18 May 2009

Nigeria: Sexual Harassment in a Bus


A ride in a Lagos commercial bus never ceases to produce a drama that sometimes borders on the comical.

A case in point happened last week where a lady and one middle aged man engaged themselves in a shouting match arising from an accusation and counter-accusation. It was supposed to be a trouble-free journey until the lady suddenly raised an alarm, claiming that the man sitting beside her was sexually harassing her.

"Make una see me see trouble O; abeg, this man remove your head from my shoulder. What is all this sef? Or did you enter this bus because of me," the lady, Franca by name, exclaimed all of a sudden, drawing instant attention of her fellow passengers. When asked what was going on she stated thus: "Is it not this man! Since we started this journey he has been disturbing me by pressing me and putting his head on me. The more I push him away the more he continues to rest his head on my shoulders as if I'm his wife. Make una warn am O!"

Although a passenger had responded to this with an involuntary laugh, most of the other passengers did not see it as a laughing matter. "Oga why are you harassing the lady like that now," a passenger by name Ambrose challenged the man being accused whose name was given as Ayo. The man's response was: "Don't mind her O; I just dozed off and my head mistakenly touched her shoulder and she started making noise".

Franca's immediate retort was: "Which kind mistake is that? Is it also by mistake that you stretched your hand across my shoulders and used style to hug me anytime the bus entered a gallop? At one time he even touched my breast while pretending to be sleeping. Okay, touch me again see whether I will not break your head for you".

Ayo, however, shrugged off the threat and said: "Na you know the one wey dey worry you. What I know is that I have not done anything to you to deserve any insult. Yes, it's true that while I was sleeping, my body touched your own which is unavoidable because you're sitting beside me. In any case, if you want to travel without anybody touching you, what you should do is to use your own car if you have any or charter a taxi. But once you decide to go by public bus, you should not be complaining about somebody's body touching your own because that one is not possible".

Franca was not impressed by this defense as she said: "Are you the only man sitting in this bus What about this man sitting by my left? Why hasn't he been using the opportunity touch me where he is not supposed to touch me? Why is your own different? Or can't you keep your hand in one place?"

A passenger, Toye, however, came to Ayo's support. "Excuse me lady, look it's not impossible that he could have mistakenly touched you given the way we're seated in this bus. Why not accept his explanation and forget this accusation and counter-accusation as none of you will achieve anything by it...," he was saying as a lady passenger, Mrs Okon, interrupted him. "Oga, abeg, don't talk like that.

The fact is that some men are fond of using the opportunity of this type of sitting arrangement in a bus to sexually harass women. And when it happens and a culprit is identified, he should be made to face the consequence of his action. Listening to that lady, it's obvious that she's not lying against that man. So, what I expected you to say is to reprimand the man for doing such a shameful thing in a public bus. Sexual harassment should not be condoned in any way. It's even worse when it happens in a bus.

In fact, that man should have been taught a bitter lesson he will not forget in a hurry," she charged.

Buoyed by this support by a fellow woman, Franca said thus: "Don't mind the shameless old man". But Ayo would have none of that as he charged back: "I don't even know what is wrong with you. Even if I'm looking for a woman to touch, it's not somebody like you.

You said I touched your breast, but looking at you, I can't even see any breast because your chest is flat like that of a man. So, get lost". Having delivered this stinging sentiment, Ayo hopped down from the bus as it slowed down at a bus-stop along the way. Most of the passengers could not help but laugh over this drama.

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