From “October Rush” to “October Rape”: Female Freshers Recount Nights of Sexual Abuse by Senior Male Students
Bimbo Coker’s (not real name) first day on campus in October 2008 was full of apprehension. It was expected.
As a 15-year-old who had spent all her primary and secondary school education at private schools in Osun State, she had never left the sight of her parents, not even for a day. All through her primary and secondary schooldays, she was known to be a quiet, obedient “mum’s girl.”
In the church on Sundays, she sat where her parents sat, and left for home when service was over. No time to play with friends after the grace was said. During the holidays and weekends, her parents — both educationists — got her tutors to groom her academically.
She is the only girl among five children.
Just about four months after sitting for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination with 1,369,141 others and making distinctions and credits in all nine subjects she sat for, she gained admission to study Biochemistry at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Nigeria.
Since her mum’s friend’s daughter, who was 10 years older than her, was a final year student of Agricultural Economics and Extension at the same university, her parents did not bother seeing her off to the school. After all, she was going to be an adult someday and sort out things on her own, they thought, perhaps.
After some pep talk on the day she was travelling to Ogbomoso, her parents let their ‘little bird’ fly. It would be her first experience outside home.
“Ordinarily, they never left me on my own for the first 14 years of my life. My parents were always there for me,” she told our correspondent in December 2015 at a church-organised seminar in Lagos city, where she now works as a customer care officer at a telecommunications firm.
But on this particular night, they were not there for her.
Her mum’s friend’s daughter — who she called her “school mum” — was, however, too busy with her final year project that she had no time for her to put her through the school system as the one-week orientation for freshers was not enough for her to grasp how the university system works.
“Eventually, I had to be on my own. I had to start acting like a lady and not a girl anymore, so I felt I should stop disturbing her. She was busy with her project and I couldn’t be the reason why she wouldn’t be able to concentrate,” Coker said. “But I still needed help. I had never been in a wide system like that before. Some things were confusing. I was able to meet with other freshers like me, and so we helped one another.”
Days flew by and registration period was about ending.
It was during one of the days she had to fill the course form and submit to the department that she met a 400-Level tall dark coursemate, Wale (not his real name), “who appeared to be a God-sent angel. He helped me out on almost everything,” she recalled.
From assistance, to resistance, then force
Coker told Saturday PUNCH that though she was embittered, she had decided to let go of what happened between Wale and her — for the sake of her own inner peace.
She narrated, “We soon became good friends. Though he was 14 years older than me, I was not bothered. He was like a big brother to me in school. I grew up among boys, so I felt comfortable with him. He would help me out on anything — how to approach lecturers, how to choose which course to offer when it came to selective ones, and so on. He was very friendly with me. Moreover, we attended the same campus fellowship and he played drums.
“He would help me with some assignments. Yeah, He is brilliant and read a lot then. It was even his seriousness that attracted him to me in the first place. I love a serious guy and meeting him that day and discussing with him afterwards, I couldn’t help but become his friend.
“There was a time I felt that I should caution myself because the closeness was getting too much. He noticed my behaviour and asked me why I was getting scared of him. Of course, I was a virgin then and I ought to. However, he told me he had a girlfriend, a then-300-Level Food Science and Engineering student. That put my mind at rest a bit. At least he wouldn’t betray the trust of the other lady, I assumed.”
Then the night came.
In January 2009, after resuming from the Christmas and New Year holidays, he was the first person to say hello to her at her hostel in the Adenike Area of the school.
“He was calling me almost every day during the holidays, asking me when I would resume. He said he would be excited to see me again in the new year and asked what I was going to bring for him while coming. My mum used to sell provisions apart from teaching, so I told him I was going to bring some for him. He was thankful. Due to his much perseverance and because I wanted to resume early too so I could start preparing for exams, I got back to school in the first week of January,” Coker said, resting her arms on a shiny mahogany table in the church office where she shared her story.
During the first week of resumption in most tertiary institutions, only a few students usually get back to school as most wait till the second or third week, observations have shown.
It was around 7pm when she heard the knock that day.No serious academic activity takes place during this period, except for pleasantries, gists and discussions among hostel and coursemates who resume early.
Coker said, “I didn’t think he was coming again because he had promised to come and see me by 1pm. Only about three of us had resumed in my hostel and the two others were not around. When I heard the knock, I thought they were my hostel mates who had also promised to come and visit me.
“I opened the door only to see Mr. Wale, flashing his teeth in the dark. We greeted and he entered. He apologised for coming late and I gave him what I brought for him. He said he was grateful and gave me a hug.”
The hug was the genesis of the incident that took place thereafter.
Coker said, “He didn’t leave me afterwards and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Before I knew it, he had started touching my body, my breasts and buttocks. I removed his hands, but he resisted. I resisted too and before I could say anything again, he got me into bed. I said ‘no’, but he wasn’t listening again. He raped me.
“After that night, I regret ever knowing him. He deflowered me and I felt like killing him. I saw him once after the incident, before he left for internship, and he tried so well to avoid me. When he was back, he was in 500-Level while I had got to 200-Level, he greeted me once and the second time we met at a departmental function, he called me aside and apologised.”
Our correspondent asked whether she reported the incident to the school authorities, but Coker said she was too afraid to do that as a fresher.
“One, I didn’t know who to report to or who would help me. Two, I didn’t want anybody, including my parents, to know about it. It just had to stay with me. He left me that night in sorrow, piercing my heart, but I asked God to avenge for me,” she said.
Six years after the incident, our correspondent asked Coker whether she had moved on.
“He called me sometime ago and apologised for what happened that night. I could hear him weeping at the other end of the phone. He said it was the devil’s work and that he was overwhelmed that night. He said the devil got hold of him and that he had never been himself again thereafter. He said he had no peace and wanted my forgiveness. He pleaded with me. Well, I forgave him and at least my heart had been free from it ever since. However, the experience has made me never to trust any man again. I can’t be in a secluded place with only you, for instance,” she told our correspondent.
Coker agreed her story be published to make female freshers in tertiary institutions learn from her and to appeal to the Federal Government to enforce laws against rape, which had become “the sons of the devil’s hobby.” She also didn’t object to her picture being used in this story if blurred.
Citadels of learning turning to rapists’ dens
Coker’s story wouldn’t be the first of its kind to take place in a Nigerian tertiary institution — it’s only that she was bold to share hers.
The term “October rush” is a slogan used for the chasing of female freshers by senior male students in tertiary institutions in the country.
Most institutions in Nigeria resume academic activities for the first semester in October of every year, except where striking actions or other factors have disrupted the academic calendar year.
“October rush” is a phenomenon, according to guys who know very much about it, whereby senior male students anticipate to make new female friends, then finding one to make a girlfriend — for a year or two.
A 2009 graduate of the University of Lagos, who asked not to be named, said, “Most guys anticipate October rush every year. You get to know new babes who don’t know anything or much about the school system yet. You meet them at departmental orientation programmes, hostels, and the likes. They flood everywhere, and from the way they look, you’ll know they’re really fresh.
“They’ve not been battered by the stress of exam or lectures; they know nothing. Guys offer to help them out in doing certain things like registration and become friends in the process. I had a girlfriend too who was a fresher at a point in time, but I never forced anything on her. She calls me occasionally up till now because we are still friends. If I had hurt her then, she would never be doing that. Everything we did was consensual. I can’t say that about others.”
Truly, he can’t say that about other senior male students at UNILAG and elsewhere.
When she gained admission to study Accounting in 2010 at the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State, and was offered assistance on course registration, hostel accommodation, among others, Bella didn’t know her new-found male friend was going to drug her juice weeks after in order to sleep with her.
She thought her mum’s prayer that she would find favour on and off-campus was the one working when she left Uyo and travelled all the way down to Auchi to study.
“I didn’t know the ‘son of the devil’ was interested in me, really. I thought he was only helping. He was in Higher National Diploma 1, and I had just gained admission, so I didn’t feel awkward. I thought he was nice,” Bella, who now resides in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, told our correspondent on the phone.
She added, “Before I did this, he would help me; before I did that, he was there. I actually felt relieved because if not for his guidance, it would have taken long for me to adapt to the system, but for him, it took a short time.
“To repay his kindness, anytime he visited me on weekends, I would cook for him and make him feel at home. I didn’t know I was putting myself in trouble — until a day came when he pleaded with me to come and cook the kind of food I gave him in his hostel. It never occurred to me he had a sinister motive. I thought I was being a good girl for accepting his plea and returning his help.
“So on a particular weekend, I visited him and he was very happy. He said the day he had been waiting for had finally come. I didn’t understand that statement because I thought he was simply overwhelmed with happiness by my presence.
“Being a junior student and seeing him as a big brother, I collected money from him to go to the market and when I returned, he had brought out a packet of juice from his fridge. He said he knew I would be tired and thirsty after returning from the market to cook for him, so he poured me a cup.
“I drank the juice, not knowing that he had injected sleeping pill into it. After some minutes, I started feeling dizzy and weak and didn’t know when I landed on his bed. I was no longer aware of what was happening, but I felt him undressing me. I couldn’t move an inch. Some hours later, I woke up and knew I had been raped. He had gone out, pretending not to be around while I was sleeping. I ran out of his room and up till today, he never appears to be remorseful. I pray he pays for what he did to me.”
A culture of rape
Rape occurs both on and off the campus. Campus sexual assault is the sexual assault of a student attending an institute of higher learning, such as a college or university, though less than 40 per cent of reported incidents occur on campus property, according to statistics.
Sexual assault of higher education students occurs more frequently against women but unfortunately, many victims completely or partially blame themselves for the assault. They are embarrassed by the shame, and for fear of not being believed, do not report.
As remarked in one study, “Women generally do not report their victimisation, in part because of self-blame or embarrassment.”
A Lagos-based activist who offers counselling to domestically- and sexually-abused women in Nigeria, Mrs. Modupe Bamgboye, told Saturday PUNCH that at times she wonders why men still rape girls and women “in an age when sex is cheap.”
She added, “I just don’t get it when I hear rape cases here and there. I mean, it is overwhelming and I just don’t understand what this society has turned to. People who want to have sex could patronise prostitutes if they want, but they should stop forcing girls to having sex with them.”
Rape has been a worrying issue over the years, but little seems to have been done concerning the prosecution of offenders, especially in developing countries like Nigeria.
When it comes to rape in tertiary institutions, it is usually believed to be perpetuated by a lecturer to a female student, but the landscape is changing. It’s now a matter of a student against another student such as the case with Coker and Bella and perhaps thousands more ladies who have never talked about their experiences.
In 2010, some female students were raped by some hoodlums suspected to be cult members at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State.
The following year, a video clip emerged on the Internet where a female student of the Abia State University, Uturu, Abia State was gang-raped by five guys for about one hour.
Recently, some female students at LAUTECH staged a protest against rape by their male counterparts, after being tired of forbearance. It was a walk deemed fit, perhaps.
As it is on Nigerian campuses, so it is also in the developed climes.
In a 16-year-old girl’s account of a rite called the “senior salute” at St. Paul’s Boarding School in New Hampshire, United States, she narrated how the event eventually turned into rape.
The “senior salute” is a period when older students ask younger ones to join them for a walk, a kiss, or more.
The girl was 15 and a freshman at the time and had agreed to follow a senior suitor, Owen Labrie, 18, to the roof of a campus building to which he had a key, according to a New York Times report.
When they kissed, she did not object. But soon, he began to grope her; he bit her chest too, she said, and tried more than once to remove her underwear.
“I said, ‘No, no, no, keep it up here,’ ” said the girl. “I tried to be as polite as possible.”
The incident ended up in rape, but the guy in question was convicted by the court — perhaps the difference between rape cases in Nigeria and a developed country.
For instance, a human rights lawyer, Evans Ufeli, who has been handling cases of rape for over 10 years, stated recently in a report that Nigeria had only recorded 18 rape convictions in its legal history.
This is perhaps worrisome as in Lagos alone, in 2014, about 200 rape cases were recorded.
Laws, actions against rape
Rape is a crime under the criminal and penal code in Nigeria. Sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape is a clear violation of Article 3 (4) of the protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003), Article 2 (d) of The Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979 and Section 24 of the Violence Against Person Prohibition Act 2014.
In his research on Sexual Harassment and Psychological Consequence among Students in Higher Education Institutions in Nigeria, Taiwo Omole of the Centre for Gender and Social Policy Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, highlighted a number of factors as motivation for perpetuation of sexual harassment to include: lust, pursuit of happiness, lack of norm of morality, lack of conscience, etc.
He said, among others, “In view of the above, higher education institutions in Nigeria need to develop a sustainable system of redress for this act of indiscipline. The authorities need to develop and mainstream anti-sexual harassment policies into the system of operation.”
Likewise, a group called the Nigerian Feminist Forum has called on the governing bodies of tertiary institutions to put the following in place to checkmate the incidence of rape: “They should immediately adopt policies and measures to address the issue of sexual violation of female university students by fellow students and members of staff; operationalise a comprehensive policy on eradicating sexual harassment on campus; put in place a victim’s response mechanism for reporting, investigating and prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence against female students; and conduct a mass sensitisation on sexual violence across all campuses in Nigeria.”
The body also proposed supporting victims to report cases of sexual harassment and abuse and ensuring the full prosecution of perpetrators of sexual crimes against women.