24 January 2016

Nigeria: Kiss of Strife - Scandal Rocks Nigerian Poet

Photo: Daily Trust
Chijioke Amu Nnadi.

The Nigerian literary scene has in the last few weeks been embroiled in a scandal when popular, award-winning poet, Chijioke Amu Nnadi (53) was accused of sexually molesting several young female writers over a period of time. The incidents were said to have happened at various literary festivals in Nigeria and Uganda where Mr Amu Nnadi referred to some of these ladies, mostly in their eaerly twenties as his "daughters" before making inappropriate advances on them, including forcefully kissing them.

Hints of the scandal first surfaced in December last year, when one of the victims, Jennifer Chinenye Emelife (23) muted on Facebook that she had been molested by a "god of poetry". Commentators called her names for "seeking attention". But other young women soon emerged, most of them in their early twenties, making the same allegations that the famous poet had forcefully kissed them after calling them his "daughters" and earning their trust on that level. As of the time of writing this, four women, Jennifer Chinenye Emelife, Miracle Adebayo, Mary Ajayi and CeCe Ireneh have all come out publicly with allegations of molestation against Mr. Amu Nnadi. Mr. Amu Nnadi, who works with the NDDC in Port Harcourt, has been under pressure from within the literary community to address the allegations against him.

Having shut down his Facebook page in the wake of the allegations, the poet reactivated his account on Janury 19 and made a post in which he admitted to having "inappropriate" interactions with the women. "My dear friends and colleagues, I have read and heard a lot that has been said about how my manner of interaction with some younger female writers within our literary commune has been quite inappropriate. With sincerity I accept responsibility for the hurt a writer's excesses have caused you all. I wish to humbly seek a lasting healing for all affected and all concerned because it was not my intention to hurt anyone. I truly regret this. I am deepy sorry and I apologize without reservation to all affected. DO FORGIVE. Thank you all for reading and for your understanding." Regardless, instead of dousing tension, the post has infuriated segments of the literary community who consider it a "non-apology", especially after there were allegations that he had tried to intimidate the young girls into silence. Prominent writers like Chika Unigwe and Okey Ndibe among others have called for Amu Nnadi's statement to be disregarded while investigations into the matter continue. "When we declare Chijioke courageous because he wrote a carefully coded statement of regret, we imply that his accusers' anguish is of little consequence. I am a big fan of Chijioke's poetry. But my admiration of his poetry is beside the point. If he violated women in the manner that several of them have outlined, then a full investigation ought to be made," Okey Ndibe, a prominent novelist, commented on the post. A Canadian-based NGO, Whole Woman Network co-founded by Nigerian Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido has taken up the mantle of investigating the allegations. Ume-Onyido had already completed her investigations and passed on the report to her local and international partner agencies for scrutiny and further actions by the time Daily Trust contacted her. She is under a "gag order" pending the release of the report of the investigations and could therefore not comment officially on the matter in response to Daily Trust inquiries. She did however post comments on Facebook in response to Amu Nnadi's post. "This is not a vendetta, this is about holding someone accountable, getting him some professional help he clearly seems to need. There are girls that have shared their stories with us in trust but are not ready to go public yet, let us begin to find solutions for them too. These are our daughters and no matter in what ways they've erred, we owe it to them to protect them, to create safe and sacred spaces so they can truly bloom," she said. Mrs. Ume-Onyido has insisted all along that the process has to be as detailed and objective as possible as there are families and reputations at stake on both sides of the controversy. She also admitted that some of the victims have been intimidated and harassed by Mr Amu Nnadi, threatening to unleash cultists and Niger Delta militants on them if they dared speak, with one of the victims now experiencing anxiety attacks each time her phone rings.

Regardless, there are those who have come out in defence of Mr. Amu Nnadi, some of them accusing the ladies of wanting cheap fame and popularity while others blame them for making such a fuss over "just kissing". But Ume-Onyido said her investigations have revealed that the matter goes beyond "kissing" as their investigations have uncovered other levels of molestations that have left the ladies having difficulties trusting older people and needing counseling. It is not clear what kind of outcome the victims expect from the allegation. Daily Trust approached one of the ladies making the allegations and she informed that they have been asked not to comment further on the incident until the report of the investigation has been made public. The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) has refrained from issuing an official statement but the President, Mal. Denja Abdullahi said, "I as President of ANA have refrained from making any hasty statement on the matter, in spite of calls and messages I have received to come out to say something. I like the clinical, forensic and dispassionate approach Juliet and her organization have taken on the matter. I fully support their method and will be willing to officially get their briefings and reports. "It will help in setting the boundaries in relationships in the literary commune and help people to be on their guards against improper behavior. ANA has a constitution and a code of conduct which has sanctions for such a moral infraction as sexual harassment," he said. He also cautioned that no established case of rape has been labeled on Mr. Amu Nnadi. Other institutions mentioned in the unfolding scandal such as the Ake Festival, Abeokuta and the Writivism Festival, in Kampala, Uganda where some of the infringements occurred have come out to distance themselves from the unfortunate events, saying they do not condone the molestation of their guests, participants or volunteers. As of now, no one is certain what the next few days hold and what direction the scandal will take. What is certain is that there are people determined to follow this matter to a logical conclusion.

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