He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, Mens sana in corpore sano. His was a sound mind in an unsound body. He proved the eternal paradox of things. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.~ Elbert Hubbard
The above excerpt in a 1915 obituary entitled The King of Jesters was penned and published for dwarf actor Marshall Pinckney Wilder. It praised Wilder’s optimistic attitude and achievements in the face of his disabilities. The saying subsequently precipitated the popular saying; “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
Last month, Uti Nwachukwu and Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo popularly known as D’banj were in the news over rape accusations by one Ms Kambili Korie and another Ms Seyitan Babatayo respectively. The allegations came as the brutal rape and murder of 22-year-old microbiology student Vera Uwaila catapulted the rape menace to the front burner of our national discourse once again.
Uti quickly refuted the allegations against him and clearly exposed the handle as a bot via a series of tweets. D’banj, on the other hand, remained silent for days preferring to speak through surrogates and acolytes. D’banj’s choice is understandable to a reasonable extent for celebrities who have a reputation to protect.
While Uti’s accuser quickly disappeared on confrontation D’banj’s matter lingered and even festered. I believe things could have been handled much better if he had an adroiter Public Relations team. But first lets quickly peruse the issue as it were.
Following the allegation by Ms Seyitan, some of D’banj’s supporters claimed he wasn’t in the country on the said date. However, that supposed alibi was busted and it became clear that Seyitan wasn’t a fibber after all. Now skipping the distraction of the social media confabulation and arrest story, let us examine the last two updates on the matter.
By slamming his accuser with a 1.5 billion libel suit, not a few out there got the impression that having failed to intimidate her with the police, D’banj decided to silence his accuser with this move. Of course, we can argue that he is entitled to this, after all, I just admitted that he has a reputation to protect. However, for a celebrity, proving your innocence through litigation is often a long journey which could unearth more unnecessary but damaging details.
Whatsmore the fact that neither camp categorically denied the $100 story by Franklin (the artiste’s former manager) suggests that the exchange indeed happened. If we agree on this then we are left with three plausibilities from the blurry details of what transpired in the hotel room.
It is either we go with Seyitan’s story that she was forced against her will to have sex or believe that they had consensual sex and Ms Seyitan was subsequently ‘settled’ with an amount she considered rather paltry (many Nigerians would have deduced this from Franklin’s interview). Then there is a remote possibility that it is all a fabrication as the artiste claims.
Some slammed Seyitan and queried the timing of her allegation as an attempt to blackmail D’banj before his planned 40th birthday celebration. Perceivably, Seitan could have leveraged on the wave of the moment to do this but let’s not forget that she did raise her concerns on the very day as confirmed by Franklin.
In any case, D’banj failed to turn bad press into something positive because regardless of the divergent narratives and possibilities it is either he is guilty or innocent of the allegation.
If he is culpable, he could have nipped the matter in the bud with a masterstroke. Firstly, he could have privately apologised to his wife and Seyitan for the trauma he caused them. Then his PR team would arrange a live video where he will apologise to Nigerians and vow to spearhead the crusade against sexual harassment.
Conversely, he could have spoken out ab initio with evidence to prove his innocence and followed it up with litigation while at the same time declaring publicly (via a video) his intention to champion the anti-rape campaign.
Instances abound where celebs have turned bad publicity into something positive. Think Justin Bieber who recently shut down an accuser by producing evidence to show that he was elsewhere on the said date or Sia who took to the social media to release her nude pics when a blackmailer threatened to do that. You can imagine the goodwill D’banj will garner by leading the womenfolk - who are pivotal in the entertainment industry - in a cause that is dear to them. Either way, he would be killing two birds with one stone.
And for those who would say that would be covering up a crime or that it would be a cheap price to pay if he is guilty. Well, Nigerians are forbearing and magnanimous people. We just can’t help it because that’s who we are. I am also assuming of course, that D’banj has been a good husband since there is no narrative to suggest the contrary. So I see no reason why we can’t forgive him.
In 2018, when the #MeToo movement swept through the western world, exposing widespread sexual abuse among powerful men and drowning prominent names like Harvey Weinstein, I had questioned why it had little effect in Nigeria. Given the increasing wave of feminism particularly in our social media space the muted response from our celebrities suggested that Nigerian ‘big boys’ despite the persistent allegations of misogyny are better behaved and do no go around “groping” or assaulting ladies.
But of course, we know this assumption is not only false but ridiculous because even though data on the number of reported cases is very limited, a 2014 national survey on violence against children in Nigeria, revealed that a quarter of women had experienced sexual violence in childhood. A huge 70% experiencing it more than once. Sadly just about 5% reported their experience while only 3.5% received any form of support.
Sexual harassment is pervasive in our society not just because many are ignorant of its meaning but also because a lot of men - especially our ‘big men’ - feel entitled. Yet, each time you engage Nigerians in a debate around the issue of rape you get the guilty feeling that we haven’t done enough and may not even be ready to do more. So having a big name like D’banj in the frontline of the battle against this scourge, will be a win-win situation for all.