The similarities between the two slaps are striking enough: Each slap recipient provoked the slapper. In one case, Ebele walked straight to Bianca and attempted to remove Bianca’s head gear, after taunting Bianca. In the other case, Chris Rock taunted Will Smith, by joking about the shaved head of Will Smith’s wife, whose hair loss was due to alopecia, a rare disease. In each case, the recipient of the taunt responded with physical assault in the form of a one-handed slap on one side of the face. Each event happened in the course of a prestigious ritual, the inauguration of a state governor in Nigeria and the 94th Academy Awards in the United States. Both events were televised live and clips of the slap will live forever in cyberspace.There is yet another striking similarity. In both cases, the slap recipient did not press charges against the slapper.
Differences between the two events began to emerge as days went by. While Will Smith apologized to Chris Rock days after the event, Bianca has not apologized to Ebele till today. It is important, however, to understand the circumstances surrounding the provocative taunt in each case. Chris Rock is a professional comedian, who jokes about just anyone and any situation. Will Smith, an artiste and an actor, should have understood that. This explains why most commentators blamed Will Smith for his behaviour. To be sure, there are those who argued that Chris Rock shouldn’t have joked about the hair loss of Will Smith’s wife, given her public disclosure of her rare illness.
In Ebele’s case, most commentators believe that she stepped out of bounds. As the wife of the immediate past Governor, whose successor was being inaugurated, Ebele threw caution, decorum, and decency to the dogs, more so that her husband was also in attendance. Of course, Will Smith, with his wife by his side, was equally guilty of the same offense, given the classy nature of the Academy Awards and its global viewership.
Nevertheless, as a former First Lady of her state, Ebele is considered more shameless in this regard. Of course, as a former beauty queen, ambassador, and wife of Odumegwu Ojukwu, whose separatist mission IPOB has since resumed, Bianca is not blameless for engaging in battering another person. She should have remembered her father’s ignominious behaviour as the Governor who slapped a Bishop! Even more importantly, Governor Chuckuma Soludo should have delayed offering her a job for now. Making her the Secretary of the newly set up Truth, Justice, and Peace Committee is not the best political reward for someone who slapped a former First Lady at a major state event, such as a governor’s inauguration.
Ebele’s shamelessness has continued to this day. Even recently, with her husband on bail from the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on several charges of embezzlement, she declared to run for Senate in her district in Anambra state. If she eventually gets the ticket, her victory will speak to our ethically challenged political culture in which character and qualifications mean little or nothing, where money talks. Here’s someone who should have been shamed with appropriate reprimand by the state and the political party for bringing shame to an otherwise august state event.
There is considerable sanctity in that regard in the United States, because the institutions still do what they are supposed to do. That’s why, despite his apologies to the Academy on the occasion and later to Chris Rock as well as his voluntary resignation from the Academy, Will Smith was still barred for 10 years from attending any Oscar event or programme, in person or virtually.
Institutional response to battery is critical to the maintenance of ethical standards. The response could take one of two forms. One is prevention. In both cases, the appropriate institutions failed to prevent the battery. In Bianca’s case, onlookers, including the police, bodyguards and aides, should have quickly intervened and prevented Ebele’s visible provocation from degenerating into a brawl. Similarly, in Will Smith’s case, he should have been prevented from leaving his seat to walk up the stage and slap Chris Rock. I am sure the Academy will put necessary measures in place to prevent anyone from getting up the stage unless the person is authorised to do so.
The second option is to mete out appropriate punishment to serve as deterrent for future offenders. As indicated above, the Academy played this role, while the Anambra state government and the All Progressives Grand Alliance failed to do the appropriate thing. As if to underscore this failure, APGA Chairman, Victor Oye, described the slapping event on Channels’ Politics Today with Seun Okinbaloye as providing “comic relief”! Something is deadly wrong with this unserious comment from a party chairman. Didn’t he realise that the episode denigrated his party and state government? If he didn’t, then it is the normalisation of the absurdist politics we play.
The Ebele-Bianca episode speaks volume about the state of our nation and about party politics. The state government and the political party treated the two women more or less as sacred cows, the way party bigwigs are treated, unless there is a fight for position between party factions, as we saw in the fight between Adams Oshiomhole and Godwin Obaseiki. Ordinarily, everybody overlooks bigwigs atrocities and they keep doing their thing with impunity.
The episode is also an unfortunate dramatisation of the state of insecurity in our land. Watching two elite ladies engage in a brawl at a governor’s inauguration ceremony without timely intervention and without any sanction whatsoever is symbolic of how herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and other violent groups molest citizens without repercussion. When you don’t sanction offenders at the top, it is hypocritical to preach ethical behaviour. No wonder then that thugs and other party supporters commit all kinds of crime on behalf of their political bosses.
It is critical to learn the right lessons from the Ebele-Bianca brawl: Battery is a criminal offense. It’s intention is to harm another person not to provide comic relief. The status of the offender is irrelevant to the crime. Whoever commits battery should be given the punishment commensurate with the offense. So should the provocateur.