Nigeria: Challenge to arbitrary arrest of women during sweeping exercises

Salc : Anneke Meerkotter

Factual Background

The applicants were among 71 women who were arrested at various public spaces in Abuja between 17 and 26 April 2019. The arrests were carried out by the FCTA Joint Task Team comprising the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Securities and Civil Defence Corp, Nigeria Police Force, Social Development Secretariat, and Abuja Environmental Protection Board. The applicants were not informed of the reason for their arrest. During their arrest and detention, the applicants were sexual assaulted, verbally harassed, beaten, teargassed, and their phones were confiscated. They were further denied basic sanitation during detention and treated in a degrading manner during their arrest and detention.

In the High Court

Eight applicants filed separate cases before the Federal High Court of Abuja which sought to challenge police practices on arrest. They are represented by Lawyers’ Alert and other civil society organisations. The applicants’ lawyers include Rommy Mom, ‘Deji Ajare, Bamidele Jacobs, Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, Augusta Yaakugh, Jennifer Ogbogu Chigoziem Ellen Onugha, Akubeze Okocha, and Martin Obono

A novel dimension to the whole case is that an Amicus Brief is also being filed by lawyers and organisations that include Rommy Mom, Sunday Adaji, Lawyers Alert, and Sterling Solicitors. Issues for determination before the Court include:

  1. Whether the respondents’ actions of arresting the applicants indiscriminately in the absence of any reasonable grounds for a suspicion that the applicants committed any offence and detaining them under dehumanising conditions, amount to violations of their constitutional rights and their rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The rights violations occurred during the respondents’ indiscriminate arrest of the applicants; as a result of the failure to promptly inform the applicants of the charges against them at the time of arrest and detention; during their detention; and when they were forced to plead guilty or face further detention.
  2. Whether the respondents have a resultant duty to take all steps necessary, within their respective areas of responsibility and authority, to prevent members of the respondents from arresting women in the absence of reasonable grounds for a suspicion that an offence has been committed, and to protect the rights of women.
  3. Whether the applicants, having had their rights grossly violated, are entitled to compensation from the respondents.

The Applicants note with concern that the facts which gave rise to this application are on all fours with the facts in the decision of the Community Court of Justice of ECOWAS in Dorothy Chioma Njemanze and Others v Federal Republic of Nigeria, ECW/CCJ/APP/17/14. The facts which gave rise to the Njemanze case occurred as far back as 2012, and the decision itself was handed down by the ECOWAS Court on 12 October 2017, finding that facts like those stated above violated a range of human rights. Since then, the Respondents have made little effort to prevent similar rights violations as those which the ECOWAS Court found in the Njemanze case.