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Hey, Don’t Touch!

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June 27, (THEWILL) – Bisi Is The Boss by Bola Tinubu, Quramo Publishing: Lagos, 2021, 48pp

Confronted with a potential rapist, women are most times advised to avail themselves of the most useful weapon at their disposal – the mouth. By the very nature of the crime, rapists don’t like attention during the act. So, any woman under threat can use her mouth to shout and to also bite. A parade ground-like howling can make a startled, would-be rapist slink away. An unexpected bite from any part of his body with your incisors or canines is more than likely to turn a formerly turgid member into a limp and ineffective organ.

But what self-defensive weapons do female children have to ward off the probing fingers or mouth of an adult male? The author of this publication provides the answer and even goes on to suggest useful tips children can use to deter abusive, predatory males. The first is to recognize that their body – from the crown to the tip of their toes and everything in between – belongs to them and them alone. Thus the title Bisi is the Boss, not of a sizeable blue chip company in Marina but one they should have complete control of from birth – their body.

At home, in school or playground, children are sometimes at the mercy of abusive parents, neighbours, teachers, classmates or even schoolmates. Most times, they don’t even know what is happening because of their age: if it is right or wrong, should she or not allow it let alone talk or complain about it to an older person. With a pocketful of confectioneries or some such inducements men use to lure their victims, the crime is almost as good as done and oftentimes go unnoticed.

With this publication, the author is telling children that they, too, can say hey, don’t touch, this body is mine. Bisi is The Boss is mainly about the safety of minors (male and female) and a message to parents and guardians on steps to take. “As the founder of a non-profit organisation dealing with issues of child abuse,” writes Bola Tinubu (not to be confused with the presidential wannabe of the same moniker but one with a genuine concern for tots) “I have written this book to assist parents to help their children navigate the difficulties of understanding what their private parts are and what boundaries to set for them to keep them safe and prevent abuse.”

Only 43 pages long, the message in it will last a lifetime to those concerned, especially female children who are more vulnerable to the groping fingers of an abuser. What is the message?

“Privates are privates,” Bisi the preteen protagonist tells readers, the same message both parents used to drum into herself and sib, Tobi. “Mum and Dad always talk to me about keeping my body safe,” the little girl says in the opening after introducing herself and her nationality. “There is something really cool that they always tell me and my little brother, Tobi. They say, “Privates are privates.”

True! No one – man or woman – has any right to grope or touch children’s privates. That, as most people know, is sex abuse. There are exemptions however, the family doctor. But even at that, a parent or two have to be around when children see their doctors.

Assuming that those her age may not quite be familiar with “privates,” Bisi then goes on to educate her peers that “if you are a girl like me, your private parts are your chest and the part of your body between your legs. The private part in front is called the vagina, and the private part at the back is called the buttocks. Your mouth is also your private part.”

She addresses the same message to the opposite sex using Tobi as an example. After identifying the untouchable body parts, she goes to encourage them to take charge of it because “being the boss means you are in charge of your body and you have the right to decide what happens to it…your body does not belong to anyone else, not your aunty, uncle, nanny, cousin, neighbour, friend, teacher or even your parent’s friends.”

Like a teacher on a lecture circuit, Bisi continues her exhortation for safety of minors like herself, offering safety rules as well. “Say no, no, no in a thunderous voice, even if it’s someone in your family, a teacher, a friend, or someone else you care about.” Other safety guarantees, she advises, “is to move away and run as fast as you can, tell an adult you can trust and keep telling over and over until you get help.”

How can the very young know that they are being violated? The author answers through her plucky heroine. There is usually a sense of shame after the act, becoming confused, feeling icky and sad. Anger is also part of the resulting trauma for abused children.

A fulltime corporate lawyer and passionate advocate for children’s rights, it is no surprise Mrs. Tinubu wrote this charming and timely publication on a worrisome issue. A recent UNICEF report, for instance, states that “one in four girls and 10 percent of boys in Nigeria are victims of sexual violence, and of the children who reported violence, fewer than five out of a 100 received any form of support.”

There was the case of a five-year-old girl in Lagos Mainland who was serially abused by a 65-year-old man. The victim’s mother and the man lived in the same compound. Like play, like play, as they say, the man used to refer the tot as “my wife,” to the mother’s delight. The unsuspecting mum used to leave her daughter with the said man, allowing him to em, em, em…

At any rate, the abuser was found out not because the little girl grassed on him to her mother. According to the mum, she was bathing her daughter one day and she kept crying that she was feeling pains between her legs. Pampered with a particular favourite pastry, the girl finally let on that uncle so and so used to do things to her. The mother confronted the paedophile who owned up to his crime.

For such victims, Mrs. Tinubu has a foundation, Cee Cee Yara Foundation, with a multi-disciplinary team of counsellors, social workers, child advocates, lawyers and forensic interviewers” to prevent child sexual abuse and to provide access to care, information, protection and emergency intervention for children who have experienced sexual abuse or who are at risk.”

Well-bound for a longer shelf life or as a coffee-table read, Bisi is The Boss comes in attractive colours and hard-to-forget illustrations. At the public presentation on Friday May 27, 2022 – Children’s Day – at The Wing, an events centre on Victoria Island, Lagos, the author stated thusly: “BIsi is The Boss amounts to an all-encompassing read not only simplifying the difficult subject of abuse but also providing a bonding platform between guardians and the children in their care. The storyline follows Bisi, a well-informed little girl who teaches young children through this important book how to identify inappropriate behaviours and create body boundaries.”

Continuing, Mrs. Tinubu says her book “is a guide for adults and care givers on how to protect the little ones from child sexual abuse, a perverse act that permeates the society through households, peer groups, schools, religious establishments and other layers of interactions…we live in an environment that is battling with harmful acts against innocent children, especially child sexual abuse.”

It is hard to deny that cases of child abuse are on the increase in Nigeria. This is why Bisi is The Boss is not only timely but also “raises important issues on child abuse and how best to handle it and protect children from sexual predators.”

The major character herself is a Nigerian but the author addresses her message to young women all over the world by the Global Child Helplines just at the end of the book, sort of reading like an Index. Starting with Africa, The Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, she lists all the telephone lines of most of the countries of the world where you can reach helpers easily.

Readers will be surprised to find helplines of nations like Afghanistan, Antigua, Aruba, Barbuda, Maldives and so on. In her wisdom, the author has translated Bisi is The Boss into the three major languages – Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba – in Nigeria. What the government can do to complement her effort is to make Bisi required reading in primary schools in the country.