OrderPaperToday – On Tuesday, July 2 2019, a video of Senator Elisha Abbo representing Adamawa north senatorial district went viral. The video showed him assaulting a woman by slapping her severally on her face and forcefully dragging her shirt without provocation.
Even after the assaulted woman filed an official complaint with the Police in May, the authorities failed to act against the senator.
Consequently, the emergence of the video caused an outrage as many Nigerians called for the lawmaker to be suspended by the Senate, and prosecuted by the Police. This compelled the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to order a comprehensive investigation into the incident.
Mr. Abbo, Nigeria’s youngest senator and member of the opposition PDP, spent the night in custody after responding to police summon 2 days after the video of assault went viral. The police then filed two counts of criminal use of force and criminal assault against him.
Also, Wednesday, July 3, the Nigerian Senate set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the case against Abbo as the Senate President Ahmad Lawan promised that the committee will give fair hearing to all sides and submit its report in two weeks.
Senator Uba Sani, speaking on how the assault affected him said the development brought him and the entire Senate to ridicule. He claimed to have received over 111 calls between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning from both within and outside Nigeria, and that he was severely embarrassed by the incident as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, also suggested that the matter should be investigated to unravel the true situation of what transpired. The Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, added that the Senate rules provided how each and every senator should behave both within and outside the chamber.
He said as privileged Nigerians, they have the responsibility of behaving in an exemplary way, but that the matter at hand could not be judged until an investigation was done. Senate Leader, Senator Abdullahi Yahaya supported the move to constitute an adhoc panel to probe the matter.
The Senate President Lawan stated that the Senate would not condone any act of violence against Nigerians. Announcing that the adhoc panel would be led by Senator Samuel Egwu, with senators Oluremi Tinubu, Matthew Urhoghide, Stella Oduah, Mohammed Sani Musa, Danladi Sankara and Halliru Dauda Jika as members. The Senate President gave the adhoc panel two weeks to conclude its assignment.
The adhoc committee had its first sitting on Tuesday, July 9, 2019 at the National Assembly and it was an explosive encounter. The accused senator engaged the committee, especially Sen. Remi Tinubu in a hot exchange of words with the former insisting fiercely that the senate cannot suspend him on account of the assault charge which he stressed, was already in court.
But what does the law say in all of these?
In order to infuse rights elements into the Senator Abbo slap saga, we refer our readers to the Violence Against persons (prohibition) Act (VAPP), 2015 which passed in the House of Reps in 2013 and in the Senate by 2015.
On 8th of May 2015, the legal process for transmission of the bill to the President was completed and it was signed into law on 28th of May 2015 by President Goodluck Jonathan. The Act was a result of agitations for protection of persons against different forms of violence.
VAPP is essentially an Act to “eliminate violence in private or public life, to prohibit, prevent and punish all forms of violence in the society and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies to all victims of violence.” The Act describes some terms such as:
Intimidation: the uttering or conveying of a threat or causing any person to receive a threat which induces fear, anxiety or discomfort
Perpetrator: any person who has committed or allegedly committed an act of violence as defined under this act.
Physical abuse: means acts or threatened acts of physical aggression towards any persons such as slapping, hitting, kicking and beating.
Section 18 of the Act further describes legal procedure for law enforcement of the provisions contained therein:
1. A person who intimidates another commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both.
2. A person who attempts to commits the acts of violence provided for in subsection (1) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or a fine or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both
3. A person who incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to commit the act of violence as provided for in subsection (1) of this section commits an offense and is liable on the conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both
4. A person who receives or assists another who, to his or her knowledge committed the offences provided for in subsection (1) of this section is an accessory after the fact and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both
It is note-worthy that an Officer of Nigerian Police Force who was supposedly an escort of the Senator was an accomplice of this violent act rather than a defender of the weak. The police man was seen to be helping the senator drag the woman thereby subjecting her to more violent intimidation.
So what does the law say about the powers a police officer holds in such violent scenery?
Section 32 gives an insight to the powers of Police Personnel at a scene of violence.
1. A police officer at the scene of an incident of violence or as soon thereafter as reasonably possible or to whom a report of violence or as soon thereafter as reasonably possible or to whom a report of violence has been made, shall have the duty of
a. Assisting a victim of violence to file a complaint regarding the violence;
b. Providing or arranging safe transport for the victim to an alternative residence, safe place or shelter where such is required;
c. Providing or arranging safe transport for the victim to the nearest hospital or medical facility for treatment of injuries where such treatment is needed;
d. Explaining to the victim his or her rights to protection against violence and remedies available in terms of this Act;
e. Explaining to the victim that he or she has the right to lodge a criminal complaint in addition to any remedy provided under the Act, and
f. Accompanying the victim to victim’s residence to collect personal belongings.
In the case of the viral video, the policeman was seen doing exactly the opposite of his duty as stipulated in the provisions cited above.
Other bills prohibiting violence against poor citizens
Apart from the VAPP, there are other proposed legislations or enactments that deal with the subject matter of violence. These include:
1. In a bill which was passed in the senate on the 16th of October 2014 A Bill for an Act to Eliminate Violence in Private or Public Life, In Peace and Conflict Situations; To Prohibit, Prevent and Punish All Forms of Violence in The Society and to Provide Maximum Protection and Effective Remedies to All Victims of Violence. It was sponsored by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba in the 7th assembly.
2. A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Protection Against Domestic Violence and for Other Related Matters (Pursuant to the Police Reform Act, 2015) sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye passed first reading on the 20th of October 2015.
We end this edition by noting that after the senator had already been arraigned before a magistrate court where he pleaded not guilty on the two count charges and was granted a N5 million bail by the Chief Magistrate of the court on Monday, July 8. This was after he had already offered a public apology for his actions.
Report compiled and presented by Tomilade Owokade and Amarachukwu Okafor