By Eneh Achadu, Staff Writer
According to Yomi Shogunle, the Assistant Commissioner of Police and the head of the Complaints Unit who responded to those criticizing the police, it is a crime case. He says prostitution is a crime under the law and also a sin under the two main religions practiced in the FCT. He also states that prostitution facilitates the spread of diseases as well as function as an enabler for violent criminals.
But Amnesty International, (AI), has argued that the raid is discriminatory and a gender based violence. Through their social media handles, AI has expressed their disappointment in the way and manner the Nigerian government has handled this situation. It is calling upon the FCT and the police to investigate allegations of abuse of women. The question though is whether the police or the FCDA can handle the investigation without becoming judges in their own case.
This is more so in the case of those of them allegedly arrested even in areas not related to the raid and their only crime was being outdoors at “odd” hours. Some of these women have communicated with several human rights establishments that have reached out to them. These women are reportedly alleging extortion by policemen in one particular police station in Abuja and that those unable to provide the cash have been asked to pay through sex. The graver claim is that these officers used pure water sachet bags in place of condom to have sex with these women. Very unfortunately, these human rights aspects are not coming out in the narratives or are not coming out as strongly as the hypocritical stuff about indecency, immorality, how prostitution enables criminality and such simplistic stuff.
Generally, the affected women have provided contrary information on what happened, refusing to be identified as prostitutes. Some of the women arrested have stated that they went to the spot as a leisure exercise to celebrate with their friends, hang out with their partners and have a good time but only to be pounced upon by the police like thieves. One Instagram user stated that his wife was dragged on her way back from the restroom at the club and was almost taken away by the police officers but for his intervention and struggle with the officers, state continuously that she is his wife, show the officers the wedding ring on her finger before she was set free.
Despite the outcry of these women denying that they’re prostitutes and have been unjustly arrested, it is not the human rights issue in that that under attention or is being addressed. Yes, the Nigerian Constitution states that prostitution is illegal, and people affected are punishable by law but Nigeria is a secular state and entertainment as well as the freedom of movement and association aren’t illegal. Night clubs and businesses that offer entertainment for leisure aren’t illegal and thus people who participate, especially women, can’t be labeled as prostitutes just because they were found in these areas for leisure. There is no doubt women engage in transactional sex in these locations but what methodology have been put in place to critically identity the women who are innocent? That remains an unexplored point.
The morality policing and the raid itself came as a complete surprise to those who watch over Abuja social scene as a unifying city. The gossip mill has ruled out the Federal Capital Development Authority, (FCDA) from ever being able to do anything about noise pollution from sundry prayer houses, irregular sex trade spots, street prostitution and similar chaotic practices. The gist is that those who write petitions against noise pollution to that section of the FCDA merely enrich the officials. The claim is that such officials take such letters to the polluters, make a deal and the matter ends there, leaving the petitioner a loser on all counts. There are no hard and fast evidence for some of these claims but what is important is that many believe it and act by it, such as refusing to even report noise pollution which is very high in the city, especially between 1 a.m – 7 a.m, threatening most people’s right to noise-free sleep.
That is one element of the surprise when the news of the raid on a leisure spot came up. It followed alleged directives from the headship of the FCT, empowering the police to raid recreational establishments within Abuja with the aim of arresting women involved in transnational sexual activities, (prostitution). At the end of the day, it has muffed into a controversy between claimants of fighting indecency, prostitution and criminality on the one hand and defenders of the rights of free movement, of association for whom the crackdown involving about a hundred women is a case of harassment, bully, assault and rape.
This raid expands the troubles of women from which they are at a disadvantage when it comes to defending themselves. They suffer disrespect at the markets from strangers who inappropriately touch them, they’re constantly at the mercy of their bosses who throw sexual advances at them and now they have to fight to protect themselves against a system that is meant to protect them from harm. The last might not have been heard on the issue yet!