In an escalation of social media bickering, a Nigerian governor’s son publicly threatened to gang rape a senior citizen on Sunday.
Bello El-Rufai, one of the sons of the Kaduna governor, issued the threat in a private message to a Twitter user following arguments about politics.
“Tell your mother I’m passing her to my friends tonight,” Mr El-Rufai said to his detractor, before adding an ethnic diatribe: “No Igbo sounds please!”
The message, which went out at 10:21 a.m. Sunday, quickly became the basis for prolonged outrage after it was made public by its recipient about an hour later.
Many Nigerians on social media have expressed outrage at Mr El-Rufai, while anti-rape activists demanded a thorough investigation for probable violation of the Cybercrime Act.
Mr El-Rufai, however, dismissed calls, including from ex-minister Oby Ezekwesili, for him to apologise throughout Sunday, claiming without evidence that he was returning an insult earlier lobbed at his father. His defiance continued even as his mother, Hadiza El-Rufai, was being prodded to denounce her son’s call to violence.
The confrontation ensued after a Twitter user, @thanos_zer, criticised a tweet posted the previous night by Mr El-Rufai as hypocritical.
“There is nothing as radioactive as an incompetent leader during a time of crisis,” Mr El-Rufai tweeted after 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. “The United States of America is a case in point. A few states in Nigeria too.”
This prompted @thanos_zer to wonder what Mr El-Rufai thought about President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been criticised as an “absentee” leader for his sparse public appearances.
“How about the absentee president in Nigeria?,” @thanos_zer wrote.
In response, Mr El-Rufai said he was sure that @thanos_zer would be from the South-east and his state governor would be grossly incompetent.
Again, @thanos_zer responded, saying: “I don’t shield anyone who’s inept. I can’t say the same about you. You’re daddy’s boy and of course nobody attacks the finger that feeds them. Buhari’s ineptitude is mind-blowing. Yes I said it and you’re not going to make me disappear!”
Subsequently, Mr El-Rufai rained a barrage of insults at his detractor. In one tweet before 11:00 a.m. Sunday, he posted sexual innuendos against @thanos_zer’s mother, saying he was aware of her “mind blowing” sexual capabilities.
In another tirade laced with sexual vulgarity, Mr El-Rufai tweeted at 11:02 a.m. that he had also learnt of sexual exploits of @thanos_zer’s grandmother.
Following the attacks, @thanos_zer told PREMIUM TIMES he stopped replying to Mr El-Rufai, and there was no evidence that he returned the offensive attacks.
About an hour after the public disagreement ended, @thanos_zer posted a screenshot that contained a threat which Mr El-Rufai sent to him as a private message.
The threat, in which Mr El-Rufai disclosed intention to subject @thanos_zer’s mother to sexual violence, carried a timestamp of 10:21 a.m., indicating that it was sent as the public attacks were ongoing.
Citing potential threats to his safety and advice of his lawyer, @thanos_zer declined to be identified by PREMIUM TIMES for this story. However, he dismissed Mr El-Rufai’s assumption of his ethnic identity.
“I am not Igbo,” he said. “I am from Cross River.”
Mr El-Rufai, who works as a legislative aide to Kaduna senator, Uba Sani, declined PREMIUM TIMES’ request asking whether he would like to clarify his controversial social media statements on Sunday. Mr Sani also declined comments about whether or not he was aware of the statements of his employee.
Although Mrs El-Rufai, 59, said she would not condone sexual violence against women, she declined to categorically denounce her son’s vulgar statements, brushing aside a barrage of social media admonition for her to do so.
In fact, she deemed all the vile statements credited to her son as “fair” when directed towards those who had insulted him.
She, however, told PREMIUM TIMES that her son should be held responsible for his tweets.
The El-Rufais, a major dynasty in contemporary Kaduna politics, have regularly come under social media attacks, ranging from sensible to downright banal.
The mysterious disappearance of Abubakar ‘Dadiyata’ Idris, whose fate remained unknown more than eight months later, has frequently pitted the critics against the El-Rufais.
Mr El-Rufai, 32, suggested on Sunday that @thanos_zer’s line that he did not want to ‘disappear’ was a subtle allusion to his father’s purported involvement in the political activist’s disappearance, but @thanos_zer did not admit this. Critics said, even if his assumption were correct, it did not justify his violent disparaging of a critic’s mother.
By Sunday night, supporters of Mr El-Rufai started circulating the screenshot of a tweet that contained vile comments against his father claiming it was the tweet that triggered the threat to gang rape, but the tweet was not from @thanos_zer’s handle.
In fact, @thanos_zer quickly objected to that specific tweet, saying: “This isn’t right. I don’t support it.”
Anti-rape campaigners took strong exception to Mr El-Rufai’s comments, with some saying they were even more enraged that he dug his heels in.
“Threats to gang rape a woman should not be used as tool to get upper hand and show power, especially by people in power or with close proximity to those in power,” Ayodeji Osowobi, director of Stand to End Rape, told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday. “Regardless of affiliation or context, it should not be permitted.”
Ms Osowobi said Mr El-Rufai’s action appeared a violation of the Cybercrime Act.
“It is a huge violation under the Cybercrime Act,” she said.
Section 23 of the 2015 law prohibits online threats with a maximum punishment of 10 years and N15 million fine.
“Bello El-Rufai should be thoroughly prosecuted if Nigeria is serious about stemming the tide of gender-based violence,” Ugo Ikeakor, an anti-rape activist in Lagos, told PREMIUM TIMES. “He should be penalised to serve as a much-needed deterrence against unending attacks on our women.”
Mr Ikeakor said men, especially those from privileged backgrounds, should be sensitive to the protection of women.
“They should know they are there to protect women and children against violence so that they can set a lasting example, not to continue the cycle of violence that has kept us underdeveloped for decades,” he said.
Other activists said the statements by Mr El-Rufai underscored an entrenched culture of women victimisation in Nigeria.
“Like in armed conflict, women are always the target in a verbal conflict and it always has to do with afflicting sexual violence on them,” gender equality activist, Fakhrriyyah Hashim, told PREMIUM TIMES. “And that is dangerous for the tide women are trying to curb.”
“As much as society has normalised these afflictions on women, verbal or not, it remains unacceptable and quite frankly atrocious,” she added.
Mr El-Rufai is known to live between Kaduna and Abuja.
The Abuja police commissioner, Bala Ciroma, and the command spokesperson, Anjuguri Manzah, declined comments about the matter Sunday night.
A spokesperson for the police in Kaduna, Sabo Abubakar, also declined comments.
The activists said Sundays incident would further bolster women’s determination to rid the Nigerian society of the spectre of gender-based violence.
They also decried Mrs El-Rufai’s reluctance to take the matter seriously, saying she missed an opportunity to stand as a voice for women’s rights even in a tough or awkward situation as today’s development.
“For someone who has always described herself as a feminist,” Ms Osowobi said, “I think she missed an opportunity to make a bold statement by prioritising the public interest over her personal biases.”
This was what El Rufai's son sent before blocking me.— consigliere (@thanos_zer) April 12, 2020
I'm not even Igbo and none of what he said got to me. He can't call Buhari out for his ineptitude yet he's calling trump names?
Did he vote Trump?@ayabie_ikem @MobilePunch @Alaye_100 @HAHayatu @AishaYesufu pic.twitter.com/jLsfCsw0Cz
Good day, madam. I am with Premium Times in Abuja and I am following this developing confrontation.— Samuel Ogundipe (@SamuelOgundipe) April 12, 2020
Did you see the screenshot in the first tweet? It shows Bello threatening to gang rape someone’s mother. Could you please clarify if that’s what you deemed “fair” in this tweet? https://t.co/ylyWTFjeZA