Ellis Island, 1998: Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova beneath the Statue of Liberty.
By Amatesiro Dore
“The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Wole Soyinka, ’86 Nobel Laureate.
It was the summer of ’98. At the United Nations Plaza in New York, the Nigerian Minister of Women’s Affairs led the official government delegation to present the combined second and third periodic report [from the second most corrupt country in the world and one of the deadliest military dictatorships on the global stage] to The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) while Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova was one of seven delegates from a Nigerian feminist network selected to present a shadow report that disputed, counteracted and called out the embellished report presented by representatives of the Nigerian military junta.
The official government report had exaggerated their small accomplishments like the appointment of a female minister of women’s affairs. It also brandished some inaccuracies such as the provision of subsidised housing for rural women, almost-equal enrolment of girls and women into educational institutions, and had whitewashed the abysmal developmental indices prevalent in the country between 1986 and 1994, the years in review. In response to some of the questions from CEDAW Committee members, the Honourable Minister of Women’s Affairs also erroneously claimed that under-aged girls and young women were forced to get married in order to curb prostitution.
The Shadow Report presented by Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova and other members of the Nigerian NGO CEDAW Coalition proved that the actual child and maternal mortality rate was comparable to a passenger-filled Boeing 747 crashing every day. Infectious diseases, such as polio, that was previously close to eradication had returned like a plague, especially in northern Nigeria. For a fact, some medical conditions that solely affected women had suddenly become prevalent, again, at university teaching hospitals. The enrolment of girls in secondary schools remained catastrophically low, especially after the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo ’94) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing ’95). And the enrolment of girls and women into tertiary institutions had dropped to a single digit level. Annoyingly, women in Nigeria required permission from male family members to access obstetric emergency care. Leaders of civil society groups were routinely assassinated by government agents and even the National Council of Women Societies in Nigeria (NCWS) had been co-opted by the unconstitutional Office of the First Lady. Painfully, all developmental indicators for women in Nigeria were on the decline and the federal and state governments had refused to domesticate the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova and her brave colleagues sneaked into the closed-door meeting of the Committee and were glad when their shadow report was used to grill the Nigerian government delegation. It was with great joy and vindication that they witnessed the Ivorienne Minister of Women’s Affairs famously quipped at her Nigerian counterpart: “Madam the Minister, from which man did you get permission to attend this meeting?”
After the tension of the CEDAW Committee session and meetings, Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova and her audacious colleagues were ferried to Ellis Island to pay homage to the Statue of Liberty. They also visited the World Trade Centre and other tourist destinations in New York. They were offered temporary residencies in New York, pending the cooling off of perceived Nigerian government tempers, but the busy matriarchs and feminists decided to return home, as scheduled, to face whatever punitive repercussions for their shadow report.
When the bold activists arrived home, the Nigerian military government had bigger fishes to fry, the transition was underway into democracy and they were permitted to continue their activism pending contrary instructions from above. Luckily, the Godfather and Chief Executioner of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha, died a few weeks before the submission of the shadow report. Nevertheless, his goons and firing squad continued to run the affairs of the country.
Draconian Laws and Perils at Home
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor
2005 was not the first time the people and government of Nigeria came for sexual minorities. It was the first time a democratically elected national assembly tried to abrogate the rights of a few, dehumanise their collective existence and codify a system for the murder, assault, blackmail, extortion, rape, legal discriminations, incarcerations and mass exile of consenting adults who do not express the normative sexuality and gender identities of their hypocritical, ignorant and intolerant countrymen. It’s ironic that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration pushed for the legal manacle and subjugation of sexual and gender minorities after the 2005 International Conference on HIV/AIDS (ICASA) in Abuja, Nigeria. After repeated harassments of sexual minorities, organised depletion of their resources and attacks on their networks, it was finally signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
And then they came for our girls under the guise of Boko Haram and this sacrilege was denied by the federal government and resisted as an act of political opposition tactics to unseat the President. And before we could rally public support and international response, the Chibok school girls were criminally tucked away in the bosom of Boko Haram commanders at Sambisa forest.
And then they came for our lands, unborn children and the destiny of our local communities under the guise of cattle herding, cattle colonies and cattle policies. At the expense of actual human beings and nationalities that have lived peacefully in their ancestral lands for centuries before the jihad of Usman dan Fodio and the crusade of British evangelists.
And then they came with the perennial fuel scarcities in a time of continued and unchallenged rationing of electricity supply. And then they came with the unjust increase of the illegal toll fares on Lagos roads, and have made it illegal to be poor and live on the island of the nation’s economic capital.
And then they came for our National Television Authority, making it illegal for journalists in the largest television network in Africa to broadcast “sensitive and topical national issues”.
And they came for our civil society organisations and sought to illegally regulate their activism and funding.
And then they will come for people like Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova who have refused to keep silent in the face of tyranny.
And then they will come for you.
Vitória é certa
“How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight…” Deuteronomy 32:30
(The Bible, King James Version)
In reaction to the endless attack and abrogation of universal human rights in Nigeria and around the world, the International Centre for Sexual Reproductive Rights (INCRESE) and Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova are calling for a multi-sectoral coalition of human rights groups, around the country, with our international allies, donors and partners, to support a mass movement of civil rights, and to push back against draconian regimes, punitive laws and anti-freedom policies in Nigeria.
Today is the time to remember the intersectionality of rights and fight for the dignity of every human being:
- That the Holocaust of January 30, 1933 – May 8, 1945, and the Rwandan Genocide of 7 April 1994 – July 1994 began under the same set of human rights apathy, currently prevalent in Nigeria, calls for extensive and radical alliance building which will champion advocacy at all levels and promote participation in political leadership and governance.
- That the dehumanisation of one group is the dehumanisation of all.
- That the promulgation of discriminatory laws paves the way for the violation of the human rights of all.
- That intolerance is a crime against humanity and fundamentalism is a universal vice.
We are inviting Nigerian civil society organisations operating across sectors to join us in this nascent, novel and revolutionary movement building initiative. We’re also mobilising over ten thousand direct beneficiaries of adolescent sexuality and leadership training programmes who now hold key positions with pivotal responsibilities across the country.
This movement building initiative will host an annual policy advocacy conference on the intersectionality of rights, titled “Connecting the Dots”, scheduled for a soon-to-be-announced date in 2018.
And the International Centre for Sexual Reproductive Rights (INCRESE) under the visionary and maverick leadership of Cesnabmihilo Dorothy Aken’Ova shall continue to provide psycho-social support services to victims and survivors of discriminatory laws, such as this Nigerian writer and as many that will come.
Ladies and gentlemen, a luta continua, vitória é certa!
Read Increse at a Glance: Begin with a Girl [Chapter I] here
Read Increse at a Glance: There was a Woman [Chapter II] here
Read Increse at a Glance: Destiny Begins [Chapter III] here
Read Increse at a Glance: Partners and Partakers of the Vision [Chapter IV] here