I started telling my son about condoms at age seven – Ireti Bakare

Ireti Bakare-Yusuf is the Principal Partner of NottingHill Management & Media. She recently founded the #NoMore movement that encourages victims of sexual abuse to speak up against their abusers. She spoke to Ojoi Igajah about her work and career

Ireti Bakare-Yusuf

How do you combine your role as a mother, journalist, media consultant and a movie maker?

First of all, I don’t see myself as a journalist at all. Some would say yes you are but I don’t think I am. I like to call myself a media enthusiast. Yes, I am a news analyst with Smooth FM which I have been doing for seven or eight years now. I have also done some TV shows. I have also written, produced and co-directed a documentary.  But again, that was accidental. A lot of these things you have mentioned are accidental. I didn’t set out to be a documentary film maker. I didn’t set out to be a radio voice, so to speak. I didn’t set out to be on TV. It has all been accidental. A girlfriend of mine who was working for Smooth FM at a time they started The Breakfast Show asked me to join her. I asked why and she said I had strong opinions, and we also need women who are not afraid to speak and share their opinions. It doesn’t mean that you always have the right opinion but you are not afraid to voice it and open up a debate. That is how I ended up doing radio. I’ve always been a radio junky though. As for the TV thing, a TV show was being set up; an all women’s panel show and I was asked to be on it. That was TVC’s Your View. It was very much down my street so I said yes, let’s do it. The documentary came as a result of my curiosity about ( President Muhammadu) Buhari. I’m a citizen and I hadn’t grown up here. This was my second election I was experiencing and looking to be one of the most defining elections that was going to be happening in this country. So there was a lot of fever that was going on and also there was a lot of reference to what he was years ago and having not been here at the time, I was curious about him. Then I watched him during an interview on Aljazeera and I saw something that most people didn’t really see. What I saw was someone who was very vulnerable and I sat there wondering that people talk about this man to be really harsh and all. Definitely he was a tough ruler at the time. I had also read a book called Soldiers of Fortune by Max Siollun which is published by Cassava Republic. The book is actually a history of ten years of military rule in Nigeria. What I really went looking for was, does this man actually laugh? Who is he when he is with his friends? What does he truly believe in? What sort of person is he when the world is not looking? It happened that as I was doing that, he then won the election.

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You are very vocal about sexual harassment. Have you had any personal experience?

I think it is sexual violations in general; be it harassment or rape, I feel very strongly about it and I also feel very strongly being here. Is this the only country where we have sexual harassment? No. Yes I have experienced it. I have experienced attempted rape and it wasn’t in Nigeria. I have experienced sexual harassment. It comes in degrees. Sometimes it’s overt, other times it’s covert. But I don’t like to say that is the reason why I feel passionately about it. I felt that way about it even before my experience. I am involved in a movement which I started this year. I had just written an article and I was discussing with my friend and suddenly this memory appeared, the same memory which I hadn’t thought about for many years and I ended up discussing it with her. The only way I can describe it is that it had been locked up somewhere I rarely visited. Somewhere, somehow, when trauma happens, your brain has a way of just packing it and you get along with life, then something comes around and triggers it.

You recently invented an app to help people who suffer sexual violations. How effective has it been?

Like I said, I started the movement from writing an article. I wrote it as a result of what happened when Oprah Winfrey gave her speech at Golden Globe. I remember so many people in Nigerian social media saying Oprah inspired them. I get the fact that what she said connected with us but our nuances and experiences will be different from hers.  Certainly our landscape is quite different. The statistics of sexual violations in Nigeria is actually getting higher. Secondly, paedophilia is insanely common. Another thing is that there is impunity. People are never punished. Because we have a culture of rape, we also have a culture of silence.  I was hosting some of my girlfriends one time and a male friend walked in and we started a conversation about the whole Me Too movement. He said he had been hearing a whole lot of things about it and asked whether it was true. There were about eight women in the room and he said “Can I just ask a question?  Have you all experienced it before?” It was a chorus answer. Everyone shouted Yeah! We all had experienced it. He was shocked. I remember ending the article saying, “Ours is not just a case of me too. It’s a collective roar of No More.” That’s how my movement started. I wrote another article about the Obafemi Awolowo University professor and the video that went viral. While I was doing a research on the subject, I discovered that there had only been 18 convictions for rape in the history of Nigeria. Perhaps that has changed now because that was since 2014. But even if there has only been a hundred, it is way too low from what we know is the trend. Thirty per cent of the population has experienced sexual violation. That is 30 million people at least; both male and female but predominantly female. I thought to myself, what is causing all these abysmally low convictions? First of all, rape is a very hard crime to prove. It’s a case of he said and she said. Another thing I thought about was, how can we stop this? There has to be a way of ensuring that these criminals get to court; so one of the objectives of #No More is to encourage women to speak out. Now, women speaking out is one thing and getting justice is another. We need to get more people reporting. So what stops people from reporting? Stigmatisation, jeering by the police, ostracisation from the community, threats and inadequate police force that doesn’t know how to handle rape. So how do we circumvent this and get people to report more? More reporting will lead to more investigations. More investigations will lead to more persecutions. Survivors need a safe space to be able to report without having to face all these ugly barriers which is a form of trauma in itself. That is how I came up with my app. The #No More app is a technology solution where survivors can report the assault, name the attacker and all can be stored in an encrypted file, time stamped until the time when they feel strong enough to take the case to court. This would reduce the trauma. They will write it in their own words without anyone standing over their head. They are able to mention the perpetrator.

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Do you think there is enough sexual education in Nigeria?

Sexual education is one thing and respect is another. I don’t think there is enough sexual education in Nigeria. I think we are far too archaic with how we talk about sex. People say it is “we we” instead of vagina. It is a vagina. Call it what it is. It is science. That is what they wrote in the biology book. It is a penis, so call it what it is. This should give our children comfort about their body and the genitals that’s there. It’s theirs. Let them feel comfortable about it. I have been talking to my son since the age of seven about condoms. It freaks people out. The day I knew that he realised that he had a penis and I found his hand in his trousers, I told him darling, time to talk. I also called his father and told him you need to have a word with your son.  My son and I are very comfortable talking about sex or condoms. He is 15 now. I tease him. Even if I say the “C” word, he is like, mummy it’s called condoms. In his school, they talk about it. When he was going to school in Nigeria, they taught them about it. Now that he is abroad,  they still teach them about it. It is open. What even freaks me out as a mother is that they even tell them to carry one in their purse all the time! How is that for empowerment? What I think we need to do is talk to our children. We need to bring up our boys the way we bring up our girls. I am the mother of a boy child but you will never find my boy sitting with his legs open even though he is wearing trousers. How many mothers and fathers do that? They think because he is a boy, he can sit with his legs open. I tell him it’s the most unsavoury thing. I don’t care whether you are a boy or girl. Also I have realised that a lot of young men in Nigeria have been brought up in such a way that they don’t understand the word “No.” They are so over indulged.

What is it you have learnt about people as a single mother in Nigeria?

I think there is a lot of ignorance and fear. There are a lot of assumptions and stereotypes. I have chosen not to be married. It’s my choice. Some are driven by marriage, others are driven by love. I tell people I am driven by love and that works for me. That doesn’t mean I have anything against marriage or that I will never get married. I know some very good marriages that are very inspiring.  I moved to this country with someone I called my partner. That is my son’s father. But people didn’t understand the word partner. They thought I was talking about a business partner. We have been together for 20 years and I call him my partner. I think that some single mothers are far too easy trying to justify their single motherhood. I never thought about it. It is just what it is. Actually in my case, I am a co-parent because his father is also participating. Not just his father but with my sisters as well. My son is blessed with many mothers, his father and father figures. If it takes a village to raise a child, then everyone in that village is a co-parent.

Tell us one book you read that impacted on your life

Soldiers of Fortune’ by Max Siollun and Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Mayinka. It is the most beautiful book.

Are you a fashionable person?

Absolutely! I totally love clothes. I have three rooms full of clothes. Some clothes I’ve had forever.  I used to spend stupid money on clothes and thank God that I did. I love vintage. I never get bored of my clothes. I used to be a shoe person but I really don’t do shoes anymore. I love to challenge things so I used to wear things differently from the way people wear them. It hasn’t always been to my benefit but I am a total non-conformist especially when it comes to fashion. My nickname is Sisioge which means lady of style. It was given to me by my son’s godmother when we were in our early twenties.

What are some of the fashion mistakes you see women make?

Wearing shoes they are not comfortable in. First of all, Nigerian pavements are anti-women’s shoes. Men are busy being comfortable and women are busy being uncomfortable. There is pressure to wear high heels.  I rebel against it. I live in my trainers now.   Also I am not anti-weave but this fear of showing your hair, of showing your individualism is also a mistake. I cannot stand those ridiculously long eye lashes. Literally half of them look like a spider’s legs on drugs.  They are ridiculous and totally unattractive. I also see people wear nails as long as a tiger’s claws. Talking about fashion mistakes in Nigeria, you can go on forever.  But there are some that also inspire me; there are really some funky women who got their style going. They inspire me.

Tell us three most daring things you have done in life

I once kissed a rap star while he was on stage in the UK. That was daring.  I also went on a road trip with one of my girl friends in UK. We got a car, drove round for a whole week, then stopped at wherever, sleep over at a hotel, then move on the next day. That was fun.

Can you share some of your fun memories while growing up?

My growing up was so much fun. I remember while we were growing up in Nigeria, my mother used to take me and my sisters to the Sunny Ade because he was always playing for our family. Whatever party she was going, she would take my sister and me.  I remember we would pick the money and stuff them in our pockets.  I remember her coming to take us out of school and taking us to go watch Baba Sala’s Orunmoru in King Cross. As I got into my teens in the UK, I got the best experience. I would never change it for the world. There was clubbing Monday to Sunday. I was part of a group. We were called The Rare Grooves Crew. It was actually a movement; believe it or not. We only wore vintage clothes from the 70s, we only listened to music from the 60s and 70s in the nightclubs so we only went to a particular nightclub that played only that. Wonderfully, some of those people we rocked with have become very big people in the UK now. Sea also this; American Rapper, Wale, Talks Being 100% Nigerian, Making Music With Davido And Wizkid In New Interview


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