Of Nigeria police and protection of girls, women’s rights

THE police force in Nigeria is failing in many ways. Apart from its inability to secure life and property, it appears helpless in preventing crimes through intelligence gathering. It has capitulated to corruption and inertia. Civil and criminal offences are on the increase, but the police are active only in corruption. A few years ago, the Human Rights Activist, Oliseh Agbakoba (SAN), granted an interview and he disclosed that he had only daughters. This, in any way, does not affect the respect Nigerians accord the erudite lawyer who is in the same league of Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama to name a few of respectable men who have only daughters and are proud of their daughters without persecuting their wives for not bearing a son. Noble men know that the sex of a child should not determine his/her chance to succeed in life, but rather the quality of training given to them and the enabling environment made available should be determining factors to success. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of prejudices against the girl child and their mothers in Nigeria, especially in marriages when men are bent on having a son. Most women who have only female daughters in Nigeria suffer a lot of unjust treatments, psychological torture and physical harassment from their husbands and paternal relations.

In 2009, the MTN advert, ‘Mama Nah Boy Oh!’ was made so popular and greeted with a lot of enthusiasm in Nigeria because of the prevailing culture towards preference for a male child over the girl child. More often than not in Nigeria, when a child is born, people are always quick to find out the sex of the newborn. The usual but ridiculous question following a child’s birth is: “a boy or a girl?” If the child is a girl, derogatory comments may follow, especially in families where there is no male child yet. But, the birth of a child should always be a thing of joy. Oftentimes, there are cases of men who physically abuse their wives, men’s relatives turning against their sons’ wives for not having male children for their sons, brothers or uncles as the case may be. Cases abound where a Nigerian man would choose to marry a second wife because the first wife is “unable” to give birth to male children! A lot of women have been turned to punching bags by their husbands who are genetically the determinants of sex of their children, weather male or female. In instances where men stand with their wives and assure them that the sex of a child does not matter or determine the quantum of love and respect to be shown to such wives, the family members – mothers and sisters-in-law will start witch-hunting women in this category, forgetting that their sons/the husbands determine the sex of a child in marriage.

While few people may argue that such abuse only happens among uneducated Nigerians, my experience as a lawyer who is into the defence of women’s rights has proved otherwise. Related to the abuse suffered by women having only female children in Nigeria as described above is also the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Despite campaigns against FGM by various tiers of government and various NGOs in Nigeria, a lot of women whose daughters are about to become victims of this human rights abuse do not get the required necessary protection and support from the Nigeria Police.  It is a common practice with the Nigeria police to tell women who lodge complaints against their husband and husbands’ relatives to go and resolve their family issues the family way, neglecting the provisions of various provisions Laws in Nigeria to the contrary. Section 351 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38 LFN 2004 is very instructive. It states inter alia:“Any person who unlawfully assaults another is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable, if no greater punishment is provided, to imprisonment of one year.”

Physical assault against women or any Nigerian citizen is a crime against the laws of the land. Section 34(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 prohibits torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment. Every woman in Nigeria is entitled to respect for the dignity of her person and accordingly, no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.  What the Law expects Nigerian Police personnel to do in instances like this is to conduct thorough investigation towards prosecuting perpetrators of abuses against women, but contrary to that, personnel extort motorists on the highways and intra-city roads flagrantly. The agbero phenomenon in Lagos parks, especially in Oshodi and other hubs, also thrives by collecting owo olopa (police tips) with impunity. It is an open secret in Nigeria.  Lawyers and human rights activists should do more for the protection of the rights of abused women in our society. Recently, I witnessed a pathetic case bothering on the abuse of a woman by her husband and the Nigeria police at a police station in Ogun State. This woman came to lodge a complaint that her husband and her family members were determined to genitally mutilate her two daughters’ genitals in order for her husband to be cleansed of poverty. While this woman was in the police station, his husband was alerted by one of the policemen.

The husband, who had earlier lodged a complaint in the same police station that his wife had disappeared with their two daughters without his consent showed up. This man was being hailed by some of the police men and his wife-the complainant- was about to be detained. I had to come to the rescue of this woman. Magboro is just a suburb of Lagos State. If incidents like the above can happen in a Lagos suburb, one is left to imagine what happens in some rural areas in Nigeria with respect to the rights of vulnerable women! In conclusion, I appeal to the IGP and various state CPs to be more protective of women who suffer police brutality and inactions after the abuse of their human rights by their husbands and other persons. The law does not excuse crimes arising from family relationships. Until this is implemented, criminals in our society disguising as husbands and family members will continue to fester.

  • Anuodo, a legal practitioner, lives in Lagos.
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