The Ogun State Government has announced the suspension of the Commissioner for Environment, Abiodun Abudu-Balogun, from office for alleged sexual harassment of an underage girl.
The government said the suspension would last until the conclusion of an independent investigation into the allegation.
Sixteen-year-old Barakat Melojuekun had accused Abudu-Balogun of subjecting her to sexual harassment in his house, where she had gone to look for a job.
The government said in a statement issued on Sunday by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr Tokunbo Talabi, that the suspension of the commissioner was to enable him to participate unhindered in the independent investigation being carried out by the police.
The statement read in part, “Whilst taking cognizance of the principle of a suspect being presumed innocent until proven guilty and the public statement issued by Abudu-Balogun denying the allegation, as a government with zero tolerance for gender-based violence and indeed any criminality, the suspension is a further demonstration of the commitment of Prince Dapo Abiodun’s administration to fairness, equity, justice and the rule of law, no matter who is involved.
“The government assures the public that it will do everything to ensure that justice is served in this case.
“In the meantime, the suspended commissioner has been directed to hand over to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment.”
Barakat, who is a pupil of Victory Model College in the Ogun-Waterside Local Government Area of the state, made the allegation in a viral video posted on Facebook on Saturday.
According to her, the suspended commissioner connived with her uncle and a teacher to lure her to his house, where she claimed to have been sexually harassed.
Sharing her ordeal in the viral video, Barakat said, “On December 29, 2020, I was on my way to the NIMC (National Identity Management Commission) office to do my NIN. I came across this man called Honourable Abiodun Abudu-Balogun, who is the current Commissioner for Environment, at Ibiade motorcycles park. I was discussing with my friend and he called me saying he knew me somewhere, and I said I did not know him.
“When I wanted to leave the scene, he sent a guy named Seun from the park to collect my phone number. I told the guy to tell the honourable to collect my phone number from Mr Lasisi Saheed, aka Mayor, who is an elder brother to my father.
“Mr Austin, a teacher at Ilusin Grammar School, started disturbing my friend to release my number, and my friend released my (phone) number to them. Mr Austin then called me and asked where I was. I told him that I was at the NIMC office to register my NIN. He said I should come and meet him at Ibiade park.”
The teenager said she went home after concluding the registration at the NIMC office and Austin called her at night, asking her why she did not come to the park as promised.
She stated, “I said I was in a hurry to go home and that I had something to do at home. On December 31, 2020, Mr Lasisi Mayor went to my grandparents and told them that someone needed a computer operator. He asked if I could operate a computer and I said yes. He said I should go and change my clothes and that I was going to meet someone who needed a computer operator.
“On getting to Honourable Abudu’s house at Ita Otu, he said I should sit down inside the car and that I must not get down. Then a lady, named Mariam Eniola from Ita Otu, came to take me to one living room. Then Mr Austin entered and asked why I did not pick my phone the day before. I answered that I was not with my phone. He then took me to a room inside the honourable’s house.”
She said Austin left the room immediately the commissioner entered, adding that Abudu-Balogun locked the door instantly, put the key in his pocket and moved closer to her.
The schoolgirl said, “He asked for the name of my school and how much I paid as school fees. I told him that it was N30,000. He asked for the person paying my school fees and I told him that it was my dad. He asked if I planned to start a business and I said no, that I wanted to go to a higher institution first. He asked me how much I would need and I said any amount. He said I should state an amount and I said any amount.
“He moved closer to me and touched my breasts. I moved away and told him that he should not touch my breasts. He asked if I wouldn’t cooperate. I asked him why I should cooperate. Then he started pressing my breasts and my body; I was struggling to free myself from him. Then he started reciting some incantation and wanted to place his hands on my head. I moved my head and said he should not touch my head. He wanted to force me inside the bathroom; then I started shouting.
“Because people were around in his compound and he did not want them to know what was happening, he left me. He gave me N2,000 for transport and asked me to leave. I rejected the money. He said if I didn’t accept the money, he wouldn’t let go of me. So, I collected the money and he opened the door. He then told Mr Austin to take me to our house. This has never happened to me in my life.”
Reacting to the allegation in a statement, the suspended commissioner described the video as “tele-guided” and claimed that the minor was being used to implicate him.
He admitted holding a meeting with the girl in his room but said it was not private, adding that the girl’s uncle, who is his loyalist, brought her to his house so that he could help her get a job as a computer operator.
Abudu-Balogun stated, “My attention has been drawn to a purported video circulating on social media of a girl alleging that I attempted to sexually harass her. Let it be noted that in my entire life and political career, I have assisted many youths to secure jobs. Some are working with me in my different businesses.
“On this said day, the girl was brought to my house by one of my loyalists, who is her uncle, to assist her get a job as a computer operator at the ICT centre I facilitated, while I was serving as a member of the House of Representatives years back. The centre has been moribund but I am about to rehabilitate it in order to empower more youths in our local government.
“I met her at my sitting room for a few minutes where many of my loyalists, who came to visit me for the New Year, were. I chatted with the lady for a few minutes and as part of my usual gesture, I gave her some amount of money for her transportation.
“A day after, I was informed by some people that I have been alleged to have attempted to sexually harass the girl and I should invite the family for a meeting so as to settle the matter amicably.”
Abudu-Balogun said the family had threatened to release a video if he failed to call for a meeting, adding that his refusal led to the release of the clip he described as a political blackmail by his adversaries.