At 2 am on the 3rd of June, 2011, Abimbola Ojo, a female corper had just emerged from a friend’s birthday party in Wuse 2. She stood on the road and hailed a cab, ostensibly looking for a ride home. As she negotiated with the cab driver for the fare, she suddenly found herself in the air. An unknown man had lifted her and was carrying her in the direction of an un-marked vehicle.
Her immediate reaction was that she was being kidnapped. So she yelled and screamed and kicked. Crying for help. Her friend, Miriam Olofu was the first to react. But the abduction was too quick. No one could prevent Abimbola from being dumped in the waiting bus and driven off into the night.
Miriam got in her SUV and trailed the bus. About eight other friends got in their cars and followed as well. While in pursuit, Miriam picked up her cell phone and called someone she knew. It was the District Police Officer (DPO) of the Garki district. She didn’t know where these unknown men were taking her friend and she was calling for help. What started as a fun night had suddenly turned into a nightmare.
In the unmarked bus, Ms. Ojo would find herself in the company of some other women. One of them was naked. Her clothes had been ripped off her body, violently. Ms. Ojo was informed that she was a prostitute and she had been apprehended by a task force under the Abuja Environmental Protection Board. Despite having her NYSC identity card on her and protesting her innocence, Ms. Ojo’s captors would have none of it. The bus load of distressed and protesting women were driven to the AEPB Compound in Area 3, Abuja.
At the AEPB Compound in Area 3, aided by gun-totting mobile police men, the task force violently offloaded these women and barricaded them in a room. Just twenty minutes after leaving a birthday party, Ms. Abimbola Ojo would find herself in one of the most humiliating circumstances of her entire life.
A bunch of her friends would soon arrive, led by Miriam. Having established that this wasn’t a bunch of faceless kidnappers, but men who were under the pay of her own government, they would proceed to walk up to them, bravely and boldly protesting their friend’s innocence. It would prove costly. They were immediately beaten and slapped and their car tires were slashed.
They were also detained, and prostitution charges were slammed on them.
Soon after, the DPO arrived at the AEPB compound with his men. What followed wasn’t a peaceful, gentlemanly resolution of the problem. According to Ms. Ojo, the mobile police men attached to the AEPB began to shoot indiscriminately, inflicting a few injuries. This stand off did not resolve the issue and Ms. Ojo and her friends were held in the compound into the next day.
During their detention, their captors would proceed to worsen their humiliation. One by one, each woman was threatened to confess that she was a prostitute or be taken straight to the prison in Suleja. To make matters worse, a plastic table was brought in, condoms were poured on the table and journalists were invited to take pictures with these, now powerless, women portrayed as prostitutes.
They were subsequently charged to court.
Typically, this would be where the matter would die. Helpless women, having been humiliated beyond measure, with no means to fight back will give in. But, Abimbola, Miriam and their friends would refuse to be convicted of a crime that they did not commit. And they were fortunate.
Dorothy Njemanze, a young entrepreneur who had attended the same party would rally her funds and her friends to provide legal assistance to these embattled women. Motivated by the fact that she could have suffered the same fate, she would dig in to ensure that these women found justice.
Following the ruckus caused by the shoot out at the AEPB compound and as the case progressed in court, the AEPB proceeded to sponsor a few media articles seeking to paint the occurrences of 3rd June, 2011 in their favor.
However, on thursday, 11th August, 2011, the Magistrate Court in Zone 2, Abuja threw out the AEPB case against these women. The Magistrate asserted that these women had no case to answer and were exonerated of the charges leveled against them.
To put the icing on the cake, in one of the image laundering articles that took the AEPB side, the Director of AEPB was quoted as saying that the board had been mandated to arrest women loitering around the streets of Abuja after midnight.
So, after being beaten, shot at, humiliated and treated like trash, it turned out that the only thing that these women did wrong was to be FEMALE and on the streets of the capital of their own country after midnight.
For all the dirt piling up in Abuja, the streets falling apart, the pollution beginning to rise in our neighborhoods, the priority of the AEPB is to oppress an already disadvantaged group in our society, women. …and they have been doing this since 2007!
So, to the things I have learnt about Nigeria, I will add this one. That a bunch of unproductive people, who have neither been elected nor chosen by us, but under the employ of our own government can, at their own whim, suspend the applicability of the constitution to a specific group of people… and get away with it.
Someone needs to send a message to these unpatriotic elements, hiding behind our established institutions to pursue hypocritical moral agendas:
Enough is Enough!