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Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Untold Story of the AEPB, Abuja’s Uniformed Female Harassment Unit

When Cynthia (name has been changed) went out with a group of her friends in Abuja on April 26, 2019, she probably envisaged a nice Friday night out with the girls after a hard week at work. Like many other single women living in Abuja, Cynthia was attracted to the relatively dynamic economy and vibrant, cosmopolitan lifestyle available in the federal capital. Unlike many other places in Nigeria where simply coming out at night is an extreme sport, the seat of Nigeria’s federal government offered a semblance of normalcy.

The group of friends settled for a club called ‘Cloud 9’ at the Nadrem Emporium on 3rd Avenue, Gwarimpa. Suddenly the party was broken up by a large group of men who barged in, demanding that Cynthia and her friends stand up and follow them outside immediately. When they naturally resisted this unwanted intrusion on their evening outing, they were dragged outside along with the other women in the club. Outside they saw a convoy of law enforcement and armed forces vehicles including police, NSCDC, army, immigration and even the prisons service.



Cynthia didn’t know it yet, but this would be the start of a 4-day ordeal in the hands of the police at the behest of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), a hitherto little-known agency which has since gained a fearsome reputation in the city, for its singular commitment to rape, extortion and harassment of young women. Over the ensuing 96 hours, she and at least 70 other young female detainees were tear gassed in a locked police cell, denied food, water or sanitary provisions and raped by police officers if they could not pay for their freedom.

Their crime? 

Apparently existing while female in Abuja.
                           CYNTHIA DESCRIBES HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Abuja’s Targeted Female Raids: Officially Sanctioned Rape and Extortion Racketeering

While putting this story together, I spoke to six different victims of these raids, all of whom came from markedly different backgrounds and circumstances. While Cynthia was hanging out with her friends Patricia, Mary and Judith at a club (all names have been changed), Mercy was standing at the roadside waiting for a “keke” while Peace was at a hotel for a friend’s birthday. None of these women was doing anything particularly out of the ordinary, much less wrong. Yet they all had more or less the same story, give or take a few details.

Mercy was accosted while waiting for a keke and abducted by a group of touts working for the AEPB. From going about her normal business, she found herself in police detention facing verbal and physical violence for no reason at all in the space of a few minutes. Even worse as she said to my mounting amazement, she has been abducted under similar circumstances three times this year alone. For added incredulity, she revealed that on one such occasion, she was taken to the FCT High Court at Zuba and instructed to plead guilty to whatever she was charged with, lest she risk going to Suleja prison.

My mouth nearly fell open when she said that she actually did so. Apparently, it really was a choice between pleading guilty to a nonsensical charge or finding herself remanded in a notorious prison in Niger State – for absolutely no reason. It did not escape my notice that this practise of scaring innocent people into pleading guilty to charges they do not understand could mean that a significant population of Suleja prison probably consists of innocent young women abducted from the streets of Abuja and forced to plead guilty to…anything including murder, terrorism and robbery.

Mercy got off fairly lightly, because she was charged only with “causing nuisance” – an offense which, while completely nonsensical, at least lets her regain her freedom immediately. Peace on the other hand, was not so lucky. Of all the victims; horrible stories, hers perhaps was the most pitiful of the bunch because of how unlikely it was. A regular middle-class professional working a 9-5 job, she was lodged in her hotel room celebrating a friend’s birthday when she decided to buy water from the reception. Nobody answered the intercom, so she stepped out of her room to go downstairs herself. She did not even lock the door.

Describing what happened next she said:

Immediately I got to the reception, one woman came and held my hands and insisted that I should follow her and I was like “Ma, what happened?” She then said I should just respect myself and follow her, she continued dragging me until when we got outside, I saw cameras and a large crowd with people videoing with their phones, I saw so many hilux [sic] with police, immigration civil defence, military, etc. They were just so many along with touts in reflective jackets. I saw other girls being dragged into the buses. They even went to the extent of knocking the hotel rooms, they will knock the hotel doors and if you open the door and you happen to be a lady, they will drag you out of the rooms into the buses, it got to one girl, they did not only drag her out of the hotel room, they dragged her and pull her clothes before the cameras and took a naked picture of her, they took her clothes off and she was naked and took pictures of her.”

PEACE

The Curious Case of “Hajiya Safiya,” Mastermind Behind the Abduction of Abuja women

Through the course of the difficult conversations with all six women, one name kept coming up persistently as a chief protagonist of the newfangled rule-of-rape regime – a certain “Hajiya Safiya.” A search on Google reveals some important things about this person. First of all, she appears to be a ghost. Despite currently being a high profile public servant in the nation’s capital, Acting Secretary to the FCT Social Development Secretariat (SDS) Hajiya Safiya Umar, alias “Hajiya Safiya” has no pictures online, in the time honoured tradition of human rights luminaries like Col. Frank Omenka.

Second, Mrs. Umar appears to be something of a hypocrite. She is on record for criticising Senator Elisha Abbo for assaulting a woman in July this year. Three months before that episode however, she directly and openly coordinated one of the worst human rights violations in the history of Nigerian democracy. Under her instruction, hundreds of women including nursing mothers were raped, assaulted, kidnapped and unlawfully detained in filthy conditions. She continues to defend her actions, while publicly condemning a woman-beater.

I mentioned that to properly contextualise the type of human being Mrs. Umar is, to all intents and purposes. One of those people.


 
                                  AN ENCOUNTER WITH “HAJIYA SAFIYA”


Cynthia’s description of her encounter with Hajiya Safiya mentioned that while she was lucky enough to get out on Friday night, she came back on Saturday morning to bail out her friends, only to be thrown into the cell on the orders of this “Hajiya Safiya.” Describing how it happened, she told me that upon getting to the station, she spotted a livid woman only known as “Hajiya Safiya,” who wanted to know why the police granted bail to some of the girls from the previous night’s raid. The lady did not want to know how the police did it, but she had one simple message for them:

“GET THOSE GIRLS BACK!”


HAJIYA SAFIYA UMAR



Due to the sheer misfortune of being present at the police station then, Cynthia was promptly rearrested, notwithstanding the N3,000 she had already paid to bail herself out the previous night – a sum that was not refunded to her.. Later that night, the police went out again on Hajiya Safiya’s orders, abducting and detaining more women including a nursing mother with a two-month old baby.

When she appeared before the National Human Rights Commission on May 16 to explain the events of April 26, Mrs. Umar delivered the dismissive, nauseatingly self-righteous performance typical of Nigerian public office holders who think they are doing the country a favour by being in office. Responding to the well-established and widespread reports of rape and brutality that accompanied the Abuja raids, she flatly denied  them and conveniently feigned ignorance of any such possibility. Presumably, it was a stretch to imagine that the famously professional and well-behaved lower ranks of the police could do such things when given free reign and assisted by civilian touts. 

In between the gratuitous dishonesty though, she did freely admit to being one of the principal brains behind the April raids that launched the AEPB into its ferocious new phase of existence as a sort of female-focused SARS. In her view, these raids were necessary to tackle “social vices” like prostitution. In practise, that means carrying out the fool’s errand of trying to group young women into “prostitutes” and “not prostitutes.” 

One might imagine that the Acting Secretary to the SDS – an institution that supposedly exists to help vulnerable women and children – would have a more nuanced and intelligent view of the world. Researching Hajiya Umar revealed however, that she has all the nuance and finesse of a chainsaw in a hardwood forest. To her, everything she considers a problem must be chopped down forthwith. Like prostitutes. Especially prostitutes. Actually only prostitutes. Also whoever she decides is a prostitute. Did I mention prostitute?

Prostitute.

According to her, the SDS and the AEPB collaboration was to preserve the “norms and values” of society, or at least the subjective ideas thereof held by she and her colleagues. In the face of several women who recounted their traumatising and dehumanising experiences, Mrs. Umar denied that any such things could have happened, even though she also admitted that she had left the police station before the women were released – so she obviously had no way of confirming that.

I was at Nadrem for a birthday and all of a sudden we saw some guys asking ladies to stand up and one guy walked up to me and insisted I should stand up, he said common will you stand up there, he then came and dragged me, inserting his hands in my buttocks in his attempts to drag me he was putting his hand in my ass and pressing my buttocks, and this was the hired touts they brought along to harass us. 

PATRICIA
Meanwhile, as everyone struggles to identify precisely what “norms and values” Mrs. Umar and her syndicate are “preserving” in the federal capital by running an industrial harassment of women (with some repeatedly raped by Police) and extortion machine, it is very important to note that these raids were not a one-off event. They had been happening before April, albeit on a smaller scale, and they are still happening now, six months later. I may have addressed the stories of my six sources using the past tense, but the risk of abduction, sexual harrassment, rape, torture and wrongful imprisonment is very much a present and ongoing risk for young women in Abuja.


JUDITH DESCRIBES HOW TARGETED SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF YOUNG WOMEN IN ABUJA CONTINUES TO THIS DAY

Banana seller, office worker, shop owner, teenager, 30-something year-old, single, married – it doesn’t really matter anymore. Young women in Nigeria’s federal capital are now fair game for Safiya Umar and her motley crue of sexual perverts, rapists, sadists and dirty cops to do absolutely whatever they want to, with no consequences. Hajiya Safiya belongs to a school of binary thought that divides all young women into “prostitutes” and “not prostitutes.” Apparently if you are a young woman in Abuja right now, who dares to breathe oxygen and exhibit bipedal motion, Hajiya Umar thinks you are a prostitute. And since you are a prostitute, you clearly deserve to be abducted, raped and extorted – maybe even killed.

The Unanswered Legal and Political Questions 

Amid the outrage that surrounded the initial story of the AEPB raids earlier in the year, something that repeatedly kept coming up was the possibility that the AEPB was actually acting under the legal remit of what we euphemistically call the ‘Penal Codes’ – Sharia Law, to those who don’t know. The idea that Sharia Law could be enforced in opposition to the country’s national constitution in the federal capital did not make any sense to me, so I took professional legal advice from a respected friend and colleague who would be in a position to know. His answer was short and simple. 

Actually, the Penal Code is supposed to be subject to the constitution, which could always be interpreted to supersede such provisions.”

FIFEHAN OGUNDE PHD, SENIOR LEGAL CONSULTANT, WEMIMO OGUNDE & CO

In other words, we can discount legal backing from the Sharia penal codes as the basis for Hajiya Safiya’s FCT rape gang. At best, there is a measure of ambiguity about whether or not these penal codes can be enforced where they contradict the constitution directly, but there is simply no legal basis at all for having a gang of brutal rapists masquerading as a sort of morality police outfit, terrorising young women in their 20s and 30s across the nation’s capital.

Thus in addition to merely being morally abominable, grotesque and disgusting, Hajiya Safiya’s rape-enhanced war on Abuja’s women is also plainly illegal. She is breaking the law and so she and her gang of morality rapists must be stopped and held to account immediately. In any case, the point is moot, because surely Sharia law does not prescribe rape as a punishment for boarding a keke or attending a birthday party or going for a night out with friends.

From a political perspective, what is playing out in Abuja right now at the behest of Safiya Umar and her colleagues is also more than just a group of officially-sanctioned gangsters organising an extortion racket, as is usually the case elsewhere in Nigeria. Hajiya Umar plainly fancies herself a champion of a notoriously parochial ethnoreligious elite with designs on remolding the Nigerian State and Nigerian society at large in the image of a terrified feudal society with a small everlasting elite and a sprawling, unquestioning everlasting underclass.

To this end, Hajiya Umar’s SDS and their brutal AEPB enforcers are testing the waters through the blatant illegality of subjecting Nigeria’s capital to an undemocratic pseudo-dictatorship and an accompanying culture of sexual violence to instill fear, shame and silence in a population that does not satisfy her cultural expectations. It is no coincidence that this is happening alongside the ongoing SARS menace because as with all wannabe dictators who have no capacity to lead independent, vocal and confident populations hungry for more democracy, the strategy is to break the spirit of the young people.

It is important to understand that kite-flying about so-called penal codes, AEPB-facilitated mass rapes, abductions, extortions and gratuitous violence are not mere by-products of Hajiya Umar’s social cleansing campaign – they are the point. The policy direction of the SDS and the AEPB is now determined by a mafia with a blatant and undisguised cultural agenda seeking to modify Nigeria’s federal capital into something closer in character to Gusau or  Damaturu.

The good people of Gusau and Damaturu are no doubt happy enough with their societal arrangement, as the people of Benin, Jos, Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Ibadan and Abuja are with theirs. Nigeria is nothing if not a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi religious and generally heterogeneous country. One of the best things about Abuja historically is that it is one of the few truly cosmopolitan melting pots in Nigeria, which is how it attracts Nigeria’s best talent away from the afore-mentioned urban centres.

Using vicious sexual violence as a vehicle, Hajiya Safiya Umar and her co-travelers are slowly but deliberately destroying the social and cultural fabric of Nigeria’s second most important city. This must be robustly challenged and blocked at every turn. Abuja is Nigeria’s federal capital territory. It does not belong to Safiya Umar, neither does it belong to the gang of uniformed and civilian rapists she is willfully and knowingly empowering in pursuit of a parochial, anachronistic agenda. We need to remind people like Mrs. Umar that whether they like it or not, Nigeria is not – and can never be – the feudal society of their fantasies. My starting suggestion for doing this is simple: take a picture of her and thus demystify the ghost behind the rapists.

In so doing, we will once again reaffirm that Abuja belongs to all Nigerians from all 930,000+ sq km of this country, including Cynthia, Peace, Mercy, Judith, Patricia, Mary, and every other young Nigerian woman. 

“I want Justice, If they’re pursing us in another country, they’d now be pursuing us in our own country also. we are Nigerians why will they be treating us like we don’t deserve rights?”

Judith




Culled from NewsWireNGR








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