Nigeria: Challenge to arbitrary arrest of women during sweeping exercises

Salc : Anneke Meerkotter

Factual Background

At 11pm on 22 February 2017, the Joint Task Force broke down the doors of the homes of the applicants, assaulted them, indecently searched them, took the money they had on them, and then arrested and detained them. The Task Force, comprising the police, army and Abuja Environmental Protection Board, justified their actions in terms of section 35 of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board Act, which they alleged permits them to arrest a person selling goods in an unauthorised place.The applicants are represented by Lawyers’ Alert.

In the High Court

The applicants filed a human rights case before the Federal High Court of Abuja in May 2017, seeking a number of declaratory orders, including that the respondents action of breaking into the applicants homes at night and arresting them in the name of enforcing an alleged Abuja law banning prostitution in Abuja, amounts to a violation of their constitutional rights and their rights under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. They also sought a declarator that the respondents’ constant assault, indecent search, arrest and detention of the applicants from their houses without any reasonable suspicion of their having committed any criminal offence amounts to perpetual violation of their constitutional right to dignity of their person, personal liberty and right to private and family life.

The case was argued on 13 November 2019 and judgment was handed down in their favour on 18 December 2019. 

The Court had to consider whether the manner in which the applicants were treated amounted to a violation of their constitutional rights and their rights under Nigerian law and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Court held that the Task Force’s actions amounted to an infringement of the applicants’ rights to privacy. The Court emphasised that the procedures for effecting an arrest are stipulated clearly in the law and law enforcement agencies must follow it at all times. The Court held that all the parties in the Joint Task Force were liable for rights violations occurring during the operations of the Task Force, as it was a collective action. The applicants were awarded compensation and legal costs.