After a group of men attempted to silence her through rape, Mama Africa vowed to raise her voice even louder.
As I heard the anger in my voice, I felt the strength to face the world.
Editor's note: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault.
I entered university believing I could help my school become a peaceful learning environment. Our university was dominated by fraternities that were imposing political ideologies on us as students. This system disadvantages students from different regions—making it difficult to get scholarships and pass exams—depending on what political party is in power.
In my second year of study, I created a campaign to urge our school to strictly monitor student clubs and social gatherings due to the dangers of these fraternities. My campaign led to changes in our student governance structure.
I was proud of my successful activism and had no idea I would soon face violent retaliation.
I was in my room on a rainy Wednesday night in 2013 when I heard a huge bang on my door. A gang of young men entered, dressed as if they were about to kill a lion. Their faces were masked so I could not recognize them. But as I write, I still remember their voices as they discussed among themselves their next action.
The one who seemed to be the leader asked for my name, the name of my university, and what courses I was taking. I answered as requested.
I looked at the men from behind the blanket I was using to hide my face. I could see from their faces that I was their intended target.
I was also hiding my 3-year-old son behind the blanket. I was surprised to find out that they already knew I had a son as they ordered me to hand him over.
My son was fast asleep and I begged the men to leave him out of this. One of the men removed my son from under the blanket and pointed a sharp little kitchen knife at his neck. He told me to do everything they said or they would kill him.
When I put up resistance, they slapped my son’s face. The tender sound of my son’s cries touched my soul.
“What do you want from me?” I asked.
“We are here to send you back to where you come from. You can't come to our land, get good grades at our university, and try to stop our activities as clans of this land. Therefore you will face the wrath of our anger.”
I continued watching my son from under my blanket to make sure he was safe. My heart wept as I saw one of the men pull down his trousers while another held a smartphone. I knew something terrible was about to happen.
The man raped me while others took photographs. The more I cried and pleaded for him to spare me and go slowly, the harder he went. I wept until he finished. Then he turned to one of the other men and said, "Me broda go enjoy u sef.” They taunted me and took turns raping me. All of this happened in front of my son’s eyes.
As they left, they pushed my son toward me and they promised that I would see the pictures all over campus the following morning. They said this would force me to go and leave them in peace to continue their activities.
“Mama, are you ok?” my son asked. I painfully held my tears and tried to speak with confidence to drive away his fears. “Yes, I am ok, let’s call for help.”
In the rain, I knocked on my auntie's door for help. Unable to withstand my story, she shouted for help from the neighborhood. Many people came to our refuge that night but unfortunately, it was the story of the town in the morning. People called me names as I passed by their houses on my way to the police station to file a report and to see a doctor.
As I sat on a bench waiting to see the doctor I heard him call out, “That girl that was gang raped last night, let her come in.” I realized that in addition to the bruises on my vagina and body, I now carried a new identity.
I started packing my things to leave the community as the rapists had ordered me to do. I couldn't bear seeing naked pictures of me all around the campus. I had hoped that the police would investigate and find the rapists, but that didn’t happen.
As people started consoling me, they had no idea exactly what was boiling inside me. I felt like committing suicide, but I thought about my son. I felt like using black magic to kill them all, but I remembered thou shall not kill. I thought about my education and wondered how I could start again. I cried myself out just imagining going back to campus and seeing my naked pictures around. Things were falling apart.
Alone in my room, I had a dream. A dream to fight my case out. A dream to reject the stigma of being raped. A dream to continue my education because that is the weapon I can use to fight against those rapists.
I accepted the message in my dream and went to campus the following Monday. As I arrived, the day began to play out like a movie in my head. I imagined naked pictures of me all over the campus. I couldn’t face it and returned back home. I locked myself in my room and cried again. This time I asked God to give me the strength to face the world for a second time so that I could live to tell my story.
I tried going to campus again on Tuesday. I was so scared that I refused to look at our student notice board.
When students greeted me I tried to put up a smile in response. But one day, I could hear the students who had just greeted me say to each other, "Is she not the girl that was raped a few days back?”
My smile never came. Instead, I turned around and said, “Oh yes, I am the girl. Should I have died because some stupid beast raped me!?” As I heard the anger in my voice, I felt the strength to face the world.
It is more than three years later and I am still looking out for those pictures. I worry about them being published when I attain a leadership position in the future. This fear caused me to go silent for a while, to try to make the rapists forget that I exist. But I am going through counseling sessions. I am starting to share my story to drive away my fears and inspire other sexual abuse survivors to envision a better life.
I still believe I can make a difference and help create peace in my university and in the community. I volunteer with our local police family support unit. I started a community initiative called FemWorld International to run peer educator clubs and create a channel of hope for teenage mothers and for victims of rape and child marriage. I am working toward my political aspiration to become a minister of social welfare, gender, and children's affairs so I will have more say in the fight against social vices affecting women and children of my country.
I refuse to give up on my education, which I need reach my dream of achieving zero tolerance for gender-based violence in my community. I stayed at my university despite my fears. And by God’s grace, in February, I will graduate with a BA in Mass Communication.
As I think about everything I endured to get here, this is the message I want to share with the world: Do not allow the actions of others to kill your dreams! You can fall a million times but the zeal you take to rise again will make you stronger than before.