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Akpabio vs Nunieh: Of Sexual assault, juju oaths and other misconducts

There have been many dirty fisticuffs in the Nigerian political arena and there are many simultaneous battles still going on. In terms of sheer grime…

There have been many dirty fisticuffs in the Nigerian political arena and there are many simultaneous battles still going on.

In terms of sheer grime and sleaze, none of these could match that between the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr Godswill Akpabio and erstwhile Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ms Joi Nunieh.

The huge sleazeballs of allegations flying back and forth between the two gladiators have left Nigerians, exhausted already from the reality of their lives, government failures and consistent bitter bickering between members of President Buhari’s government, completely baffled.

There have been allegations of corruption, abuse of public office and due process, nepotism, falsification of documents and various forms of misconducts.

These are common in political spats in Nigeria.

But there have also been allegations of a sexual assault and physical violence (a slap), multiple marriages (how that is relevant information to Nigerians remains to be seen) and “character issues” coercion and juju oaths.

This whole episode reads like a low-budget, badly scripted Nollywood movie.

Each of this allegation on its own merit could bring down governments and public officials in saner climes.

Nigeria is not one of those places.

This, however, does not mean that the issues should be treated with levity.

Newspaper coverage of the crisis has rightly focused on the allegations of corruption but it would seem that the allegations of sexual assault are not being given due attention.

This is an era of #metoo and Nigeria is in the middle of a rape plague.

The senate has been pushing bills to address cases of sexual assault in the country.

That senior public officials, like a minister and a former acting MD in a commission he should be supervising, are so scandalously entangled is worrying.

That the government (if you like the president) has not intervened, suspended the officials from office pending the conclusion of investigations into the matter, is equally telling.

The allegations of corruption aside, because we have had so many of them over the years, the allegations of a minister sexually assaulting the head of a public commission is a serious issue.

Ms Nunieh was very categorical in her allegation that Mr Akpabio tried to assault her in his Asokoro guest house, after which she decided not to attend any meeting with him outside of their designated offices.

She said she did not report the assault at the time because, in her words, she “handled him” by slapping him squarely across the face and because she was “not helpless.”

Of course, the minister has categorically, in very clear terms, denied the allegations that he attempted to sexually assault her, that he received any slap on the face from her and insisted that he is not letting the matter go unchallenged.

Both of them are lawyers and should know that such allegations are not bandied about without consequence.

Both parties have threatened legal actions.

Whether they will see these threats through is yet to be seen.


The sexual harassment part

Sexual allegations are generally very serious, and where they involve the abuse of public office, they become issues of national concern.

Former US President Bill Clinton almost lost his presidency over that, and long-term US congressman, Al Franken was forced to resign after allegations of groping.

Top politicians in the UK have also been forced to leave their positions, including a member of the royal family.

Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, was forced to slink into the shadows over his involvement in the Jeffery Epstein sex scandal.

Of course, some politicians have bullishly decided to ride out the storm.

Donald Trump is one of them.

But Mr Trump should be no one’s role model in matters of morality.

In Nigeria, where women are grossly underrepresented in government and in public life, allegations of senior public officials trying to use their offices to gain sexual favours from their subordinates does not only constitute gross misconduct but also challenges the notion of inclusive governance.

If such occurrences are not checked, women’s participation in nation building will always be limited.


Other allegations

There is so much to unpack in the Akpabio vs Nunieh scandal, besides the sex allegation.

For instance, that disturbing allegation of an individual trying to coerce a public official to swear a juju oath, using black magic, pledging loyalty to an individual rather than the country is indicative of a political culture that is worrying and has, over the years, side tracked the country’s development.

So also is Akpabio’s counter allegation that Ms Nunieh did not have the requisite qualification and yet, somehow, ended up in the office by virtue of an appointment letter he himself had signed.

All these are issues that demand serious attention and that any government concerned about due process and fighting corruption ought to handle fairly and transparently.

Already, this government has been tainted by the many episodes of very public laundering of very, very dirty linens and if there is a time to make a proper statement about intolerance to abuse of public offices, this very scandal, is an opportunity to do so.

The fact that members of the same government, who should be working together towards a common goal, are brawling publicly without being called to order is indicative of a bigger, more worrying problem and is summed up in one question:  “Who is in charge of this house?”