People raising banners in protest

COURT RULES IN FAVOUR OF WOMEN HARASSED AND ABUSED BY NIGERIAN POLICE, AEPB, AWARDS COMPENSATION IN MILLIONS OF NAIRA

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

    1. The Minister of the FCT
    2. Federal Capital Territory Administration
    3. Federal Capital Development Agency
    4. Hajiya Safiya Umar, Acting Secretary Social Development Secretariat of the FCT
    5. Abuja Metropolitan Management Council
    6. Abuja Environmental Protection Board
    7. Hassan Abubakar H.O.D Abuja Environmental Protection Board
    8. Eze Enya, Abuja Environmental Protection Board
    9. Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp
    10. Inspector-General of Police
    11. Attorney General of the Federation
    12. Thomas Nzemekwe AKA ‘Yellow’
    13. 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- dejiajare@yahoo.com; Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga mojirayonkanga@gmail.com and Jennifer Ogbogu ogbogu13@gmail.com

Signed:

    1. Abuja Global Shapers
    2. Adopt A Goal
    3. Aisha Yesufu
    4. Alliances for Africa
    5. Amnesty International Nigeria
    6. ArewaMeToo
    7. Avocats Sans Frontiers France
    8. Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG)
    9. Catherine Acholonu Research Centre
    10. Centre for Impact Advocacy
    11. Centre For Liberty
    12. Centre LSD
    13. Coalition For The Defence Of Nigeria Constitution & Democracy
    14. Community Life Project
    15. Concerned Nigerians
    16. Cyber Watch Initiative
    17. Dinidari Foundation
    18. Dorothy Njemenze Foundation
    19. Education As A Vaccine
    20. Emerge Women
    21. Enough is Enough
    22. FIDA Nigeria
    23. Girl Child Africa
    24. Girl Child Enlightenment And Intervention Centre
    25. Global Rights
    26. Haly Hope Foundation
    27. Heartland Alliance International
    28. Invictus Africa
    29. Irose Foundation for Widows And Children
    30. Jenon Pius Initiative
    31. Lawyers Alert
    32. Leadership Advancement Foundation
    33. Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP)
    34. Levite Solicitors & Arbitrators
    35. Lex Initiative for Rights Advocacy and Development
    36. M. O. N Legal
    37. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
    38. Nigeria Info FM,
    39. Nigeria Sex Workers Association
    40. Nigerian Feminist Forum
    41. Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN)
    42. Open Society Initiative for West Africa
    43. Partners West Africa Nigeria
    44. Partnership to Inspire Transform And Connect To HIV Response
    45. Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre
    46. Raising New Voices
    47. Rule of Law Development Foundation
    48. SBM Intelligence
    49. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation
    50. Silverchip Consulting
    51. Stand To End Rape
    52. Sterling Centre For Law And Development
    53. TechHer Nigeria
    54. Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center
    55. Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative
    56. Yiaga Africa
    57. Youth Concerned Development Foundation
    58. Centre for Impact

On behalf of other civil society actor

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