BY BEN AGANDE
Reprieve may be on the way for Abuja women who have been at the receiving end of alleged harassment by men of the Nigeria Police and Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), as a non-governmental organisation, Lawyers Alert Association, has dragged the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation, among others, to court to enforce the fundamental human rights of women in the FCT.
It would be recalled that following the announcement by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board that prostitution is illegal in the Federal Capital Territory, scores of women, some of them innocent, have been arrested on the grounds that they were ‘soliciting’ for men, especially when found in the evening unaccompanied by men.
In one particular incident that provoked outrage in the Federal Capital Territory, a banker had parked her car and went into a shopping mall to pick a few things. As she came out of the car, she was ‘arrested’ by men of the AEPB and the police; bundled into their pick- up van and was detained for two days before her employers intervened and got her released. Victims have been made to suffer untold indignities, including alleged rape by police men who arrest them for the mere fact that they venture to go out at night unaccompanied by men!
Worried by the harassment of the women folk because of the mere fact of their feminity, Lawyers Alert Association, led by Barrister Rommy Mom, instituted a case at the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking an “order of perpetual injunction against the defendants to restrain them from the act of arrest of women in Abuja at night on suspicion of prostitution, as such action is without legal basis, unconstitutional, discriminatory and a violation of the human rights of women in Abuja”.
In an interview with Sunday Vanguard, Mom noted that, apart from challenge faced by women generally, African women have suffered several cultural and social violation and inequality which hampered their development. He appealed to the court to “send a clear signal that men in authority should not further seek to institutionalise this by passage of arbitrary orders and laws that will entrench these practices”, that have kept women in perpetual oppression.
In an originating summon, the plaintiff noted that the issues for determination was “whether the incessant harassment, intimidation and arrest of women in Abuja at night on suspicion of prostitution is not only unconstitutional but also a violation of women’s human rights”.
Quoting relevant sections of the constitution to buttress his point, Mom posited: “Movement is closely tied to liberty as women can constitutionally move freely in Nigeria whether in the day time or night time. Nothing differentiates the day and night for a particular set of citizens to be targeted at nights for arrest on being sighted. This is discriminatory and violates section 42(1) of the 1999 constitution”.
He argued further: “For women in Abuja to be subjected to arrest, purely on the grounds of their sex/gender at night in Abuja is discriminatory as men can and do move about without any molestation or harassment. We implore the court to note that these restrictions are pursuant to the executive orders of the 1st Defendant (Hon. Minister of the Federal Capital Territory).
“It is clearly therefore without any basis for the directive of the 1st defendant, a male, to subject women to domination by men, where men can conduct their businesses and other chores at nights without any fear of molestation, but women cannot, owing to fears of arrest and intimidation by agents of the 2nd and 3rd defendants (Commissioner of Police FCT and the Inspector General of Police respectively)”.
On the argument that women being arrested is based on the war against prostitution in the FCT, the plaintiff noted: “Prostitution involves very direct act of soliciting. It is our submission that whatever law the defendants are premising their actions on violates the supremacy of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999′.