Police invite activist who accused officers of raping sex workers

Nigeria Police
Nigeria Police on patrol

The police in Abuja have invited a woman for questioning after she accused officers of raping suspected commercial sex workers with sachet water nylons.

Dorothy Njemanze, an Abuja-based women’s rights activist, raised the allegation on social media on Tuesday. It came as police and social development authorities intensified their crackdown on alleged sex workers across the federal capital.

Abuja police commissioner Bala Ciroma told PREMIUM TIMES the activist was only asked to turn up at the FCT police headquarters to assist detectives with information about officers responsible for the gruesome abuses.

“The allegations are too grievous for our institution to ignore,” the police chief said. “We hope the woman will have useful information that will aid our investigation.”

Mrs Njemanze said she learnt from some of the women arrested and profiled as prostitutes that officers traded the women’s release for sex.

“We learnt that some of the women were raped with sachet water nylons because there were no condoms left,” Mrs Njemanze told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday evening.

The police invited her because she had put out a video and wrote posts on her social media handles alleging the incident earlier this week.

“I will be honouring the commissioner’s invitation on Thursday morning,” she told PREMIUM TIMES. “We are partners in progress.”

Mr Ciroma said he looked forward to receiving Mrs Njemanze on Thursday, and she will not be detained no matter how the invitation turned out.

Out on a limb

Dozens of women have been arrested at night clubs in major parts of the city within the last two weeks. They were accused of “offences” ranging from prostitution to indecent dressing, despite social media outrage that some of the women might have been hanging out with male acquaintances or even alone.

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At least 70 women were arrested in a joint raid by the police and Abuja social workers between April 27 and 29. The arrests were in addition to dozens of women who were taken into custody at Caramelo, a famous gentleman’s club in the posh Utako neighbourhood.

The Nigerian Constitution is silent on commercial sex activities, but there are subsidiary legislation in some local jurisdictions that prohibit such acts. After the purported invasion of Abuja by young women repeatedly made headlines in 2011, there were rumours that Ike Ekweremadu was sponsoring a bill to legalise the commercial sex work in the country. The Enugu senator, who became the deputy senate president in 2015, however, denied the reports at the time.

The police summarily arraigned some of the women at an improvised courtroom, but many were reportedly freed amidst unclear circumstances. Some of those convicted received up to six months’ imprisonment, while a few others were slammed with fines.

Even though the clubs were filled with both sexes, only women were arrested. This has elicited allegations of gender-based violence against women, which could render them even more vulnerable than they had been.

‘No vagina is safe in Abuja’

Mrs Njemanze said she had been gathering evidence about the alleged rape of women with sachet water nylons, but her personal experience sufficed to conclude that officers were capable of committing such acts.

“When I was arrested in 2012, my breast and buttocks were terribly fondled by some of the officers,” Mrs Njemanze said.

She made headlines that year after being arrested for alleged prostitution. She sued the Nigerian government at Ecowas Court and won. The court determined that her rights were violated because she was arrested only because she was out at night.

“In most cases of prostitution, you will have a man and a woman,” Mrs Njemanze said. “If you arrest only the woman and profile her as a prostitute, then it becomes gender-based violence.”

She said only 10 of about 70 women who were arrested last week were arraigned before a mobile court near the Federal Secretariat in Abuja on Tuesday.

“Police officers freed most of the women after they were given sex and money,” Mrs Njemanze said.

She said she will demand a review of the circumstances under which the most of the women were released without charges — including an interview of all the officers that took part in the arrests and some of the freed detainees.

‘Just plead guilty’

Mrs Njemanze said one of the major concerns she would raise with Mr Ciroma will be about officers’ “unethical practice” of ensnaring suspected prostitutes into admitting their guilt.

“Whenever they arrest women at night clubs, be they strippers or commercial sex workers or whatever, they usually ask them to just plead guilty in their kangaroo court so they could be fined for a small amount rather than sent to jail,” she said.

The officers use the tactics to avoid the responsibility of proving that the women were actually prostitutes as required in criminal proceedings. Only a few of victims of discriminatory police arrests know their fundamental rights as Nigerian citizens, she added.

“I respect the commissioner because he has been proactive against sexual and gender-based violence,” Mrs Njemanze said. “But the officers have failed to emulate his professionalism.”

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