Tragedy On The Streets Of Abuja
Aug. 30,2011-On Thursday, August 25, two female Abuja residents, Abimbola Ojo and Miriam Olofu filed a suit against the Federal Capital authorities on various charges including unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and malicious prosecution.
Two weeks earlier, a Magistrate Court threw out a case brought by the Abuja Environment Protection Board against the two women who were accused of being prostitutes.
The women, Olofu, a business woman, and Ojo, who was a corper at the time of their arrest narrated to Daily Times, the incident which occurred the same night of June 3, 2011, that was reported to be a gun fight between members of the police and the AEPB. Several persons were injured in the attack, including one Hannatu Idris, who claims she was picked up outside the Garki Mr. Biggs around 8.00 p.m. Hannatu recounted that she was driven around for several hours in an unmarked bus, as the AEPB staff made their rounds; and that she sustained her leg injury during the gunfight between mobile police attached to the Board and the men who purportedly accompanied DPO Olofu.
Miriam Olofu is also the person whose distress call alerted the Garki DPO, Mr. Tony Olofu. Regardless of bearing the same surname, the two are not relatives.
On Tuesday, August 16, Hannatu turned up at the Public Complaints Commission office to lodge her complaint against members of the AEPB, after which officials of the Commission took her to the Asokoro Hospital to continue her treatment. When Daily Times visited the hospital, the public relations officer for the PCC, Emeka Nwosu, relayed fears that “women might not be safe in Abuja if every woman is considered a prostitute and treated this way.” He went on to add that “this issue must be resolved.”
It was in the bid for a resolution, that on Friday, August 19, 2011, the Public Complaints Commission held a meeting at the Commission’s offices. Present were members of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Hannatu Idris and Miriam Olofu, who was accompanied by Dorothy Njemanze, of the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation.
Chaired by the PCC National Secretary, Mr. Eteng Otu, pertinent issues were raised at the meeting, including the proper procedure for arresting and booking suspects; and the jurisdiction of the Abuja Environmental protection Board. Mr. Otu, opened the proceedings by stating that “this is not a court and blame is not being apportioned.” He added that the aim of the meeting was to find solutions.
The members of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board who were present at the Public Complaints Commission were not actually present during certain key incidents that occurred on June 3. Neither the Head of Department, nor the Security Liaison Officer, Mr. Titus, was present until after the shoot out had happened. Two members of staff, identified as Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Makun were on duty but could not narrate nor agree on certain aspects of that date – such as, how the AEPB gate was pulled down by the DPO, as alleged; and the location of the attached mobile policemen when the DPO arrived their premises. The AEPB representatives also insinuated that Hannatu might not even be one of the suspects arrested. Contradicting reasons for this were put forward. The principal state counsel though, Barrister Eze Enyiam Eze, said that “it is unfortunate that they did not narrate every thing that happened here. You know you always ask your client in confidence to tell you the truth but they are not telling me much.”
Abimbola Ojo, whose abduction by the men of the AEPB began this whole saga, was not present at the August 19 meeting. She had however earlier, on August 17, granted an interview with Daily Times. Ojo’s account does not deviate from Miriam’s retelling of the events of June 3. Below is as accurate a timeline as is possible to construct from all the accounts:
(Thursday June 2, 2011) 8.00 p.m. – Hannatu is picked up from outside Mr. Biggs in Garki. According to her, the AEPB staff takes her on their rounds, picking up hawkers and young women presumed to be prostitutes.
(Friday June 3, 2011) 2.00 a.m. – Abimbola Ojo is grabbed off the street in front of E Lounge by AEPB staff. Her friends, including Miriam Olofu, drive behind in three cars. Ojo narrates that some of the men with the AEPB hung from the bus brandishing their weapons, threatening to shoot at the trailing vehicles.
Circa 2.15 a.m. – Abimbola Ojo and the other suspects are deposited within the AEPB premises. Ojo told Daily Times, “We drove into the compound and they pulled us out. They pushed me. I fell into the gutter and hit my knee on the edge of the gutter slab. That’s how I got the injury on my knee. One of them slapped me hard across the face. A few minutes later I saw my friends inside and I asked them what they were doing there.”
Between 2.15 a.m. and 3.00 a.m. – The occupants of the three cars are forced out of their vehicles at gun point. Their car tyres are slashed. During the PCC meeting, Miriam recounts how her windscreen was cracked by armed uniformed men, accompanied by plainclothes men, adding that “we were beaten and slapped on the head. They said we were all prostitutes and forced us into the compound.”
In her interview with Daily Times, Ojo said, “The natural thing at that point was for everybody to start calling people they knew for rescue because we were not sure of what was going on. The next thing they [AEPB staff] brought this plastic table. They blocked the door with the table and poured plenty condoms, Gold Circle condoms, and called a journalist to take pictures of these.
Miriam knew the DPO … She called him and within the hour, he came there. We were inside the building but we could see clearly what was going on outside. He came into the compound and we saw him speaking to some men standing around. Of course we couldn’t have heard what they were saying but the next thing we knew we heard gunshots. Basically, they opened fire on the DPO’s men. Everybody had to duck for cover.”
At the Public Complaints Commission, Miriam stated that she didn’t know who was shooting but once the shots were fired, pandemonium broke loose. She recalled hiding under a car within the compound. She also said that the first time she saw the DPO for herself, he was being chased by men wielding guns and machetes.
However, during her August 16 interview with Daily Times, Hannatu corroborates Abimbola Ojo’s account of the gun battle saying that “Environmental started shooting”. During this episode, Hannatu is shot in the leg.
Between 3.00 a.m. – 6.00 a.m. – Ojo recounts that after the gun battle, occasional beatings took place. She said that at one point, when she tried to walk outside for air, she was stopped by a staff of the Board and choked “almost to death”.
Between 6.00 a.m. – 12 p.m. – “While we were begging to be released, we were told to wait for the mobile magistrate court to come and try us for prostitution,” Ojo told Daily Times.
12.00 p.m. – Out of the nine friends in custody, seven were released on a 10,000 naira bail. Ojo and Olofu were held because Ojo was the “one picked up for … prostitution” and Olofu “was the one who called the DPO”.
3.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. –The mobile court arrives – a judge and one Barrister Eze. Charges of loitering and prostitution are read out to “about 30 people”. “How is it possible that we all committed the same crime at the same time?” Ojo asked during our interview.
Olofu and Ojo both state that a member of AEPB staff whose name they don’t know but would recognize on sight, pulled them aside and asked them to plead “guilty” or he would “personally drive them to Suleja prison.”
Both women subsequently pled “not guilty” and a surety was obtained, together with instructions to return on Monday to “pick a date for trial”.
5.00 p.m. – Abimbola Ojo and Miriam Olofu were released.
Michaela Moye is a writer and editor. She lives in Abuja with her family and pet tortoise, Offspring. Follow her on Twitter.(Daily Times)