By Lotanna Igwe-Odunze
Every time I see a white Nissan Altima, my palms go sweaty, and my knees get weak. It’s an involuntary reaction born of so many nights being driven around Asokoro pinned to the floor of Tunji’s white Nissan Altima, barely able to breathe, the stench of weed stinging my eyes while I choked on the penis of whomever it pleased Mustapha to force me to pleasure that day.
I can’t have music playing while driving around in a car either. Or just sitting around at home. I can’t have music playing period. Especially not Maroon5. If I get into your car, please drive in fucking silence or you will make it hard for me to breathe.
Right now there are thousands of people running wild with their “opinions”, talking authoritatively about what Mustapha, Abdul, Tunji, and their band of friends and brothers did to me, as if they were there. As if they hovered around us unseen like evil spirits, listening to everything that was said, seeing everything that happened, as if they know.
In the beginning, Mustapha and I would go out for lunch, and I’d put gas in his car, and we’d buy our own shawarmas, and eat out of each others. I had a massive crush on him, and he told me he loved me, and called me “his woman” which made me feel special. I was getting paid 20K a month, which is nothing now, but it was my first real salary back then, and it was nice to have more money of my own to spend, and spend on him I did.
I’m no stranger to money. I’ve had a lot of it, and I’ve had very little, and I’ve never been the type of person to be impressed by anyone’s wealth, so it wasn’t cars, hotels, or fancy shit I cared about, I was cool. I attended the best boarding school in the country, and Mustapha didn’t impress me, and I never asked him for anything or took anything from him besides the comic books and novels we traded with each other.
What I needed was a friend, and when I plunked down at my desk that first day of work at Alteq, and bonded immediately over a shared love of books and superhero comics, I thought I’d made one in the guy sitting next to me.
Every day, I came to work, and he was right there. And at the end of each work day, it had become normal to everyone for him to drop me off at home, so when 6pm came, and he grabbed hold of my arm and said “Let’s go.” I had no idea how to justify refusing and making a scene.
Even after he was fired in April of 2007, at the end of each work day, he would show up outside our office on Amazon street to whisk me away. I would step outside the gate, and he would be there in his red Mercedes, waiting, demanding I get in.
Gang rape happens once! When you walk there with your own legs its no longer gang rape. It’s consensual https://t.co/3iw6PXTrRv
— #StolenlivesTheNovel (@Newton_Samson) November 23, 2015
I was terrified that my refusal would mean the exposure of the pictures he had taken of me early in our relationship, photos I told him not to take, but he did anyway, photos in which I was naked and vulnerable.
I wanted to quit my job, but what reason could I possibly give my family for quitting a job I obviously loved, especially when I needed the internship to get into the honours program at the university I was to attend that year?
I had so much to be fearful of. The thought of the videos Abdul recorded of Mustapha and Tunji raping me seeing the light of day filled me with sheer terror. The alternative was keeping it all secret, and so I did.
Masking your emotions is not hard to do, just exhausting, and so for eleven hours a day, from 7am to 6pm, putting on my clothes, going to work, and sitting at my desk next to Mustapha every day was easier than you think.
You’d have to be stupid not to notice what kind of country Nigeria is, and I have never been stupid.
At 17, I knew already that the Nigerian police is most definitely NOT your friend, and that people who have police and army escorts in their homes are generally the sort that can make you disappear (in many little pieces preferably), and pay off the police to look the other way, or failing all else, buy judges to make sure any court cases brought against them never see the light of day.
Next time I’ll report to the police attaché with the AK47 that was standing guard while we were being stripped & thrown naked into the pool?
— Empress Sugabelly (@sugabelly) November 22, 2015
I had disclosed already to my priest at confession, and to a doctor in Maitama General Hospital where I got tested for HIV and other STDS, the horrific things that were happening to me, and nothing had come of it. At the time, I didn’t know whether a rape crisis centre like the Mirabel Rape Centre even existed in Nigeria, or that there were any resources to help someone in my situation, or even what to do after I had been raped to help me get justice.
I was scared, and I felt very alone. Their parents were very powerful people, and I didn’t have any faith in the police, especially faced with attackers that seemed to have both the police and the army in their pockets.
It was even more difficult to come to terms with the enormous betrayal of the man who told me he loved me, whom I loved as well, doing unspeakable things to me, and forcing me to do them with others. Even after I escaped from him by moving to the United States for college, I remained torn, and the part of me that loved him could not reconcile with the horror that he had put me through, and we stayed in contact because the mental hold he had over me was still so strong. It took me an additional three years to fully break free of him, and though I don’t live in daily terror of Mustapha Audu as I once did, anything that bears even so much as the memory of him is enough to break me down.
In December of 2008, I ran into Bashir in a mall in Maryland, and suffered a complete panic attack. I broke away from the people I had come shopping with, and ran and ran to the other end of the mall.
In 2012 and 2013, while out with Nyimbi, I ran into Ema and Tunji at Vanilla in Maitama. Tunji was sitting in low seats opposite the bar in the company of my classmate, Kachi whom I’d attended Loyola with.
They didn’t recognize me, but it was all I could do not to break a bottle of whiskey on Ema’s revoltingly globular head, and the night ended with Nyimbi dragging me out of Vanilla in tears of anger and frustration at my lost opportunity to kill them both.
Looking back, I can see how so much fear and shame prevented me from exposing what these animals were doing to me, and I question why I let them rob me of so many years of my life.
Still, the child I was at 17 was very different from the adult I am today at 26, and my 26 year old self would have damned the consequences, told, and raised hell.
As terrifying as it was to come to work every day and have to sit next to Mustapha, I’m saddened by the realisation that in the same place that held such terror and anxiety for me, I had people who loved me, cared about me, and would have done their best to protect me if I could have overcome my fear and shame and cried out for help.
My adult self sees what my child self could not back then – that had I told my mentor, boss, and friend, Nyimbi what was happening to me right under his nose, he would have stopped at nothing to rescue me from my private hell.
What baffles me, is how so many people who know absolutely nothing about what did happen, can speak with such confidence, the most absurd speculations, about the facts of my life. If this all were not so incredibly sad, it would be quite amusing to me, that there are thousands of people who think I am (by my count so far) – an agent of PDP, a gold digger, a woman scorned, or politically motivated because they personally have never heard of my rape before now.
@sugabelly you are a disgrace to women. The narrative I just reads shows you are a slut and you enjoyed every bit of it.
— emeka Osemeka (@eosemeka) November 23, 2015
Never mind, that I have been talking about this FOR EIGHT FUCKING YEARS.
Sugabelly blogged on the rape issue with names as far back as 2008. Anyone who used to read her blogs can attest. Posts still in he archives — Arin (@arin_mm) November 22, 2015
Never mind that FOUR YEARS AGO I referred to this same ordeal in this article I wrote for The African Report in 2011 – http://www.theafricareport.com/Soapbox/online-communities-give-us-power.html
Or that ALMOST EVERY SINGLE POST on this blog in 2007 was about what was happening to me, and my anguish, confusion, fear, hopelessness, and powerlessness to put a stop to it.
Or that the SOLE REASON this entire blog even exists is because I started it to document my year at my first real job; a job that would bring me into sustained contact with the man who, accompanied by his friends and siblings, abused, raped, and tormented me on an almost daily basis for the better part of six months.
When I was 17, my first full time job was Executive Assistant to the CEO, CFO, CTO, and VP of an important tech company in Abuja
— Empress Sugabelly (@sugabelly) September 3, 2015
It’s a travesty that it wasn’t until a private conversation between myself and my close friend was posted on Twitter, that people began to take what I had been saying forever seriously.
Mustapha was a monster like you cannot even begin to imagine.
His brother Bashir, was the same age as me, and Mustapha decided, that one way or the other, it was his duty as big brother to rid Bashir of his virginity. At what was supposed to be a casual get together for suya and drinks at Tunji’s house, he dragged Bashir and me into the bedroom, and pushed us inside, saying to Bashir “Fuck her!” before locking the door, and leaving me alone in the darkness with his brother.
All my pleas to Mustapha were in vain, and the only thing we heard from Mustapha from the other side of the door was “Don’t let me come back and find out you’re still a virgin.”
On a different date, his cousin, Jibril raped me in that same room. I screamed, and screamed, and fought, and struggled, eventually sticking my fingers into his nose, and biting his hands. In retaliation, he bit me hard on the nose, and later that night, I explained away the swelling on my nose I came home with as an unfortunate meeting with the edge of a swimming pool.
All the while I was screaming, Tunji and Mohammed were discussing business, and when my screams interrupted their conversation, Tunji came by to look at me, naked and pinned beneath Jibril, only to laugh and shut the door firmly behind him.
Source – https://www.instagram.com/p/wY950PDp11/
So, when I see ignorant comments from members of the public in reaction to my trauma, I really feel the urge to ask these shameless people, how? the? fuck? do? you? know??
Were? you? there??
Because I was there, and you most certainly were not.
I SURVIVED it, not you, so it is I who will tell you what happened to me, not the other way around.
Lowkey hoping to die in my sleep.
— Empress Sugabelly (@sugabelly) March 2, 2015
The aftermath of my rape at the hands of Mustapha and his cohorts is that for the past eight years, I have barely existed.
I’ve been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Severe Clinical Depression, among a host of other problems as a result of the trauma I suffered, by multiple psychiatrists and mental health professionals.
Every day is a struggle to not end my life, and I have had to spend a small fortune on therapy and mental health services, as well as anti-depressant medication to make my life livable. Even then, I have to constantly fight through waves of pain, anger, shame, self-loathing, and the urge to make it all just go away to get through each day, and I don’t always succeed.
In 2011, I tried to jump off a bridge, and was hospitalized against my will on a 72 hour hold to save my life. Before that, I had attempted to kill myself by taking an overdose, and woke up in a pool of my own vomit.
There were days I wanted to just die in my sleep, and I got out of bed because of the people who used to say “Hey Sugabelly, I missed you”
— Empress Sugabelly (@sugabelly) June 7, 2015
I spent majority of my freshman year researching suicide methods, and for most of my first semester of college, besides attend class, I did nothing but cry until I passed out, then wake up ravenous because I’d been unconscious for several hours. The result was I gained over 100lbs in under three months, far more than the 15lbs you’re expected to gain when you first come to college known as the Freshman Fifteen.
For the longest time now, I have been dead inside. Dead people can laugh and talk, and come to work on time every day too. Dead people can get shit done, and write their college essays, and go to class, and be just like you if they want to too. The problem with dead people, is that sooner or later though, everyone starts to notice they’re dead.
And so, my life slowly fell apart.
I can’t go swimming at night anymore. I can’t go swimming anymore, period. If you think having a panic attack on land is bad, wait until you’ve had one underwater, and almost fucking drowned yourself even though your Mom taught you to swim when you were little.
I almost drowned in a pool at the Marriott barely 8 feet deep because being in there reminded me of the night my bikini top got pulled off and I got passed around by Abdul in 6 feet of water, and a man spit in my face and beat me, and soldiers had to drag him off me to stop him drowning me by my hair because he was angry Mustapha decided at the last minute that I had been good, and so he wouldn’t get to rape me after all.
Nights are impossibly hard for me. How other people just get tired and fall into bed asleep is beyond me. I’m plagued by multiple nightmares every time I close my eyes. I can still feel Ema Oloyo raping me on Abdul’s bed, his oversized head bobbing, his hot, stinking breath buffeting my face as he struggled to force my legs apart. It’s hard to share a bed with people because sometimes I wake up screaming.
Ema Oloyo – https://ng.linkedin.com/in/ema-oloyo-248b80105
Then there’s the medicine before bed. I have to take that for the rest of my life too. My relationships with friends and family are in tatters because I can barely hide the constant undercurrent of sadness that envelopes me, and the fact that I am always angry.
Sometimes I simply cannot cope, and I blackout and my autopilot takes over – a basic, high functioning version of me that appears normal for all intents and purposes while I’m really dying inside.
I’m so tired of keeping this secret, because I shouldn’t have to. 26 is too young to be a member of the living dead, how much more 17?
As for the people whose membership claim on humanity is so tenuous that they can even conceive that I would concoct any of this just “to get famous” or “for attention”, let me make it clear to you: You are sick.
I’m sure that rape girl is happy, Nigerian Newsdesk has carried her gist…Congratulations ur famous! — Baddo Sneh (@ms_peee) November 23, 2015
I am actually, a pretty amazing artist, and if at all, I want to be famous for the skills that I have worked so hard and so long to develop, and the discipline I employ to perfect my craft and be the best at what I do.
Why on Earth would anyone who has been raped in Nigeria want to call attention to that fact when rape victims are pilloried as whores, gold diggers, prostitutes, and sluts? When all you can look forward to is constantly being the topic of hushed conversation, pitiful looks, social ostracism and being called “Rape Girl”?
@sugabelly you are a disgrace to women. The narrative I just reads shows you are a slut and you enjoyed every bit of it.
— emeka Osemeka (@eosemeka) November 23, 2015
That since the news of my horrific rape and abuse broke, that I have received hundreds of messages like this one is an indictment on Nigeria’s educational system, and I find it utterly shameful that grown adults can hear of a child being abused, raped, and pimped out to the friends of a man she trusted and loved, and their first impulse is to vilify her as a slut and not the men who damaged her and destroyed her life.
In Nigeria’s entire legal history, there have been only EIGHTEEN rape convictions, so the chances of a woman raped even under the best of circumstances ( where the perpetrator is a stranger, the victim a virgin, and DNA and video evidence are on file) getting justice of any sort is infinitesimally low, how much less in my case where I had a concurrent romantic relationship with my one of my rapists?
After what twitter put @sugabelly through today,how many women who have been raped will want to tell their stories & seek justice?
— Olamide Orekunrin (@NaijaFlyingDr) November 23, 2015
The other day, I got a LinkedIn invitation to connect from Mustapha, and it sent me spiraling into a full blown panic attack that ended with me clutching my toilet, vomiting in the bathroom.
Thanks to them, I will never, ever in my life, touch a game of Risk.
It was always there. That battered box of cards and soldiers, they liked to play after they were done. No matter where we went, it was always there, silent witness that it was. It saw everything. If board games could talk, that box of Risk would tell you all the times I screamed and cried, and begged and bargained, and promised to be good, promised to obey, and how it never ever mattered.
Following my post on Twitter in September last year, listing the names of the men who participated in my assault, I received an email from a young woman telling me that she too had had a similar experience with Mustapha, Abdul, and Ema, and that Mustapha had made a sextape of her without her consent, and she was now being threatened with the release of that video.
I too, for years have lived in fear of the videos Mustapha, Abdul, and Tunji made of themselves raping me becoming exposed to the public, and the lady who emailed me is just one of many young women who have survived abuse, sexual assault, blackmail, and rape at the hands of these men.
After my story leaked, my friend received death threats from the Audus, as well as a threatening letter from their lawyers demanding $2 million USD within 2 hours. Such an outrageous threat, but probably not absurd to people who have stolen $11 billion USD already.
Fuck your forgiveness. Fuck “Just forget”.
I died, went to hell, and resurrected my fucking self, so now I’m going to live.
If the street you live on is Kwame Nkrumah, or Solomon Barau, sorry I can’t visit you.
And if you drive a wine Mercedes, a white Nissan Altima, or a silver Peugeot 206, I can’t ever get in your car.
Especially if the license plate is AX247KUJ.
I already tweeted this, but I would just like to add it here as an addendum:
Let me make something clear.
Mustapha and I started out as a romantic / sexual relationship, and that relationship persisted throughout.
I was still in love with him, in spite of everything that happened, so we stayed in contact pursuing the relationship even after going to school.
Not that being in love with your abuser is a smart thing, but Mustapha was very controlling and manipulative and mentally I was attached.
Like I said in my blog post, it took three years after I left for school for me to fully break free of Mustapha emotionally and mentally.
So for years after 2007, there’s a lot of communication between me and Mustapha in the context of a couple.
He and his friends still raped me.
At the same time, we did a lot of things a normal couple would do, flirted, argued, talked about sex, sent nudes, etc.
It doesn’t change the truth.
Many abused women are still living with and loving the men who have done unspeakable evil to them.
I was a naive, kid in love, but I’m lucky to be free now.
Also, I’ve been talking about what happened to me for years but nobody was really listening.
Now that everyone is, I’m afraid for my family’s safety in Abuja, and my own safety as well.