I am sure by now, everyone has heard of the terrible ordeal Ese went through. The story goes that, at 13 years old, Ese, a girl from Bayelsa state was kidnapped by a northerner, taken to Kano and forced to be a muslim and was wedded to him. After a period of time, it was brought to the attention of the media and there was a media frenzy. She has now returned home but alas, that is not the end of the tragic story. Ese is now pregnant, at 14.
When my brother, a social media addict, told me about it, I was enraged. How dare this man do this to the poor girl? It did not matter what excuses were given. What I know for a fact is that she is the child and he is the adult. He should know better and what he did was wrong. Ese’s story became a trending topic. I kept hearing about it everywhere. In the news, on the radio, on whatsapp, on facebook, in arguments amongst friends and peers, and as an example from lecturers. I was happy her case was getting all these attention. I was happy that Nigerians were as enraged as I was. But I kept asking myself? How did this miracle happen? Why is Ese’s case so different? Why hasn’t this happened before? I mean the last time Nigeria spoke loudly about such an issue was when the Chibok girls were kidnapped.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying Ese’s case doesn’t deserve the attention it is getting. It does. Ese’s case is special. But so are the other nameless girls that have gone through this ordeal and are still going to go through this. Ese was kidnapped. There are thousands of cases of kidnap and child trafficking in Nigeria today, for various reasons. Ese was forced to marry an adult. 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. Ese was sexually abused. The rate of child sexual abuse in Nigeria is alarmingly high. The fact is that because of stigma, many sexual abuse victims do not speak up. Ese is pregnant. The rate of teenage pregnancy in Nigeria is currently alarming and only getting higher. So why has no one said anything about these nameless girls that have gone through trafficking, abuse, sexual exploitation, slavery, rape and an utter violation of their rights?
Why is she special? Is it because Ese, a southerner was taken to the north? Is it because a northern practice was forced on a southerner? Why are we not crying out about other victims?
Our problem in Nigeria is that we do not see the problems of others as our problem. Southerners do not care about child marriage because they believe it is not their problem. Northerners do not care about trafficking because they believe it is not their problem. We are one Nigeria, but we fail to see that. When you allow something to fester in your neighbour’s house, eventually, you will begin to perceive the smell. That is what is happening.
I know what made Ese special. She is special because the media told her story. Many of these victims are voiceless. We need the newspapers to tell more stories of these kind. Let the social media continue to be in a frenzy over all these other nameless girls. That housegirl you know who is being abused. That teenage girl who is forced to marry the rapist who impregnated her. That girl who is forced to be a wife when she is still a child. Those girls who are on the streets and are vulnerable to rape and abuse. We need to speak for them, because they are not able to speak for themselves.
Let us rage at the government to provide more measures to protect our girls. Let us ask those states that are yet to ratify the child rights laws in their states to do so and ensure that these laws are enforced. Let us not cover the mouths of our girls when they want to speak up. Let us make our children know what sexual abuse is, and ensure that we will listen to them if they need to talk about it. Let us protect our girls by making them know they have a right and that they can talk to us about anything and any man and that we will listen. Let us do something, because if we don’t do something, Something will do us. It is no more their problem, it is our problem.
Ese’s story is terrible, but so are the stories of every other girl who has been abused. That is my conclusion.