The Handling Of Seyitan’s Rape Allegations Against D’banj Speaks To How We Treat Victims Of Sexual Violence in Nigeria

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Seyitan Babatayo’s rape allegations against D'banj, and the response to it, shows just how prevalent rape culture remains in Nigeria
D'Banj at the 2015 Spring Meetings

What Exactly Happened?

In early June, Seyitan Babatayo accused Afrobeats star Oladapo Oyebanjo, popularly known as D’banj, of rape. She stated that this happened in Glee Hotel, Lagos on the night of 30th December 2018. According to Seyitan’s tweets, D’banj gained access to her room. She woke up and when she saw him asked him what he was doing, he then raped her.

Before she shared her story, Model scout Benjamin Ese had taken to his Instagram to accuse D’banj of raping a friend of his in her hotel room in 2018. This was in response to D’banj posting anti-rape slogans on his Instagram. Mr. Ese described in gory details how D’banj had raped his friend on that night and said of D’banj’s anti-rape posts, “Take this post down and stop clouting, stop being a preacher against rape cos you’re a rapist.”

He did not mention Ms. Babatayo by name. She came forward with her story on the 3rd, in a series of now-deleted tweets. She also released a statement demanding a public apology from D’banj.

Three days later, she went to the Bar Beach police station, to file a formal report. She was unable to because the officers refused to attend to her.

On the 15th, D’banj’s legal team put out a response. They demanded therein that Ms. Babatayo recant all her allegations, retract her statement, apologize for them and pay D’banj N100million in damages. She was to agree to all these including publishing her apology in four national dailies, within 48 hours.

At this juncture, the police got involved. In a statement posted to her Twitter account, Ms. Babatayo said that the next day, 16th June, her apartment was stormed by four armed policemen who abducted her. She was held overnight at the IRT annex at Harold Shodipo Crescent, Ikeja, without charge, forced to sign a gag order, and then handed to D’banj’s team. 

Feminist Activists Used Satellite Mapping to track and Rescue Seyitan

When it became apparent that no one could contact Ms. Babatayo, her friends and other activists raised alarm. They pointed to the fact that none of her friends could reach her and all her tweets naming D’banj as her rapist had been deleted off her twitter account and in their place tweets retracting her statements and sharing reconciliatory messages were put up.

Seyitan’s mother was contacted and informed, funding and resources were organized by her friends, feminist activists, and organizations like The Stand To End Rape (S.T.E.R.) Initiative who then tracked down her location using satellite mapping.

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She was found on the 18th of June and taken to a secure location.

In her statement released through the Stand To End Rape (S.T.E.R) Initiative, she said she was “coerced, pressured and intimidated in person by D’banj and team to retract all statements and to announce that my testimony was a publicity stunt.”

On the 22nd of June, she successfully filed a rape complaint against D’banj at the gender desk of the Nigerian Police Force Lagos Police Command Headquarters, Ikeja Lagos.

Public Reaction

The illegal and high-handed response of D’banj’s team drew immense push back from feminist activists and allies. The sum of N1.6million was raised from public donations to support Seyitan’s legal defense. An online petition asking for Heritage Bank Africa, One Africa, CSA Global, and The UN for whom D’banj is a youth ambassador, to disassociate from him has received almost 25,000 signatures. Heritage Bank has reportedly suspended him as their brand ambassador.

But there was at the same time a concerted campaign, led by D’banj’s media team, to discredit Seyitan’s story. It is very troubling, the number of Nigerians who continue to adhere to these misogynist narratives because of how prevalent rape culture is in our mainstream socialization.

Ms. Babatayo’s story was called into question, first for its setting. The hotel. Why was she there and how is it possible that a stranger gained access to the room without her permission?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for hotel receptionists to give women’s keys to men let alone when the man in question is D’banj, one of the most popular Nigerian artistes.

Women also took to Twitter to share their own personal experiences and point out past occurrences of a lack of privacy in many hotels.

There were also questions as to how she could afford the hotel, and why it took her almost two years to speak up. Both of which are questions that only serve to cast aspersions on the motive of sexual assault survivors. What does it matter when the survivor decides to come forward with their story? It is such a dishonest thing, asking women to break their silence and come forward with their stories only to ask them “Why now?” when they decide to share their ordeals.

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D’banj’s former manager disclosed in an interview this month that Ms. Babatayo called him the day following the rape incident to tell him about it.

She was also subjected to a slut-shaming campaign led by D’banj’s team. This they did by injecting claims into the public discourse meant to cast her as promiscuous as a way of discrediting her. The tweet below was retweeted by D’banj, despite his earlier claims that he has never seen Seyitan before the accusations.

Behind it is the assumption that women who have sex cannot be raped. Because apart from that assumption, what exactly would be the point of the claim? What exactly is the relevance? This is in addition to the claim being false. D’banj performed in a series of events in Nigeria and South Africa throughout September 2018, and the Cotonou Music show happened in November 2018, not September.

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There was also the question of the NPF’s role in what Ms. Babatayo was made to go through. The Lagos State Police Command said it was not aware of Seyitan’s arrest.

It has since doubled down, insisting that Ms. Babatayo was never arrested by the police. This narrative was used to further discredit Ms. Babatayo. Even popular advocate against police brutality, Segun Awosanya, more popularly known as Segalinks, spotlighted the police’s statements, basically repeating the police’s claims as truth. 

Where is The Commitment To Women’s Safety?

Suddenly Nigerians, whose everyday interactions have been marked with violence and brutalization from the police, believed the police. It is so insidious that even young Nigerian men who every day have to fight cases of police brutality from SARS suddenly trusted the Nigerian police’s account of the events. No matter whose voice it is, it is deemed more credible than that of a woman coming forward with her story.

The burden of having a watertight case is placed on women. We as a society continue to pretend that sexual violence against women isn’t very prevalent in this country, despite the fact that an estimated two million women and girls are sexually assaulted in this country every year. 

We must unlearn this culture of silence and shaming, this impulse to retraumatize victims. Too often our response to rape allegations isn’t to listen but to assume the victim is lying until proven otherwise. And then to go above and beyond looking for evidence to establish her guilt.

This approach only serves to discourage victims of gender-based violence from speaking up. Because they are not blind. They can see that each woman that has broken silence has been demonized and targeted.

We must stop treating alleged abusers like they are victims. It does not show neutrality. What it shows is that we still refuse to believe women. It shows, too, that we will hold placards with “Say No to Rape” and “Speak Up Against Rape” but will then tear down every single detail of a woman’s life when she decides to come forward.

It shows a society so complicit in silencing women that it would even believe organizations like the police. An organization they know does not have a history of honesty or transparency.

Backing Words With Action

Recently, Ms. Babatayo agreed to a settlement with D’banj. In a statement posted on her Twitter page, she clarified that she asked for Segun Awosanya, popularly known as Segalink, to help her negotiate a settlement.

The tweet read:

I want my PEACE.

@segalink

@StandtoEndRape

Thank you so much

She also wrote to the police and withdrew her charges “for personal reasons.” But the way the case went is still very important for understanding the social climate of the country.

We pay lip service to abhorring rape but our societal attitudes provide a breeding space for sexual abusers because it does not keep them to account.  Last year, a senator even proposed the death sentence for rape. We put up long prison sentences for rape, but our carceral systems do not keep sexual abusers to account. It has failed women.

Even without coming down on any side of this case, it is obvious to me that Ms. Babatayo was treated quite unfairly and was not provided a safe environment in which to make her case. She, and not the alleged rapist, was put on public trial. She suffered a loss of comfort, an invasion of her privacy, arbitrary arrests, and an insane disruption of her everyday life.

This is how we sustain a violent social environment against women who have suffered gender-based violence. Because there is such a high premium on speaking up. Such dire consequences for coming forward. And this is harmful to the healing process for those who have suffered sexual violence.

As the calls for a change to what we know are women’s harsh realities continue to grow, there must also be a commitment to tearing down the values and social attitudes that reinforce gender-based violence against women. We cannot continue to put up near-insurmountable roadblocks to the processes through which women are refashioning society into one in which they feel safer.

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