Abuja police raids a brutal last gasp for failing city chief
Ahead of the scheduled June inauguration of Nigeria's leaders elected this March, the capital city of Abuja is in full cinematic mode.
President Muhammadu Buhari is in London once more for a 10-day private trip. He has not officially handed over to his deputy, Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo.
While he is away, the country’s legislators are arguing over the choice of leaders, and trying to sideline political “godfathers” from the ruling party who want to impose their choice of candidate on the national assembly. Behind closed doors, politicians and businessmen across the federation are earnestly lobbying to plant their feet – or ears – in the corridors of power.
One who has a lot to play for is Mohammed Bello, the minister in charge of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and Abuja’s equivalent of a mayor.
He is believed to be behind a spectacular police raid at the weekend targeting nightclubs and strip clubs, in which dozens of women – and a two-month-old baby – were arrested, accused of prostitution. Witnesses say some were raped using discarded water sachets as condoms.
Lawyer Martin Obono broke the news on Twitter:
As I type, 70 girls were arrested and brought to Utako Police station last night. This is in addition to the ones who were arrested on Friday night. Their offense; clubbing and in some instance, prostitution. Some have been assaulted with injuries in their vaginas.
— M. M. Obono (@martobono) April 28, 2019
It rapidly spread with the hashtags #AbujaPoliceRaidonWomen and #PoliceBrutality. Several commentators suggested Bello’s moral policing was a last-gasp stunt for the struggling minister.
Apo Six and a history of extrajudicial brutality
Prostitution remains illegal in Nigeria even though there are commercial sex workers in most of the major cities and many other towns. Nigerian security outfits are particularly zealous in their enforcement of this law, routinely doling out brutality towards women and wrongful arrest.
During most of these raids the women’s male customers or companions are rarely if ever apprehended.
- Belligerent officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the FCTA have followed suit, harassing patrons and staff of late-night entertainment establishments, as recently as two weeks ago.
- In October 2017, the ECOWAS court awarded N18m ($50,000) in damages to three women for their “unlawful arrest, detention and declaration as prostitutes” in Abuja by AEPB officials, police and the military six years earlier. The Federal Government is yet to pay up.
- One of them, Dorothy Njemanze, produced a documentary about the traumatic experience. It was released in 2016, with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
- The most infamous case of police brutality in Abuja remains that of the Apo Six. In June 2005, six youths returning from a late outing were killed by trigger-happy policemen whose team leader was angered that the only woman among them turned down his sexual advances. Two of the officers were sentenced to death but the senior officer, Danjuma Ibrahim, was curiously acquitted, then reinstated and promoted by the police to Assistant Inspector-General (AIG) – the third highest rank in the police hierarchy.
Grasping at straws?
Since 1991, when Abuja replaced Lagos as the nation’s capital, there has been a time-honoured populist ritual of FCTA ministers authorising similar raids, and Bello is no exception.
Yet his performance in the past four years has been so abysmal that residents joke on social media about his invisibility and not even knowing his name.
FCT minister is chilling because the people that want to swear for him don’t even know his name.
— Vino🍷 (@LordVino) October 9, 2018
The number of functional traffic lights in Abuja has declined, while petty crimes and car hijacking have increased. But there has been no action on that from the minister, who rarely makes public appearances but sensationally suspended the city’s fire chief after a commissioning ceremony went south.
Bottom line: As the theory goes, Bello is now prioritising quick wins to get himself back into the president’s good graces enough to secure a recall or another position in cabinet.