“SAPCLN’s raison d’etre is getting prostitutes off Abuja streets and rehabilitating them…a job worth at least 5 million Naira for every 50 ‘rehabilitated’ women. Abuja Environmental Protection Board’s is to ‘make the city safe and clean’. Together, they rule the streets.”
Imagine your young adult daughter out for the evening with friends. She calls to say that from work they’ll head out for something to eat and since some of them are visiting Abuja for the first time she might take them somewhere indigenous – with great grilled ‘point and kill’ and good music. Sometime after 9.30pm she calls crying hysterically and in the background you hear raised voices and yelling. Through the background noise, her sobs and the racing beat of your heart you hear her explain that she and her friends were forcibly abducted and taken to a place unknown to her. As she continues to cry and you try to make out what people in the background are saying, she tells you she is at the Area 10 Sports Complex being held by members of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB). When you make it there, all the while like every well schooled Nigerian calling every ‘important’ person you know in the FCT to see what can be done, you are shocked by what you find. A small airless room packed with almost 40 people and your daughter and her friends looking like they are extras for a horror movie scene. They have been badly beaten and their clothes are torn. Try as you may, you are just not big enough to get them to listen to your explanation that your daughter and her friends are not prostitutes and the boys in their company, who chased after the vans into which they were thrown are not customers but friends.
A female policewoman carrying a rifle casually waves her weapon at them and asks ‘is this the way Nigerians dress?’ You look at her in her dirty black uniform with blouse bursting at the buttons and at the women in the room in several stages of undress. There are scraps of cloth all over the floor, like fabric confetti. Other rescuers are in various stages of negotiation with the officials of the AEPB and the discussion is getting heated. Suddenly one of the policemen jumps up and points his gun at a young man’s stomach and says ‘I will waste you here and nothing will happen’. Your phone rings and one of the government officials you had called on your way asks to speak to whoever is in charge…none of the abductors are willing to take your phone to speak with whoever is on the phone. You start getting desperate. ‘What do you want’, you ask forcing the rising bile down with the words expelled. Someone pulls you to one side and gives the condition. You know a good deal when you hear one; you pay up and know that no receipt will be offered. You are not disappointed.
The main objective of the AEPB as stated on the organization’s website is to ‘make the city safe and clean’. For close to 2 years, maybe even more, the AEPB in collaboration with a non-profit organization called Society Against Prostitution and Child Labour in Nigeria (SAPCLN) have worked hard in collaboration with the Nigerian Police and the military to make moving around the streets of Abuja extremely dangerous for women. Reports say 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 centers. There, those who can, buy their way out after being as thoroughly humiliated as they can be, often only after spending a night without any food or water while those who can’t are tortured into admitting they are prostitutes. Then the real and forced prostitutes are forcibly transferred to an alleged rehabilitation camp for purported sex workers maintained by SAPCLN in Arco Estate, Sabon Lugbe.
SAPCLAN’s raison d’etre is getting prostitutes off Abuja streets and rehabilitating them…a job worth at least 5 million Naira for every 50 ‘rehabilitated’ women according to an African Outlook story written by Ovada Ohiare and there are no public records on how many women are ‘rehabilitated’, how much SAPCLN makes annually from their charity and what their ‘success’ rate is. What there is are a few law suits against the Minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed and the AEPB and many traumatised and victimized Nigerian women who have been denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights against discrimination (they are arbitrarily singled out for their gender and their personal style), freedom of movement and personal liberty and in many cases left with physical and psychological wounds from their experience with the AEPB and SAPCLN.
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’?
In a city teeming with filth at every corner (check out the heap at I.T. Igbani, Jabi), unkempt lawns, over flowing sewage, make shift car sales lots in Maitama, non-degradable pure water sachets littering every corner, it is unforgivable that the AEPB has even one minute to spend claiming to be working on getting prostitutes off the streets. Apart from the fact that many of the
stories of prostitution in Nigeria are tied to the bleak economic situation caused by increasingly corrupt and selfish Nigerians in government, absolutely nothing, gives the AEPB, the FCT and SAPCLN the legal right to abduct, beat, torture, sexually molest and extort women; it is illegal. While other countries pride themselves on the fact that their justice system is based on the premise that they would rather let 9 guilty people go free rather than unjustly punish 1 innocent person, in Nigeria ours is to frame, prosecute and punish everyone with no regard for the innocent. This is one of the central reasons we are where we are today with one too many horror stories like Mubi and the Port Harcourt 4. The AEPB and its stakeholders are guilty of state sponsored terrorism against women in Abuja and it needs to stop and those involved, punished.
*This article has blended artistic license with details from petitions and testimonies of women who have sadly been at the mercy of the AEPB and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999