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LOUD WHISPERS: A Letter to The Chief of Army Staff

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Monday, February 5th, 2024
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Dear sir,

I am writing to appeal to you to keep a watchful eye on the disturbing accounts of allegations of sexual harassment of female soldiers in the Nigerian Army. I know that in light of the serious security challenges we are facing in the country right now, this might sound like a petty issue to you, but I assure you that this is of immense importance as well, since a house divided against itself is at risk. No one rushes out to save a neighbour while his own house is on fire. In recent times, two cases have been brought to the public domain and in a strange coincidence, the two female soldiers concerned have ended up suffering the same fate.

First, there was the case of Lance Corporal Philomena Nnamoko, of Ilese Sappers Barracks Division 2, Ogun State. She cried out in a number of interviews that she has been the victim of sexual harassment at the hands of superior officers for several years. Her refusal has led to her detention for lengthy periods of time, physical assault, humiliation, denial of timely medical treatment and attempted rape. All these experiences became unbearable for her so she consistently requested for a voluntary discharge which has been denied while her suffering at the hands of her superior officers has continued. The latest news is that Lance Corporal Nnamoko has been sent to the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital in Lagos, on the grounds that she is mentally unstable.  She was allegedly beaten up by a Captain and was shipped off to a mental facility as a cover up. Her adult son, Emmanuel Brown, insists that there is nothing wrong with his mother. According to him, ‘I got information (about the assault) around 10pm on Sunday and I rushed to the Medical Reception Station inside the barracks. When I got there, she was unconscious. When she regained consciousness, she explained how they beat her up. I was saddened to see bruises on her body. On getting to the MRS on Monday morning, I discovered that she had been taken to the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital. I was confused as to what happened to her to warrant her being taken to a psychiatric hospital’.

The second case is that of Corporal Ruth Ogunleye. Her story attracted a lot of attention because she made a video that went viral. In her account, she gave details of how she was treated by one Colonel and two others for refusing advances. Her salary was withheld, she was evicted from her accommodation, she was detained and again, almost raped. When her claims went public, she was moved from Lagos to Abuja. We understand she is now undergoing ‘rehabilitation’.

Sir, we are aware that the Army is an institution that has very strict codes of operation and an inviolable chain of command. No military body can exist without discipline and obedience to orders from above. The men and women who serve in the military are supposed to understand this before and after they are admitted. The army is meant to protect the country and its citizens by securing borders and preventing violations on land, air or sea. The Army is what stands between a sovereign nation and conquest by external or even internal marauders. It is therefore not out of place for ordinary citizens to place their trust in the Army and the men and women who serve with honour, integrity and patriotism. Historically, women have not been particularly welcome in such deeply patriarchal institutions as the Army. In the spirit of gender mainstreaming and promoting equal opportunities for both men and women, it is heartwarming to see many women serving in the uniformed forces. It is sad to think though, that these brave women are doing so at great risk to their dignity and mental health.

There is no social institution we are aware of where sexual harassment does not exist, so my letter is not singling out the Army as a bastion of male privilege and sexual harassment. As long as there is a space where men and women work together, due to the imbalance in power relations, there will be assumptions made that men are entitled to the bodies and affections of women. And many will not take no for an answer. There are also cases where women are the perpetrators, but these instances are rare.

Dear sir, there are two questions that need to be addressed with the cases of these soldiers in the public domain. The first question is, why is it that two female soldiers (in different locations) made the same complaints and have both ended up with their sanity being called to question? The second question is, what has become of the officers who these soldiers have pointed fingers at? We know that you have your own internal procedures and ways of dealing with infractions, but as tax payers, we also have a right to know that our resources are also being used to defend the vulnerable from alleged oppressors. It would be great if we could hear from you soon on the findings of your investigations. At the risk of preempting your findings sir, we hope that the end result will not be a reference to the ‘poor mental health’ of the accusers hence their delusions and false accusations. Since you have rigorous physical, emotional and psychological testing for new recruits, it is unlikely that they arrived at your barracks ‘damaged’. This will cause us to ask the question, ‘what happened to these two women in the barracks to make them go crazy?’

I came across a study done in the United States, called ‘Why women don’t report sexual harassment: A case study of an elite military institution’. The military institution was the US Naval Academy. According to the findings, 96.8% of Academy women experienced some form of sexual harassment within a six-month period, while 48.4% reported experiencing harassment on a recurring basis. Only 26 cases were reported during a five-year period. The women interviewed discussed two potential consequences of filing grievances, the first being the perception that nothing would be done and the second, the possibility of negative repercussions. Even though this study was carried out in the US, the findings sound all too familiar and can apply to most institutions around the world.

Dear sir, please accept the possibility (actually, the fact, I am just trying to choose my words carefully) that there are scores of Philomenas and Ruths in your army today. You might never hear their stories because they will be afraid no one will believe them or the consequences will be dire. A culture of silence fuels impunity and creates a vicious circle.  I humbly suggest that you create an enabling environment for them not only to come forward with their experiences, but to ensure that the victims do not end up being punished instead of the alleged offenders. I am sure the Army does not want to encourage the narrative that women are not safe in the institution, and that even Army officers would not consider encouraging their own daughters or sisters to join the army.

Considering the times we live in, with our lives, livelihood and property being threatened by bandits, kidnappers, thieves and sundry villains, we cannot afford to have our faith in the uniformed forces shaken any further.  If the Armed Forces have accepted the presence of women, they should also know that rules and procedures have to be put in place to make sure these women become productive soldiers in the service of their country and not reduced to basket cases because of the deep-seated misogyny and discrimination in the forces. I trust that you will do the right thing sir. Let one of your legacies in this office be that of a leader who protected the vulnerable on his doorstep before attending to the dangers beyond.

Yours Sincerely

Erelu Bisi Fayemi (Concerned mother and citizen, Former First Lady, Ekiti State).

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Policy Advocate and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

One Response

  1. This is totally unfair. Those that assaulted and harassed those women needs to be brought to justice to coup this menace

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