Akpabio: When Sexism Becomes A Desperate Act of Control, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
What has Ms. Nunieh’s four husbands got to do with all that is at issue? Clearly Akpabio’s intent was to slut-shame her by deploying the low cost ingredient of failed marriages. Apparently, Akpabio found her accusations unsettling, and his loss of patriarchal control, in this instance, infuriating.
That the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is a silo of corruption is not in doubt. What is confounding is the punishing joke the agency has become to the people of the Niger Delta who they are meant to help and Nigerians whose resources are being pillaged. Recently, the head of the NDDC, Professor Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei opened the opera of absurdities by declaring to the Senate ad hoc Committee investigating allegations of corrupt diversion of billions of naira from the NDDC that: “We used it (N1.5 billion) to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves too.” While we were still processing how egregious that statement was, the second act in the plot, within the plot, opened. Joy Nunieh, a former acting managing director of the Interim Management Committee of NDDC accused the minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio of corruption, self-dealing, sexual harassment and abuse of power and office.
Instead of responding to the grave allegations by Ms. Nunieh, Akpabio on Arise TV, responded thus: “I don’t want to discuss her because that’s not the job of a minister. The last M.D. you mentioned, Joy Nunieh, I wish she can go to hospital, see a doctor, take some injections and relax. I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with her, but I’m saying there’s something wrong with her temperament. Remember she had about four other husbands that she married. You also need to bring all the other former husbands to the studio so that you ask them questions one after the other because it looks like character. They will have answers to her problem. Not a professional conduct, is she a professional? They will tell you about her characters because what I’m seeing here…if somebody comes up and say something on television channel…then the whole world…Nigerians love bad news and my job is to protect the citizens of the country and the administration of Mr. President. I must tell you that even Mr. President, President Buhari was not aware of all these things because I did not want to bother, because he will be shocked.”
These were words from the mouth of a former governor, a former senator, now a minister of the Federal Republic! It is interesting to see how Akpabio used language to re-enact sexism in his nebulous, self-immolating response. While trying to minimise accusations of corruption, he forgot the sexual harassment part. In an attempt to present himself as clean, he dug deeper by reframing misogyny as a virtue and constructing sexism as a form of defence. Akpabio failed spectacularly because his sexist language and attitude lent credence to Nunieh’s sexual harassment allegation.
What has Ms. Nunieh’s four husbands got to do with all that is at issue? Clearly Akpabio’s intent was to slut-shame her by deploying the low cost ingredient of failed marriages. Apparently, Akpabio found her accusations unsettling, and his loss of patriarchal control, in this instance, infuriating. Sexist discourses and tropes, like those from Akpabio, are designed to put any woman who dares to challenge a man like him in her place. We must condemn this disturbing trend of misogynistic messages and challenge discourses that demonise women. Women are used to aggression, threats of violence, intimidation and criminalisation. Some are even killed because they dare confront a man. What the Senate should not do is to allow anyone to get away with this. Women are routinely subjected to smear campaigns, insulted, and their choices questioned. What the Senate should not do is to tolerate it. Akpabio’s reactionary standpoint is a signal to the boys network in the Senate that Ms. Nunieh is wayward, temperamental, promiscuous and dishonest.
The president would do us all a favour by asking for Akpabio’s resignation. The allegations are weighty and should be investigated. To reject what is easy in favour of what is right is what is called moral courage. The Niger Delta calls for help. Cleansing the NDDC requires moral courage and it is expedient that this is carried out.
Would Akpabio have characterised a man who has had four divorces the same way? Probably not. We must do away with the disturbing tolerance and acceptance of attitudes that override negative views on the misogynistic inclinations and actions of men, especially those who hold public office. Many influential men in our society have failed serially in marriage without anyone holding them to it. As a country, we shrug off their trysts as male behaviour, while we vilify women who haven’t been lucky in love or marriage. Interviewers must be encouraged to repudiate these kinds of prejudicial statements immediately they are uttered. Collectively, we must rise against these attitudes and promote a culture where women are respected and treated equally. Politicians and thought leaders must be held to account, as we pay attention to their words and what they mean. By so doing, we can challenge their use of hurtful, demeaning and inappropriate words against a person or group.
The Senate must not be distracted by Akpabio’s attempt to muddy the water and deny Ms. Nunieh dignity. Many allegations of impropriety, abuse of office and corruption trailed his tenure as governor of Akwa Ibom State. Akpabio is neither a paragon of virtue nor an exemplar of character. As Senate minority leader in August 2015, he overran the red light at a traffic stop in Abuja, causing an accident that endangered people. The stench of odious corruption at NDDC should be exposed and the place sanitised. The president would do us all a favour by asking for Akpabio’s resignation. The allegations are weighty and should be investigated. To reject what is easy in favour of what is right is what is called moral courage. The Niger Delta calls for help. Cleansing the NDDC requires moral courage and it is expedient that this is carried out. We are watching!