Police violation of women in Abuja

NOT less than 71 women were reportedly arrested in and around Caramelo Night Club in Abuja on April 26 during a raid conducted by the police. The ladies were allegedly detained at the Utako police division, granted bail and arraigned at a mobile court on April 29. In the intervening period between April 26 and 29, the victims alleged rape, severe beating, extortion and vicious maltreatment by the police. Snippets  of the videos of the raid that trended on social media showing some women being visited with violence while in the vans and  at the police station left little to argue about. There appears to be a clear but painful indication of unlawful assault of women in a most barbaric and unprofessional manner. That was patently intolerable and highly condemnable.  There is no law against clubbing in Nigeria and so the apprehension of the ladies was illegal in the first instance. But to now harass, molest and sexually assault them, as is being alleged, is both criminal and morally reprehensible. Some of those arrested could be married women, but the police allegedly raped them.

The initial offence upon which the police acting spokesperson in Abuja, Danjuma Taminu, predicated the arrest of the ladies is unknown to law. He had accused the ladies of “hanging around nightclubs” in Abuja. Pray, which provision of the Nigerian constitution prohibits any citizen from being seen around a night club or even inside a club? Another hollow and lame platitude for the unlawful arrest came from the Public Relations Officer of the Social Development Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Sunday Shaka, who accused some of the ladies of dressing ‘provocatively’. But do you speak of provocative or indecent exposure in a secluded place? And assuming an offence was committed by the alleged actions of the ladies, is that a good enough reason to molest, rape and subject the ladies to indignity?

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Why harass and violate the women before charging them to court?  And why were the men not arrested or there were no men in, or hanging around, the nightclubs? Why did the authorities single out females? Do women not have a right to socialise and enjoy themselves? While we do not encourage anti-social behaviours such as prostitution, indecent dressing and sexual assaults on moral grounds, we urge that whatever official measures are taken to curtail such acts of indiscipline should be carried out within ethical and legal boundaries.  Sadly, women who were allegedly raped by the police as punishment for suspicion of being prostitutes have had their rights severely violated. Worse still, they have also learnt nothing by way of deterrence because the law enforcers reportedly conducted themselves in a manner that shows that they were even more criminal and morally deficient than the supposed offenders.

As it stands today, there is no general law directly against prostitution in Nigeria, especially in the manner that it was allegedly practised by the ladies who were recently arrested and allegedly brutalised by the police in Abuja.  Yes, the Penal Code Act of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Act, 1990 provides against prostitution and defines prostitutes as vagabonds who upon conviction are liable to one month in prison or a fine or both. However, the somewhat controversial act may not even stand the scrutiny of rigorous litigation where the accused is willing and able to go the whole hog because it, in a sense, conflicts with the grundnorm.  For instance, the right to freedom of association as provided for in the constitution allows a citizen to meet with whoever he/she wants to meet with. By implication, people meeting with prostitutes, and prostitutes meeting with other people, is still within the precincts of the fundamental law. To be sure, we do not subscribe to prostitution and other morally reprehensible conducts that corrupt the society and impair the dignity of human beings. But it is important to draw public attention to the reality on the ground, because in this clime, the law-enforcement agents ordinarily have the tendency to go overboard.

The allegation of assault by the police in the conduct of the raids on the nightclubs in Abuja borders on indiscipline and it is hoped that the Abuja command will painstakingly investigate the allegation as it promised and ensure that the culprits are brought to book. The country is currently beset by intolerable levels of insecurity and escalating violence, and it is rather insensitive and callous of the police to be compounding the situation by allegedly meting out violence to seemingly delinquent but clearly harmless citizens. It is unequivocal, even to non-experts in security matters, that the veritable threat to security today goes beyond some fun-loving young men and women hanging around nightclubs. It is, therefore, about time the police stopped being frivolous and got down to brass tacks.