Nigerian women and their ‘bodily burdens’

By Busuyi Mekusi


I have had reasons to engage with the human body, particularly that of the female, as a site of a sort, used to perform power, violence, oppression, revolt, and so on. The body is often taken beyond the exigencies of its being a physical frame to encase,  among other things; political authority, patronise sexuality and dispense sexual intercourse, carry out vengeance, perpetrate aggression, made endangered, document memories and shield viciousness. Moreover, the corporeal nature of the human body could be transformed or translated to a spiritual entity that is conferred with metaphysical propensities.

As valuable as the human body is, it is subject to devaluation and revaluation, when it recedes to the level of a corpse. The semiotic symbolism of enhanced configuration and added spirituality lavished on the dead body is not often seen in the pre-staging achieved in the picture or photograph used in the announcement of one’s obituary. The gleefulness in obituary pictures does not just contrast with the agony inhered in loss, but it negates the dumbness or frigidity of the corpse.

Notwithstanding the many advocacies in support of womanhood across the world, the body of the female agency is perpetually held in victimhood. Regular contemporary narratives in Nigeria are replete with instances of the transgression of the female body. These range from the rape of different categories of the female gender, battering of the female body, and so on. Amidst unreported cases of rape, most especially of minors and aged, schools, hospitals, private and public places of acclaimed religious leaders, offices, etc., have been turned to shredding points or incubators for women that are preyed on with reckless abandon.

The vulnerability of the female body reverberated recently when a 56-year-old truck driver and ex-boxer, Moses Olapade, allegedly punched his wife to comma for her refusal to hand over TV remote-control to him, and the deflowering of a lady and purported assistant pastor by his self-styled General Overseer. Olapade epitomises Achebe’s Oknokwo in Things Fall Apart who beats his youngest wife, Ojiugo, for spending the time she ought to use making dinner fixing her hair.

Pathetically, the ‘bush allowance’ metaphor used to describe the easy access of teachers to sexual gratification from students now applies to other spheres of socialisation, including religious places. ‘Priests’ are now ‘murderers in the cathedrals’ using the AK-49 that dangles in-between their legs. The transcending of social classification and boundaries by perpetrators of rape has reduced every male agency to a suspect, while female rapists are either deliberately or inadvertently blurred in the data compilations about rape that is, like in other sectors in Nigeria, largely inaccurate.

Women woes in every socio-cultural and political contraption are now not only from the other side, as feminine shenanigans manifesting as jealousy, adultery, marital transgression and snatching of husbands, wilfulness to become a second wife, and so on, have manifestly lived the Yoruba adage that hens now feed on each others’ intestines, thereby precipitating heavy contestations. To this end, women are the enemies within to others, mostly in claustrophobic spaces. Types of marriage practiced across cultures are increasingly fluid in postmodern times, with polygamy and monogamy either justified or repudiated based on orientation, affectation and culpability.

Women’s deployment of their bodies, over the years, has been for the inscription of self and conveyance of love and affinity. In older Yoruba socialisation and civilisation, women tattooed their bodies to convey their names, family link, economic and chieftaincy status to the extent that identity in this regard was loud, and unambiguous. This included the use of tribal marks to unashamedly betray one’s socio-cultural affiliation and subscription. Very significant was a woman that Afe Adedayo said inscribed ‘Action Lady’ on her body in the 1960s. The degeneration of the body later vitiated the validity of the marking and claims as she progressively lost agility and stability. This is without pointing out that the action she once paraded could signify, and be interpreted to indicate, physical, social, emotional, economic and political prowess, which diminished with the debilitation of time.

Contemporary youths similarly derive influence, identification and performation by wearing tattoos of animals and reptiles, as well as those of celebrities in an apparently transformational and transmuting civilisation. Most of them use these tattoos as insignias indicating which cult group they belong to, or what perverted ideology they subscribe to. Cultism is not only popular in schools at the different levels, but cult members have continued to dreadfully decimate the fold of the nation that does not know the number of people within his geographical borders.

For the sake of religious and ethnic disorientation, human beings in Nigeria have moved from being countable nouns to uncountable nouns. One could only hope that the intended national census would give a clear number required for planning and distribution of opportunities, even when borders remain open to itinerant herders that have since created a home in ‘homelessness’. We cannot be sure whether PMB would be in Katsina or Niger Republic during the exercise, if his earlier threat is anything to go by.

Either head or tail, women are not only the womb of the nation; they represent national burdens, in their cantankerous placement as wives, complacent motherhood and perpetual victimhood. The metaphoric women womb, as that of the nation, is troubled with scarcity of needed nutrients and threatened by the forced emptiness occasioned by their religious fasts. Nigeria is today ravaged by draught in the traditional season of rains; mindless killings by cultists and terrorists, caused by enhanced buffoonery and glamorised criminality; as ritual annihilation represents a new shade of inhumanity.

Nigerians were served two major horrific stories not long ago. The first was the case of a 29-year-old notorious ‘Yahoo Boy’, Amos Olalere, who was arrested in Ikorodu area of Lagos State with the dead body of his sister, and who allegedly confessed to the police for killing his younger sister, with the help of his mother, for the purposes of money ritual. He claimed that his mother nudged him to kill his sister in order to succeed in his nefarious business, and break the chain of poverty in the family.

The alleged gruesome role played by the mother, who he claimed poisoned his sister (who is the woman’s daughter) to allow him have sex with her dead body, suck the breasts and vagina, in line with the prescription of a herbalist that someone with who he has filial relationship with would be used for rituals, opened a new vista about the domestic wars the woman agency could wage, while the victimhood of the daughter similarly exposed the unending vulnerability of the female body in private, controlled spaces that should ordinarily offer protection from monstrosity.

The second dreadful story re-circulated by lazy, gullible media quacks, which cohered with that of the bizarre Ikorodu version, is that of an 18-year-old Delta-born teenager that was arrested in Edo State in 2018, Samuel Akpobome, for allegedly strangling his mother, Christiana Ighoyivwi, to death in her sleep, after which he had sexual intercourse with her corpse for two days, for money rituals he said was dictated by a local herbalist. The exposure of the deceased to hurt and horror in domestic space also depicts how the private place that should be a haven becomes a landscape of rage and brutality. When we aggregate these atrocious behaviours of killings for ritual purposes, sexual violations to satisfy libidinous feelings, and the many vicious killings of employers by domestic workers for material acquisition, which this platform interrogated sometime ago, it is arguable that both the private and public spaces in Nigeria have been turned to Golgotha, where helpless victims bear the brunt of the misplaced greed of aggressors.

Ritual killings, which many concerned Nigerians have been used to explain the unexplainable wealth of many young jobless Nigerians, particularly in the Southwest, have come to replace the notorious bank robberies that were common in past days. This new wave of criminality reminds one of the artistic endeavours in Junction Avenue Theatre Company’s Love, Crime and Johannesburg to reflect an evolving city, frozen by heists. With the patent annihilating propensities of this new threat to human existence, Nigerians must heal themselves of wilful forgetting, complacency and get more intentional in fighting these monsters headlong.

We must set new standard for success, rekindle the Omoluwabi’s ethos, as well as mobilise religious and traditional institutions to neutralise the spirituality used to support killings. Furthermore, massive campaigns should be staged to dissuade young people with unhealthy ambition of wealth accumulation, even as public office holders, who uncontrollably flaunt their cheaply-acquired wealth, be held accountable. The legal system should be recalibrated to deal with cases of murder, with appropriate sanctions that would ignore the self-serving campaigns against death penalty for murderers, with murder charges deployed to handle cases of reckless driving and wilful killing, as against the present notion of manslaughter. Even though the vengeful Mosaic notion of an ‘eye for an eye’ would make everyone blind, justice must always be served, to either compensate victims, or make offenders reap the fruits of their actions.

Nigerian women and their ‘bodily burdens’

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Nigerian women and their ‘bodily burdens’

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