The Kaduna State First Lady, Hadiza El-Rufai, on Monday caved in to public pressure and apologised for her failure to immediately denounce her son’s Sunday morning threats against a Twitter user’s mother.
“I can see how my tweet may have come across, and I apologise to those who were offended by it. I say, once again, that I’d never condone sexual abuse in any shape or form,” Mrs El-Rufai wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon.
The atonement from Mrs El-Rufai came a day after she expressed blanket support for her son’s conduct on social media, saying “all is fair in love and war.”
Bello El-Rufai, 32, had triggered social media outrage after a private message he sent threatening gang rape of the mother of a man with whom he had public disagreements over politics was made public.
“Tell your mother I’m passing her to my friends tonight,” Mr El-Rufai said to his detractor who was tweeting as @thanos_zer, before adding an ethnic diatribe: “No Igbo sounds please!”
The ensued uproar saw many Twitter users informing his mother, who also has a prominent presence on the microblogging platform, of the development, asking her to immediately denounce it and caution her son.
Mrs El-Rufai, 59, initially stood by her son, saying he was within his rights to deploy all forms of abuses against any deserving person on social media.
“Don’t @ me. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. All is fair in love and war,” the Kaduna first lady said while dismissing one of the hundreds of tweets directed at her by outraged netizens. The tweet was posted at 2:15 p.m., about three hours after her son’s controversial message was made public.
When PREMIUM TIMES reminded Mrs El-Rufai that her son had threatened a gang rape of someone else’s mother and asked her to clarify whether such threats were amongst what she considered “fair” in social media bickering, she sidestepped the question, saying instead that her son was an adult who should be responsible for his conduct.
Throughout Sunday, Mrs El-Rufai maintained her position that her son’s conduct was “fair”, even as they both became the focus of social media criticism.
It was not until Monday afternoon, hours after PREMIUM TIMES published a chronicle of the controversy, that the first lady took steps to walk back her comments.
“When I posted the tweet below, I assumed it was just the usual Twitter gbas-gbos. Having read the tweets chronologically, I have had conversations with Bello,” she said. “Never ever should sexual abuse be employed as ammunition in public/ private exchanges, no matter the provocation.”
When I posted the tweet below, I assumed it was just the usual Twitter gbas-gbos. Having read the tweets chronologically, I have had conversations with Bello. Never ever should sexual abuse be employed as ammunition in public/ private exchanges, no matter the provocation. https://t.co/db4W44bWzJ
— Hadiza Isma El-Rufai (@hadizel) April 13, 2020
Although Mrs El-Rufai said she had spoken with her son, he continued with his disparaging tweets on Monday afternoon, threatening a lawsuit against a PREMIUM TIMES reporter responsible for the story.
Oh @SamuelOgundipe, our hired PDP columnist, you in particular were the last piece of the puzzle. I assure you that my lawyers will get to you to prove the usage/threat of rape. The onus is on you. I eagerly anticipate the #FreeSamuel hashtag. Thanks for completing the jigsaw.
— Bello El-Rufai (@B_ELRUFAI) April 13, 2020
While some social media commentators accepted Mrs El-Rufai’s apology as a progress towards redeeming her family’s image, others said the threat to gang rape someone’s mother was a criminal offence that must be prosecuted.
The demand for Mr El-Rufai’s prosecution was predicated on Section 23 of the controversial Cybercrime Act 2015, which prohibited online threats with a maximum 10 years’ imprisonment and N15 million fine.
“His comments are a bold, intimate chorus of the mainstream attitude of violent men towards women and must be condemned in its entirety,” NorthNormal, an advocacy group against sexual and gender-based violence, said in a statement Monday. “We call for a retraction and apology and also join Ugo Ikeakor in calling for Bello El-Rufai’s prosecution in line with his threats being a violence of Section 23 of the Cybercrime Act 2015.”
Mr Ikeakor, a Lagos-based anti-rape activist, first called for Mr El-Rufai’s prosecution under the Cybercrime Act in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
Other anti-rape activists, including Ayodeji Osowobi of Stand to End Rape, also condemned Mr El-Rufai and demanded his investigation and prosecution. His mother’s reluctance to denounce her son’s conduct, despite her role as the head of Kaduna Sexual Trauma Centre, was also condemned.
Despite public demand and efforts by PREMIUM TIMES, the police in Abuja and Kaduna are yet to move against Mr El-Rufai or comment on the matter.