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In Abuja, it’s war against women

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Of all the problems confronting the nation’s capital, Abuja, and the country in general, which include insecurity and mass unemployment that have in turn taken poverty, hunger and diseases to the next level, it is so unfortunate that government, through the Nigeria Police and other agencies, would leave, or rather pay lip service to life threatening problems only to ‘deploy its arsenal’ against harmless women using their bodies the way they deem necessary!

In other words, I do not think that some women dancing nude in an Abuja night club or any other place in Nigeria for that matter is reason why, for instance, life expectancy in the country is the third lowest in the world.

Neither is that responsible for the high level of insecurity in the land, especially the embarrassing trend banditry, kidnapping and terrorism have now assumed.

That some women went dancing naked behind closed doors somewhere in Abuja or elsewhere has nothing to do with the fact that today in Nigeria, some parents are exchanging their children for food as poverty bites harder.

And it is not for the reason of the nude dancing that some Nigerians are now hanging themselves and committing suicide in other means but out of sheer frustration and hopelessness.

I mean, how is nude dance by some girls in a night club responsible for the ordeal Nigerians plying Abuja-Kaduna road have to pass through, where hoards of travelers are often kidnapped with some killed and huge ransom demanded of victims?

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In other words, why does it appear that the police in Abuja are leaving more pressing national security issues to concentrate on what some women are doing with their bodies, going by constant harassment and assault on them, some of who are falsely labeled prostitutes?

While I do not personally subscribe to nude dancing and prostitution, the Nigeria Police, it would seem, have too much in their plate than to be chasing after and arresting girls that choose to dance naked in night clubs when myriads of security issues almost bringing the nation down on its knees are yet to be addressed. After all, these girls have not killed anyone, figuratively.

Reports have it that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) Joint Task Team, Department of Development Control, Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and Social Development Secretariat (SDS), on April 17 and April 26, 2019, raided the Caramelo Night Club and arrested several women. The club owner was not reported to have been arrested.

The women were reportedly assaulted and sexually harassed, raped, leaving injuries in the vaginas of some of them. What a psychological trauma that must be!

Coalitions of 63 women groups believes the raids, now rampant, target and violate young women at the club, particularly dancers and strippers without any attempt to question the club’s proprietors or arrest the male guests. They have therefore threatened to sue the Federal Government over constitutionality of the raids. Good.

The FCTA joint task team, it would appear, unilaterally and without respect for the rule of law, chose to embark on an exercise that would see several female guests in and around the night club arrested and harassed because most of the young women during the raids were said to have been brutally dragged out by male officers who beat them, while some women were stripped naked.

ABUJA WOMEN

The violence inflicted on the women, says the women groups, was vicious. The group claims the women suffered the mistreatment because they were simply women, something, which gave the officers confidence that they could get away with it.

A statement issued by the coalition, actually expressed shock that a mobile court at the old parade ground in Area 10, Abuja, in the afternoon of April 29, 2019, convicted several of the women, while some of them were sentenced to jail or fine ‘for an offence alien to law.’

It now looks like a new normal for scores of women in Abuja accused of prostitution to be crudely assaulted and detained by mobs of policemen and task force enforcers. From reports, the women are also picked, some wrongfully, on the streets, in gardens, at joints, in nightclubs and lounges. What a misplaced priority!

Their offence? Clubbing and in some instance, prostitution with some of the women said to have been sexually abused by the security officials. Some were so assaulted to the point of inflicting injuries in their vaginas.

Although prostitution is illegal in the Nigerian capital, it is alleged that law enforcement officials have used it as an excuse to assault and harass women who go out at night in the city.

And despite repeated reports that these women are sometimes sexually abused by the security officials, no investigation is carried out by authorities concerned as none of the culpable officials has been brought to justice.

In a society where the Head of Police Complaints Response Unit, Abayomi Shogunle, reportedly described prostitution as a sin under the two main religions practiced by residents of the Federal Capital Territory, that may not come as a surprise.

As far as Shogunle is concerned, prostitution is frowned at by Nigerian culture, it is responsible for the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and practitioners don’t pay tax to government.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police was reported to have made this view via a tweet on his ‘verified’ Twitter handle @YomiShogunle in reaction to the arrest, conviction and subsequent sentencing of 27 prostitutes at the FCT the other week.

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What ACP Shogunle however failed to understand is that the public outrage against the raids is not about arrest of prostitutes but about the procedure and handling of suspects.

When your men go to a club or anywhere there are women, arrest, then tag them prostitute, how do you determine who is a prostitute in the circumstance? Or do we now label every woman seen outside at night a prostitute?

Going by the argument that prostitution is a sin against the two major religions in Nigerias – Christianity and Islam, one would not hesitate to ask if the Nigeria Police now play the role of Priest or Muslim cleric that should be preaching against such sin.

Isn’t Nigeria is a secular state with lots of people practicing other religions outside of Christianity and Islam?

Even if we accept that line of argument, what about allegations of abuse on suspects by the police? What kind of sin is theirs and who is punishing perpetrators that happen to be the police officers doing the arrest?

So when ACP Shogunle says culture frowns at prostitution, many would like to know if the same culture encourages Police brutality and oppression, among others.

The argument also that prostitutes are not paying tax and spreading of HIV/AIDS via the trade is as laughable as the other that they provide lifeline for violent criminals. Who are those patronizing them?

Why not invoke the section of the constitution that so dictates and treat accordingly? In any case, how much tax do officers of the Nigeria Police harassing innocent users all over the country with ‘wetin you carry’ slogan remit to the system? Or is that one backed by any religion…or law, or both?

If the police are saying our Constitution is now based on religious sentiments, what of the clients to the prostitutes? Are they legal, law and religion wise?

A woman activist and lawyer, Mrs. Stella Odife who does not subscribe to “nude dancing”, however said what the ladies were doing is within their fundamental right. Since she cannot point to any law against such acts, as at today, she would rather the government focus on providing jobs for people as well as safety nets for the battered and impoverished Nigerians.

According to her, no normal woman not on drugs, will go to expose her body so openly for people to watch.

“This is not an African thing; it is our so called civilized world thing. It is very unfortunate. It is not surprising. Illiterate girls or girls from poor homes have no knowledge of stripping business. These are things learnt from the so called civilized world where the big men send their children,” she lamented

It is sad that Nigeria has been turned to one huge joke such that most of what comes out of it are things that make us a laughing stock to the comity of nations.

Though night clubs are allowed to operate in Abuja, many of them are constantly raided by the police and other agencies with women therein often treated in the most undignified manner.

Yet, Nigeria is signatory to many international and regional human rights treaties, including the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter Human and Peoples’ Rights on Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which protect the rights of women to dignity, equality and freedom from violence.

That is why threat by the women group to sue the federal government over constitutionality of the targeted raids is a welcome development. The group should, as a matter of urgency, go beyond threat and actually hold the government to account for the wellbeing and bodily integrity of the women for the period they have been held in detention by its agents.

 

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