A coalition of gender activists has called on the authorities in the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to desist from the persistent public humiliation, assault, sexual harassment of women in Abuja in the name of clamping down on the activities of commercial sex workers in the city or face legal action.
This was contained in a statement signed by 36 civil society groups, non-governmental organisations, media organisations and gender activists, including Amnesty International Nigeria, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, and Girl Child Africa, among others.
The statement condemned the recent raids and arrest of over 100 women at a night club in Abuja – the “Caramelo night club” – on two different occasions within one week – April 17 and 26.
The raids were carried out by operatives of the Joint Task Team, which comprises of the Department of Development Control, Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the Social Development Secretariat (SDS).
According to the statement, many of the arrested women “were severally assaulted and sexually harassed, with some raped, leaving injuries in the vaginas of some of them…many were psychologically traumatised by the experience”.
“It appears that the FCTA joint task team had unilaterally, and without respect for the rule of law, chosen to contain any environmental nuisance the night club allegedly was causing,” the statement read.
“It targeted and violated young women in the club, particularly dancers and strippers. No attempts were made to question the club proprietors or arrest the male guests. In fact, several female guests in or around the nightclub were also arrested and harassed.
“Mostly, young women were brutally dragged out by male officers who beat them, and some women were stripped naked. The violence inflicted on these women was vicious and targeted. They suffered this treatment because they were women and these officers were confident that they can get away with it.”
The coalition further expressed shock that the women were arraigned before a mobile court at the old parade ground in Area 10, Abuja in the afternoon of 29th April 2019, and many of them were convicted and sentenced to prison or fine “for an offence that is unknown to law”.
“These raids by the FCT Joint Task Force are in contravention to the laws and treaties which Nigeria is bound to uphold,” the group stated.
“We therefore demand that the federal authorities, particularly the police and the FCT minister, should investigate all the allegations of abuse, ill-treatment and violence including rape and other forms of sexual assaults, to which these women were subjected, and where the agents are found culpable, prosecute them before a competent court without delay.”
The group also charged the government to “provide psychosocial support and compensation for the victims”, as well as “to account for the wellbeing and bodily integrity of all the women for the period they have been held in detention”.
“We call on the government to release the women immediately and unconditionally from this unlawful and discriminatory detention and from the proposed “forced three months arbitrary rehabilitation at the FCT rehabilitation centre in Lugbe,” which is an attempt to further impact on the women’s dignity,” the statement read.
“The continued harassment of women by the FCT joint task force should stop immediately as it is gender discrimination, a violation of human rights, unlawful, unconstitutional and total disregard for the rule of law.
“The undersigned will not hesitate to take legal actions to challenge the constitutionality of the raids, targeted against women, if the state does not take immediate action to stop these harassments.”