A Nigerian court has voided the arrest of commercial sex workers in Abuja by law enforcement officials.
The Abuja Federal High Court presided over by Justice Binta Nyako on Wednesday declared that officials of a security task force acted outside the law when they broke into apartments in Abuja suburbs around 11 p.m, February 2017, to arrest women accused of being prostitutes.
The task force comprised of officials of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Nigeria Police, and Nigerian Army.
The court judgment followed a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed by a non-governmental organization, Lawyers Alert, on behalf of the arrested women.
One Constance Nkwocha and 15 others were the applicants in the suit, while the Nigeria police,
the army, Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board were among the respondents.
“I find and hold that the breaking in and arrest of the applicants by the respondents is an infringement of the applicants’ right to privacy as guaranteed by the Constitution,” the court declared.
“The law has laid down process and procedure for effective arrest, law enforcement agents and agencies should ensure at all times to follow the laid down guidelines by the law.”
The court ordered the respondents to pay N100,000 compensation to each of the applicants.
The officials of the task force indecently searched the women and disposed of them of their money when they raided their apartments, Lawyers Alert said.
The NGO said the women were tortured and detained while waiting for a mobile court judge “who will try them for a criminal offense they did not know about”.
“It is worth recalling that this is not the first time the Joint Task Force had come to arrest, detain and release them. It has always been the practice.
“The women were informed that their arrest owed to their commercial sex work. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory had a few days before the particular raid promised to rid the Nigeria capital city of sex workers,” the organization said on its website.
It said 52 women were arrested in this particular raid.
It came as a rude awakening to many when Justice Binta Nyako of the High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, December 19, 2019, gave a landmark ruling which showed that commercial sex work was not illegal in Nigeria. In her ruling, Justice Nyako awarded damages to 16 ladies who were detained by the police for prostitution in 2017.
This was the first time that any Nigerian court would be ruling on the legality or otherwise of sexual work.
Babatunde Jacob, a lawyer who represented the women shedding further light on the ruling to the BBC, explained that the court upheld that the rights of his clients were violated by security agents when they broke into their homes accusing them of being sex workers.
It is widely believed by legal practitioners that this ruling by the high court will have a far-reaching effect in the country as the arrest of commercial sex workers by security agencies is very common. Over 60 women were placed under arrest in May 2019 for prostitution.
This ruling has also once again exposed some members of the security agencies as having very little or no knowledge of the laws they are supposed to be protecting.
The landmark ruling made a Twitter user who was reacting to declare, ‘ashawo work na work’.