Despite police reforms, romance between the Nigeria Police Force and gender discrimination continues

The latest victim of gender-based discrimination in the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is Corporal Olajide Omolola and she may not be the last, unless we raise enough ruckus to push for adherence to the repealed Police Act 2020.

Ms Omolola, a corporal attached to the Iye-Ekiti Division of the force in Ekiti State, was dismissed for contravening Section 127 of the old Police Act and Regulation which provides that an unmarried policewoman who gets pregnant shall be dismissed from the force. The same provision was not made for male officers who impregnate women out of wedlock.

This clear discrimination which is rooted in purity culture that sustains double standards of respectability for women and men was successfully tackled through the repeal of the Police Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in September 2020. It appears police officers are yet to receive the memo.

For the 52 years the old Act was in effect, women in the force were not only limited in the roles they are allowed to be enlisted into – clerical, telephone and orderly duties. Sadly, they were also left open to the violation of their fundamental human rights as codified in Section 42 of the 1999 constitution, Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Nigeria is a signatory to both the latter.

The 2020 repeal as signed by President Muhammadu Buhari did away with that discriminatory law and a host of other such laws. One of these was regulation 124 of the old Police Act that provided that “an unmarried woman seeking to get married must first apply for and get the approval of the Commissioner of Police for the State Police Command.

The discrimination of women in everyday life is a lived reality any Nigerian woman can attest to, but it takes a certain level of normalisation for this discriminatory culture to be reflected in the laws governing whatever arm of a country’s government. That normalisation too is not a strange concept to the women who know it as a lived reality, nor the men who benefit from this exclusion whether directly through access to openings left by unjustly fired women or indirectly through the casual assertion of the second class status of their male superiority.

“We are created different, talk about equality when you get pregnant and can’t do anything,” is a statement that many equality advocates have had thrown at them in an attempt to justify the unequal treatment of women and men. Time and again, however, women have proven – and they don’t need to, they are more than capable of competing on an equal playing field, often to greater success, with their male peers.

In response to an investigation by PUNCH, Regional Director for Ford Foundation and equality champion, Innocent Chukwuma said the case of Ms Omolala is one in a break in the chain of communication.

“That aspect of the law which is discriminatory against women has been repealed. However, the law has not been gazetted but it doesn’t mean it should not be upheld. Gazetting is a mere administrative process. It entails officially publishing and making it available to all stakeholders and government establishments. Until that is done, they are usually reluctant to uphold the law.”

It is bad enough that the law ever existed, to begin with, but to fall victim of an unjust law which no longer exists simply because of a failed administrative process is terrible indeed.

Hopefully, the NPF does the needful and reinstate Ms Omolola. This would go a long way in showing its commitment to making female officers feel at home in the force and proud in service to their fatherland.

It will definitely compensate her also, for the trauma that this public shaming fracas put her through.

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