Hundreds of Nigerian women take to the streets to protest police brutality and sexual assault

Hundreds of protesters marched through the Nigerian capital Abuja on Friday demanding an end to police impunity, after officers were accused of carrying out a string of sexual assaults.

“Being a woman is not a crime,” protesters chanted during the march, which was organised by several women’s rights groups and civil society organisations.

“My body, my life,” they added.

Dozens of women were dragged out of nightclubs, hotels and bars in Abuja last month in police raids, and then arrested for prostitution — a charge many furiously denied.

Testimonies from women given to AFP provide shocking stories of multiple and brutal sexual assaults carried out by police officers after their arrest.

The sweeping police crackdown in the federal capital sparked outrage in the news and on social media in Africa’s most populous nation.

“In Abuja women were raped, robbed and humiliated just because they are women,” Amnesty International said Friday. “Those responsible of these violations must be brought to justice.”

Last week a presidential spokesman said that “a thorough investigation of what happened” was being carried out.

“This administration will not tolerate any violation of the individual freedoms of our people,” the spokesman added.

But protesters on Friday said they were sceptical such promises will be followed through, and pointed out that more women have been arrested.

“We are asking for them to stop the raids on women,” said the lawyer for several of the women arrested, Jennifer Ogbogu, who joined the march.

Ogbogu said five women were arrested on Thursday night.

They were reportedly grabbed off the street — including while riding motorcycles or out shopping — and “accused of prostitution”, she said.

Prostitution, although illegal in Nigeria, is still widespread in the cities.

It is often tolerated in the largely Christian south, but less so in the mainly Muslim north, where sharia law applies in some states.

Abuja — situated slightly north of Nigeria’s centre — is a mix of people and traditions from across the country. 

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