- July 3, 2019
- Posted by: Stephen Azubuike
- Categories: Law News, Opinions
We have seen members of the National Assembly engage in physical combat at several occasions. While such incidents appear to give us some hindsight about the characters we elect into the legislative arm of Government, we readily excuse them on the premise that legislative violence is within contemplation and is a usual occurrence across the world. In Nigeria, the Legislative Houses (Power and Privileges) Act, 2018 recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari grants members of the legislative houses in the National Assembly and States Houses of Assembly immunity from litigation for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings.*
However, one Nigerian lawmaker, a member of the hallowed Red Chamber, Senator Elisha Abbo (representing Adamawa North Senatorial District), appears to prove that his combat skills are available both for legislative violence (possibly) and for violence against women. This can also be understood against the backdrop that the Senator, who is reportedly the youngest Senator in Nigeria at the moment, is waxing in high youthful exuberance.
The Exclusive Report**
From the exclusive report by Premium Times, Senator Abbo was caught on camera violently assaulting a young woman (said to be a nursing mother) at a shop where s*x toys are sold in Abuja (“adult shop”). The incident was said to have occurred on May 11, 2019 when the Senator entered the shop in company of three young ladies. According to the report and CCTV footage, Senator Abbo dealt violent slaps on the woman for interfering and pleading with him not to physically assault the shop-owner whom the Senator had accused of insulting him.
Although it was not absolutely certain whether the Senator particularly purchased some s*x toys, it was however clear from the video that the Senator converted the woman into an “assault toy”.
While one is struggling to contain the ugly development involving the Senator, a Policeman was seen in the video supervising the assault and made no effort whatsoever to prevent the crime.
Assault is both a crime and a civil wrong
Under the Nigerian Criminal Law, assault (physical attack on the person of another) is unlawful and a crime. See Sections 252 and 253 of the Criminal Code for instance. While Senator Abbo may be criminally responsible for assault, he is also prone to civil liability for what is known as assault and battery under the Civil Law of Tort. Here, assault simply entails causing apprehension without necessary touching the body of another. The actual touching or striking of the body of another is called battery. The Court of Appeal, per Ogunwumiju, JCA in the recent case of Mr. Wilson Esi v. CNPC/BGP International & Anor (2014) LPELR-22807(CA) explained:
“…Assault can be both a civil and criminal wrong. Assault is a civil tort for which the aggrieved person is entitled to damages. Proof in civil matters is on a balance of probabilities. Assault or battery in civil matters involves inflicting some degree of force on a person negligently or intentionally.”
The punishment when convicted for criminal assault is in the nature of imprisonment, 1 year (Section 351 of the Criminal Code). However, the punishment for assault and battery is in the nature of damages (monetary compensation) for the victim of the unlawful incident. Interestingly, while criminal prosecution is ongoing, a civil action may also be entertained by another court, contemporaneously.
More so, Section 34 of the 199 Constitution (as amended) guarantees the fundamental right of every citizen to human dignity. Senator Abbo may be held liable for breach of fundamental right of the young mum.
National Assembly called to action
The National Assembly must take urgent steps in dealing with the reported incident. The news of the committee already set up to look into the matter is a welcome development. The National Assembly must ensure that the matter is not swept under the carpet, especially the “Red Carpet”.
Section 69 of the Constitution empowers members of a given constituency to recall a particular lawmaker for loss of confidence in him. By appearing to ridicule the Red Chamber and his constituency, Senator Abbo was toiling with a potential recall.
Not too young to run to jail
While Senator Abbo has been celebrated for being the youngest Senator, thereby breathing more life to the Not Too Young To Run Bill (recently signed into law), the Senator is equally not too young to be jailed by a court of competent jurisdiction if formally charged, tried and convicted. The pedigree of the Nigerian youthful constituency in the political space is at the risk.
Breach of oath of office?***
In the Oath of Office for members of the National Assembly which Senator Abbo swore, he undertook, among others, to “do right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.” He also swore to uphold and defend the Constitution and preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in the Constitution. For instance, Section 17 (2)(b) which is part of the Policy provides that “the sanctity of the human person shall be recognized and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced”.
Is Police your friend?
The sight of the Policeman in the video “coordinating” the assault on the innocent woman is nothing but an eye-sore. An officer who has the legal mandate to protect lives of citizens was seen disgracefully observing his mandate in breach. Worse still, some officers at the station where the report was lodged were reportedly said to have stated that they could not take action on the report of the incident because they do not have the telephone number of Senator Abbo. This is one classic example of the true state of the nation. Some members of the Police Force are constantly dragging the name of the Police in the mud, making the great job being done by a few unnoticed. With what we have seen and keep seeing, it has become quite an ironic assertion that the Police is one’s friend.
In the case of Diamond Bank Plc v. Opara  7 NWLR (Pt. 1617) 92 at 115, paras. A-D, the Supreme Court, per Bage, JSC preached:
“…Our security agencies, particularly the police, must know that the citizenry’s confidence in them ought to first be ensured by the agencies themselves by jealously guarding the integrity of the uniform and powers conferred on them. The beauty of salt is in its taste. Once the salt loses its own taste, its value is irredeemably lost… The agencies themselves need to first come to this realization, shun all entreaties in this regard and they will see confidence gradually restored in them. Where we are now in this country is that place where our ‘Men in black & blue’ command almost no respect from the citizenry because of how low we have sunk. But it is my belief, which belief, I must say I hold very dearly, that all hope is not lost, many women and men of deep integrity are in our security agencies, and then only need to rise now to the occasion.”
This is one case where the judgment based on public opinion would be difficult to ignore. Senator Abbo must however face the law and be tried accordingly. Interestingly, the Senator who has apparently distinguished himself in the negative light has reportedly not denied the incident but claimed the shop-keeper called him drunk.
It is now over to the law enforcement agents and the court. The Policeman in clear breach of duty must be prosecuted as well. The public is watching to see to what extent their confidence in the system would be sustained. The law is above all.
Featured Image Credit: WithinNigeria