"When any of my customers wants to have sex with me without using condoms, I usually protest. Then we will strike a bargain and we will do it. He won't know that he is buying his death with his own money. However, there are many who will never have sex without using condoms. But I have a way of dealing with them. When I am having sex with such men, I usually shake my buttocks vigorously so as to burst the condom, and if the condom bursts and the man is carried away, he won't bother about fixing another condom".
These lines are taken from a pathetic story in The Sun newspaper of Saturday, April 18. They belong to a young Nigerian lady called Sandra, who has been served the wrong end of the stick by a crazy society where the future is uncertain even for young girls, and who has chosen to become an assassin in protest. There are probably many others like her whose stories move us to tears and frustration and for whom we feel neither disgust nor pity but sympathy. Sandra's story holds in one explosive capsule, many of the disturbing issues in the Nigerian society: the insecurity of lives and property, the lack of trauma care for victims of circumstances, the abortion of hopes, rape, prostitution, abortion, poverty, the failure of governance, and the likely effect of psychological and social violence on the society at large. Increasingly, everyday, Nigerians are disappointed by society, and in all ways, they turn upon and against each other; such spectacle of man's inhumanity to man, such display of social violence. And yet it is common to hear them proclaim "the grace of God" in their lives.
Sandra's story is shocking says Henry Umahi, the reporter of her story. Indeed it is. Four years ago, the future lay at her feet. She was 17, a virgin, and she had just been offered admission into the Delta State University, Abraka, to study Banking and Finance. Many young Nigerians love to study Banking and Finance. It is certainly not one of those courses of study that former President Olusegun Obasanjo considered useless. She must have dreamt of getting a job in a bank, with a good salary to go with it, nicely cut skirts and the self-confidence that comes with having made something out of one's life. But Nigerian roads are full of dangers.
She had travelled to Asaba to visit her elder brother, her only sibling, who obviously was willing to pay her school fees. Two days after, her brother died in a motor accident. Motor accident is an easy cause of death in Nigeria. The roads are bad. The drivers are reckless. The vehicles are mostly second hand, used vehicles from Europe and North America running on used and worn tyres that are not made for the tropics. Earlier this year, the FRSC reported that over 1.2 million persons died from motor accident-related injuries in 2008 alone! The hospitals are ill-equipped, there is no emergency rescue facility, and concerned passers-by who usually stop to help, have no clues about how to deal with emergencies and save lives. Nigerians survive on the roads, by "the grace of God". "In fact for me", says Sandra, "life had come to an abrupt end." But the worst was yet to come. "Another tragedy befell me on my way home to tell my poor mother. Our bus was hijacked by five armed men. They took the vehicle into the bush, robbed us and raped the women. I was one of those the bastards raped. At that time I was still a virgin. I had not known a man. It was a very ugly experience and it made me wonder what a cruel world we live in. It was so horrible, I passed out during the gruesome rape. I had pleaded with them, but they wouldn't let go. Before the attacks, I was already in sorrow and tears. It was the worst thing that could happen to anyone and it made me form an opinion about men."
Sandra couldn't tell anyone what had happened to her. Rape is one of the biggest problems in Nigeria, and the unfortunate thing is that the extant law and the fear of social stigma make it extremely difficult for women who have been so abused to get justice. Robbery on the highways is also rampant. Vehicles are waylaid by armed robbers and after looting cash and property, the hoodlums always end up raping the women. Rarely do the victims go to the police. Women are raped in police stations too by police officers and other uniformed men.
When soldiers raided Odi a few years ago, after sacking the community, they asked the women to line up and they raped them one after the other. The Punch newspaper published the photographs but there is no record of any soldier being punished for rape. These days, the newspapers are full of reports of rape: old men abuse young girls, campus cultists rape female students and female lecturers, fathers rape their daughters. The ones who get caught blame the Devil. The country is full of the devil's agents. Unless rape is properly criminalized by protecting the interest of the victim, the problem is bound to persist. The highways also need to become more secure.
Sandra couldn't "bring herself to tell anyone what happened, not even her mother", because she didn't want to be stigmatised. She couldn't seek help, because there are no counseling centres provided by the state. Then all of a sudden, she discovered that she was pregnant. She finally had to confide in her mother. She also chose to abort the pregnancy: those who insist that abortion is anti-God should read her story. She had no choice. Then, after the abortion, she discovered that she had been infected with the dreaded HIV. With her brother dead, there was no way she could take up the offer of admission into university. With the HIV-infection, she felt her world had come to an end. From being a virgin and a prospective university student, circumstances had conspired to turn her into a failure, all within six months.
When one of her friends later suggested that she could go to Lagos and become a commercial sex worker, she readily agreed. Her goal: "to make money and to infect men with HIV". And so she says: "for three years now, I have been distributing the stuff and it makes me really happy. Men are evil; they deserve no mercy. To hell with the men of this world". By the reporter's calculations, Sandra would have infected about 4, 640 men with HIV in the last three years, at the rate of four men per day. These are men who do not want to use condom, or those who fall victim of Sandra's buttocks-wriggling tactics.
Is Sandra the devil-incarnate? Is she suffering as they say around here, "from home trouble?". What is known is that she thinks all the men of this world are evil. If she was sure that the armed robbers who raped her were later arrested and made to pay for their crime, perhaps she would have been satisfied that justice had been done. She believes that the world is cruel and she is willing to promote that cruelty further. Should we blame her? A few years ago, the story was told of a self-respecting lady who was raped by armed robbers. She couldn't stand the shame. She reportedly committed suicide. Sandra is not willing to die, rather she has become an assassin: punishing menfolk for the crime that five of their kind committed. Imagine the number of other women and men that would have fallen victim through Sandra.
Even in her unhappy state, she had cause to smile recently when two soldiers decided to rape her at Tarkwa Bay. She said she not only enjoyed the moment, she "was shedding tears of joy". "The only thing that I regret is that they stole my money and handsets". What a story. Human lives no longer mean anything to her. For her, money and a handset are more important. And "any man that comes her way is an enemy".
And she tells her story with utmost glee. Her story speaks to the failure of government. It is the responsibility of government to inspire confidence in the justice system, so that aggrieved persons may seek justice formally rather than resort to jungle justice and self-help. Sandra's protest is not only directed at men, but also at the Nigerian state which has been unable to protect men, women and human rights and provide equal opportunities for all.
This is also a story that should be circulated among all men who keep multiple partners, including those who do not patronise prostitutes, but who like to play around all the same, buying death with their money. Those who argue that abstinence and fidelity to a single partner is the best way to minimize the risk of HIV infection through sex should be excited by this story. "AIDS no dey show for face," says one advert on television. Sandra's picture is published in The Sun newspaper, with her face blocked out to protect her identity, but the visible outline of her body, gait and gap-tooth suggests that she must be quite attractive. Who would ever suspect that she is an assassin on the prowl? And how many ladies are like her and even men too, looking for ways of spreading HIV?
The Sun newspaper should not stop at telling her story, efforts should be made to bring help her way. Civil society groups working on HIV/AIDS issues should seek her out, and help to wean her from her chosen "mission to kill". She also obviously needs psychiatric help. But more importantly, a lot still needs to be done to enlighten Nigerians about the reality of HIV/AIDS. Until Fela, the Afro-beat maestro died of HIV-related complications and his family chose to disclose the cause of death, many Nigerians regarded HIV/AIDS as Western propaganda. After a few years of so-called general awareness, Nigerians have now gone back to their old state of denial. There are Nigerian men who continue to insist that they will never use condom or that it is unnatural to stay with one partner.
"How can a man be eating the same thing everyday?", they query. "Do you know anybody who is living with HIV/AIDS.? Everywhere you turn: AIDS AIDS, AIDS but I don't know anybody who has died of AIDS. Look more people are dying from malaria and heart attack", one fellow once argued. I have heard people declare cynically that "man must die of something." When you point to national statistics and the HIV sero-prevalence, they readily tell you that those figures have been manufactured by NGOs and government agencies in order to attract foreign funding. And these are supposed to be educated Nigerians.
And so they fall into the hands of the likes of Sandra, with a fine face, murderous condom-negotiating skills and the heart to kill. And the tragedy spreads. What does the law say? Is she insane? Or she should be recommended for arrest, but she would probably end up sleeping with an entire police station, spread more HIV, and walk free.