Bello El-Rufai, an ordinary citizen, and son of the Kaduna governor was the subject of public outrage two weeks ago. He sent out tweets and Direct Messages (for which he has apologised) laced with profanity, sexual innuendoes and ethnic slurs. He sunk the lowest when he suggested inflicting the criminal act of rape as retaliation against the mother of the tweep who called him ‘daddy’s boy’.
To raise children, according to an African axiom, it takes a village. Since Bello acted like a brat, there was near universal condemnation for his dangerous comments.
We did not believe that his views represented those of his parents. The sins of the children, after all, should not be visited on their parents. And that should have been it. Until his mother, Mrs. Hadiza El-Rufai, the First Lady of Kaduna state, decided to step into it with an initial endorsement of Bello’s tweets.
Although the office of a First Lady is not recognized in the constitution, its role is often more than ceremonial. Rightly or wrongly, people view first ladies as the de-facto head of all issues that affect women, and most of them, including Mrs. El-Rufai embrace the role. Her endorsement of ‘gang rape’ with the words “all is fair in love and war,” is worrisome and stands condemned. By international conventions, even in war, rape is an unpardonable act of violence.
Kaduna state recorded over 725 cases of sexual assault in 2019, with rape accounting for a quarter of these cases. In our environment where victims of sexual crime hardly report, where structures to ensure rehabilitation and justice are almost inexistent, you could conclude that Kaduna’s numbers are worse off in reality.
Mrs. El-Rufai was roundly and deservedly criticized for her worrisome endorsement. At last, without much wiggle room left, she apologized. I would “never condone sexual abuse in any shape or form,” she said.
She was sorry but not sober.
After this, she instructed her lawyers to extract an apology from one of the several groups of citizens, activists, and journalists that condemned her statement. This legal notice served to the “North Normal Group” threatened further action in the event that their client’s demands were not met. With this action, Hadiza El-Rufai targeted three prominent, young anti-sexual violence campaigners; Fakhrriyah Hashim, Farida Adamu, and Hassana Maina, who are part of a movement tagged #NorthNormal.
#NorthNormal, a spin off of the #ArewaMeToo campaign, is not a registered non-profit or Civil Society Organisation (CSO), it is a public pressure group with thousands of members, supporters, and sympathizers who advocate for the prohibition of violence against women in every form, with a focus on Northern Nigeria.
Why are these three ladies, who are part of the most outspoken, and effective anti-sexual violence crusaders in Northern Nigeria and our country today being targeted? Why just them? We are curious.
These ladies have committed no crime, other than their affiliation with a public interest association. Hadiza El-Rufai’s action is an infringement on their constitutional rights. Section 40 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution is clear on the rights of every Nigerian to assemble “freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any association for the protection of his interests.”
If Hadiza El-Rufai was truly apologetic, she could have embarked on a campaign against sexual violence, and among other things, brought her son along in such an effort. They are the ones who have to repent, restitute and be redeemed for their untoward conduct. Associations like #NorthNormal whom she has now launched a sinister attack against its members, might have been willing to support this course of action. Instead, she has chosen to target and bully those brave Northern advocates. Mrs. El-Rufai must immediately withdraw her threats, apologize (again), and seek redemption.
With the exception of a few persons and organizations working behind the scenes in various forms, a lot of CSOs and activist figures in Nigeria have shown complicity through their silence in this matter. To our dismay, we have seen some of these actors spiritedly defend Mrs. El-Rufai to the point of castigating the girls. This unholy embrace between activists, or hustlers as the case may be, and politicians remain an issue that we will take on another day.
The actions of Mrs. El-Rufai and her lawyers have put the ladies in grave danger. TheScoop has been shown evidence of attempts to hack into their emails, and recordings of anonymous calls that have made these young ladies feel threatened and unsafe.
We want to believe that Mrs. El-Rufai is not behind these callous actions against the ladies. Notwithstanding, we are convinced that her body language could be interpreted by her supporters as green light to have a go at them.
Hadiza El-Rufai has been highly irresponsible in handling this matter. She is playing a costly, dangerous game, and if anything grave happens to any of these ladies, she should be held responsible.