The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ruled in favour of six women who were harassed and abused during raids by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), police and other law enforcement agents in April 2019. The six women, through a team of lawyers comprising of Deji Ajare, Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, Bamidele Jacobs, Jennifer Ogbogu, Miriam Orika, Chigoziem Onugha, Martins Obono Augusta Yaakugh led by Sterling Law Centre, filed public interest suits seeking to enforce their fundamental human rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement, right to personal dignity, freedom from torture, freedom of association and freedom from discrimination. The suits were filed with support from Lawyers Alert and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.
After over two years of trial, Justice Evelyn Maha of the Federal High Court in her judgment on August 5th, 2021:
- Held that the arrest of the applicants without cause, the beating, molestation and dehumanising treatment, the detention of the applicants and the barring of the applicants from accessing legal representation was a violation of the applicants’ rights as guaranteed under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- Awarded between ₦2 million to ₦4 million in damages against The Abuja Environmental Protection Board, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Inspector General of Police and Inspector Thomas Nzemekwe AKA ‘Yellow’ in favour of the six applicants.
- Held that the 6th respondent, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, was presumptuous in its role and acted ultra vires, beyond its scope and powers regarding the raids.
- Issued an injunction restraining the Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and other listed respondents from arresting women in such circumstances and in a manner that discriminates on the basis of gender.
About the Abuja Raids
On April 26th, 2019, a mob of over 100 male state actors invaded clubs, hotels, supermarkets and other centres of business in Abuja to round up women under the guise of arresting sex workers. It was alleged that the invasion was commissioned by Hajiya Safiya Umar, the Acting Secretary Social Development Secretariat of the FCT, a woman saddled with protecting persons within the FCT, particularly women and children. This unfortunate event, a recurring decimal for women in the FCT, became known as the ‘Abuja Raids.’
These women, targeted because of their gender, suffered sexual violations, physical and mental torture while in detention at Utako Police Station. Inspector Thomas Nzemeke, also known as ‘Yellow’, physically assaulted a mother of a two-month-old baby, a woman menstruating was denied access to sanitary towels, and the women were stashed in most unsanitary conditions. They were denied bail and legal representation between the 26th and 29th of April 2019, infringing on their human rights. In this vein, in line with the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a Special Investigative Panel on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria on the incidents in Abuja and other parts of the country was constituted.
Victory for Women and Human Rights
This judgement is significant as it asserts the human rights of every person against gender-based violence, especially by state actors, which is a persisting, well-documented fact. The judgment regarding the discriminatory arrest of people based on their gender, particularly the arrest of women in the streets and other places, becomes a reference point for protecting women’s rights now and in the future.
According to Tony Ojukwu, Executive Secretary of the NHRC, ‘History has once more been made in Abuja in the landmark court judgements on the notorious raids of women and girls in the streets of Abuja by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board and other law enforcement agents.’ He highlighted that the landmark judgements have ‘vindicated the position of civil society groups and the Commission.’ He hoped that the judgement will serve as a wakeup call for law enforcement agents to desist from further inhuman raids and activities in such a way that violates the human rights of citizens – as such will be resisted and challenged in the courts of the land.
Freedom of movement is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and can only be restricted in exceptional circumstances clearly defined by law. The court’s declaration that the actions of the AEPB, was unlawful and had abrogated powers to itself and acted beyond its brief under its establishing Act is poignant. Significantly, the court made an order of perpetual injunction against the AEPB and other respondents from further carrying out raids without an order of a court.
Similarly, Dr Ivana Radacic a member of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls welcomes the decision of the Federal Court. Not only does the judgement recognise violations of the rights of the claimants and awards them the damages, it also prohibits the relevant enforcement authorities from arresting women in such circumstances and in the manner that discriminates on the basis of gender, thus
having a broad impact. The judgment represents an important step in challenging impunity for violations of the rights of sex workers, prevalent in many societies, and recognising discriminatory impact of criminalisation of prostitution on women.
The following were listed as respondents in this case:
- The Minister of the FCT
- Federal Capital Territory Administration
- Federal Capital Development Agency
- Hajiya Safiya Umar, Acting Secretary Social Development Secretariat of the FCT
- Abuja Metropolitan Management Council
- Abuja Environmental Protection Board
- Hassan Abubakar H.O.D Abuja Environmental Protection Board
- Eze Enya, Abuja Environmental Protection Board
- Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp
- Inspector-General of Police
- Attorney General of the Federation
- Thomas Nzemekwe AKA ‘Yellow’
- Idayat Akanni Olaide (Chief Magistrate 1)
We note with regret that the names of the Magistrate and Prosecutors (Nos 13 and 8), who were involved in the cases, were struck out for misjoinder in the ruling. Also of concern, is the length of time it took to get justice for the claimants, which is symptomatic of Nigerian justice system.
However, we commend the court for its bold judgement that reassures women that their human rights matter. We urge the Nigerian authorities to prioritise the implementation of the decisions and ensure the enforcement of laws to preserve women’s dignity and bodily integrity. These cases are not only a victory for women but for all Nigerians.
For more information: Contact Deji Ajare- email@example.com; Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga firstname.lastname@example.org and Jennifer Ogbogu email@example.com
- Abuja Global Shapers
- Adopt A Goal
- Aisha Yesufu
- Alliances for Africa
- Amnesty International Nigeria
- Avocats Sans Frontiers France
- Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG)
- Catherine Acholonu Research Centre
- Centre for Impact Advocacy
- Centre For Liberty
- Centre LSD
- Coalition For The Defence Of Nigeria Constitution & Democracy
- Community Life Project
- Concerned Nigerians
- Cyber Watch Initiative
- Dinidari Foundation
- Dorothy Njemenze Foundation
- Education As A Vaccine
- Emerge Women
- Enough is Enough
- FIDA Nigeria
- Girl Child Africa
- Girl Child Enlightenment And Intervention Centre
- Global Rights
- Haly Hope Foundation
- Heartland Alliance International
- Invictus Africa
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- Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP)
- Levite Solicitors & Arbitrators
- Lex Initiative for Rights Advocacy and Development
- M. O. N Legal
- National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
- Nigeria Info FM,
- Nigeria Sex Workers Association
- Nigerian Feminist Forum
- Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN)
- Open Society Initiative for West Africa
- Partners West Africa Nigeria
- Partnership to Inspire Transform And Connect To HIV Response
- Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre
- Raising New Voices
- Rule of Law Development Foundation
- SBM Intelligence
- Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation
- Silverchip Consulting
- Stand To End Rape
- Sterling Centre For Law And Development
- TechHer Nigeria
- Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center
- Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative
- Yiaga Africa
- Youth Concerned Development Foundation
- Centre for Impact
On behalf of other civil society actor