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Two years after, victims of Abuja raids get justice as court rules against FCT authorities

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AFTER litigation that dragged for more than two years, an Abuja Federal High Court has delivered judgment in favour of victims of the infamous ‘Abuja raids’ – six women who were subjected to gender-based violence by agents of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory Administration.

In the judgment delivered on August 5, Justice Evelyn Maha held that the rights of the victims were violated after they were arrested without cause, detained and subjected to beatings and dehumanising treatment.

Sums ranging from N2 million to N4 million were awarded as damages in favour of the victims against the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), the Inspector General of Police, and Inspector Thomas Nzemekwe (AKA Yellow), a police officer that participated in the raids.

The court also issued an injunction restraining the Nigerian Police Force, NSCDC and other security agencies against arresting women on the basis of gender.

Defendants in the case included: the Minister of the FCT; Federal Capital Territory Administration; Federal Capital Development Agency; Acting Secretary Social Development Secretariat of the FCT Safiya Umar, and Abuja Metropolitan Management Council.

Others were: Abuja Environmental Protection Board; H.O.D Abuja Environmental Protection Board Hassan Abubakar; Eze Enya, Abuja Environmental Protection Board; Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps; Inspector-General of Police; Attorney General of the Federation; Nzemekwe and Idayat Akanni Olaide (Chief Magistrate 1).

However, the identities of the victims were not disclosed.

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The victims had filed public interest suits to protect their fundamental rights through a team of lawyers led by Sterling Law Centre, comprising Deji Ajare, Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, Bamidele Jacobs, Jennifer Ogbogu, Miriam Orika, Chigoziem Onugha and Augusta Yaakugh.

The suits were filed with support from Lawyers Alert and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

The unfortunate events, now known as the ‘Abuja raids,’ began on April 26, 2019 when a mob of men and women numbering over 100, marauding through clubs, hotels and other legitimate centres of business in Abuja, rounded up law-abiding women under the guise of arresting sex workers.

It was alleged that the raids were commissioned by the Acting Secretary Social Development Secretariat of the FCT Safiya Umar, an official saddled with responsibility of protecting persons within the FCT, particularly women and children.

Operatives of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) are notorious for human rights violations

The women, who were targeted because of their gender, suffered sexual violations, physical and mental torture while in detention at Utako Police Station.

Nzemeke, a police officer also known as ‘Yellow,’ physically assaulted a mother of a two-month-old baby. Also, a woman who was menstruating was denied access to sanitary towels.

The arrested women were detained in most unsanitary conditions. They were denied bail and legal representation between April 26 and 29, 2019, a development which infringed on their human rights.

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The raids, organised by the AEPB with support from other law enforcement agencies, brought to limelight the unethical practice of rounding up women at street corners, hotels and clubs which has been going on for years in Abuja and other parts of Nigeria.

Following the raids, civil society organisations (CSOs) with support from OSIWA, Amnesty International Nigeria and other rights bodies convened several meetings to develop an advocacy strategy to put an end to the discriminatory practice.

One of the key recommendations agreed upon was the need to commence public interest litigation with a view to securing judicial intervention for the victims.

Fundamental rights enforcement suits were then filed for and on behalf of eight survivors of the raid at the Federal High Court in Abuja.

In the same vein, as a result of the raids, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) set up a Special Investigative Panel on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria.

In statement released in Abuja on August 11, Executive Secretary of the NHRC Tony Ojukwu described the judgement as historic.

“History has once more been made in the landmark court judgments on the notorious raids of women and girls in the streets of Abuja by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board and other law enforcement agents,” Ojukwu said, adding that the court verdict should serve as a wake-up call for law enforcement agents to desist from activities violating the human rights of citizens.

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* Judgment is important step in protecting rights of sex workers

A member of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls Ivana Radacic noted that the judgment represented an important step in challenging impunity for violations of the rights of sex workers – prevalent in many societies.

Radacic said that the judgment would help in highlighting the discriminatory impact of criminalisation of prostitution on women.

The statement, signed by a coalition of 57 CSOs, noted that the judgement was significant as it asserted the human rights of every person against gender-based violence, especially by state actors.

At a press conference in Abuja on August 11, a representative of the legal team that handled the case on behalf of the victims said the judgment would stand even if the defendants filed an appeal.

Chairperson of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Abuja Chapter Rekiya Adejo-Andrew said the judgment was a victory for women and children.

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