It will be interesting to hear what pundits have to say about the “sexual relationship” between the adult male, Yinusa, and Ese Oruru a 13-year-old girl said to have been abducted by the former since 2012. There is much talk about endemic injustice, an ineffectual police force and legal system, unconcerned politicians and unscrupulous predatory males within the borders of Nigeria. What is not being said is that poverty has reduced females in Nigeria even seriously underaged ones into “purchasable” sex objects either as goods or services. Ese’s case was just a solitary cause celebre case out of millions of abused underaged girls in the country.
The conditions and circumstances that led to Ese’s “abduction” into marriage are unlikely to be discussed in the mainstream or privately. It may be easier to articulate Ese’s case in the dressing of institutions and ‘law and order’ issues than to address its real cause and persistence which are mostly socio-economic.
Only the families of the underage victims seem to take offence when it happens. Underage sex between adult males and female children is not significantly frowned upon in Nigeria. Many think such activities only happen in Northern Nigeria. Perhaps underage marriage is a norm in Northern Nigerian but regular or frequent incidences of sex between adult males and underage females is the norm all over Nigeria. Poverty is the main reason why underage sex occurs and so pervasively. A majority of cases of underage sex are best described as “sex for food” encounters.
The underage girls that live in poverty and are always hungry. They eat whatever meals their parents can provide which are usually protein deficient, lacking in variety, calorie-strapped or boring. Nibbles like buns and fried fish, banana and groundnut, malted biscuit and Fanta, rice and fried plantain, and Indomie noodles are incredibly irresistible persuaders for hungry adults [especially at election time] not to talk about hungry children.
Some will argue that Ese’s case was an ‘abduction’ and not so much underage sex. Such people have not known poverty and its implications neither have they considered their daughters or sisters at a tender having sex with a wily unscrupulous 47-year-old man. They have never lived in tenement buildings called “face me, I face you” [houses that consist of two rows of several rooms separated by a single corridor]; this how the urban poor live their lives.
Food deprivation is a common and very effective punishment used against children instead of beatings in poor homes; the outcome is often eventually underage delinquency and sex. A child who has had only corn pap [corn starch] and sugar for breakfast and peanuts with garri for lunch becomes very desperate when they are denied supper for talking back to their parents or accepting sweets from a neighbour without “permission”. Having a big appetite is vehemently frowned upon.
Poverty, again, is responsible for the prevalence of a wide array “grooming” techniques by which adult males ‘capture’ or lure underage girls into having sex with them. “Carrot and stick” and its many variations are possibly the most popular. It involves the adult man regularly giving the underage girl small amounts of money [big enough to buy buns, biscuits, soft drinks, hawked food] but only when no one is watching.
Most of these poor underage girls will not tell their parents they have received money from an adult male because of their hunger. If they do tell their parents the money is taken from them and sometimes given back to male adult encouraging the girl to hide the money in their house. Then having learnt that the man only gives her money in secret the underage girl soon tries to find where the man lives which is usually less than 100 metres away from her house. Innocently, it is the hunger that has betrayed her. At this point the adult man becomes far more generous with money for a while then abruptly stops giving her anything. The little girl will then be forced to beg and cry for money from the adult man. She has become seriously dependent on her “relief” from hunger and inadequate food on the adult man. It then becomes only a matter of time before sex happens.
The paedophiles know engaging in underage sex has many serious consequences after the fact, that can be very violent and even fatal. Their grooming skills and approaches get more sophisticated by the day which often involves blackmail and temporary deprivation of money against the little girls and the avoidance of detection. Tragically, many of the underage victims grow up to see the paedophiles who violated them as “saviours” rather than “abusers”, evolving into their enduring friends and confidantes. Saved from hunger, makes the sex abuse endured acceptable to many victims.
There used to be an “unconscious vigilante” that spontaneously emerged to watch out for amoral and immoral practices in Nigerian communities. The detection of attempted underage sex or grooming was very effective in the past but without any deliberate intent. People in communities simply watched out for each other with civic responsibility. Thanks to neoliberalism and manically thieving leadership, and the ever-worsening economic hardships, people now ‘see without seeing’ and to ‘care for others without caring.’ What used to be “Mama Risi, I do not like the way Musu Musu chats with your daughter” preventively has become “I did not like the way Musu Musu was chatting with Risi”, after the fact. Adult hunger and despair also play a massive role in underage sex in Nigeria.
Ese, no disrespect to her family, cannot be from a rich or middle-class household. While politicians appropriate obscene allowances, salaries and stolen wealth to themselves, most Nigerians are increasingly forced into ‘extreme denial’ of relentless hunger that chases them mercilessly and what it makes them do! If reducing the incidence of poverty remains a non-issue to heads of state of Nigeria and the political class since General Yakubu Gowon was ousted from office, underage sex will remain a well-tolerated norm in Nigeria.