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Column No.6: The ‘dirty’ slap heard around the world

While it is the best of times for columnists and cartoonists, it is particularly the worst for other people, especially those who answer to the…

While it is the best of times for columnists and cartoonists, it is particularly the worst for other people, especially those who answer to the name ‘Obiano’. It’s no longer news that during the inauguration of Governor Charles Soludo on Thursday, Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu, widow of the late Chief Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, had an unpleasant encounter with former first lady of Anambra State, Ebelechukwu Obiano. Just in case you live under a rock and are yet to watch the now-viral video, it showed Mrs. Obiano strutting to Mrs. Ojukwu’s seat, attempting a physical assault, resulting in the former beauty queen standing up and dishing out retribution of electrifying proportions, via a slap.

So widespread was the incident that Soludo issued an apology to the people of Anambra and guests who attended the ceremony, attributing it to a misunderstanding between the two ladies. However, if the statement released by Bianca Ojukwu is anything to go by, it’s far more than a “misunderstanding”. Yesterday, telling her side of the story, she began narrating that as the ceremonies began and all guests were seated, Mrs. Obiano arrived a bit more than fashionably late. “Surprisingly, she then walked towards me and I thought she was coming to greet me. Instead, when she got to where I was seated, she verbally attacked me with her voice raised, taunting me, and using vile, unprintable language.” The statement continued. 

Mrs. Ojukwu said she ignored Mrs. Obiano, who she added, kept aggressively putting her hands on her shoulders, and shouting. “She proceeded to do so yet again and went further to grab at my head tie, which she attempted unsuccessfully to remove. This very act is considered a sacrilege to a titled matriarch in Igbo culture,” Mrs. Ojukwu said, adding: “It was at this point that I stood up to defend myself and gave her a dirty slap to stop her from attacking me.” In Nigeria, a ‘dirty slap’ means a lot of things, none of them nice. But if you follow social media, Mrs. Ojukwu’s self-defensive and, ahem, dirty slap, was absolutely called for. 

Speaking of social media, a Facebook friend of mine posted that in a serious society, a public slapping incident would be investigated. “But everybody, including the police, is busy with jokes,” he shared. I pondered it for maybe seven seconds before I concluded that Mrs. Ojukwu would still be in the clear even when looked at through a social justice lens, because videos don’t lie even if eyewitnesses would. It was pretty obvious that she acted in self-defence. And not to defend all the meme-makers and joke-creators, but they saw a chance at escapism via entertainment and took it. What with the on-going fuel apocalypse, power grid failure, and other debilitating ailments Nigerians are currently suffering from.

Slapping has been a Nigerian mainstay for some time now. Remember Senator Abbo, who slapped a young lady in a sex toy store? Or dozens of newspaper stories about women who slap probably-not-that-innocent policemen? There are many other good – or bad, really – examples of proof that slapping is something of a national pastime for people who feel offended, or insulted even. I repeat: I’m not condoning or glorifying violence of any kind, and I’m a firm believer of decorum above everything. But let’s not forget that self-defence is a natural, fight-or-flight response to danger. In Mrs. Ojukwu’s case, the danger being a well-statured individual grabbing her shoulders and attempting to remove an important cultural accessory off her head, all the while verbally assaulting her.

After the sordid incident, the former governor, wife in tow, left the venue of Soludo’s inauguration. Reports would later have it that he was en route to the airport, his ultimate destination being the United States of America. The reason for such a weirdly-timed overseas trip will probably be a topic for another column, but operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) apprehended Willie Obiano, at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, hours after he left office and lost immunity. Interestingly, the anti-graft agency had placed the former governor on its watch list since November last year, though without stating why. 

While the EFCC remains mum for now regarding ex-governor Obiano’s sudden magnetic appeal, the arrest, soon after the inauguration of a successor, is also a slap on the face, if only a metaphorical one. I await updates on that case, even if it’s not with bated breath. Oh, and fittingly, I should end this piece with the very last bit of Mrs. Ojukwu’s statement: “Luckily, [the fracas] did not disrupt the proceedings and I stayed back to witness the ceremony to the end, after which we were treated to a sumptuous reception at the Government House.” Sumptuous, indeed, and much like a certain ‘dirty’ slap which was heard around the world.

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