By Ebunoluwa Sessou
Some groups of women comprising women’s organisations, activists, scholars, civil society and human rights organisations in Nigeria, have strongly condemned the recent raids, public humiliation, assault and sexual harassment of over 100 women in Abuja by the agents of the Federal Capital Territory Administration,FCTA Joint Task Team, comprising the Department of Development Control, Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB and the Social Development Secretariat, SDS. These agents raided the Caramelo Night Club and other clubs on two different occasions within one week – April 17 and 26, 2019.
While calling on the Federal Government to look into the cases of all the women who were assaulted while in detention by the state, the group disclosed that during the raids, the agents arrested several women, who reported they had been sexually assaulted and sexually harassed and some were raped. The assault left injuries in the vaginas of some of the arrested women and many were psychologically traumatised by the experience.
In a Press statement issued and signed by all the various groups, the representative, Ms. Iheoma Obibi revealed that the FCTA Joint Task Team had unilaterally and without respect for human rights, chosen to contain any “environmental nuisance” the night club allegedly was causing to target and attack young women in the club, particularly dancers and strippers.
“The agents appeared to be specifically targeting women while no male guest was arrested or harassed. In fact, several female guests in and around the night club were also targeted and harassed. Women were brutally dragged out by male officers who beat them, and some women were stripped naked. The violence inflicted on these women was vicious and targeted. They suffered this treatment because they were women and these officers were confident that they can get away with it.
“We were further shocked by the reports that a mobile court at the Old Parade Ground in Area 10, Abuja on the afternoon of 29th April 2019, convicted many of these women in unfair trials and some of them were sentenced to prison or fined for an offence that is unknown to law.“
Nigeria is signatory to many international and regional human rights treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, Maputo Protocol, which protects the human rights of women to dignity, equality, liberty and freedom from violence. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act applicable in the FCT also prohibits all forms of violence against all persons irrespective of gender, and regardless of whether it was committed in private or in public while stipulating punishments for offenders and remedies for victims. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution equally provides for fundamental human rights including the rights to dignity section 34; right to fair hearing section 36, and right to freedom from discrimination section 42.
“In October 2017, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in the Dorothy Njemanze & 3 Ors v. the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pronounced that the act of targeting women and harassing them by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, and other state security agents constituted gender-based discriminatory treatment, torture, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court also recognised that Nigeria has a duty to investigate, discipline and prosecute persons responsible for violating these human rights. Therefore, the failure or refusal to do so in the cases reported to it amounted to a further violation of the state’s international obligations.
“These raids by the FCT Joint Task Force are in contravention of the laws and treaties which Nigeria is bound to uphold. We, therefore, demand that the federal authorities particularly the Police and the FCT Minister, investigate all the allegations of abuse, ill-treatment and violence including rape and other forms of sexual assaults, to which these women were subjected, and where the agents are found culpable, they must be brought to justice before a competent court that meets international human rights standards without delay. The government should also provide psycho-social support and compensation for the victims.
They, however, called on the government to release the women immediately and unconditionally from this unlawful and discriminatory detention and from the proposed forced three months arbitrary rehabilitation at the FCT rehabilitation centre in Lugbe, Abuja, which would further violate these women’s rights to equality, dignity and liberty.
“The continued harassment of women by the FCT Joint Task Force should stop immediately as it constitutes gender discrimination, a violation of human rights, unlawful, unconstitutional and carried out with total disregard for the rule of law.
“We will not hesitate to take legal actions to challenge the constitutionality of the raids targeted against women if the state does not take immediate action to stop these harassments,” she warned.