Editorial: Abbo’s “Dirty Slaps” and the Senate Code of Ethics

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Even by their own ignominious standard of delinquency and bad manners, the video footage of Senator Elisha Cliff Abbo, assaulting a women in a sex toy shop in Abuja, where he had gone to make some purchases and his conflicting statements over what transpired, including his tepid and belated apology set a new low, in what, unfortunately, has become a blight on the toga of the image of the ninth legislature, and the unedifying trademark of its members. The assault was disgraceful, shameful, indecorous and bereft of any perfunctory exaggeration. His offence is compounded by the fact that his victim is a woman; a nursing mother. To the extent that such a callous and meaningless display of naked power expose the Senate and the institution of the National Assembly to ridicule and public contempt, the reprehensible conduct of Senator Abbo must not be allowed to go unpunished. His apology is a prima facie admission of guilt. If anything, this is one situation where Senate President, Ahmed Lawan should be held to his pledge to instill ethics into the workings of the upper legislative chamber. 


The video recording was done Saturday May 11, 2019. On that day, then Senator-elect Abbo arrived at the sex gadgets shop in the company of three young ladies. As the three girls and Abbo were sampling the sex toys to see which ones will do the job best, one of the girls threw up, making a mess of the whole place. The shop owner, a lady, was angry, saying she should have vomited outside. In defence of the vomiting, Abbo accused the shop owner of poisoning the store’s air conditioner. The lady punctured Abbo’s argument, pointing out that if the air condition had been contaminated other people in the shop would have been affected. Abbo then flew into a rage and an altercation ensured between them. He made phone calls to the police and in response the shop owner phoned her father. Power was going to meet power. Abbo probably did not know how high in rank the shop owner’s father was in the multi-layered wedding cake-like power structure of Abuja. 


Feeling disrespected, Abbo apparently tried to assault the shop owner but one of her staff, a nursing mother; intervened pleading her boss should be spared. In a clear case of transfer aggression, Abbo descended on the peacemaker, raining what is known in Nigeria as “dirty slaps” One dirty slap followed another and it looked like a slapping festival. And while the slapping went on, Abbo’s security detail; a policeman in uniform stood by watching as the hapless a nursing mother was being assaulted and battered by a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The police officer in an unpardonable act of complicity just stood there without restraining the irresponsible Senator from his criminal indulgence. As if that was not bad enough, the policeman stood there as a Slapping Supervisor (SS), and refused to use the full powers of his office to intervene in the interest of peace. He reportedly gave Senator Abbo a smart solute for his aberrant and abhorrent behavior. It is hoped that the Police Service Commission has taken notice of the policeman’s conduct for disciplinary purposes.


The sordid affair and the circumstances surrounding the assault is plainly egregious in its insanity. It is just as well that the police have charged Senator Abbo in a Magistrate court where he had pleaded not guilty and was released on N5 million bail. When the story first broke, Senator Abbo in a display of arrogant justification or self-exculpation said he was not a Senator but a Senator-elect when the assault took place took place, a very puerile explanation as if the matter had anything to do with rank. Then he claimed the video was edited and that the full unedited version would show that he, in fact, was the victim, not the victimizer. He promised to present his own side of the story at a press conference, but as the video went viral, triggering a wave of public indignation and outrage from politicians, human rights and women advocacy groups, Abbo decided to apologize. His apology was rejected by women’s rights groups as not being contrite. Facing an ad-hoc Senate committee investigating the assault, Abbo was unapologetic, refusing to answer questions; claiming the matter was in court, hence subjudice.


A man of Abbo’s stature should never have been involved in such a reckless show of power because it is a bad advertisement for his party, the PDP, and the Senate. Expectedly, both institutions condemned his reckless behavior while the police have charged him in court. While the Senate investigation and the court case plays out; the Police Service Commission should also call to question the sense of duty of the policeman at the scene of the incident. If he thought his duty was to serve as a referee to a one-sided slapping match, he must be told that he is in the wrong profession. If the rascally senator did not know his limits, the errant policeman ought to have told him where the red line is. Failing to do that at the scene of a crime is a dereliction of duty for which he must be held accountable


It is hard to believe that a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would descend to such level. At a time when Nigeria is facing rising cases of violence against women, it is unacceptable that a Senator will be caught on camera assaulting a woman. Only in Nigeria can such a thing happen and the Senator is still keeping his job! Abbo practically betrayed his love of violence and lack of respect for women. That is more than just an insult to the woman he assaulted. Already, Nigerians with their remarkable genius for travesty have made the issue the subject of butt jokes across beer parlors, pepper soup joints and social media. But this is no laughing matter.


From the look of things, male legislators consider women as sex objects. Some time ago, a rowdy altercation in the Senate between Sen. Dino Melaye, and Sen. Oluremi Tinubu, wife of APC national leader, Bola Tinubu, degenerated into a shouting match with Melaye threatening to beat up, rape and then impregnate Mrs. Tinubu – a married woman. He then reportedly said he would not even demean himself by impregnating a “Bonga fish” alluding to Tinubu’s slim body frame, saying he would prefer sex with “a woman who has beef, like Sen. Stella Oduah.” Also, Sen. Iyabo Anisulowo, was slapped by a male colleague at the National Assembly while another female lawmaker from Delta State was battered at the Assembly Complex. Funmi Tejuoso was also physically assaulted at the Lagos House of Assembly. Male chauvinists in the legislature even resisted a gender equality bill; and supposedly honorable men stood up to defend marriage to the girl-child. And some time ago, the US Embassy named and shamed three lawmakers who went to the US on a sponsored trip and solicited sex, with one of them almost raping a hotel maid. And now a Senator is caught on tape assaulting a nursing mother.  


Obviously, people like Abbo should not be in parliament to start with. To physically assault a nursing mother is the nadir of gracelessness. What did he smoke? If what he did happened in any civilized country, by now, there will be street protests for his resignation. The image the average Nigerian has of a Senator is that of grandstanding, self-posturing, primitive accumulation and conspicuous consumption. Many senators have been elected as ordinary men and women, but on getting to the Senate, were transformed into self-acclaimed demi-gods with obscene lifestyles of flamboyance, haughtiness and disregard for the electorate. There is a glaring accountability deficit in the conduct of public affairs and this calls to question the appropriate decorum for senators.


Owing to the absence of internal mechanism to check erring members, the standing view is that the Senate places low premium on integrity and moral probity. The magnitude and quantum of scandals around lawmakers seem like an official insignia. In the last 20 years, the quality of leadership at the National Assembly has left much to be desired. The conduct of legislators and their proclivity for power for its sake, the invidious bickering, the display of unruly, even violent behavior and use of money as instruments of statecraft, are pointers to their unethical and moral bankruptcy. Moreover, the fact that people of questionable characters, who brought moral opprobrium to their offices as governors and ministers, now pontificate in the National Assembly, is a hard lump to swallow for well-meaning Nigerians who truly seek change. 


The new Senate president made a bold promise to hold senators accountable. To show Nigerians his sincerity of purpose, he must ensure his words are marked by actions. The place to begin this ethical regeneration is the Ethics and Privileges Committee; the ombudsman of the Senate. This committee should be the arrow-head of efforts to enhance the Senate’s moral vanguard. The APC and PDP party whips should carry out their functions as moral checks on their members. Their positions are not mere titles to adorn their curriculum vitae for future lucrative assignments. They must ensure that senators are whipped in line for good conduct and behavior. If the Senate genuinely relishes the ethical transformation it seeks, the prima facie quality its members must possess, being public officers is integrity. It means adherence to ethical principles and sound moral character. Anything like what Senator Elisha Abbo put on display in that sex toy shop is unacceptable.