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#AbujaRaid: Court rules in favour of women harassed and assaulted by Police

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, Moji Ogunlana-Nkanga, Bamidele Jacobs, Jennifer Ogbogu, Miriam Orika, Chigoziem Onugha, 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.

The Judge also 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.

The court 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.

The court also 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 

NewsWireNGR had reported in an exclusive investigation in 2019, how 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.

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