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How police assaulted me over a rape case – female lawyer

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Goodness Ibangah, a lawyer who helped a rape victim file a report to the police has shed more lights on how she was assaulted by police operatives from the Enugu state police command.

Ibangah, who accompanied a 21-year-old woman to file a rape report at the Enugu State Police Area Command on January 27, 2020, said the assault that sent her to hospital was because she resisted pressure from the police to withdraw the complaint and settle the case outside of the criminal justice system.

According to her, following her refusal to do their bidding, the police allegedly raided the office of the Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), a Nigerian women’s rights group where Ibangah works, and attacked her.

Ibangah disclosed in an interview with Human Rights Watch that the police officers were hostile from the beginning. According to the lawyer, the officers handling the case asked the young woman if she was raped “with or without consent” and chided her for speaking about rape at her age.

Ibangah further disclosed that the woman was later allowed to file the report at her prompting, leading to the arrest of the accused person. However, things later took a dramatic twist as Ibangah soon began receiving a barrage of phone calls from the police officers, who had received the complaint, pressing her to convince the young woman to settle the case with the accused family rather than go to court.

The case took a confrontational angle when on January 30, four police officers stormed WACOL’s offices and demanded that Ibangah produce the woman who filed the complaint. The lawyer, accused of preventing negotiations and an out-of-court settlement was later threatened, verbally abused and manhandled by the police officers.

“The officers also attacked another staff, who tried to intervene. They confiscated Ibangah’s phone and those belonging to her colleagues who were trying to document the incident”, the source disclosed.

“Ibangah was eventually taken to the police station where the same officers allegedly intimidated her and forced her to call the victim and ask her to come to the station. She later passed out after complaining about difficulties breathing.

A statement issued by WACOL states that she was taken to a hospital about 20 minutes later by a lawyer, who was at the police station in his private vehicle accompanied by 2 police officers.  

“The victim insisted she wanted to follow through with the case, and I reinforced and communicated this to the officers during each of their numerous phone calls,” Ibanga said.

 “I felt terrible; angry and disgusted with the way the police officers carried on, but even as I was dragged and beaten, my heart was reaching out to the victim. She trusted the system. She had a little faith in the system, and they threw that faith away in the trash,” she disclosed.

The assault on the female lawyer has prompted nationwide protest with WACOL leading its members to a protest march to the headquarters of the Nigerian police, Abuja, on Thursday. The group called for a probe of the invasion of its Enugu office and assault on the lawyer. Armed with placards of various inscriptions, the protesters, led by the Founder and Executive Director of WACOL, Prof Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, described the crackdown which led to the beating of one of its lawyers to coma as a heinous, unwarranted and baffling act of terrorism.

During the protest, the group urged the authorities to ensure the safety of the rape victim and activists supporting her, create an independent investigation, and ensure accountability for police conduct. They are also calling for a full investigation into how the initial rape report was handled.

“Police have a duty to protect women and girls, who report rape to them with investigations that are timely, unbiased, transparent, and conclusive.

“To do anything less is to send a message that justice is not important for victims of sexual violence,” Ewang said. 

Apart from WAOL, several Nigerian human rights groups have condemned police handling of the case. In a statement issued on February 1, the Nigerian Bar Association called on the police inspector general and the Police Service Commission to “investigate the rogue behavior by the police and bring all those involved to book.”

The Enugu State Police Command, in a statement issued on the same day, promised to investigate the incident and announced that a commission of inquiry would be established to be led by a serving member of the police force.

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