Four years ago, Nigerian journalist, Dorothy Njemanze and three other women took the federal government to court after they were forcefully arrested and wrongfully charged with prostitution by police officers in Abuja.
The harrowing details of the sexual assault and violence these women faced were re-enacted in Ishaya Bako’s 2016 documentary, Silent Tears. Unfortunately, history repeated itself over the weekend when members of the police force and civil defense officers allegedly raided lounges and bars across Abuja, singling out and arresting over 70 women, on the orders of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB). Safiya Umar, the leader of the Abuja Social Development Secretariat task force told BBC that the arrests were made to curb prostitution and ‘immoral behavior’ in the city. She also claimed that the task force targeted women because they wore ‘skimpy clothing’.
Martin Obono, the lawyer who broke the news on Twitter also reported disturbing news of possible sexual violence and rape perpetrated by the officers.
As I type, 70 girls were arrested and brought to Utako Police station last night. This is in addition to the ones who were arrested on Friday night. Their offense; clubbing and in some instance, prostitution. Some have been assaulted with injuries in their vaginas.
— M. M. Obono (@martobono) April 28, 2019
According to a witness at was at Ketchup with her husband, a popular lounge in Wuse II when the raids started, the officers came in touts, prison officers and a videographer who recorded the arrests. The touts harassed her and all the women present, and one of them grabbed her breasts, she told ZUMI Nigeria. The officers who initially ignored her husband’s protests eventually let her go after seeing a wedding band on her finger. Sadly, the other female loungers at Ketchup were not that fortunate.
BBC Pidgin also reports that some of the women claimed to have been forced to pledge guilty before the mobile court magistrate earlier today.
A magistrate just arrived the hearing right now @ old parade ground area 10. A mobile court is about to sit. 2of the ladies from yesterday who have been tagged "stubborn" & the bouncers from beer barn are being brought before the mobile court. @dorymanze is there. Go if you can.
— Remi Ibinola RIO (@reminola) April 30, 2019
Responding to the outrage from women who demanded justice for the women, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Yomi Shogunle had nothing to say about the rape allegations against the police officers. On the contrary, he defended the arrests claiming that prostitution “spreads HIV and STDs”.
Nigerian women deserve to be safe at any hour of the day and should not be harassed by those who should be in charge of enforcing safety. This is a manifestation of how the Nigerian system enables sexual violence on women regardless of their class or profession. Women on social media have continued to raise their voices to fight for the arrested women. Here are some of the things they are saying:
Police dysfunction has never not affected women. AEPB has been a menace to Nigerian women in Abuja for YEARS. Besides Abuja, women all over Nigeria — especially traders and street hawkers — have harrowing stories to tell.
Maybe this is just the first you're hearing of it. https://t.co/2mOBgFhcPr
— Phoebe Waller-Bridge Fan Acct (@saratu) April 30, 2019
I want (Nigerian) women to realize our strength. If for 1 week, in protest, women all over Abuja, decide not to step foot in any club/bar/lounge, let’s see if the owners and patrons will not carry this issue to the IG of police of speedy resolution!
— Nneka O. 🇳🇬 (@Playm8z) April 30, 2019
Prostitutes are taking people to court in other countries and winning, but we’re here dehumanizing them because selling sex has automatically taken away their fundamental rights. We won’t ever move forward.
— Kawthar Ahmed (@kawtharrrr_) April 30, 2019