‘Abuja raids are a case of discrimination against women’
The recent arrest of tens of women at Abuja clubs for alleged but nebulously defined immorality is gaining reactions.
And most of them pan the Nigerian police for the “illegal” raids and the tacit support such actions enjoy from the Nigerian society steeped in patriarchy.
The women were arrested in April in Abuja. A police source said 38 of the 65 women were freed because they were married. 27 others were accused of prostitution and were handed a three-month sentence with an option of N3000 fine.
“We have just paid the fine and all of them have been released from custody,” Jennifer Ogbogu, the lawyer who represented the women said on Friday.
Mbasekei Obono of Tap Initiative, citizens’ advocacy organisations in Abuja, said 70 women were arrested. Some of them, he said, were molested and had injuries in their vaginas.
Chapter 21 of the Nigerian Criminal Code penalises the activities of pimps, brothel operators, underage sex workers and patrons of such, it is the female sex workers who face the law in most cases.
Former National Human Rights Commission Professor Chidi Odinkalu said the Nigerian Constitution did not criminalise prostitution as claimed by the Nigerian police.
“As shocking as it may sound, being a “prostitute” – whatever that means – is actually not a crime,” Odinkalu tweeted on April 30. He said there was no arrest but “a mass abduction of Nigerian women.”
A 2016 estimate by the United States’ Agency for International Development shows there are about 103,506 sex workers in Nigeria. While a number of them are arrested and molested by security agents, male patrons are easily let off the hook.
Nigerian laws and implementation by the Nigerian police as exemplified by the Abuja raids, Odinkalu said, are skewed against the woman. Amnesty International noted that the arrest “clearly show unacceptable deliberate targeting of women.”
“Even as framed in most of #Nigeria, criminalising the “selling” of sex but not the buying of it by itself inherently discriminates mostly against women,” Odinkalu said.
A coalition of 72 individuals and aid agencies and civil society organisations said in a statement on April 30 that such deliberate action targeting women contravenes Nigerian laws, violates the rights of the women and are against the international charters to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Nigeria is a signatory to 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.
“These raids by the FCT Joint Task Force are in contravention of the laws and treaties which Nigeria is bound to uphold,” the coalition said in a statement.
But the problem is beyond Nigerian police and their implementations. With Nigerian society rooted patriarchy and laws largely made by men, warped, gender-biased laws and implementations, it is a matter of garbage in, garbage out.
“Nigeria is the place where a woman only has value when she is attached to a man,” Moe Odele, a lawyer based Washington said on Twitter.
Odele cited the release of the 37 married women among those raided by the police as a display of how low Nigerian police think of the Nigerian woman.
A right activist and police reform campaigner Segun Awosanya insisted that the Nigerian police reflects the nature of the Nigerian society and that the society must take responsibility for the people it produces to police it.
“Our policing is crude and badly in need of the injection of intelligence but this doesn’t mean society shouldn’t take responsibility,” Awosanya said.
And in the case of Abuja, Obono said Nigeria’s capital city must define its cultural outlook and stick to it.
“A capital city like Abuja needs to define its rules if it wants to be conservative or liberal,” he said.
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