Johnson Babalola
April 9, 2023

Power, Slap, God and Us

It was a hot afternoon in a town called Abeokuta in Nigeria. Scheduled to leave Nigeria that night, I had a need to buy some clothing materials before setting out. Accompanied by a friend, I headed to a clothing store. About five meters into the frontal part of the store, I heard a big slap accompanied by a huge scream with a “mummy, mi o ji owo yin” (mummy, I did not steal your money) statement amidst tears. I stood still, shocked. I then moved closer. I asked the woman what had happened. She said the girl stole her money. How much? I asked. She said N2,000 (about US$3). Could it be that someone else had taken the money? She said no. Could it be that she had misplaced the money? She swore by God that the girl stole the money. Who was the girl to her I asked. She responded she was brought from a village by her poor parents to live with her, assist her and learn the business of selling clothes. When did she start living with her, I asked again. She said about two years. Was she known for stealing? She said not but “ojokan nan bere” (they get started someday).

I turned to the girl who was sobbing and holding her two cheeks in her palms. Apparently, she was slapped on one side of the cheek while standing by a pole and hit the other cheek against the pole. I asked her age. Thirteen years, she said. She innocently told me her name too even without me asking. Did she steal the money? I asked. She said no and that God was her witness.

Then there was a development. She woman announced as if addressing the whole world (mind you, there were many people paying attention to all that was happening and some were even encouraging her to beat the girl more), that she had found the money. She said she had found it in a bag she had brought to work the day before. Then she added, facing the girl: “Olorun yo e loni” (God had saved you today). Without an apology to the girl, she told her to continue with her tasks. Without a word, the girl continued with her tasks, still crying.

Turning to me, she then asked: “Kile fe bami ra?” (what do you want to buy from me?). Then I told her I was not buying anything from her given what I had just witnessed. She had just abused an innocent girl for wrong reasons and there was no apology to the girl. I informed her she needed to apologize to the girl and the God she had referenced in her lies. Then she tried to justify her actions: “awon omo wonyi buru!” (these children are of bad characters”). I reminded her to stop generalizing and justifying her bad behaviors. I informed her she needed to stop such behaviors and take care of that young girl as her own and send her to school. I added that I would report the abuse to the Police. She laughed and responded “e ma yo ra yin lenu sir. Awa lan taso fun won. Won o ni se nkankan. Awon olopa gan nna awon omo odo won” (don’t trouble yourself sir. We sell clothes to them. They won’t take any steps. Even Police officers beat their house maids). I left as I had to travel out of town for my flight. Before I left, I told the girl how important she was and that she should not allow herself to be abused any longer. I encouraged her to ask her parents to take her back home where she would be nurtured, sent to a free public school. Her focus, I told her, was to turn the negatives to positives and become a success story in life. At this time, the woman had left to attend to a customer.

I was troubled by what I saw. I pleaded with my friend who drove me to Lagos and had witnessed the incident to report it to the Police. He declined. He said he had no trust in the Police and in addition, that the young girl would be exposed to more risks and end up suffering more. Perhaps the woman was her last hope of survival in life. This troubled me more. The young girl was a victim of the system. A system that does not protect the weak, young and poor. She had to live with the abuse and move on. I was disappointed in the system. I was disappointed in the woman that took advantage of the situation of the young girl and abused her without caution. I was disappointed in the people that stood around egging the woman on and even those that just watched the “drama” silently and moved on. I was disappointed in my friend who had found some reasons not to pursue the matter. I was disappointed in myself for leaving without ensuring that justice was served. But then, if I had done that and I had succeeded (understanding that to succeed would have been a herculean task), would my “success” have helped the girl or hurt her?. As we got to the airport, my friend told me to move on adding: “God will deal with the woman. Have a safe trip bro”. “Thanks, bro, for your help but when will God deal with her?”. I responded. He then smiled “Maybe God will act through us. Not to worry. I will find the girl, her parents and offer some support on behalf of us both”. I smiled while adding “thank you bro. You are God sent” as I made my way to the departure lounge to face other realities of life.

I, however, continue to be troubled by the realization that there are many individuals like the girl out there: men, women, young, old, rich, poor who are victims of different types of abuses with no voice and/or no one to talk to. May you find your voice soon and may you find a listening ear!. And, if you are meant to be the voice or the ear to another person, don’t walk away without fulfilling that role!

Johnson Babalola, a Canada and Nigeria based lawyer, leadership consultant, storyteller and corporate emcee, is a public affairs analyst. Follow him for discussions on real life issues that affect us all.

You can obtain a copy of his newly released book, REJECTED on Amazon, FriesenPress, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Apple Books, Nook Store etc.