The Federal High Court in Abuja has awarded millions in damages in favour of six women arrested and sexually abused during a 2019 raid by officers of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the Nigerian Police.
A coalition of civil society organisations behind the public interest suit instituted on behalf of the women said this on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference held at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) headquarters in Abuja, a member of the group, Deji Ajare, described the judgment as “commendable.”
“We commend the court for its bold judgement that reassures women that their human rights matter. We urge the Nigerian authorities to prioritise the implementation of the decisions and ensure the enforcement of laws to preserve women’s dignity and bodily integrity. These cases are not only a victory for women but for all Nigerians,” he said.
Describing the judgment as “significant”, Mr Ajare said “it asserts the human rights of every person against gender-based violence, especially by state actors, which is a persisting, well-documented fact”.
“The judgement regarding the discriminatory arrest of people based on their gender, particularly the arrest of women in the streets and other places, becomes a reference point for protecting women’s rights now and in the future,” he added.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how some officials of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) on April 26 and 29 2019 raided a popular nightclub, called ”Caramelo”, arresting about 34 female nude dancers.
They also arrested another set of 70 women at different locations within the FCT during the coordinated operations.
Some of the women who narrated their ordeal while in detention at Utako Police Station said they were raped, while a menstruating woman was denied access to sanitary towels.
These actions by the security agencies sparked public outrage, with right activists, lawyers and other concerned Nigerians condemning it.
This culminated in the filing of a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja to enforce the rights of the victims.
In the same vein, a Special Investigative Panel on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria on the incidents in Abuja and other parts of the country was also constituted by the NHRC.
Giving snippets from the judgement said to have been delivered by a judge of the of Federal High Court in Abuja, Evelyn Maha, on August 5, the group said that the court ruled that the arrest, molestation, and illegal detention without legal representation of the six women constituted a violation of their rights as guaranteed under the Nigerian constitution.
“After over two years of trial, Justice Evelyn Maha of the Federal High Court in her judgment on August 5, 2021,held that the arrest of the applicants without cause, the beating, molestation and dehumanising treatment, the detention of the applicants and the barring of the applicants from accessing legal representation constituted a violation of the applicants’ rights as guaranteed under the Constitution of the Federal Republic
of Nigeria,” a statement by the civil society group read in part.
It said the court awarded between N2 million to N4 million in damages against the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Inspector General of Police and Inspector Thomas Nzemekwe AKA ‘Yellow’ in favour of the six applicants”.
The court also held that “the 6th respondent, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, was presumptuous in its role and acted ultra vires, beyond its scope and powers regarding the raids”.
The court also issued “an injunction restraining the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and other listed respondents from arresting women in such circumstances and in a manner that discriminates on the basis of gender. The group said, quoting parts of the judgment”.
PREMIUM TIMES, had, however, yet to get the certified true copy (CTC) of the judgment as of the time of filing this report.
Human rights commission hails judgment
Hailing the judgement in his remarks, Tony Ojukwu, executive secretary of the NHRC, said “history has once more been made in Abuja in the landmark court judgements on the notorious raids of women and girls in the streets of Abuja by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board and other law enforcement agents”.
He said the judgment had “vindicated the position of civil society groups and the commission.”
Speaking further, he said the judgement would serve as a wake-up call for law enforcement agents on the need to desist from further inhuman raids and activities in such a way that violates the human rights of citizens.
Also, Saliu Bobo, the director, Vulnerable Group Department of NHRC, said he was proud of the judgment, drawing a parallel between arrest and molestation of the six women with how an orphanage home was recently demolished by the Federal Capital Development Agency (FCDA).
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