by Hakeem Babalola
In their search for a scapegoat, the police found an easy target in our women. Whereas women and children, apart from protecting the citizens in general, must be given exceptional treatment, according to the Police Act. Rather than undertake the danger imposed by armed robbers however, the Lagos State Police seem satisfied with capturing and arresting "whores" and, or ladies dressed in "skimpy" clothes along the streets of Lagos.
Before our stern moralists, especially Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God who has just banned female members from wearing trousers, start preaching the gospels, I’d like to say the issue is beyond being morally pure on the part of the arrested citizens. It’s like obtaining public money under false pretences for a lost cause. It’s about the police mocking the law they suppose to enforce. It’s about police immorality and irresponsibility. It’s about abusing the uniform meant for protection.
There’s nothing wrong for the police to conduct a routine check, which of course must be an exercise to protect the society from the menace of muggers. Anything different from this would have defeated the purpose. Equally significant is the manner in which such routine check must be carried out, an area in which the Lagos Police goofed. The officers appear to be more concerned about harassing, embarrassing, and intimidating ladies during such exercise.
"Their vehicle stopped beside me and they pushed me into it," recalls Mrs. Chiegozie Albert, a mother of two who was arrested along Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja. "They call me Asewo (prostitute) because I was wearing jeans trousers and open top. I told them that I am a housewife but they didn’t listen to me. They took me to their Ikeja station and detained me along with other ladies; it was my husband who learnt of my arrest who came to bail me. He paid #5,000 before I was released".
Of course those who could not grease the officers’ pilfering palm ended up being prosecuted for disturbing the "public peace". Although the importance of law enforcement agents cannot be overlooked in our society, such nobility could only fascinate us if only we are protected as the profession dictates. Parading these women like criminals terribly violates their rights as a human. This is simply not the way to purify Lagos or Nigeria at large.
At the risk of of being accused of hearsay, I certainly believe Mrs Albert even though I was not there. Her experience much the same of what I had witnessed as an insider. The Nigeria Police are simply brutal when it comes to discharging what suppose to be their duties. Perhaps it’s the uniform, perhaps it’s frustration, perhaps it’s low self-esteem. I can’t just pinpoint what could be responsible for incessant disgrace by our law enforcement officers.
The Lagos Police Command went on rampage chasing sex workers, housewives, students, blue collar workers, and in doing so sexually violated these women: a textile worker at Oshodi, two sisters returning from their village, female youths accused of dressing indecently and so on. And in fact PMNEWS investigations revealed that many innocent Lagosians were detained by the police due to indiscriminate arrest on the road.
How would right thinking Nigerians describe a scenario of this nature? "At night, some of them (Police) will come and start touching our breasts," says Chinwe Okorie. "And I was not a prostitute but they wouldn’t listen".
I mean even if these women are hookers, does it give the police the right to touch their breasts? What minds these mortals possess? What is happening to our police? Bail me out please. Whilst I commend the arrest of some 95 women for alleged human trafficking during the raid, the innocents must be released immediately with compensation.
Gosh, when an organisation that suppose to protect us officially becomes the one that eventually thwarts or frustrates or impedes our exactitude, then we’re dead – and this is not figurative language. I believe there’s no other act that can paralyse citizens than when a government violates our dignity as in the case of these women. And I am subjectively insinuating here of the possibility that the women were prone to rape in police dark dungeon.
It is even easier for the victims of armed robbers or rapists to get over the trauma than when the police use their uniform to either physically and, or sexually violates them under the inauspicious camouflage of arresting prostitutes. Is there not a law that guides such exercise? Should the police continuously use their uniform to perpetrate sexual harassment?
On behalf of these helpless ladies, I entreat the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, M.D Abubakar, to tread the path of honour. While his assurance to fight crime with might is commendable, his method of indiscriminately arresting women is not. Let him know that his gra...gra method by embarrassing and intimidating women won’t work; it can only backfire.
Finally, it is also good that Abubakar had instructed his officers to wake up from their slumber. However, they should go about their business without making our women a whipping boy. This is one message the new Commissioner of Police must put at the back of his determined mind with unflagging courtesy and pursuit of excellence.
"At night, some of them (Police) will come and start touching our breasts," says Chinwe Okorie. Another witness: "I told them that I am a housewife but they didn’t listen to me. They took me to their Ikeja station and detained me along with other ladies; it was my husband who learnt of my arrest who came to bail me. He paid #5,000 before I was released".