A law group and non-governmental organisation, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), has called for the immediate release of Private Hannah Sofiat Akinlabi, a female soldier who accepted a marriage proposal from a male corps member at the National Youth Service Corps Orientation Camp in Yikpata, Kwara State.
Sofiat was detained after video clips of her being proposed to by a male corps member at the NYSC orientation camp in Yikpata, Kwara State, went viral on social media.
The Director of Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, had said the female officer violated military laws by getting involved in a public display of amorous relationship with a paramilitary trainee – a corps member.
Reacting in a letter addressed to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya, the group argued that contrary to the claims of the army for her detention, Sofiat had not contravened the regulation on the restriction of marriage, stating that she had only received a marriage proposal.
Also, it judged that the restriction of female military personnel from contracting any marriage for three years upon enlistment which does not apply to male military personnel is not only illegal but also unconstitutional.
The group attached pictures of male soldiers who also showed a public display of affection with their spouse but had not been penalised adding that the threat to sanction Private Sofiyat was discriminatory.
WELA, in the letter signed by the chairperson, Funmi Falana, urged that the detained female soldier be released immediately and her decision to marry the male youth corps member be respected as both of them were entitled to freedom of association guaranteed by Sect 40 of the 1999 Constitution.
The letter reads, “In justifying the detention of Private Sofiyat Akinlabi who was arrested at the National Youth Service Corps Camp at Ilorin, Kwara State last week, the Director of Army, Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu accused her of getting involved in a public display of amorous relationship with a male youth corps member and that she failed to serve for three years before getting married.
“Since Private Sofiyat Akinlabi was reported to have accepted the marriage proposal from a male youth corps member she has not contravened the regulation on the restriction of marriage for three years. The restriction of female military personnel from contracting any marriage for three years upon enlistment which is not applicable to male military personnel is illegal and unconstitutional. In the case of Women Empowerment and Legal Aid v. Attorney-General of the Federation (2015) 1 NHRLR (PT 1) 57 the Federal High Court held inter alia:
“In the instant case, the discrimination is not as to the fact that women were not recruited into the Police Force but that they were recruited and subjected to some restrictions and disabilities as in Regulation 124 which their male counterparts are not subject to. The one under focus in the Regulation 124 is the requirement that a woman police officer cannot marry until a written application is made to the Commission of Police, and the Commissioner not only approves request to marry but must approve the choice of the man to be married. This with all respect is bizarre. Any Law or Regulation that makes or attempts to make the Commissioner for Police a plenary Guardian or a Guardian Angel to make or approve suitors for women police officers is not only unlawful, it is repulsive to the right of the woman police officer as a human being to make her own self-choice of suitors without the intervention of the State machineries.
“The most fundamental issue is if this is the police laid down for the police, does it apply to the men folk? It is not. So it is only issued to women police officers because of their gender as women and it is very much unconstitutional.”
“In view of the fact that male soldiers have not been penalised for involving themselves in a public display of amorous relationship in full military uniform, the threat to sanction Private Sofiyat Akinlabi is discriminatory.
“Some of the photographs of male soldiers involved in a public display of amorous relationship are attached. In view of the foregoing, we urge you to use your good offices to order the release of Private Sofiyat Akinlabie from further custody. Furthermore, her decision to marry the male youth corps member should be respected as both of them are entitled to freedom of association guaranteed by Sect 40 of the Constitution.
“While wishing you compliments of the season, please accept the assurances of our professional regards and esteem.”