual predator – remains up.

A common definition of a sexual predator one could find with a quick Google search is;

A person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically “predatory” or abusive manner. – Wikipedia.

The choice of the Wikipedia meaning is intentionally done because of the deliberateness connoted in the writing of “predatory.”

To acquire something by predatory means – whether that thing is the meat a lion requires for sustenance or the sexual relationship humankind require for bonding and reproduction – is to lie in wait, deploy manipulative tactics, and wield one’s power over their object of predation.

The term “sexual predator” is often used to refer to a person who habitually seeks out sexual situations that are deemed exploitative. Hence, a man who seeks out a younger woman because “younger women are more pliable,” is indisputably a sexual predator.

When we speak about the alarming prevalence of sexual violence against children in Nigeria we project open disgust at, “the animals,” that commit these gruesome crimes. Give it a moment, and you are apt to hear the same disgusted people openly discuss how, “girls grow up so fast nowadays,” or, “these girls their eyes are open these days.” It is a testament to the insidiousness of rape culture that these two seemingly opposite sentiments can exist in a people.

Rape Culture – a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse.

Oxfor dictionary

Yet, that is far from the worst of the malaise of sexual violence that bedevils Nigeria.

In discussing the age of consent – and it is important to understand that socio-cultural context plays a huge role in how this conversation is had or if at all – many refer to 18 as the legal age of consent.

Importantly, most Nigerians understand paedophilia as the sexual exploitation – and often they mean exploitation only in the context of what they believe to be ‘sex’ acquired by getting the ‘consent’ of say a 16-year-old girl or boy – of children. When you ask what ‘children’ means a Hausa man in Kura, Kano may answer you with any age from 12-0 but not above while a worldly Deltan man may say age 0-18. It is also why Nigeria is steeped in a confusion of different ages of consent per region and per state.

There is so much ambiguity – conflated by the mixing of marriage and healthy consensual sex between adults or even among children – regarding the age of consent in Nigeria.

What obtains in the Child Rights Act is perhaps the most comprehensive legal framework that could be used to determine the age of consent as determined by the Federal Government. Section 31 (3) (a) of the Child’s Rights Act 2003 states that “Where a person is charged with an offence (of unlawful sexual relations with a child) under this section (31 of the same act), it is immaterial that the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years.”

Yet two things make this ineffectual as a deterrent against the rampant paedophilia – and the borderline paedophilia of lying in wait for girl children to reach the age of consent – in Nigeria.

  1. The Child Rights Act remains undomesticated in 11 Northern states, per the last available report from the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen.
  2. Nigeria’s Sexual Offences Bill suffers the problem of almost deliberately inserted ambiguities.

For one, the Law didn’t expressly provide that the age of consent in Nigeria is 18. That number is arrived at from understanding the purport section 31 of the Child’s Rights Act to imply that “the age of 18 years” is a benchmark that could determine the difference between an adult and a child.

The Sexual Offences Bill – which was hurriedly passed by the National Assembly, stipulates life imprisonment as punishment for any individual convicted of having sexual intercourse with a minor.

Yet, look at how the bill is written, and wonder why it wouldn’t come off as deliberately muddied to fuel confusion:

Section 7 of the Sexual Offences Bill prohibits sexual intercourse with anyone between the ages of 0 to 18. It punishes offenders with life imprisonment upon conviction. That Section 7 states that;

  1. A person who commits an act which causes penetration with a child is guilty of an offence called defilement.
  2. A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child aged eleven years or less shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life.
  3. A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the age of twelve and fifteen years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.
  4. A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the age of sixteen and eighteen years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.

It is easy to argue thus that the age of consent could be any of the number of younger years mentioned in the law for other sexual offences against children, but the Child’s Rights Act provides the minimum age for marriage to be 18.

It is also worth noting that the constitution is also silent on the minimum age of consent in Nigeria.

These ambiguities, fueled by culture – an extreme laxity in the Muslim North that led to Nigeria being the leader in the number of child brides in Africa and a laxity that allows men to salivate at the idea of young girls reaching 18 so they can have sex with them – means it will be a long walk to sane nationhood.

A nationhood where we collectively understand that the desire for sex must not preclude the common sense understanding that children are children and all they need from adults is guidance even where they choose to explore sex – such that they can entrust us with overseeing their sexual exploration with other children their age.

That and not lecherous adults leaving their own mates to seek sexual gratification from barely legal young adults and often children – leaving them forever scarred – is the only world in which we can hope to wake up to sanity. A world where we don’t have to deal with reading one story or another of sexual violence that sometimes ends in real-time national mourning of an avoidable murder.

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