In a sparsely decorated room in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, seven women are seated in a row, their backs turned to the assembled media to remain anonymous.One after the other, the women recount horrific physical and sexual abuse they say they were subjected to following their arrests on April 27 by officers of a special task force that raided hotels and nightclubs in Abuja.
“They forced us, they raped us,” one of the women shouted into the microphone at the media conference, which was recorded on video and seen by CNN..The 65 women who were arrested say they were beaten and harassed by officers, who forced them into their vans and drove them to the police station, their lawyers and NGOs told CNN. The seven women in the video say they were sexually assaulted as well.
They said the officers, part of a task force targeting prostitution, demanded bribes in return for some of the women’s release. Those who couldn’t pay were forced to have sex with the officers, the women said during the media conference.”‘Where is your money?’ they asked, and if you say you don’t have, then it is your turn to have sex with them,” one of the women said in the video of the news conference. The event was organized by activists calling for the officers involved in the raid to be arrested.
Police investigating allegations
Abuja police spokesman Gajere Tanimu said in a statement that the department is taking the rape allegations against the task force seriously and investigations are under way.”The command wishes to assure members of the public of its zero tolerance for unprofessional disregard to human rights and stiff punishments will be meted out to erring officers,” the statement read.”A high-powered team was constituted to investigate the veracity of the allegation” against police, he wrote. “In this regard invitations were sent out to relevant individuals that may assist in getting to the root of the matter.
“In all, 65 women were arrested by a task force comprising officers from the city’s environment and social development agency and local police, Tanimu told CNN.
Twenty-seven of them were arraigned and charged with prostitution, said their lawyer, Jennifer Ogbogu.The women said they were coerced into confessing and had no legal counsel at the time to contest the allegations against them, their lawyer said.”They threatened they would be sentenced to six months in jail and they won’t have access to their family.
They were scared and they had no lawyer at the time,” she told CNN.Those who pleaded guilty were sentenced to a month in jail and given an option to pay a fine of 3,000 Naira (less than $10) for an immediate release, said their lawyer. An NGO paid the fines to secure the women’s release, Ogbogu said.
Women say arrests are arbitrary
The FCT (Federal Capital Territory) Joint Task Force frequently conducts raids on institutions or establishments suspected of violating city laws, including prostitution. They regularly clear beggars from streets.But Nollywood actress Ada Akunne said she was in her car to go out with friends to celebrate a cousin’s graduation from medical school when police officers accosted them on the night of the raid.Akunne, 44, said the officers threatened to seize their phones and accused them of being inappropriately dressed.
“They said we dressed provocatively and since there was no man in the car we must be prostitutes looking for clients. They called their colleagues to come and arrest us,” she told CNN.She was not arrested. She said the police officers only released them after passersby gathered around.Some women arrested in the raids said that they were randomly selected in nightclubs and detained at the Utako police station, where police sexually assaulted them, according to a coalition of over 70 activist groups and individuals protesting the arrests.