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An assault by a senator is part of a bigger Nigerian picture

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Thursday, 4 July 2019 15:29

A scandal involving a senator has sparked national debate about violence against women. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Earlier this week, Elisha Abbo, who at 41 is the youngest Nigerian senator in the current democratic dispensation, was caught on camera beating up an attendant in an Abuja sex shop. Abbo apparently is a frequent patron of the shop.

The Nigerian Senate has launched an internal investigation into the case of physical assault by one of its members. The larger issue, however, is the prevalence of gender-based violence in the country.

The CCTV footage of the incident, believed to have occurred before Abbo taking up his seat in parliament in June, triggered widespread condemnation on social media and sparked a series of protests.

  • His party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), condemned the incident in a statement, calling it “an act of lawlessness and callousness” and summoned him to appear and explain the incident.
  • The police chief has ordered a “comprehensive and holistic investigation into the incident”, but shied away from ordering the arrest of Abbo or the police orderlies who were at the scene.
  • A group of female activists protesting at the National Assembly complex over the actions of the senator were turned away by the police.
  • Former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the PDP was more direct. The 2019 presidential candidate, who, like Abbo, hails from the north-eastern state of Adamawa, has urged the senator to apologise and turn himself over to the police.

The senator initially claimed the video was distorted. He later organised a “world press conference” at which he apologised.

“It is with a deep sense of remorse and responsibility that I….profoundly apologise to all Nigerians, the Senate, the People’s Democratic Party, my family, friends as well as our mothers – the Nigerian women,” said Abbo, openly weeping.

Gender-based violence is prevalent in Nigeria. According to a United Nations Population Fund survey, 28% of Nigerian women aged between 25–29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15.  All too often, law enforcement agents, rather than protect women, are enablers of the violence against them and allow the perpetrators to go scot-free.

  • In July 2014, Dino Melaye, the senator whose first wife left him because of his violence, was accused of also beating his second wife. Melaye was re-elected to parliament earlier this year.

Bottom Line:

Politicians and those in authority are used to getting away with acts of violence towards family members, constituents and other citizens. The united outburst against Abbo, even from those usually predisposed to shield their own, should count as a small win in the campaign to stop such violence.

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