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Rape and the provisions of the law in Nigeria

There has been an alarming increase in reports of rape cases across the country.  We have read of some horrific accounts of this heinous crime through various media channels in recent times.  A lot of times victims of this heinous crime don’t even report the incident to the appropriate authorities so their stories do not even make it to the newsroom. Many victims of rape for fear of stigmatisation and being blamed for their ordeal bear the pain of the crime committed against them, thereby leaving their assailants roaming free to perpetrate more crimes. It is indeed quite unfortunate that victims are sometimes blamed for being raped.

This article will attempt to highlight the legislations on rape in Nigeria, how effective they have been and suggest areas of improvements. The legislations on rape are as follows;

The Criminal Code Act

The Criminal Code Act (Criminal Code) is applicable in the southern states of the country. Each of the said states has its criminal. Section 357 of the Criminal Code defines rape this way:

Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act or in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape.

An attempt to commit rape   is also an offence under the Criminal Code and it is a felony, punishable with imprisonment for fourteen years, with or without caning. -Section 359 of the Criminal Code.

Section 358 of the Criminal Code provides imprisonment for life, with or without caning as punishment for rape. It is worthy to note that from the definition of rape in section 357 of the Criminal Code does not recognise men or boys as victims of rape. The Criminal Code doesn’t also recognise marital rape. The provisions of the Criminal Code indicate that rape can only be committed by persons of the male gender.

The Penal Code Act

The Penal Code Act (Penal Code) is applicable in the Northern states of Nigeria. Section 282 of the Penal Code provides that Rape   is said to occur where a man has sexual intercourse with a woman in any of the following circumstances:

(a)        against her will

(b)       without her consent

(c)        With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her in fear of death or hurt.

(d)       With her consent when the man knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married.

(e)        With or without her consent, when she is under fourteen years of age or of unsound mind.

The punishment for rape is fourteen years. The Penal Code doesn’t recognise men or boys as victims of rape. It also doesn’t recognise marital rape where the woman has attained the age of puberty and it is specifically stated in Section 282 (2). The provisions of the Penal Code indicate that rape can only be committed by persons of the male gender.

Section 283 of the Penal Code provides imprisonment for life or for any less term and or a fine punishment for rape.

Child Rights Act 2003

The Child Rights Act (CRA) is a Federal Law which was enacted to protect the rights of children. It has been domesticated in a number of states in Nigeria.  Section 31 (1) & (2) of the CRA provides that any person who shall have sexual intercourse with a child commits an offence of rape and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.  The CRA provides that it is immaterial that- (a) the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years; or (b) the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child. The CRA does not restrict victims of rape to the female gender. It also recognises that the offence of rape could be committed either by a man or woman.

Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015

The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition Act) 2015 (VAPP) prohibits all forms of violence against people in private and public life. It is applicable in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Section 1 (1) of the VAPP provides that a person commits the offence of rape if;

(a) He or she intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person with any other part of his body or anything else;

(b) The other person does not consent to the penetration; or

(c) The consent is obtained by force or means of threat or intimidation of any kind or by fear of harm or by means of false or fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act or the use of any substance or additive capable of taking away the will of such person or in the case of a married person by impersonating his or her spouse.

Section 1(2) provides life imprisonment as punishment for the offence. Where the offender is less than 14 years, the punishment is a maximum term of 14 years imprisonment. In other cases, a minimum of 12 years imprisonment is provided by the Act and for gang rape, the offenders are liable jointly to a minimum term of 20 years without an option of fine. The Act also recommends the award of appropriate compensation to the victim by the court.

Section 1(4) VAPP mandates that a register of sexual offenders should be maintained and accessible to the Public.

The provisions of VAPP with regards to rape are quite wide as it did not like other laws restrict its definition of rape to protect only females in relation to vaginal penetration. VAPP doesn’t restrict victims of rape to the female gender.  The VAPP recognises that sex goes beyond the use of the primary sexual organs and extends the scope to anus and mouth. It has been observed that before in Nigeria it was difficult to bring forceful anal or oral sex under the umbrella of rape as such was not part of our laws. The VAPP also indicates that penetration here need not only by the sex organ (penis) of the offender but by any part of his body or anything else. The Act, despite its laudable provisions has been criticised for not stipulating a minimum amount as compensation for rape so as well as the punishment prescribed for gang rape.

The question one may now ask is how effective the laws which pertain to rape have been over the years in securing convictions and serving as deterrents to offenders. It has been observed that prosecuting rape cases can be quite tough due to a myriad of factors ranging from stigma to the provisions of the law itself on the issue. Furthermore, information obtained from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) website indicates that there have been 65 rape convictions between 1973 and 2019 in Nigeria. This number, no doubt is insignificant considering the number of reported cases of rape in the country. There is a need for amendment of the laws on rape.

The VAPP can be termed the most progressive piece of legislation on rape in Nigeria considering its far-reaching provisions on the subject matter. Its provisions are quite laudable and there is an urgent need to amend the other laws touching on rape to mirror its provisions on the subject matter. States should also enact laws similar to the VAPP. A database of sexual offenders ought to be maintained in every state in Nigeria. The databases should be easily accessible and regularly updated. Maintaining such a database may likely prove difficult but if the narrative must be changed in Nigeria, things need to be done differently. A mindset reset is required. The culture of blaming and stigmatising rape victims should also be spoken against and stopped.



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