By Douglas Anele
As I argued earlier, the clash of ego between Melaye and Mrs. Tinubu that occurred in the Senate, not in the House of Representatives as I erroneously stated last Sunday, was blown out of proportion in the press. Journalists relish sensationalism; oftentimes the make mountains out of molehills by focusing too much attention to inconsequential misbehavior of politicians and celebrities mainly to boost the sale of their newspapers and magazines.
Yet, except for those that have nothing worthwhile to do or think about, it is not a big deal if a female senator and her male colleague verbally abuse each other. Altercation between legislators happens even in the United States and Britain. But it is another matter entirely if such heated exchanges degenerate into physical confrontation.
Another recent incident that threatened to worsen the stinking reputation of our National Assembly is the allegation of sexual misconduct in the US levelled against three members of the House of Representatives. The problem began when the immediate past US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, wrote to Speaker of the House, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, alleging that Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC, Bauchi), Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) and Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) acted in a manner that brought disrepute to the parliament. The three men were among the legislators that went for the International Visitor Leadership Programme in Cleveland, Ohio, from April 7 to 13, 2016. In his letter, the former US ambassador claimed that one of the legislators grabbed a hotel housekeeper, whereas the other two solicited for sex with prostitutes.
Since the story was published in the newspapers, many Nigerian Pharisees, self-appointed moral police officers and self-styled guardians of sexual virtue thoroughly lambasted the three men, despit the fact that Mr. Entwistle did not provide evidence to back his allegations. Indeed, on two occasions when the House committees on Ethics and Privileges and Foreign Affairs tried to ascertain the facts, Mr. Entwistle was absent at the investigative hearing.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, informed those at the second hearing that there was no corroborating evidence to substantiate the allegations against the legislators. He also stated that the hotel housekeeper refused to testify when management of the hotel reported the matter to relevant authorities in America. Still the US government banned the three men from getting visas to America for the next three years.
In my opinion, if Mr. Onyeama’s account of what transpired between him and Mr. Entwistle were true, then the latter breached routine diplomatic protocol unnecessarily when he wrote directly to the Speaker without notifying the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Secondly, the former US ambassador acted in bad faith by putting in writing serious allegations against Gololo and his colleagues without solid evidence to support his claims. Mr. Entwistle ought to know that accusing people, especially married men, of sexual impropriety without corroborative evidence is emotionally traumatising and can destroy their families and careers.
It appears that he did not consider the negative consequences of his actions to the accused persons. He acted too hastily, as if he intended to cause mischief and embarrass our House of Representatives. I strongly suspect that if the parliamentarians involved were from Britain, Canada or Israel, he would have handled the matter differently even if there were evidence against them: he might not even have raised the matter at all. Given the racist proclivities of the average white American, it is not surprising that the lawmakers have accused Mr. Entwistle of being a racist.
What happened should be a good lesson to those Nigerians, especially members of the ruling elite who eagerly use their official positions for excursion or “vocational training” in Europe and North America to learn “the fundamentals of democratic governance” or “the rudiments of lawmaking.” Of course, whatever the legislators learnt in America, if indeed they learnt anything at all, they could also have learnt from different institutions in the country devoted to issues of democracy and good governance, such as the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) or any of the well-established universities that offer courses in philosophy, political science and public administration.
Moreover, because Nigerians in general prefer anything from the West to what we have here and want to eat their own “share” of the “national cake” at the slightest opportunity, our politicians travel overseas regularly for inconsequential events and programmes that are of doubtful value to the performance of their duties. As a result, our public officials deserve humiliation for belittling themselves in foreign countries. Having said that, Mr. Entwistle should apologise to the three House members for the public ridicule and emotional turbulence they suffered because of the unsubstantiated allegations.
This incident is a clear warning that people should be more circumspect and charitable in judging or condemning anyone accused of sexual misconduct. Certainly, the use of force, intimidation or coercion of any kind to compel an unwilling woman or man to engage in sexual activity is wrong. In addition, persistent unwanted sexual advances can be quite frustrating, embarrassing and irritating. Yet, it is also true that prudes and hypocrites tend to exaggerate harmless flirtations based on antiquated and superstitions religious teachings about sex and its function in the infrastructure of human existence.
Clearly, widespread beliefs about sex and people’s attitude toward sexuality in general are unscientific and irrational. At home, in the school, churches and mosques, sex is largely depicted as taboo, dirty and sinful. Parents, teachers and religious preachers discourage children from discussing sex and the genitals openly and rationally the way other topics are discussed. Instead, the false impression created in the young minds is that if sex is to be discussed at all, it must be talked about in hushed tunes because it is the strongest weapon used by the devil to lure people into sin.
The sado-masochist psychology embedded in conventional taboo sexual morality imbibed in early childhood at home and reinforced in churches and mosques lead to a host of mental and physical illnesses which, in some individuals, might last throughout their lives. For instance, it leads to obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with sexual intercourse, and damages the capacity of sexual partners to connect the physical dimension of sex to its intellectual, affective and aesthetic corollaries that make sexual union one of the most beautiful experiences we can have as human beings. Therefore, conventional religion-impregnated sexual morality is extremely harmful and unhealthy; it distorts the natural spontaneity, beauty, directness, fecundity, and unselfishness of sexual relations between partners.
Sexual activity among humans cannot be healthy and fulfilling if it is hedged around with superstitious terrors and taboos, if people who do not conform to the dictates of ancient attitudes towards sex are singled out for special obloquy and stigmatisation. While a plausible case can be made that the peak of sexual fulfilment cannot be reached without love between those engaged in sex, it does not follow that sex cannot be enjoyed without love.
Sex is essentially a private matter, except in cases of rape, sex with a minor and if it is done in a manner that constitutes public nuisance. Thus, the exaggerated hysteria and interest concerning reports of sexual flirtations is indicative of the stupid beliefs and attitudes about sex even among well-educated members of the society. A sane or healthy attitude to sex entails seeing it as a human activity that connects the intellectual, emotional, aesthetic and moral dimensions of our being, although it is also one of the natural activities human beings share with other living organisms that utilise sex as a means for reproduction. Overall, there is nothing mysterious, supernatural, or transcendental about sex.
This brings us to the question whether the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions Bill (2016) now before the Senate should be passed into law or thrown into the dustbin. Now, it seems to me that the senators that introduced the bill are chasing shadows because there are more pressing problems in Nigeria today that require serious legislative attention than sexual misbehaviour in our institutions of higher learning, especially given that the institutions concerned already have regulations and structures for dealing with the problem.
To be concluded