Bolaji Odunuga: Nigeria Needs Laws to Protect Victims, Hold Rapists Accountable

by Duke Magazine

The publisher of UK-based Duke and Duchess International Magazines, Ms Bolaji Odunuga, was recently guest on Bisi Akin-Alabi’s SchoolRun Academy Series on Instalive, where she spoke on the virtues of a complete woman, rape pandemic, among other issues. Kolade Elusanmi presents excerpts from the interview.

Can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Abolaji Odunuga. I am a mum to three lovely boys,

Excellent! Three lovely boys?

Yes, I am a SAP analyst and also CEO of Duke and Duchess International Magazines. I started Duchess first in 2015, and then went further to launch the print edition in 2018 in Nigeria to reach a wider audience. Duchess International Magazine focuses on strength, uniqueness and relevance of women, same as Duke, only that it sets its lenses on the male gender. Duke International launched only a few months ago and so far, the response has been amazing I must say.

What are the virtues of a complete woman because you are a complete woman. You are a woman who is well educated, who is in a good career, you are an SAP administrator and you are also a publisher. Can you tell us what makes a woman complete because a lot of women don’t believe they are complete until they have a man or until they are married. Some women will be waiting until they find a man before they can carry on with their ambition. I will like you to encourage our young lady back home so that they know the virtues of a complete woman?

For me, everyone has their definition of the virtues which defines a complete woman. Most times when we talk about a women been virtuous, people tend to quote proverb 31- you know they could say she is wise, dignified, she must be loving, she must be kind, she must be selfless you know it goes on and on, but for me every woman has to be her own woman and every woman is virtuous and complete. So if I were to give my own definition of being a complete woman, it means you have to live in abundance and when I say abundance I mean you have to know your self-worth, you have to love yourself, you have to know your strength, you have to know who you are. When you know who you are, that is when your light shines through to your children, your partner, your friends and everyone throughout the world. So it is very important for a woman to know herself, her inner strength, to discover herself. Like you said, some of us believe if I am not married, I am not complete, it’s a choice and you have to be able to define what your own choice is. To be in abundance to some people means I want to stay single and I want to have a job, I want to be able to impact other people’s lives in certain areas.

While to some others, it equates getting married, having kids and so on. To be honest with you, with any choice you make, you are complete, if that actually brings you inner joy.

Inner joy?

Yes, it’s from the inside, you have that conviction of self -inside you that makes you know you are complete and for me I have three qualities that I use to define myself which are love, respect and integrity.

Love, Respect, and Integrity?

Yes, I have to love myself first before I can love my children or love my partner or love my sister or love my mum, because it is that light in me that shines through to them, which will in turn give them to their own sense of fulfillment in the sense that they will be able to define themselves too in that way as being worthy, being enough.

In terms of respect, it means that I will treat you as I want you to treat me and I will make sure I hold onto my standard in the sense that I am not getting too familiar in any way that will breed disrespect. I expect you to do same for me as well, and that actually carries weight and my integrity and therefore, my reputation. That is, when you meet with people and they ask you of who Duchess is, you then define who you think I am, based on interaction.

There are three things I can take away from what you said love, respect and integrity. In whatever a woman is doing love, respect and integrity is important and also a sense of fulfillment within yourself that whatever gives you joy, gives you completeness. So really being complete does mean you have to be, married if you don’t want to be married?

It’s a choice

We need to know we were created complete. Every woman is created complete.

Every woman is her own woman.

What is the meaning of Duchess?

When I started Duchess, I found myself in a very dark place at that point in my life, and I was trying to find a way out. Before the name Duchess came to me, I was almost depressed, I was at that point so I needed to soak in as much positivity as possible. I would usually re-affirm and re-assure myself saying “Bolaji you are fine, you are okay, You are beautiful, you are enough, don’t worry you will be fine.” At that point, I was looking forward to women to support me, to say to me you know what, we hear you, we see what you’re passing through, but you will be okay. We love you still, we are not going to judge you, but I only saw like 5% of women who stood up and had my back, and I struggled real hard. My therapy then was writing about how I got to that place, what happened? What did I not do? What did I do? I had a friend then, Scottish, she said to me “don’t kill yourself”, just write and that was what I was doing then. I wrote and wrote my heart out, but one day I was in bed, and I heard this song from Lorde called ‘Royals’, and I am going to read you some of the lyrics: ‘And we will never be royals; it don’t run in our blood. That kind of lux just aint for us; we crave a different kind of buzz. Let me be your ruler (Ruler) you can call me queen bee, and baby I will rule, I will rule. Let me live that fantasy.’

I got up from bed and said to myself, ‘actually I can be a duchess, a duchess is married to a duke isn`t and if you treat me like a duchess, if you think me like a queen, I will rule your world. Give me the chance live that fantasy.’

And I started thinking, it was like a light bulb moment for me, and I was like ‘yeah that is the name Duchess’. Every woman is Duchess, every woman is complete, and every woman is amazing, is enough. It took me a while to be able to register that name because they refused me using it. So, I had to take permission from the Queen, and I was told to justify the reason. So, I sent them a long letter explaining my reasons, and I was thereafter allowed to use the name and since then it has been amazing.

When I started using that name (it started from my friends) I changed my name on Facebook to Duchess and someone ask me ‘Duchess, which of the Duchesses are you?’

I said my own kind of Duchess. It took a while for them to actually embrace it, but they did at the end, because it’s the way you define yourself that people will define you; if you call yourself Duchess, people will look up to you as a duchess, but if you say to people “I am not enough”, you have already say to people who you are, so they look at you like not being enough, hence, it is very important we define who we are.

We can see your tenacity, your determination, your focus got you the name ‘Duchess’, because it is really part of the royal family.

Yes, it is.

A duchess is married to the duke, and you are not married to any of the dukes, but you are our duchess, I am so proud of you of what you have done.

Thank you!

You know let me tell you a story that I normally tell people about womanhood and about being a female. Being a female means you are good because in the bible the lord said, let us make man in our own image then he made man. They now said he now looked at man, and said it is not good for man to be alone; let’s make a helpmate. So, if it is not good for man to be alone and they make something to be good, so we women we are made to make good, and we are always the better half of the man, as nobody should pull you down as a woman, nobody should make you feel little, you are complete. 

Duchess, we are having a lot of issues right now, we are getting our girls killed, raped and then killed. What is your view about the recent rape cases and how can education be used to solve this issue of rape, what can we do to help our society?

It’s so sad and disheartening, all the news. Last Friday, I felt emotionally overwhelmed, and just couldn’t stop crying, because I was just like when is this going to stop?… However, we must not forget that when we talk about rape, it has been in existence for so long, it has! And in our country Nigeria, there are no stringent laws against rape which attracts grave penalties for offenders and where there is no law, there is no offense. So, that means it’s not classified as an offense. Thank God for social media platform and the awareness. Critically looking at the rape menace, I think the existing lockdowns and stay at home order brought about by the COVID-19 has brought out the scourge of rape to light, because a lot of people were home, and had time to reflect, gather thoughts, and therefore speak up. In terms of measures which must be put in place, the first thing is that there has to be a law to protect rape victims, if not it will keep happening. We have been screaming about existing cases but even Friday there was still another case.

Even today, there was a case today.

There has to be a law that protect victims and actually a law that holds rapists accountable. Until we have that, we will always just keep talking about it without resolution. Secondly, I believe schools should start teaching sex education, I don’t know if they do because I can’t remember having one when I was young in Nigeria. But over here, sex education is being taught from the age of nine, and with parental consent, they even show them videos that “this is the deal and this is what you must not do.”

When my son got to year seven, he was taught that there are different reasons why girls can be upset, and can be behaving in a very funny way, sometimes, when they are on their periods. He came home and asked me to tell him more about it and we did discuss it. If sex education is being taught, maybe that will actually create more awareness and actually reduce rape in Nigeria. In addition, there should be refuge center, I am not sure if we have refuge centers back home in Nigeria that provide access to victims where they can actually go to confide in someone.

My last point is family, because family plays a greater role in this rape issue I saw a statistics here in the UK, which says that a great percentage of rape are actually done by families and friends.

Yes, the people you know?

Yes, people you know and this starts from a woman, a mother, how is your relationship with your children. Do you talk to them? Do you know your child? I was in Nigeria some few years ago, and I was speaking to some of my aunties about some issues I was going through. One of them was like, what are you talking about, your issue is not bad. These are people that live in wealthy areas in Nigeria, and I was emphasizing this is really bad. You cannot be treating people like that, but one of them was like No!,“look at me, when I have issue with my husband, he will lock me in his basement and my first son will bring food and throw it to me”. This woman is a top woman, yet she can be locked up for seven days. but when she comes out from that place, she is going to clean up, dress up go into her range rover and young women like us will look at her and say “oh you are my role model, I love you.” Really! So that boy sees how his dad is treating his mum, do you think owing to that background he will go out and treat a girl right? He won’t, and you as a woman, you decided to stay there because you don’t want to be alone or other reasons, but what you don’t realize is your children are watching. We are a reflection of our children, they see, they see what mummy and daddy does, and they go out to actually express it to other people. Most likely, that kind of a child won’t treat a woman right as an adult. It has to start from homes; it has to start from the parent, the dads, the mums. You have to have a relationship with your child; you have to talk to them. In as much as our teachers can do their best, they spend more time at home with you. Do you actually spend time with your child? Do you actually know your child? Do you know their friends? Do you know what he has been up to? And for me, what I want to really emphasize on is, we women need to think this thing through. Since the past few weeks that we have been talking about rape, rape. We had few people that came out advocating against it, and I saw Tiwa savage even created a hashtag #WeAreTired are you not tired? Are we not tired of it? The news is all over, but my problem is some people are keeping quiet about it, as they think it’s not their business because it’s not their child. Today, I saw a video of a two year girl old that was raped and the mum beat the little girl blaming her for being raped

I saw that too.

So you think about that, so we need women that are educated to inform other women, look I am not going to lie to you I didn’t know about abuse until I was thirty three years old, never was I taught or told. What I was told is, when you get married, everything you see in the marriage you stay in it, and the funniest part is even though you are been torn apart, they will advise you that you know what, have one more child and thing is going to be good. You then keep having more child, you keep getting into more issues. We need to move on from that kind of perception, if it doesn’t work, it’s not a crime to be single. Most people hardly set out to be alone, but if it doesn’t work, it’s not a crime to be single. But, with this issue that we have at the moment, we need people to come out; we need women to come out and talk. Tiwa Savage has already created the hashtag trending #wearetired. So far you are called a woman, even don’t forget that some boys are being raped too but they don’t talk about it, we all need to come together. I feel like no one is listening to us that is why they find it difficult to pass the law.

Do you know that the victims themselves don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to stand in front of their accusers, and they don’t want the stigmatization?

But, have you ever asked why? Why is that? We have just seen a video of a two year old who was raped, and what did her mum do? Smack the girl, that train of thought by itself is a major problem.

I was listening to one of this kind of educative and interactive program last week, and a lady called in opening up about being raped by her uncle. The only thing they did was to send her uncle parking out of the house, but her uncle is allowed to come to family events.

There was a woman I met who told me that she was raped every day from age six to about age fifteen by her uncle, because her mother left, and she was staying with her grandma and her uncle was about forty two years old. This woman is an advocate now for things like this. When she told me her story, I was crying, I can’t believe it, so, you are right Duchess, we need to talk more about these things. We need the government to do something about this.

We need the men, we need the government, but we need to start from somewhere. There is this African proverb that says “when there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm.”

Even if the men and government want to help us we as mothers, we gave birth to men, to boys, girls, women, we need to come together first, we need to speak up. What I feel like is that some people think my kids cannot be raped because they are secure, how do you know that? How do you know if your brother is sleeping with your child? How do you even know that? So, when you sit comfortably and think it’s none of my business, think about that, it is all of our business. We should stop judging each other, we should embrace our uniqueness and that is when we can work together. If we want the men to help us, we need to help ourselves first, we are powerful, we are women. The problem why we don’t really come together is because they know if we come together, it’s trouble. So until we decide to come together and encourage the next woman in spite of our differences, issues will still go unresolved.

I remember when the COVID-19 first came to light, there were a lot of videos about keeping safe, wash your hands, how many video have you seen about stop rape..stop it now, we are tired? How many women out there have actually come out, just do a one second video you don’t really need to say so much. We need your voice. Every voice matter, matters, we are all complete, we are all unique. We only need to come together, so when we come together and people see how strong we are, they will yield. They would listen, it starts from the top, and I am hoping it brings amazing results. We need to come together, we can’t keep quiet. Look at the black lives matter movement.

They are gaining momentum now

It was because they came together, and they actually decided enough is enough, we are tired of seeing our young girls even our elderly women being raped and we are all keeping quiet about this. Personally, I’m not comfortable with it, and I’m hoping we women can do something about it. We need to come together; when we come together, we will break all these chains, all sort of abuse. Lately, there have been a lot of videos saying women caused abuse, women don’t dress properly that is why they are being raped. You can’t say because I dress sexy then you raped me NO!, it’s not allowed, and we are tired of hearing things like that.

Would you say the prevalence of pornography is a contributing factor to these incessant rapes?

I wouldn’t say that, but it does contribute, because it is what you feed your mind that the thought process revolves around. Yes, people watch pornography and they do all sort of things, but that is no excuse to go rape a child, we are talking about young children here from two years, six years, even the elderly, Really!, can you just imagine it? There is no excuse.

So you said pornography might have yielded to the increase in rape cases. Thank you so much Duchess, I am so grateful for your coming, and we are going to call you again, to talk to us about other things.

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