I’m Coming Out! I Want The World To Know

 

I am a feminist. I break the rules and I cross the line. Because I can. Because I believe I can do anything a man can do. Because I get satisfaction and pleasure from being subversive. Because I know all those rules are just Man-Made Rules. Made to keep man and woman in line and in bondage by an elite that NEVER KEEPS THE RULES. The Rules do not apply to them. The Rules were made to keep the plebs (and ALL women) in line and protect elite property interests.

Naming myself a feminist is subversive. Because it makes people uncomfortable. I was named a feminist long before I named myself a feminist. Because I refused to be a doormat. Or cook more than once a day or for 200 people. Or even 10 people. (Check out my Facebook status in case you missed that story.) What happened to caterers, cooks and employment opportunities? Some of the best cooks I know are men. Some of them are even my friends right here on Facebook. Some get paid a lot of money to cook. Some cook for their own pleasure. Cooking is so stereotypically woman’s work some of my friends refuse to cook.

I don’t know what feminism means anymore. And I don’t care. Its up to each of us to find out. I will continue to call myself one for as long as the label makes people – especially men and the elite – uncomfortable because it signifies to them that I will claim my space and take up space. I will not go quietly into the sunset or whatever. I will not follow Their rules.

My non conformity has had huge consequences on me and my life no less severe than the impact on any other type of sexual/gender non conformists. In more than half a century of experience on this blue marble we call Earth I have been regularly targeted directly and indirectly. The instruments of the patriarchy and elitism have tried to break me, rape me and kill me. They’re wondering why I’m still standing. I wonder myself sometimes. A few times I almost broke – They took me to the edge of the abyss more than once. But I’m still standing. And still subversive. I may be scarred in ways that you can not see, I may not be the woman I was 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago but I’m still standing. I’m still standing in Their face and challenging every stereotype and insult They throw at me. I will not bend.

I will admit to weakness in the past when giving in seemed like the path of least resistance. I bent my knee and jumped up again in renunciation when I saw the naked smug triumph in Their eyes. For a while after that I wandered in the wilderness lost in guilt and shame for my own betrayal. When I found my way home again I found my fans waiting to meet and greet me. And remind me, strengthen me, inspire me and cheer me on despite my moment of treachery.

Thank you.

I am a feminist. And I am Queer. Be uncomfortable. I will occupy my space. No if’s, but’s or maybe’s.

 

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What’s New on MzAgams’ Blog?

Its been a crazy few months that started this year. The story is coming up. Stay tuned. But just a few tit bits about what I’ll be bringing your way for the rest of the year.

I’d like to thank all of you that have read and commented on the ‘How To Get A Divorce in Nigeria’ Series that I wrote in 2012. It’s been great fun reading and answering your questions. And its really satisfying to see blogs inspired by that series popping up all over the place in the past couple of years. I need to update and I’ll be doing so over the next few weeks bringing you the latest decisions in family law, child custody, and related family law matters. And maybe even a something from a guest blogger.

I’m also starting a new series on Customary Marriage including Islamic Marriage. It will tell you everything you need to know about women’s rights under various customary from around the country and Islamic law and how they are evolving. I have a couple of guest writers  eager to share what they know with you.  Antony C. Diala who is writing his PhD on living customary law will be contributing.   So will Barrister Amina Abubakar who is with the Human Rights Commission.

I’m expanding and trying something new – I’ll be bringing you vlogs and podcasts of your favourite topics. Keep sending in your questions and comments. I’m here to ensure you know what your rights are as a woman within your family – the family you were born into and the family you married into.  Knowledge is power. There are a lot of lies and half truths circulating in popular media about women’s rights within marriage that are deliberately created to exploit, oppress and even cheat women. Don’t be one of those women.

Shine your eye. Know your rights. Women’s rights are human rights.

And read my blog post about protecting your assets after marriage here.

That’s not all.

Working with the theme “Women Activists; Women’s Activism” this year I’m going to interview some of the women that work hard to advance and expand women’s rights in Nigeria and anywhere else we find them. My first interview is going to be with Josephine Effah Chukwuma of Project Alert on Violence Against Women. Got any questions you want to ask her?  We’re at the cutting edge of change in Nigeria. What does it take to build and sustain an organisation like hers in an environment like ours? Find out.

I’ll probably be interviewing a lot of Ashoka fellows. I worked with them over the years and I think they’re great. They’re the best that the social enterprise sector has to offer any where in the world. You don’t want to miss anything they have to say.

Do you have any suggestions about some woman or women that are doing great work in advancing women’s rights that I should talk to? Let me know. Drop a comment. Tell me what they do and where I can find them and I will. I’m always looking for shero’s to promote. So much of women’s work is hidden and unsung its no wonder people end up  thinking we aren’t doing anything much.

Elections are around the corner. More women are expressing an interest in contest for public office. Some people say we should vote for them just because they’re women and get more women in the political space. Some people say we should hold them to the same standards we hold male contestants. Its a hard choice believe me. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Maybe we should just listen to the women contesting and hear what they say. I’ll score some interviews with female contestants and ask them some questions too.

Its going to be fun filled and informative. I promise.

 

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Let’s Press For Progress on Prosecuting SEA in the Aid Sector

 

In the past few weeks there has been significant outcry and comment on the activities of international development agencies in countries where they work spreading aid and apparently disease and immorality. Their crimes against women have been exposed for all to see. Their crimes in Haiti, in Chad, in South Sudan, in Syria. Even crimes  sexual exploitation and abuse crimes committed by international agencies in the United Kingdom.

In the ensuing hand wringing and apologies we have heard again and again – from DIFD, from the Charity Commission, from Penny Mordaunt and even form the UN how they are learning and working to make it better. How they are improving safe guarding and whistle blowing procedures and mechanisms and how they are supporting and helping the women that have been abused and exploited by agents of these organisations.

I am yet to hear of one single woman that has been helped. I am yet to hear of one single women that has been supported. I am yet to hear of one single women that has been rehabilitated or restored. I am yet to hear of one single predator facing criminal, civil  or even long term professional consequences. All I have heard is how the agencies are ‘improving’ and ‘learning’ and how deeply and truly sorry they are. How much they regret the impact of the abuse on the abused.

Femi Oke raised this issue in her insightful video on the Haitian women that were raped by UN staff and left with children they can scarce afford to care for. She asked the UN Under Secretary General why its taking so long to actually give these women justice. And I would like to ask everyone all over the world that is piously and opportunistically claiming they stand with the victims why is it taking so long? You believe her? So what?

Everyone says they cannot turn back time and undo the sins and crimes of the past. Everyone seems to claim that all they can do is ‘prevent.’ I would like to know how well attempts at prevention have worked so far. Have we prevented war crimes? We have been talking and writing about it since 1945. Have we been able to prevent famine and poverty? After decades of fighting both? Have we been able to prevent disease and death? Murder? Rape? Corruption? Greed? Crime?

I laud the efforts at prevention but I do declare that prevention has not yet prevented anything.

There is only one way to deal with crimes. And sexual assault and rape and domestic violence and all the other crimes of violence against women and men too. And that is to punish the perpetrators, the violent, the criminals. There must be consequences for bad behaviour. And the bad behaviour has to be identified correctly because right now the only people that seem to be suffering the consequences of SEA are the women who are the victims.

Of course the prospect of punishing men for sexual assault sexual crimes and sexual harassment seems like a daunting one. Which man will escape punishment? Which man will not be implicated? Because men (and the women that enable them) seem to believe that there are few men that would be found innocent. I do not believe this. I believe that there are many men in the world that are not predatory in their sexual and social behaviour.

Ban Ki Moon, Winnie Binyanyima, Mark Goldberg, Caroline Thompson, Barbara Stocking have all come out and made grovelling public apologies and expressed how bad they feel about the ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse in the international development sector. But nothing has changed. The first reports of SEA in aid organisations may have emerged as early as 2008. I raised the alarm in 2010. Helen Evans raised the alarm in 2014. We are now in 2018 and some people are still ‘learning’ and ‘improving.’  Whether you take that from 2008 or 2014 that is enough time to get a first degree, a graduate degree or even a PhD. What are they still learning pray tell me?

Jane Holl Lute that was appointed to coordinate and strengthen the UN response to SEA went on record to say ‘that for the women of the world this is an ever present danger. there is no where women are safe, there is no family, no church, no school, no organisation, no work place.”

I say that is a woman that gave up before she even started. I reject her premise. There ARE places and spaces where women are safe. And we create them. Femi Oke asked her an important question – why are there so few cases that actually get to court? Ms. Lute’s response – I don’t know the answer to that.

I do. There is no real political will to actually get any cases before the courts. And if any case were to make it before the court the same organisations now extolling their regret would pay very expensive lawyers to discredit and tear apart the women that dared to complain. Save the Children have already sent lawyers to shut down media that report on their crimes. Oxfam’s PR machine has moved forward extolling the great work they purportedly do now that the initial outrage has subsided.

Its all hypocrisy. Its all platitudes and fancy grammar. Just because some clever people have mastered the speakese of gender equality does not make them gender complaint. That was the very problem that I tried to highlight at Oxfam when I was their country director in Nigeria in the aftermath of my assault and even before.

A male program manager actually suggested that I ‘tease’ him when issuing instructions instead of just telling him what to do. You know – why don’t you smile a little first, some sugar with the medicine. He actually used that word. He didn’t even get a slap on the wrist when I reported it. One of the deputy regional directors was a complete rake. He did not see that his constant sexually charged comments were NOT gender friendly. And when I tried to point it out to them what I got was outrage – and denial. After all – one of them said to me – I ensure that at least 50% of my beneficiaries are women. Now with hindsight I am again struck by how sinister that sounds. Did insisting that more beneficiaries of the aid Oxfam and other organisations were handing out unintentionally make women more vulnerable?

My abuser at Oxfam in his response to my accusation of sexual assault said in his defence when asked why he didn’t respond to my email demanding an apology and a promise to desist from further SEA that ‘she wanted to use her gender against me’ echoing an earlier petition by one of my male program officers who wrote to the regional office that I ‘wanted to dominate my environment.’ I’m still trying to understand exactly what they meant. Surely these are leadership qualities that were being very cynically used against me.  And only a problem because I am a woman. Which male executive would be reported for trying to dominate his environment?

I wish I can say that I am impressed by the measures the UN, DFID, Oxfam, Save the Children, the  UK’s Charity Commission et al are taking to ‘prevent’ SEA. I am not. And you shouldn’t be either. They are just saying what they need to say to ensure that the money keeps rolling in and that their lifestyle and their power stays intact. If that means grovelling for the media and the public so be it.

I’ll be impressed when they actually prosecute or punish someone, and I don’t mean just dismiss them or let them resign and move on to other organisations. I mean real consequences, like the kind that the victims and whistle blowers have had to suffer. Loss of income, bullying, loss of status and respect, and credibility. I’m pretty certain that Penny Lawrence has already received her first consultancy contract from Oxfam or one of their friends. They won’t let let lose her house through failure to pay her mortgage or her children lose their education opportunities. They will reward her for making a ‘sacrifice to the cause.’  And the cause is Big Money. And Power.

For everyone $1 that flows into ‘poor countries’ from ‘rich countries’ $24 flow from these same poor countries to the rich. The aid industry was is worth $130BILLION a year but the net outflows to the rich countries of the south is over $1 TRILLION. Like Russell Brand so eloquently put it ‘the neutral governing and regulating bodies are in fact the administrative henchmen of a system of globalisation that is based on the exploitation of poorer countries.’

We really need to rethink aid. For most of my time working in development I avoided the debates around foreign aid. I avoided them because it would have been hypocritical of me as an employee and hence a beneficiary of foreign aid to criticise aid. It created too much cognitive dissonance. And I really thought I could change the system from the inside. I thought they would listen to me as a national and as an expert on her environment. Did they? Of course not.

I left Ashoka not only because they didn’t pay me enough for the kind of hours they expected me to keep but also because they really didn’t want to promote appropriate development. Oxfam offered more money. Now I know why. Its how they keep everyone compliant. Notice that during most of the scandal only a handful of former employees dared to come forward and say anything against the aid cartel in Africa? Who wants to lose a well paid job or consultancy on a continent that isn’t creating jobs and isn’t paying a living wage for most jobs? Mostly the aid agencies just exploit our bleeding hearts. We’re just the foot soldiers that do their dirty work while they divide the spoils. And like we all know, foot soldiers are not supposed to question the capo or the boss. I did a lot of that. Not sorry.

I’m not going to tell anyone what to do. Give money to humanitarian causes or not give money. Work for humanitarian causes or not work for them. Go to Africa or any other country you think is less privileged than yours and build a school or a hospital or not. Support the left or support the right. Those are individual and personal choices. Do whatever makes you feel good.

I feel pretty good. I brought attention to the SEA of female staff working for BINGOs in Africa. Don’t worry, they’ll get around to that eventually. All its going to take is just one more whistle blower to prove their hypocrisy even in the wake of the scandals of the past 6 months. Right now they’re prioritising SEA of beneficiaries and not employees because the legal liability is less onerous. It won’t be long now. Abusers abuse. They cant help themselves. And somewhere out  there, there is another woman just like me who won’t keep quite.

Happy International Women’s Day.

 

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Art by Favianna Rodriguez, US artist/activist of Latina and Afro-Peruvian roots

A Review of Oluremi Obasanjo’s Bitter Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo (From The Archives)

December 10, 2008 at 10:25am

OLUREMI OBASANJO: PORTRAIT OF A FEMINIST POSTER GIRL?

By Lesley Gene Agams

A privileged idyllic childhood, a precocious adolescence and a striving dogged socially conscious woman. That is the sense I get of Oluremi Obasanjo from her recently released book Bitter Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo. Although she often comes across as naïve, gullible and coarse there is no masking the raw ambition and sense of achievement lurking covertly like a cunning animal.

Bitter Sweet offers a rare insight into a young girl’s life in pre independence Nigeria. Her story of going off to Lagos with only a female cousin was a surprise, as was her sneaking away from an event in Ibadan to visit her beau’s house. Even more astonishing was her un-chaperoned trip to London to meet Obasanjo before they were even married. It’s rare to hear such honest accounts about young women of that era enjoying such freedom. To hear it told by the social matrons, back in 1950 all girls were on chaperoned lock down till their bride price was paid and rings on their fingers.

Oluremi’s story also offers important insight for the Nigerian women’s movement and victim’s activists all over the world. It provides a rare viewpoint into the psyches of a high profile domestic violence victim and her equally high profile abuser. The question ‘why do victims stay?’ is one of the most contentious in academic and legal literature on violence against women globally. There is no agreement as to the dynamics but there is a growing recognition that victims cannot always exercise agency and walk away. This is a rare portrait of a narcissist, his codependent and their traumatized and troubled offspring.

Here we have the unfiltered voice of a victim and an abuser known all over the world. This isn’t the transcript of a case study interview where the interviewer asks leading questions or a counselor offers culturally biased speculation about the motives behind an anonymous patient’s experience. We have a cultural and social context that provides incredibly rich information. A number of commentators have compared it to a Nollywood script but this is not fiction. Why did Oluremi stay? Why does she still call this man her husband and ‘the only man I have known’?

Her story is significant because of who she was married to, her experience with Obasanjo is the experience of millions of Nigerian women. Thanks to her book we may be able to bring attention to their stories and begin a rational discourse on violence against women and domestic violence, two issues that have failed to enrage the Nigerian public or engage the Nigerian media. Oluremi is just one of the lucky ones. Apollonia Ukpabio endured 25 years of escalating violence till her skull was cracked open with a machete. Miraculously she survived. Her husband is on trial for the attack. Why did she stay? She believed God and church wanted her to protect and defend her marriage no matter what. Others have died.

The challenges of being married to Nigerian elites are especially made obvious in her narrative. It’s the story that does not get told, the male entitlement, the female consent and often the mutual infidelity. It’s really difficult to complain when living a really privileged life in a really poor environment. I know many a Nigerian matron that felt Princess Diana should have put up and shut up. The ‘old school’ belief is that a woman should marry for economic security not love, and if it’s companionship you crave find it with the women and/or your children. The wisdom of the matrons for a woman thinking of leaving her husband is territorial– don’t be foolish, why leave your turf for some other woman to take over? Fight for your matrimonial haven and sanctuary. Oluremi had a lot to fight for.

For me one of the more disquieting revelations of this book is how powerful and rich men are manipulated to accept and expect exploitation through their sexual extravagance. According to Oluremi, Obasanjo’s aunt became one of his ‘pimps’ and weak minded male that he was “he abandoned his Lugard quarters for five days because he didn’t want a divorcee, who was even a mother of two. Later, he gave in and the woman had a child…” I know people like that, they will never go to see a powerful man without ‘an offering’, usually a young pretty girl. The most disgusting personal encounter I recall was a middle aged couple that brought their 15 year old daughter dressed like a hooker to see a certain big man they wanted a favor from. I was there. I’ve often wondered about the ‘powerful’ men that fall for that one.

All families are dysfunctional and some may seem more dysfunctional than others but it seems too much of a coincidence that Obasanjo’s narcissistic, high risk behavior and mood swings only emerged after the civil war. Could he have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? This is not uncommon in soldiers, even Nigerian soldiers. I handled a divorce case a while back, the husband, an armed forces man, had just returned from an active mission and was exhibiting classic symptoms of PTSD. The administration couldn’t offer him any help. He refused to admit he had a problem, his wife did not know how to handle it, his marriage collapsed under the strain. He reacted pretty much the way Obasanjo did, contesting custody, refusing to pay child support and becoming increasingly abusive; contemporary Okonkwo figures, tormented, paranoid and insecure, things falling apart around them.

All that being said there is a lot that makes me uncomfortable about this book, it’s no master piece but its not meant to be. I found Oluremi’s total lack of self consciousness very disturbing, she seems to be saying of course I slapped that girl and of course I bit that woman and of course I made embarrassing scenes and even fought a truck full of soldiers, like it’s all normal. I found that eerie. The scene on page 66 where she attacks Mowo Sofowora, like a frenzied mother hen and then having fended off the interloper, clucks protectively around her chicks is totally dissonating and disturbing. All narrated like it’s totally normal, there is no moral debate as to the appropriateness of action. She is not the only female (or male) I know that considers her response to this sort of ‘provocation’ perfectly normal and unquestionably right. I find that frightening and sad.

Even more disturbing evidence of a venal, anachronistic world view was her calling Murtala’s ADC the day after she was informed of her child’s death and being morbidly counseled to see the incident as some sort of answer to her prayers to be back in Obasanjo’s house. Just access to this ‘big powerful man’ who happened to be the-father-of-her-children-who-he-had-custody of had become a goal. Her disappointment and resentment towards her sister in law who precipitated her hasty ouster five days later seemed to coldly over shadow her grief at losing a child. Her insecurity is overwhelming; she is willing to forgive Obasanjo the death of her child but not his sister. Her apparent devotion to him despite everything borders on an obsession. Is she a cold ruthless woman or the traumatized victim of a narcissist?

Then there was the bizarre description of their courtship, she presents herself as a passive and entitled recipient of Obasanjo’s courting. He wrote her letters, sent her books and gifts and eventually she said yes. Surely that’s not the whole story. What exactly did the shoeless son of a village drunk say to the spoilt railway master’s precocious daughter that convinced her that Obasanjo was worth waiting seven years for? It’s obvious he was a man on the fast track to power but Oluremi’s narrative while indicating that does not provide any insight into the motivation for any of his actions. Why did he want to study geology? Why did he change his mind for a military career? Is she absolving herself of all responsibility or did she really not know? Or is she just not telling? Loyal to the bitter end?

Whatever her motives for staying or for telling her story now Oluremi did not deserve the treatment she received from her husband. No man or woman deserves abuse and violence, and all women deserve the right to say to the man they married ‘I can’t live with you anymore’ and still be humanely treated with their children as Nigerian citizens protected by a constitution. We need to stop the abuse. We need to break the cycle of violence.

I have reaffirmed or learnt a number of things from reading this gripping account of lives interrupted;

1. There is an urgent need to review the Matrimonial Causes Act and extend its jurisdiction to women married under customary law; it is an archaic piece of legislation that offers little protection to women considering divorce or separation and their children. The customary law systems that the majorities of woman have access to in Nigeria are heavily biased against women and make seeking separation or divorce traumatic and humiliating.
2. We desperately need to introduce parenting skills to our education curricula. Children are often at greatest risk of long term harm and damage from their parent’s ignorance. Teaching children parenting skills is as important as teaching them to say no, zip up, life skills or whatever else we choose to call sex education. Teaching them religion is not enough.
3. The Nigerian armed forces need to increase their transition support for veterans returning from war, especially the psychological support they provide. Wars are dehumanizing and brutalizing, veterans and their family members need assistance re-integrating after prolonged exposure to the violence and brutality of armed conflict and barracks life.
4. Nigerian media need to learn how to write more sensitively about women and women’s issues. Most of media commentators including female commentators brushed aside her story and condemned her for telling it. Stark testimony to how such tragedies can play out to an inevitably sad outcome while hidden in plain view.

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Requiem

My heart is a going pitter patter reading the letter again, reliving it all. No. My heart is racing like a jack hammer! Remembering. A sexual assault. By my manager. Samuel Musa. While working at Oxfam GB.

That was in August 2010. I wrote the letter below to Barbara Stocking in desperation more than a year later.

Just like I searched desperately for legal support in Nigeria and when I couldn’t find any I went to search the UK in 2012. I spoke to so many lawyers. Every last  one of them asked me whether I had worked in the UK.

“I was based in Abuja. The only time I came to the UK was for that country directors conference where the assault happened.”

And they all said –

“Sorry. You’re not eligible to appear before the UK employment tribunal.”

Eventually I found a UK lawyer that said she might have been able to help me  but….

…we were already just days away from the statute of limitations for sexual assault. There was no way she could prepare and file the paper work in time.

I let it go then. Focused on putting myself back together again. It wasn’t the first time that man woman palaver (as we euphemistically call it in Nigeria) had terminated my job.

So this is the letter I wrote to Barbara Stocking after they confirmed my termination, as I was facing the loss of my home – after losing my job, my dad, my cat, my dog, my self esteem, my confidence. 

I stumbled across it looking for something else all together and it all just came back. I’d pushed the whole incident to the far recesses of my mind.  (My therapist gonna have something to say about that.) At first I cringed thinking maybe I was whining in the letter but as I read it I started to feel kinda good. I wrote from my heart. I spoke my truth. That’s all. Nothing to be ashamed of.

 

 

 

April 28, 2012

Dear Barbara,

It’s over a year now since I left your employ. I don’t know if you even noticed. Oxfam GB is such a big place. I don’t imagine you could possibly keep up with all your employees and I wasn’t there long enough. It wasn’t till my orientation at Oxford office in August 2010, almost 10 months after I started working for you that I actually started to understand the organization and my role. One important lesson I take away from my experience at Oxfam GB is to orient employees quickly, capably and to install controls to make sure the system works.

But that’s not why I write you. I’m writing to you because I believe the woman I met in August 2010 is a just, fair and above all compassionate person. There was nothing fair, just or compassionate about the way I was summarily dismissed from Oxfam GB in November 2010 or the way I was treated during my subsequent appeal. I tried so hard to reach Penny Lawrence. I remember her telling us during the orientation that she was always available to help and advice us with our problems and issues. She never spoke to me.

The 2 week visit in August 2010, my first to the UK was also where my trouble started. My line manager Mr. Samuel Musa, deputy regional director for West Africa at the time sexually assaulted me in his hotel room. Worried that my job, my working relationships and Oxfam GBs reputation could be in jeopardy, I didn’t listen to advice of friends to report the incident to the police. Instead I went to Martin Knops to treat my own pain and trauma and on his advice reported the incident to Catherine Layton then in the Human Resource department. I told her I was reporting ‘just in case’ Samuel tried to victimize me I wanted someone to know..

I realize now I should have made that report for a number of reasons. After all it wasn’t sexual harassment I was reporting. I was reporting a crime; sexual assault is after all a criminal offence. Of course all of us worked for Oxfam. Neither Catherine nor Martin suggested I report to the police. Catherine actually advised I speak to Samuel. Which I did. Eventually. It was almost a month later before I was able to talk to him on the phone about it. I told Catherine about the call. Because I had asked for assurance during the call and he didn’t give any I followed up with an email. He ignored it.

It had taken a whole lot of effort on my part to talk to him about it in the first place. I wasn’t comfortable raising the issue with him again. I did discuss with Catherine how we could address institutional sexual harassment. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of behavior in Oxfam GB’s Africa offices that would easily qualify for sexual harassment in the west and UK. I wasn’t the only victim. I felt that as Oxfam GB’s gender lead in West Africa I could have a wider institutional impact on the matter instead of making it all about me. I also didn’t want to be the lone female shouting ‘rape’. I had a lot of confused feelings.

Of course I was deeply traumatized by the experience. It was difficult working with Samuel after that. I had flash backs every time I saw an email from him, or had to speak with him on the phone and when I saw him late September in Dakar. I tried to be brave and strong but I was really uncomfortable and jumpy. Still with Catherine’s question about whether he knew his attention was unwanted ringing in my head I reiterated to him again I did not want his attention and asked for assurance he would never try to ‘make a pass at me’ again. But he didn’t make a pass at me the first time, it wasn’t a seduction or a wooing or ongoing sexual harassment at work; it was a traumatic and unexpected physical attack.

I ignored my pain and stepped up my efforts at work with some idea that if I just did my best my job would be safe. With 20/20 hind sight I see my mistake. There is no way I could have spoken to him about the incident in the terms that I did that he could do other than try to get rid of me as soon as possible. Anything else would have been literally working under the threat of an imminent report from me. Still I hoped, this was Oxfam GB after all, an international humanitarian agency with rules, surely I was safe.

On November 23, 2010, a Wednesday, Samuel Musa arrived Abuja from Dakar and handed me a letter summarily terminating my contract without reason. He gave me 2 days notice to vacate the office premises and immediately repossessed all Oxfam GB equipment including laptop and handsets making it difficult for me to reach anybody within the organization. My employment contract governed by Nigerian Law says that summary dismissal is in accordance with internal guidelines. Under these guidelines I am entitled to a weeks’ notice that I am being considered for summary dismissal. Under Nigerian law I am entitled to two weeks’ notice.

The law wasn’t upmost on my mind when I received the letter of termination. I was distraught that I was about to lose my job at the hands of the man who had sexually assaulted me less than 3 months before. I was in no emotional state for the appeal and under too much emotional distress by then to focus on that. The entire process became a sexual harassment investigation rather than an appeal of my wrongful termination. At the end of the emotionally devastating process where I had to re-live my assault again I was informed there was no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault and my dismissal was in accordance with Nigerian law. That’s all.

Kathleen McGarva who handled my sexual assault complaint and my appeal (I wonder if that was proper?) decided that the email I wrote to Samuel and my correspondence with Catherine Layton and Martin Knops were not sufficient corroboration of my story and chose to accept Samuel’s version of the story which had even less corroboration than mine. He admitted I was in his room but unsurprisingly denied the course of events or that we went up together. He further claimed he ignored my email because he didn’t know what I was talking about. After denying my appeal Katherine said Oxfam GB would talk to him to find out how he could have handled the situation better. That sounded a lot like I was the lying trouble maker.

In April 2011 I finally wrote Katherine asking about the outcome of that exercise with Samuel. Was he punished? Was he queried? Was he reprimanded? I received her response on April 6, 2011 a Wednesday and was considering my reaction to send the following Monday when I was informed on Saturday April 9, 2011 my father died. I never did get a chance to react to Katherine’s last email after that news.

Katherine’s April email suggested that Oxfam GB were not interested in getting rid of a sexual predator in their employ much less how his actions had affected me or what I was going through personally. Oxfam GB seemed more interested in protecting themselves and I was the villain not the victim but it happened to me so I know what happened. In August 2011 I came to the UK and filed a criminal incident report with the Thames Valley Police accusing Samuel Musa of criminal sexual assault. They believed me but needed corroborating evidence to successfully prosecute. They also said if I had reported earlier there could have requested the hotels CCTV footage for corroboration. Still there is an incident report and number that it may serve as evidence should anyone else report Samuel for a similar thing.

I’m sure I wasn’t his first sexual assault and maybe not his last. Maybe he has been sexually exploiting women he managed? It is interesting that the Africa leadership teams have so few women. It was curious that Samuel resigned abruptly shortly after the police investigators visited the Oxfam GB offices. It may have been a coincidence. Did somebody else report him? What could HR have done differently? The fact that there was even a hint of criminal sexual assault in which the preponderance of evidence, thin though it was nevertheless was on my side should have raised enough doubt to make him justify his reasons for summary dismissal.

After my experience with Oxfam GB I really didn’t want to work for any other organization. This is not the first time I have had to make a career move or lose a job because of man woman trouble as we call it euphemistically in Nigeria. I had thought that I would be safe working with an international organization that had rules about such things. I have been sadly disappointed, in the time since my dismissal I have met and spoken to almost a dozen women with similar experiences. Male managers at INGOs are getting away with sexual abuse in the workplace, women are wrongfully losing jobs, some get stuck in court for years and exhaust their savings, others just don’t want to talk about it in public, still others are too busy trying to make ends meet to fight a foreign Goliath.

I’m a lawyer by training. I opened a small law firm instead of getting another job in the international development field. My 1 year experience at Oxfam GB was exhausting both emotionally and physically. I figure that being my own boss will reduce my vulnerability to sexual assault in the workplace. My practice focuses exclusively on women’s right and expanding legal protection from violence through litigation and legal precedent. I’m building a social enterprise to sustain the practice and my reputation as a writer. Kathleen was right; Oxfam GB didn’t break any Nigerian laws. I was the one that sent that legal opinion on Nigerian labor law to Samuel in October 2010.

Still I found the internal procedure for summary termination on Oxfam GB site confusing. My contract says internal procedure will apply in dismissal yet the site refers back to ‘local laws’. Meanwhile, my contract already says Nigerian law applies. Without knowing the in house rules for summary dismissal that clause of the contract is misleading. When I read it while negotiating my employment terms I reasonably thought it meant rules other than Nigerian law applied. I thought I was protected from unfair or wrongful dismissal and sexual victimization a common enough fear in Nigeria under our poorly applied and interpreted laws. Apparently I was wrong.

Why am I writing to you now?

An executive coach and consultant I worked with advised me to write to you personally and let you and Oxfam GB know exactly what is going on with me before proceeding with any further action. He is optimistic that Oxfam GB will do the right thing. I am hopeful that you Barbara will. I feel I was bullied by a big bad corporation, except Oxfam GB is supposed to be a ‘humanitarian’ organization, one of the ‘good guys’. How could they preach global love and charity and leave me out in the cold like this? Are Oxfam’s values just corporate jargon? I still wonder how I can possibly engage in a legal battle with a corporate behemoth like Oxfam GB that has more money and more lawyers than I can ever hope to. I’m intimidated from even trying but feel the injustice keenly.

I’m sitting in the eye of a hurricane right now. I have suffered terribly because of the assault and even more during and after the loss of my job. I’ve lost almost everything because of Samuel Musa and Oxfam GBs actions; my job, my health insurance, my father, who was my dependant and couldn’t continue diabetes treatment after I lost my health insurance and now I am about to lose my home. My small law practice is young and growing but even that is under threat.

If Catherine Layton, or Martin Knops or any other Oxfam GB employee had advised me to report to the police as soon as I described a sexual assault there may have been CCTV footage showing us arriving and me leaving his room and maybe corroboration of my ‘allegations’. There may have been witnesses available for trained questioning by the police. Dozens of Oxfam GB people were in the lobby that night when we left. Samuel Musa himself would have been available for the police to interrogate. If Samuel Musa had not been allowed to dismiss me without reason after sexually assaulting me I may still have my father, my house, my cat and my life.

I am writing this to you now because I was grievously injured by your employees and former employee’s actions and summarily and wrongfully dismissed without reason from my position as CD Nigeria programs and I feel that Oxfam GB my employers did not do enough to protect me or prevent the injury and subsequent suffering. It has taken me this long and many hours of consultation with lawyers and counselors to get here. While I’m still suffering the fall out of that injury, emotional, physical and financial, I finally have the mental and legal clarity to seek the rdress I believe that I deserve.

I hope this letter speaks to the humane part of you and not just the corporate goddess. I only seek justice, for myself and for my silent, disempowered or disenchanted African sisters. We are also a humanitarian cause. We’re also humankind. Barbara please show me that we are safe working for foreign agencies, even the BINGO’s and that the same rules that protect our female colleagues in head office will protect us in our work spaces scattered in the dark spots for gender rights on the continent too. Do not unilaterally listen to our kinsmen who fill your senior leadership positions in Africa and tell you African women will lie against them about rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace because that is the excuse our men give for not tightening rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment laws.

I was a good employee; innovative, result oriented, driven, participatory, nurturing and above all ethical. I was one of few in the region that understood the implementation of the SMS. I was planning a fast track career development in the sector. I was systematically rooting out graft and corruption in the Nigerian program. I was also under systematic attack by the forces of graft and corruption. I wasn’t only working for you, I was also working for my country, for your donors and especially those little old English ladies that have a standing order with their bank to deduct GBP20 every month from their pension check and send to Oxfam GB, even if they are no longer your biggest contributors. I don’t deserve this. It feels so terribly wrong to be dismissed so nonchalantly and left so broken and devastated.

I appeal to you Barbara as the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB with whom all decisions finally rest for some sort of justice, relief, closure, damages and permission to move on. I hope you consider my appeal with wisdom and compassion.

I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime I remain;

Yours sincerely,

LesleyAgams

Lesley Gene Agams Esq.

 

 

 

This was her reply

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 10:32 AM

Dear Lesley

Thank you for your letter of 28th April 2012 concerning your period of employment with Oxfam GB.

I was aware of the circumstances surrounding your departure from Oxfam and am deeply saddened to hear how you now feel, and that you attribute this to the way that Oxfam handled your complaint. As you are aware, Oxfam is very concerned about gender inequality and committed to putting poor women’s rights at the heart of what we do. With this in mind I can assure you that Oxfam did take your complaint seriously and followed internal procedures carefully to fully investigate the points that you raised. Unfortunately , like the police, we found that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate your allegation of events that had taken place, some 3 months earlier. The allegation of sexual assault is an issue which we take very seriously and although we could not find evidence to confirm that the assault did take place, the matter was followed up and appropriate action was taken in line with our procedures. I appreciate that you were disappointed by these findings.

I understand that you did speak to both Catherine Layton (HR Adviser) and Martin Knops (Oxfam’s Counsellor) about events that took place whilst you were in the UK. At the time you did not categorise them as a criminal offence of sexual assault but as an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’ and indeed had asked to speak to them both ‘in confidence’. This confidentiality was maintained by them both as you had requested. Had you allowed Catherine to take this forward on your behalf as one of the options she suggested to you at the time, or indeed expressed it in the more serious language that you are now using, then the situation may have been different. This was the decision that you made at the time and I feel that it is not appropriate of you now to blame them for respecting your request for confidentiality.

With regard to your termination of employment from Oxfam, I am aware that you raised an appeal against this in line with our procedures. The appeal was heard by Kathleen McGarva, the Deputy International Director, and she was satisfied that the termination of your contract complied with the law in Nigeria which is the law that governed your contract of employment and that the termination was not due to sexual victimisation from a senior manager of staff. Kathleen is an experienced senior manager in Oxfam, based in Oxford who had no prior knowledge or involvement of this matter. I am satisfied that she considered your case very carefully in a fair and transparent manner when reaching her conclusion.

I am satisfied that that Oxfam has acted fairly in fully investigating your complaints and allegations and your request for damages is not appropriate.

Thank you for writing to me about bringing this to my attention.  I do wish you the very best for your future.

Best regards

Barbara

Barbara Stocking 

Chief Executive, Oxfam GB  

 

 

Maybe she was right, maybe it was all my fault. Except I’m pretty damn sure I DID describe it as a sexual assault, EXACTLY  as it happened, in very vivid detail too, to both Martin and Catherine.  Whatever could have given them the idea that is was an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’? (How sleazy does that even sound? Ugh!) Now they would have me second guessing myself!

I thought I was really over it. Just a couple weeks ago I was telling my friend that I had finally recovered from it all except the jack hammering of my heart says maybe not.

How do I feel about it now? I still feel angry. And powerless.

“Honour you anger” Martin Knops said to me all those years ago.

 

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Are You Required to Produce Husband’s Consent For Passports?

The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt decided you did not when they gave this judgement in 2009 in Dr. Priye Iyalla_Amadi vs The Director General of the Nigeria Immigration Service.

I think the NIS said they appealed the matter. I wonder where they are on it so far. Can’t find anything about the status. Whats the composition of the appeals court and the supreme court? Just thinking out loud.

The defendants did not really dispute the facts adduced by the plaintiff in their counter_affidavit but sought to justify the requirement of a letter of consent from the husband of a married woman who wants to be issued a Nigerian passport on the basis that Nigerian married women are classified alongside with minors by the government as persons who require consent from the head of the family. NIS argued that the requirement for consent was put in place to perpetuate the authority of the man over his wife, no matter the status she had attained in society. It also stated that the requirement was set to avoid unnecessary breakdown of marriage institution in the country.

Its important to pursue legal precedents expanding women’s rights all  the way to the Supreme Court. And those cases should attract support from women, women’s groups and women’s funds.  If you have any current information about this case could you drop an update for me? Or steer me towards someone who knows? I’d appreciate it.

 

 

Yay! It’s Official. And I Am Celebrating!

First morning I woke up dreaming I’m a caterpillar in a pupa becoming a butterfly. This morning I woke up I was dreaming I’m a lady iguana about to make a mad dash through the valley of snakes to my bae.

It’s the powerful drugs they have me on. They’re treating me for malaria, thyroid and food poisoning. The drugs are so powerful every time  I close my eyes I feel I’m in some sort of vortex doing back flips with dolphins, swimming with mermaids, or dancing on the water in the moonlight with Ganeesh

It all started on Friday. I had a really bad tummy ache Thursday night. I knew it was the dinner I ate but optimistically wished it was just indigestion and did some yoga breathing exercises. I was exhausted from the battle in the morning. By noon I was in agony.

“Eddy!”

“Ma!”

“Eddy. You got to take me to the hospital now. This is it. I’m dying” I moaned to my bewildered and now alarmed son.

He is my angel. Somehow he has been with me during my last two medical emergencies and the look in his eyes makes me fight to stick around, if you know what I mean. Yeah. I know, I’m a drama queen. And pain brings out the drama.

In my head I’m thinking – ‘I’m dying! My bad habits have caught with me there is a god and he is punishing me with a slow painful death” (because hey that’s what they taught us in Sunday School. Nasty shit)

Anyway we get to the hospital and they give me those kinda pain killers that make you feel goofy while they start diagnostics. I’m super relaxed by now so I let them prod and poke me without too much drama wondering what they will find. Cancer? HIV? Multiple sclerosis? Death?

During the abdominal scan they check my liver

“Liver is fine.”

“Right kidney is fine, no stones.” (Most of my abdominal pain were coming from that side and the provisional diagnosis was possible kidney stones.)

“Gall bladder is distended,” says the sonographer.

Alarm and panic.

“Have you eaten?” he asks.

“No.”

“Ok, thats it then. Gall bladder is in a state of fasting.”

Alarm subsides.

“Spleen is normal. Do you have ulcers?”

“Why? Do you see any?” I’m alarmed again.

“No,” he responds. Alarm subsides.

“Left kidney looks fine. Wait a minute. It looks bigger than the right kidney.” Alarm as he and his assistant measure and compare both kidneys then decide the variation isn’t abnormal.

“Ok, now lets look at your womb.”

Why? I wonder but what the hell take a look.

“Womb is ok, proper placement and size but no endometrial tissue growing.”

“Whats that?”

“The tissue that grows and sheds during your period.”

“You mean I’m not going to have a period?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’m fifty.”

He does a double take.

“You’re the second woman I heard say that.”

“Say what?”

“That she’s happy her period has stopped.”

“What do they usually say?” I didn’t ask. I’m sick. I’m high on pain killers. Who cares right now.

 

“We can’t find anything else wrong with you.”

“I don’t want you to find anything.”

“Sounds like you had food poisoning,” he concludes and sends me back to my drug filled drip in the ward while they run blood and urine tests.

Food poisoning, my addled mind observes and wonders if I can produce a poop sample but no one asks me for one.

I doze off.

So that’s how I found out that I am officially menopausal.

Now that I’m feeling better I want to celebrate.

Its been more than two weeks and I’m back to wondering. Are there women my age out there that don’t feel happy that there period has finally stopped? I’ve been buying Tampax and bleeding every month for the past 36 years. I’m a mother and a grand mother. Hell yeah, I am glad its finally over.

No, I do not feel my usefulness as a woman is over. Because I never saw my utility as a function of my reproductive capacity anyway. And no I’m not scared by the rumoured side effects. I’ve had none so far or they have been too mild for me to notice. Then again that could just be because when I had thyrotoxicosis those symptoms were so bad they make everything else seem mild since then. Or maybe it’s the ayurveda lifestyle I use to manage my auto-immune thyroid.

So I can now consider, what does menopause mean to me and how does it change my life?  Trust me, its going to positive and fun. First of all I will fear no pregnancy. Hopefully my anaemia will abate. I guess I’ll have to watch my weight even more religiously but I’ve been doing that since I was 40 anyway which is when I noticed that I couldn’t eat like a young adult anymore ( and that basically means you can’t eat what you want without consequences.)

In many cultures menopause is a significant and positive change of life, like puberty and marriage and childbirth and parenting. In India women that have entered menopause can finally come down from the women’s quarters and talk with men for instance. And there is a significant body of research that suggests the severity of symptoms is directly linked you cultural expectations and values.

Since I create my own expectation anyway I think I’ll be fine.

Bring on the KY Jelly!  We are not afraid.