Some months ago, supposed security officials enforcing government’s lockdown order in Ifo local government area of Ogun state, assaulted a woman who was alleged to have disobeyed the COVID-19 lockdown order emplaced in the state as part of measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.
In a video that went viral, a twitter user posted a recording of the local government officials trying to deflate the lady’s tyres even after she had explained that she was not aware that she had crossed into Ogun state, but the officials wouldn’t listen to any explanation. Both states share very close and fluid borders that are sometimes not clearly marked.
According to the lady, she had gone out with her husband to get some items for her daughter’s forthcoming birthday when she was stopped by the officers. In the said video, the security agents constituted themselves into accuser, judge, and executioner all rolled into one. The Ogun state government, however, moved swiftly into the matter and the officers involved were suspended.
In another development, just few days ago, the Police in Osun State confirmed the arrest and detention of two of its personnel in a viral video torturing a woman in Iwo, while enforcing the Covid-19 lockdown order. The commissioner of police was, however, said to have ordered the arrest and detention of the erring officers, while arrangement is in motion to subject them to “orderly room’’ trial for the alleged unprofessional conduct.
These are just few out of a series of assaults meted out to women by security agents who have total disregard for the ‘weaker sex’. Other cases of violence against women manifest in trafficking, abduction as well as forced marriages of women and girls. Women are consistently being objectified and this is linked to cultural and religious practices that demand the subjugation and submission of women to men.
Also, a large proportion of women in Nigeria are barred from owning lands by customary laws of inheritance. This is in spite of the fact that Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution permits male and female Nigerians to own and acquire movable and immovable property. For example, women in the South-East are denied the right to inherit their husband’s/late father’s estates.
Also, victims of domestic violence are usually turned back at police stations on grounds that it is a family affair, thereby denying any further opportunities for prosecution. Many a time, rape cases are charged to courts that lack the jurisdiction to hear them, causing delay and even denial of justice for the victim.
The provision of the penal code applicable in the some parts of Nigeria seems to encourage violence against women. Section 55(1) (d) of the Penal Code allows for disciplining a wife by beating her.Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive national law on violence against women. Various legal instruments are expected to be used to address violence against women and seek justice for victims of gender-based violence. These include the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP), 2015, Gender-Based Violence (Prohibition) Law, 2007, the Child’s Right Act, 2003, Prevention Against Domestic Violence Law, 2007, National Gender Policy, 2014, and Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.
However, weak or non-implementation of these instruments and measures have not helped matters. The laws of the land prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The 2017 Anti-Torture Act defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The law prescribes offenses and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commit or abet torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek redress.
The 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrested persons; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators.
In our view, it is unacceptable for anyone to take the law into his hands by physically molesting anyone, especially women, much less security officers whose primary duty, for which they are paid with taxpayers’ money, is to uphold the law. The law remains that the penalty for offenders can only be prescribed by the law courts, according to the laws of the land.
To that extent, we consider the actions of the officers in the viral videos as grave acts of misconduct which must, as a matter of urgency, addressed and sanctions meted out to the officers involved to serve as a deterrent to others.