Africa & Beyond

Sack This “diplomatic” Boxer

One of any diplomat’s most important mandates is to present her or his nation in the best light. On this score, Chijioke Wilcox Wigwe, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Kenya and the Seychelles, is the quintessential anti-diplomat. In the typical pomposity that reigns in Nigeria, Mr. Wigwe parades himself as “Chief Dr.” However, given the nature of the man’s recent activities, his more fitting prefixes should be, “Chief Boxer” or “Dr. Pugilist” Wigwe.

In recent days, Kenyan newspapers as well as various websites have reported on the diplomat’s pummeling of his wife, the mother of his children as well as grandmother of their grandchildren. Each report has been accompanied with graphic photos of the woman’s battered, lacerated and swollen face. If the ferocious former professional boxer, Iron Mike Tyson, had cornered Mrs. Wigwe and unleashed his fists on her, her face would hardly look more disfigured.

The story and photos have gone viral on facebook. Most commentators have been outraged that any sane man would inflict such savage injuries on his wife. That the perpetrator is somebody who answers to the name of diplomat compounds the crime. Mr. Wigwe enjoys diplomatic immunity, which means that the Kenyan police would be unable to summon him for questioning. But Nigerian authorities operate under no such handicap. They must recall this ambassador, and teach him a lesson. Diplomatic immunity should not be a cover for the perpetration of vicious domestic abuse.

Mr. Wigwe reportedly told the Star, a Kenyan newspaper, that he was shocked about his wife’s actions. The Kenyan police, he said, “have not notified me of any plot against me. I have just arrived from a foreign trip.”

That statement didn’t have the ring of a strong, unambiguous denial. What does his return from a foreign trip got to do with his wife’s allegations?

Is Mr. Wigwe suggesting that his wife hired a skilled make-up artist to give her face a battered appearance? If he has no proof that her wounds are fake – the work of a macabre make-up artist – then he has the burden to demonstrate that he never punched her. That would entail convincing us – the case, after all, is in the public domain – that some other attacker must have bloodied his wife and hideously rearranged the contours of her face. If it’s established that he carried out the assault, then he should be fired from his post, immediately ordered back to Nigeria, and docked. He was not sent to Nairobi to display boxing, karate or kung fu prowess; he was sent to be Nigeria’s chief image-maker, a champion and custodian of his nation’s interests.

To my shock, a few misguided Nigerian men on facebook called for a suspension of outrage until the man’s side of the story was entered on the ledger. One such commentator wrote, “For a diplomat to condescend to batter his wife means he had been in hell in the hands of his wife.”

That mindset, I propose, is just as bad as hammering one’s spouse. In fact, it’s worse. First, anybody who thinks along those lines would not restrain himself from pouncing on a wife or girlfriend. Second, the commentator assumes that there’s any level of provocation that justifies slapping and punching somebody. That’s caveman mentality. It also implies that the diplomat – and perhaps men in general – is an inherently reasonable, levelheaded being who must have been pushed to the edge by his wife’s irrational, infantile or diabolical antics.

The specter of physical and emotional spousal abuse (mostly involving male villains, female victims) is, sad to say, a much-hushed scandal in our society. It would be bad enough if the perpetrators were only ignorant peasants who must believe that a woman must be brought to heel with “a strong hand.” No, the plague permeates even the highest levels of Nigerian society. Anybody who is in doubt should read a book by Oluremi Obasanjo, one of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s wives.

Titled Bitter-Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo, the book teems with stories of a wife battered by her husband. On one occasion, as Mrs. Obasanjo was having a telephone shout-fest with one of her husband’s mistresses, “my husband pounced on me and began to curse and punch me. But when I saw him go for a knife, I ran out of the house. He pursued me. I ran across the road to the house there. Gbenga, my son, who was tailing me, was nearly hit by a car.” On another occasion, whilst Mrs. Obasanjo was pregnant, her husband reportedly ordered her to leave his home. When she demurred, Mr. Obasanjo, she reports, “told me to wait for him.” He emerged “in shorts and a short sleeve shirt,” then “slapped me twice and ran after me as I fled down the stairs. Titi Sodeinde ran after him, begging him not to beat me in my pregnant state.” And there are numerous other episodes of such physical and verbal assaults.

There are some people, mostly men but also a smattering of women, who believe that women deserve to be knocked into line now and again, if only to remind them – especially those of them who become too “oyinbo-nized” – that the man is master. The rhetoric of master-servant relationship is very much alive when some people discuss spousal issues. As backward as the thinking is, there are many men – far too many men, and even some women – who subscribe to the idea that men are somehow more morally astute and emotionally mature than women.

In my novel, Arrows of Rain, a female character relates the experience of reporting to the police that a man she knew had raped her. The police officers make light of her agony, asking her if she did not enjoy it. That fictional episode was actually taken from real life. It mirrors the experience of too many women in a society when men feel so threatened by women they must nullify the woman’s will – and then pummel her into the bargain. How many times do we overhear a man boast at a beer parlor that a woman “can’t drink my beer or eat my pepper soup and go free”?

If we’re to build an enlightened society, we must begin by acknowledging each person’s dignity and the equality of all, whether man or woman, boy or girl. Any man who regards and uses his girlfriend or wife as a punching bag is a coward, and should be called by that fitting name.

Mr. Wigwe has brought shame on himself and further tarred Nigeria’s image. The story made headlines in East African newspapers, radio and TV. Several friends of mine from Kenya and Uganda have written to me on facebook with expressions of indignation.

Mr. Wigwe deserves to be recalled immediately and disinvested of his ambassadorial preferment. Should he wish to remain useful in a public capacity, perhaps he should volunteer to represent Nigeria in some weight division in boxing at the next Olympics. There should be no room for his likes in diplomatic service.

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