On Friday, March 8, 2019, coincidentally the International Women’s Day, 2019, Pulse released the first part part of its interview with the founder of The Consent Workshop, the very amiable, intelligent, daring and equally polarizing, Uche Umolu.
In that part, she spoke to Pulse about her background, her perspective on feminism, rape and the infamous moment the Don-Chima George and Rasaq Oke were arrested for allegedly raping a 24-year-old woman.
On this part, Umolu talks to Pulse about The Consent Workshop, sex offenders’ registry, her multiple Twitter suspensions and the future for her.
The Consent Workshop
Pulse: Why did you start The Consent Workshop?
Umolu: July 2018, after a session of online public shaming. It was the first time I had asked people to reach out to me stating clearly their perpetrators, their names and permission to post if they so wish. The response was overwhelming - I had over 100 men and women reach out to me speaking their truth. It was mostly young women in universities who were victims.
I collated a list of the abusers and shared it. This was the beginning of my full time activism. The Consent Workshop came up as a way to sustain this path I was on. Shaming is not sustainable to eradicate such depth of violence that clearly exists in our society; Unlearning and learning is.
Pulse: How far has the organization come?
Umolu: Beyond anything I thought was achievable in this short time. This started in Toronto, as a way to have well-meaning discussions on consent. I had no money or resources but I had a vision and immense support. Seven months later and TCW is currently in 4 countries - Nigeria, Canada, UK and Ghana.
We are in over 15 cities including Accra, Ottawa, London and Lagos. Our programs have reached thousands of youths and is currently in dozens of universities and colleges worldwide actively trying to push our message. Specifically we have school representatives in over 15 universities and colleges across Nigeria.
We have reached hundreds of secondary school students since our school run projects started in February and we are only getting started.
Pulse: How many people do you have on the team?
Umolu: We have over 150 volunteers worldwide in our network - including professional facilitators, lawyers, digital experts and graphic designers. The list is endless. My team is the reason why TCW works well. They are amazing, from different walks of life with a common goal to eradicate rape culture.
Pulse: What are the short-term and long-term goals of the organization?
Umolu: Our short term goals
● Becoming an established platform for youths/students to access necessary resources for sexual abuse and sexual violence prevention.
● Through our various projects, youths have a better understanding of consent, hereby setting a domino effect of healthy sex choices.
● Become an established platform that offers consent education to business entities, government bodies or any group of professionals who need it. Youths are our focus but consent is a conversation that should be had everywhere.
Our long term goals are straightforward
● Increase the rates of reporting sexual violence crime incidents: I want youths to feel comfortable reporting signs of sexual abuse. Whether to our organization or we hope, the police. Hence the need to reform the justice system. Our work becomes moot if justice is not guaranteed.
● Reduced rates of sexual violence crimes in colleges and universities
● Become policy influencers on gender based violence laws
● A Sex Offenders Registry
My organization is not trying to present itself as the only solution to eradicating rape culture. But we are the first of many necessary steps
Pulse: What activities do you have planned for the organization?
Umolu: We have lots of planned activities in the coming year and after;
● General workshops in all major cities including Toronto, Lagos, and Abuja
● Consent school runs. We are aiming to be in at least 20 of the Nigerian states by 2020
● Collaborations and partnerships with other organizations fighting against rape culture
● Custom made consent lesson packages for anyone who needs it
● We also plan to bring our outreach programs to IDP camps which would have a different structure from our regular outreach programs
Pulse: What would you need for the organization to thrive?
Umolu: Money (laughs). And of course public support.
Sex offenders’ registry
Umolu: My entire life’s work inspired that. Heck if I could, and if it was not blatantly illegal opening myself to a lot of lawsuits, I would have used by web development skills to create a secure web version. But this isn’t my job or the job of any regular citizen, it is the job of the government.
Common sense inspired it also. It’s been on mind for years now and I always wondered why Nigeria never had one. With all these names of perpetrators coming out, including some who are actually registered sex offenders in other nations, this is a necessity.
I was finally determined to push this when I was contacted by several victims of a serial perpetrator who is a registered offender in the UK but was able to relocate to Nigeria to continue his actions.
Enough is enough, please. The law to allowing the implementation of one exists already in our constitution, so why is it not being enforced?
Pulse: What do you think a sex offenders’ registry will achieve?
Umolu: For starters, it will avoid the above situation. If we had a federal registry, no registered offender from another country will see Nigeria as a safe haven for more new crimes and a fresh set of victims. And that is exactly what Nigeria is now - a safe haven for rapists and all forms and abusers because all you need is a little bribe change, and you are good to go.
ALSO READ: Sex offenders' registry in Nigeria
My exposing sessions usually involve one perpetrator preying on more than one victim. This is normal, in Nigeria. We literally breed serial rapists by implementing nothing substantial that puts an end to this. This is beyond not okay and a sex offenders’ registry solves this.
Victims can finally get justice because being on that list means a conviction happened or there was enough evidence that the person is a danger to the community. It will also keep us safe. Your family will be safe. You can be rest assured that you aren't bringing a convicted rapist to look after your child.
As explained on the petition page a sex offenders register can be used by the law enforcement ministries to monitor and track sex offenders following their release into the community. The Nigerian government can use this list to save so many future victims.
There are so many aspects to a sex offenders’ registry that we stand nothing to lose from having one. In our TCW recommended proposal for its structure, we suggested a copy of the register should be kept in the State High Court’s registry/ database, at the police station and a selected non-governmental agency that caters to victims of sexual assault. Everyone can see it and access it.
A well implemented sex offenders’ registry in Nigeria will achieve more than we have achieved so far in the history of anti-rape campaigns. The fear of shame keeps abusers in line. We need a deterrent for sexual abuse. There is none in Nigeria because abusers are aggressively protected. We need a sex offenders’ registry in Nigeria for us and the next generation.
Pulse: Natural Law proponents claim the purpose of imprisonment should be rehabilitation, not permanent impediment. Due to this, they want the capital punishment to be scrapped by legal systems across the world. Do you think a sex offenders’ registry could stand in the way of rehabilitation?
Umolu: I do not believe so. Rehabilitate all you like but the world deserves to know the actions of abusers. Then people can then make their own choices on how they would like to relate with the rehabilitated criminal. Rehabilitation does not mean you get to escape the consequences of your actions.
Victims of sexual abuse NEVER recover from it. It’s a continuous cycle of trauma till you die. I would prefer not to answer questions that spare a tiny bit of thought to the offender’s feelings over the victims.
Pulse:With the petition now thriving, what is the next step?
Umolu: We just started. I’m overwhelmed by the initial support but we aren't even close yet. First goal is to hit 10,000 signatories. In the meantime, we build grassroots support by letting Nigerians the whole world know we need this.
Pulse: How useful will this be in pressuring the government?
Umolu: If they don’t listen then they simply don’t care. It is the voice of the people- making it very hard to imagine the government ignoring a request to enforce its own law. But we’ll see.
Pulse: Is this like a pressure group activity or necessary activism?
Umolu: I do not see how the calling for a sex offenders registry, which we all know we need, is “pressure group activity”. Lest I remind everyone, that this law already exists under Section 1(4) of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015.
We are not asking for the impossible; we just want it to function as it should. Call it what you may but i know it is a necessity. And this is beyond activism; it’s common sense.
Social media activity, suspension and reemergence
Pulse: How do you feel about the suspension of two of your accounts?
Umolu: Correction; this is actually my third account suspension. The first after the exposing session of summer in July. The second, kingnelo2 a few days ago after launching the #NameAndShame Campaign and the third? A day ago.
I’m surprised, exhausted but not shocked. My war against rape culture has been rebutted by roadblocks at every single step of the way - standard routine. Nobody ever went to war without an enemy, so again this is just another regular day for me.
What I’m not sure however is if twitter is also my enemy, because they have become complicit in suppressing my voice by not doing any due process on suspension of accounts. I have never been able to recover a single account despite emailing Twitter to explain the obvious attempts at silencing me.
However, I know what I signed up for. I think people in the social justice field, or just in the fight against rape culture, forget how much opposition they have. From the abusers themselves, to people in higher places of power who feel challenged by my platform, to parents protecting their abusive children.
I mean, I just had an abuser who I confronted yesterday on behalf of someone. He bluntly asked me if I knew who his father is. This is because most likely, his father has been complicit in enabling his abusive tendencies. He then also made further threats on my life but was backpedaling once he realized public shaming was my next course of action. Told you shame works. (Laughs)
It is terrifying the amount of enablers are actively working against our movement. There are so many people rooting for me to fail, and again that’s okay because it is not stopping the work. The abusers i am fighting against dont want my voice heard, and they know twitter is my most accessible platform, where victims even reach out to me. They are working alright, but I am working harder.
Pulse: Is there a way to be an activist without risking suspension?
Umolu: The only way would be for me to be politically correct at all times and avoid confrontation. The complete opposite of me. And even then I probably would still have people waiting for any opportunity to get me off the platform.
ALSO READ: Who is a human rights activist?
I’m not just fighting against sexual violence, I am forcing people to see Nigeria for what it really is. I am fighting a whole system rooted in gender based violence and an entitlement to bodies. The backlash is always going to happen.
Additionally, because twitter IS my main platform to uplift my voice and the voices of many, there’s a larger incentive to get me out of there fast. So it really doesn't matter what i do at this point, I’ll forever remain a target.
Pulse: Is that good enough for you?
Umolu: Not being my unapologetic self to avoid suspension? No way. This fight is BIGGER than twitter or any social media and for me to stay efficient, I must be myself at all times. I would say yes if staying silent and laying low ever achieved anything, but it did not so NO. I am not just fighting against a system I am fighting people and like I always say, I know what I signed up for.
At the peak of my online activism I average about 10 death threats a day. People want to see me fail (or die). Specifically abusers, or anyone scared of being brought to justice want to see me fail.
So it isn't good enough for me to remain quiet or politically correct in a bid to avoid suspension. The revolution shall be blasted from the top. And will indeed be blasted from the top.
Pulse: Do you think you are being victimized?
Umolu: It is definitely what they are attempting to do but I hate to see myself as a victim in anything. I am relentless and will going at what i do till i reach my goal.
Regardless of the ruthless, nonsensical ways agents of rape culture have decided to suppress my voice, I am not going anywhere. Rapists and rape stakeholders underestimate my determination. Twitter is a platform but it is not my only platform. The work continues whether i’m there or not.
Pulse: Do you feel activists (should) have limitations?
Umolu: It’s a personal reference. I don't have very much limitations personally, as I have dedicated my entire living to my work and making the impact that is necessary. But I do very much love my family and friends and if I ever felt that they were facing an unavoidable threat, that would surely be my limit
Pulse: What is the future for Uche Umolu?
Umolu: My organization will get bigger and expand to every country in the world I will become a leading voice on gender based policy making in Nigeria. I’m not going anywhere and I certainly prepare to be on this hill forever. So they as might as well bring me in to show them the right way.
Pulse: Why does Uche Umolu do what she does?
Umolu: This is because every single Nigerian woman I know, including myself, has been abused at some point in their life. Because most Nigerian men in my life have admitted to having their first sexual encounter with an adult.
We obviously have a very serious problem in this country. The aforementioned acts are so normalized in our society. This work is for my healing, peace, justice and the next generations to come. I say my healing because being a voice for the voiceless, is my own way of dealing with past abuse I have faced.