Indiscriminate Abuse, Molestation And Harrassment of Women In The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
The government of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja under the leadership of Senator Bala Mohammed had in June, 2011 declared war against prostitutes in Abuja by giving them a two-day ultimatum to quit prostitution or leave the city. These prostitutes according to the Minister constitute nuisance as they stand on the beautiful streets and roads of Abuja, thereby contravening the Abuja Environmental Protection Board Act 1997. Consequently, the Minister directed that any prostitute found to be standing or walking on the streets at night be arrested. This directive prompted men of the Task Force of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) with the assistance of the Nigeria Police Force to swing into action and embark on raids leading to the arrest of over 145 (One Hundred and Forty Five) women within the last two months. Some of the women who were arrested gave account of how they were forcefully shoved into vehicles and whisked away without any chance to defend themselves. The show of identity cards to the men of the Task Force is of no particular use as they believe that most commercial sex workers have valid identity cards of their schools or other such institutions.
Regrettably, this war against “prostitutes” has caused many decent and innocent women to suffer all sorts of abuse, molestation and torture in the hands of the men of the Task Force of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the Police. It is no news that some of the women were sexually harassed or raped before their detention in Police custody for long without being charged to court. Others were charged to court upon the allegation of having committed the offence of “wandering at night” under the Penal Code Law and eventually sentenced to jail.
The one million naira question at this juncture is: How do you differentiate a prostitute from one who is not? Instances abound where men of the Task Force arrested decent women going about their legitimate business or returning from their places of work at night. Recently, the daughter of a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was arrested along with other women suspected to be prostitutes but released immediately she disclosed her identity. Our concern however is about the thousands of women who are not daughters of Senators and Ministers. Do they have the right to freedom of movement anymore?
Whilst we commend the Honourable Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja for his resolve to stamp out prostitutes in order to make the streets of Abuja look clean, healthy and beautiful, we strongly believe that it would be unjustifiable to jeopardize and or breach the fundamental rights of innocent and law abiding women for the simple reason that they were found on the streets at night. After all, the offence of “wandering at night” with which those women arrested are charged has been declared by the courts of the land on several occasions to be obsolete and in conflict with the right to freedom of movement of citizens guaranteed under the Constitution.
As a matter of fact, there is no Nigerian law presently in force that prohibits “prostitution” or “commercial sex”. We are aware that the Honourable Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja intends that the raid and clamp down on prostitutes or perceived prostitutes will continue so as to rid the city of crimes that may be possibly committed by men who cohabit with these women. Curiously, the men who patronize prostitutes are highly placed personalities in Nigeria and are not often arrested.
In the near future we shall approach the courts, being the arbiters of our laws, to interpret the constitution and other ancillary statutes applicable in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja with a view to determining the legality or otherwise of the abuse, molestation, harassment, arrest, detention and imprisonment of women for being out at night. We believe that women who have cause to go out or work late in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja or any part of Nigeria are entitled to the inalienable right to freedom of movement without any form of restraints in so far as they remain law abiding.
Edward OMAGA, ESQ.
Suite B1, Victory Plaza,
Onitsha Crescent, Off Gimbiya Street,
Area 11, Garki,
FCT – Abuja,