Abuja based actress and socialite Dorothy Njamanze didn’t bargain for the nightmarish experience she recently suffered at the hands of Abuja Environmental Protection Board AEPB, she had gone in search of her brother at a garden only to be accosted by armed men who shoved, assaulted her and pushed her into a bus.
When Njamanze left later, she had undergone an ordeal that featured shouting matches, threats of being shot and wanton humiliation, but she was free to go home. Multitudes of women have gone through worse than her.
Wait, we are not talking about Kabul where at the height of the Taliban the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice instituted a strict state of Sharia law where women were subjected to all forms of degradation. This is Abuja.
According to the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund and the National Human Rights Commission their victims and litany of abuses range from assaulting law students attending mandatory Law School dinners, employees of Airtel attending a birthday party, a banker exiting a shopping mall, people sitting inside or exiting their cars, and even women standing in front of offices or residences at all hours of the evening have been forcibly abducted and taken to purported installations of law enforcement such as the Area 10 Sports Complex. There, the women either buy their freedom or are tortured into ‘confessing’ and forcibly transferred to an alleged rehabilitation camp for purported sex workers maintained by the Society against Prostitution and Child Labour in Nigeria (SAPCLN) in Arco Estate, Sabon Lugbe.
How did we get here? Abuja was once a sleepy administrative capital. The rhythm was the same monotonous beat every day, for the residents it was a linear movement between home and office. However, as the city grew so did more and more people come to share in the beauty and perception of city where the grass was greener, most especially it had the status of capital city that was a home to all Nigerians –within a short time the absence of leisure and recreation spot were felt. This heralded the opening of clubs, lounges and green areas morphed overnight into after-work drinking spaces.
The perception of Abuja as a land of Golden Fleece, has attracted people who have become AEPB’s greatest foes vendors of everyday merchandise on street corners and kerbs of the city; and also commercial sex workers who throng major spots like streets around Zone 4 Wuse and the long stretch of Adetokunbo Ademola amongst others.
It is these two aforementioned classes that SAPCLN claims to be waging its battle against however most residents of Abuja allege that both SAPCLN and the AEPB have overstretched their constitional limits. Ayisha Osori writing in The Tuesday Column of Leadership newspaper recently reported that under the pretext of ‘eradicating commercial sex workers in Abuja’, employees of the AEPB together with armed unidentified members of the security service have been abducting women from the streets. Without asking for any form of identification these armed men, sometimes in uniform and sometimes without, grab these women, shove them into waiting buses, beat them when they try to resist (as anyone would when taken by force and surprise) and take them to pseudo law enforcement centres.
It is interesting to note that by these actions the AEPB have jettisoned their original mandate of preserving the environment as according to the information on the AEPB website as stated on the organization’s website their mandate is to ‘make the city safe and clean’.
Osori further asked a rhetorical question in her opinion piece aptly contextualising the problem “While the Penal Code which is applicable in Abuja makes prostitution a crime, the definition of prostitution within the Penal Code clearly provides amongst other things that the person arrested must be found to be ‘persistently soliciting’. How many of these women abducted as they come out of offices, restaurants, houses, clubs or even sitting inside cars could be said to be guilty of ‘persistently soliciting’?”
The women’s Trust Fund and the National Human Rights Commission who have continuously raised awareness on the issue have also brought the attention of the federal government to ongoing persecution against women in Abuja
“There is no legal basis or justification for the actions of these personnel of the AEPB (with support from the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Army)– not in the AEPB Act of 1997 nor in the Penal Code which applies in the FCT. This conduct constitutes arbitrary and grossly unlawful invasions of the integrity of the Nigerian woman – denying these women their fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed rights under Sections 35, 41 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution.
The actions of the AEPB egregiously violate the values of equal citizenship on which our country is founded. Above all, they are also acts of calculated outrage on the reputation and dignity of the affected women that cannot be supported by any responsible institution of government. The WF and the NHRC call on every Nigerian of conscience and all civil society organizations to raise their voices to call for justice for the victims of the AEPB and an immediate end to the war against women in Abuja”.
The coming months are a test to see if SACPN and AEPB will change their style of operations from their wanton arbitrariness to a more civil engagement, but before then their buses will prowl the city in their moral policing.