This moving report on sexually harassed policewomen was culled from Punch. You won’t believe the horrors you are about to read.
In 2002, after 35 years of service, she retired as a deputy superintendent from the Nigeria Police Force, while her squad mates did as superintendents, assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners. Wine glasses were raised up on the day they retired, all laughing and dancing to have served in the Force and retired alive, and not killed while on the job. Some others were not that lucky. Nonetheless, she wasn’t happy and maybe she still isn’t.
Thirteen years are gone now since her retirement, but anytime she remembers the treatments meted out to her by her male bosses, the agony returns. But for the passion she had for the job, she would have long quit, but she stood up against them, fought them with everything at her disposal – for the most years she spent in the Force.
They were bent on frustrating her – and they succeeded, at least to some extent.
First, her promotion through the ranks was always delayed; second, her name was dropped at least twice from the inspectorate and assistant superintendent of police calls – promotional training courses for members of the Force; and finally, she was always asked to perform duties that were below her capability and strength.
Whether her female colleagues succumbed to the threats of their senior male colleagues for them to have retired at higher levels in the Force than her, she couldn’t tell.
“What I know is that I kept myself pure, I never compromised,” she looked in the eyes of our correspondent and managed to flash a brief smile.
Clara – not her real name – joined the Nigeria Police Force when she was around 25. The Enugu State indigene, who pleaded not to be named for fear of being a target of attack, was young, pretty, slim, with a chocolate skin colour and a great dress sense. Unknown to her, these qualities endeared her to many of her male bosses.
“I was getting too much attention from almost every senior male officer, and before I knew what was happening, I was being asked out by most of them. It took a while for me to know I was going to pay dearly for turning down their proposals,” she said.
She joined as a recruit, a spinster at that time, and immediately, she became a victim of sexual harassment. To make matters worse, she didn’t marry a policeman, which she said could have helped in stopping the harassment, but she chose to marry someone else, her true lover.
“It was my passion while growing up to be a police officer. I just loved anyone in uniform. Thankfully, I had the requirements to join, so I applied and it was successful. I joined as a recruit at that time. But it wasn’t funny. I started becoming an object of attraction from my male bosses, which I really didn’t like. But it wasn’t mere attraction; they wanted to sleep with me. They asked me out many times, tried to lure me through gifts and promises of speedy promotion. I am glad to say it anywhere that I turned them down.
“To make it worse, I didn’t marry a member of the Force. Another man owned my heart. Probably if I had married a member of the Force – at least one of those I got proposals from – it would have been easier. The harassment wouldn’t have been as tough as I experienced.
It wasn’t long before I realised I was going to pay for not giving in to them. Many times I was posted to places like the police cooperative, where my skills and knowledge were rendered useless. I had the physique and the intellect to be at better posts, even in the field. But they did not allow me to be at such posts. At least twice they removed my name from the lists of officers to go and study abroad. And to my surprise, they made it obvious to me that they were punishing me for refusing to have sex with them.”
These treatments ultimately led to her depression, but she found a way around it to still get on, without letting it affect her work.
“When it was becoming too obvious that I was suffering from depression, my husband asked me what was happening and I told him, but he kept on encouraging me. Of course, he couldn’t have done anything to stop them if he wanted me to stay in the Force,” she added.
“He reminded me of the passion I had for the job and that kept me on. So at a point in time, after spending about 10 years in the
Force, I got used to the threats and developed a stronger mind. My squad mates all left me behind because I was the only one that I knew whose promotion was delayed. Today, I’m a victor; I fought and I won. I didn’t let them determine what happened to me.”
Maybe she retired as a fulfilled police officer, but not as a happy one – an assumption based on her expression when she spoke with Saturday PUNCH in her Lagos residence on a cold evening past weekend.
Caught between two options
Clara is retired now, but there are presently other female police officers who are being sexually harassed by their male bosses; some of them spoke to our correspondent on the issue on the condition of anonymity.
They want to keep quiet – and say nothing about what they are passing through, especially if they want to keep their jobs. They cannot write petitions; they are scared – they said even if they do, the petitions might eventually land on their bosses’ tables, which could lead to an end of their careers ultimately. They don’t know whether they would be believed even if they complain. Hence, they are living with it.
Some weeks ago, our correspondent approached two policewomen, who retired in their booth after spending some time controlling the traffic along the Lagos-Ikorodu Expressway, to seek their thoughts on the issue. At first, they looked confused, but after being assured that their identities were never going to be disclosed, they caved in, and gave Saturday PUNCH an address where they could talk about it.
On the agreed day and time, they showed up in muftis.
“You can help us write about it, but don’t ever quote us, don’t show our faces. Don’t disclose where we live or our duty posts,” one of the two instructed. They agreed that Saturday PUNCH could take their pictures only if it would not implicate them in any way.
Deal was done.
One of them, a dark-skinned woman, probably in her late 30s, told our correspondent that if she knew another job that was free of sexual harassment from male colleagues and bosses, she would opt for it.
“But it is difficult getting such. Getting this one was not easy in the first place, not to talk of looking for another one,” she said.
When she was recruited into the Force a few years ago, she said she had no idea that apart from having the right skills, her fate on the job would depend on whether she could sleep with senior male officers. She said,
“I’ve been asked out several times by my bosses; they know I’m married, yet they still want to sleep with me. This is not something so strange to me because even before I joined the Force, it happened. Men like to ask ladies out whether they are married or not; they just don’t care.
Unfortunately, I cannot do it. I am a faithful Christian and no matter the threat, I will never let them have their way. It’s not normal, I suppose.
“The only challenge I’m having right now is that my husband is not here in Lagos, so many of them don’t believe I am married. They usually ask me to produce my husband; meanwhile, I am not the type who wears wedding ring every time. I have told a senior female colleague about this many times, seeking advice on what to do, but it’s like there is nothing to do than to either maintain my stand or compromise.
She told me if I compromise, it would help my career, but if I don’t, I will be persecuted. I have chosen the latter. I can never sell my body to climb the ladder of any career in life, no matter how juicy the offer is. When you are here, you cannot write petition against any boss like that, except if one is asking for trouble. A boss will always be a boss. When the matter goes up, it will still come down and one will be hurt more. That’s what this is all about. I think it happens in most organisations.”
Yes, it does happen in many organisations in the world, but that doesn’t make it right. A psychologist, Mrs. Moyo Owolabi, said depression and work stress are often some of the by-products of sexual harassment.
“Such female officers need counselling and they should go for it. It is sickening that you have a job you have passion for, but instead of enjoying it, you are being harassed. It leads to depression, which leads to low productivity. It is everywhere, but I hope the Nigeria Police does something about this quickly,” she said.
The other victim, who volunteered to speak to our correspondent, said she was already looking for another job, in the absence of which she would start a business, so as to escape the trauma.
“I cannot say I’m enjoying this anymore. If you cannot do what they want, you are oppressed. If I get another job today, I’ll quit,” she affirmed.
Perpetrators go unpunished
In a recent report by The PUNCH, it was found out that cases of sexual harassment of policewomen by their superior officers are usually not investigated or addressed by the police authorities.
According to the report, the phenomenon is rampant at the divisional level, and is frequently perpetrated by Divisional Police Officers and Divisional Crime Officers against their female subordinates.
However, investigations showed that a huge number of petitions against DPOs and DCOs submitted to the Police Service Commission by the rank and file have been largely unattended to by the commission.
An official, who spoke on the issue on the condition of anonymity, explained that the police authorities do not bother to investigate allegations of sexual harassment. He said many of such petitions by female complainants had ended up in the dustbins. He said,
“There are so many cases of sexual harassment, especially at the divisional police level; we have cases of DPOs forcing themselves on junior female officers and if such a lady refuses, she would be oppressed.
If she agrees to the DPO’s sexual advances, the DCO also would demand for sexual gratification, but if she refuses, she would be oppressed or punished and if she petitions the commission, the allegation would not be investigated and the errant officer would not be queried or punished.”
In The PUNCH report, the Police Service Commission, an arm responsible for constituting actions against perpetrators, complained that there were no funds to carry out its operations and maintain discipline in the Force.
It was also learned that the PSC does not have the capacity to probe allegations of misconduct against police officers, but relies on the police to probe themselves.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Emmanuel Ojukwu, would not agree that policewomen are being harassed by senior male officers. He said he had not heard of such cases in the police, but promised to sanction any perpetrator of the act.
“Nigeria Police is concerned about the welfare of its officers. We don’t tolerate oppressive conduct in the Nigeria police, even if the petition is against a CP it would be investigated by the X-squad or his superior officer,” he maintained.