‘It’s not just a joke!’ Nigerian comedians unite against rape culture

Screenshot of Nigerian comedians against rape from video uploaded on YouTube by HerStoryOurStoryNG.

Fourteen Nigerian comedians have taken a definitive stance against rape culture by making a commitment to stop making rape jokes. 

This was done in a 1.43-minute video clip featuring top Nigerian comedians in this order: Ali Baba (Atunyota Akpobome), Seyi Law (Lawrence Aletile), Broda Shaggi (Samuel Perry), AY (Ayodeji Makun), Lasisi Elenu (Nosa Afolabi), Frank Donga (Kunle Idowu), Mr. Macaroni (Debo Adebayo), Maraji (Gloria Oloruntobi), Real Warri Pikin (Anita Asuoha), EmmaOhMaGod (Emmanuel Edunjobi), Taooma (Apaokagi Maryam), Kenny Blaq (Otolorin Peter), Josh2Funny (Josh Alfred) and MC Lively (Michael Amanesi).

The clip starts with Ali Baba, Seyi Law, Broda Shaggi and AY emphasizing that these lame excuses are usually made for these jokes: “Telling a rape joke doesn’t mean I condone sexual violence,”  “Come on! It’s just a way to get people to laugh,” “It’s just a joke,” or “If it’s so bad, why did everyone laugh?”

This was followed by Lasisi Elenu stating that “these excuses are no longer acceptable” because, according to Frank Donga, “one in three women have experienced some form of sexual and gender-based violence, (SGBV).” This  “means that when you joke about rape, one out of every three women in your audience is negatively affected,” Mr. Macaroni asserted. 

Maraji, Real Warri Pikin, EmmaOhMaGod and Taooma further emphasised: “So, basically they have bought a ticket to relive their worst nightmare. Adding to their pain and undermining their suffering.” As though these were not cruel enough,  jokes of this nature, normalise rape culture and perpetuate violence, which makes it harder for survivors to speak out, “especially when audiences laugh…We have to stop turning survivors of sexual and gender-based violence into collateral damage, just for laughs. Because rape is not a joke!” 

Kenny Blaq admitted they have “contributed to this [rape joke] culture” in Nigeria, before coming together to put a stop to it. 

Six years ago, Nigerian comedian Basketmouth, known as Bright Okpocha, drew public ire with a joke that inferred that Nigerian women deserved to be raped if they decline sex by the second date, reports the Nigerian Guardian newspaper. 

The backlash against Basketmouth did not die out. In 2019, he was listed as an ambassador for the sexual and gender-based violence campaign by the delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and ECOWAS (EU in Nigeria). This instantly revived public outrage by Nigerian social media users which resulted in his losing the appointment.  

Rape and sexual assault in Nigeria

Sexual violence is pervasive in Nigeria. Women at Risk International Foundation asserts that “about 30 percent of women in Nigeria experienced one form of domestic violence or another” between 2012 and 2013 alone.   

Yet, most sexual assault cases are underreported in Nigeria, due to the stigma and propensity for victim-blaming. The United Nations Africa Renewal programme estimates that about “2 million Nigerian girls experience sexual abuse annually and that only 28 percent of rape cases are reported. Of those, only 12 percent result in convictions.”

In 2017, out of the reported 1,639 Nigerian survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, only “156 survivors accessed case management services and 226 benefited from legal assistance” from the Access to Justice project in northeast Nigeria, supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA). However, only “109 SGBV perpetrators were arrested, with 58 convicted and others on trial in Adamawa and Borno States,” according to the ReliefWeb.

The low rate of arrests and conviction can be linked to the fact that very few survivors tend to report these assaults to the police because the assailants are neighbours or family members. 

A retrospective review of survivors’ case records (between January 2008 and December 2012) by Nigerian gynecologist, Dr. Fatimat Akinlusi, and four others at the College of Medicine, Lagos State University, Ikeja, revealed that out of 39,770 gynaecological cases, 304 were sexually assaulted. The study also showed that 73 percent of survivors, who were below 19 years old, “knew their assailants (majority were neighbours)” and most assaults (54 percent) “occurred in the neighbours’ homes.”

Comedians shaping Nigeria’s contemporary culture

Nigerian culture scholars Sunday Adesina, at the University of Ibadan, and Ibukun Filani, at Central European University, assert that Nigerian stand-up comedians shape contemporary culture. This is because “by joking with cultural beliefs and representations within the performance space,” these comedians “mediate and negotiate what ‘contemporary culture’ should be,” say Adesian and Filani. 

The comedians’ initiative is spot-on because “the Nigerian entertainment sector has done so much harm by propagating and normalising sexual violence and rape culture so it is very encouraging to see a major part of that sector take a stand against rape,” Wuraola Abulatan, communications team lead of the social enterprise, Stand to End Rape Initiative told Global Voices via email.  

Abulatan is optimistic that the comedians’ stance against rape jokes will “advance the conversations” around rape and SGBV and their pledge will go a long way to fight against rape culture, victim-blaming and “the treatment of women as sexual objects.” 

This will swell the ranks of Nigerians who stand up “against rape in all spheres of their lives” and move toward creating “a safe space for everyone,” Abulatan affirmed. 

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