*NEW PUNISHMENT FOR RAPE IN NIGERIA?* Daily Law Tips (Tip 594) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LLM. ACIArb(UK)

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Change is constant and law must grow with society. Definition of rape as well as punishment for rape has changed since 2015. Prior to 2015, rape was exclusively defined and punished under the Criminal Code (for states in southern part of Nigeria), Penal Code (for states in northern part of Nigeria) and the Child’s Right Act of 2003 (where there is a child victim).

Before 2015, rape was generally defined as an act of sexual intercourse, wherein a male knowingly penetrates a female’s vagina that is not his wife’s with his penis, without the consent of the penetrated female or with her consent that was obtained by fraud, force, threat, intimidation, deceit or impersonation. In Criminal Code, rape is punishable with life imprisonment with or without caning while under the Penal Code, the punishment for rape is life imprisonment or lesser period with or without fine.

Going by the above definition of rape, in law courts, there cannot be rape between a couple (a husband cannot be said to have raped his wife even where the husband actually raped his wife and there is overwhelming evidence). At worse, husbands that raped their wives get charged with lesser offences, including indecent assault with mere maximum punishment of 3 years imprisonment.

Since 2015, the once exclusive definition and punishment of rape has changed owing to a new law enacted by the National Assembly, titled; the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015. Under this 2015 law, rape is an intentional penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of any person with any part of the body or anything and without the consent of the person being penetrated. By this new definition, there can be rape between a couple (husband and wife). Also, boys and men can be victims of rape while rape can be performed with objects.

By the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, the minimum punishment for rape is 12 years imprisonment without fine and the maximum punishment is life imprisonment. However, where an offender is less than 14 years old his maximum punishment is 14 years imprisonment and where there is group/gang rape, the offenders are jointly liable to a minimum of 20 years imprisonment. Also, names of sexual offenders are to be kept in a register and made public. Victims of rape are entitled to compensation as the court deems fit.

The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 operates only in Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Some other states in Nigeria, have adopted or enacted similar laws, including Anambra State, Ebonyi State and Oyo State while more states are being urged to genuinely join this fight against rape and sexual abuse. States that are yet to enact state equivalents of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 are still bound by the limiting shackles of Penal Code in northern Nigeria and Criminal Code in southern Nigeria.

Man is naturally selfish and people will not stop rape, child marriage or crime generally, because they care but will stop crimes for fear of law. Laws will not be known and obeyed after being enacted no matter how harsh the punishment therein may be, unless there is measurable constant awareness. So there is more to be done above and beyond enacting and amending laws. Legal Awareness must be prioritized having in mind the education gap in Nigeria. Legal awareness is the vision behind the free daily law tips (#DailyLawTips) and the free law platform/website (LearnNigerianLaws.com) of Sabi Law Foundation.

My authorities are:

1. Sections 1, 47 and 48 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 and other similar laws in states of the federation.

2. Sections 21, 22, 23, 31, 32, 277 and 278 of the Child’s Right Act, 2003 and other similar laws in states of the federation.

3. Sections 1, 6, 221, 218, 219, 222A, 353, 357, 358, 360, 361, 362 and 363 of Criminal Code Act, 1916.

4. Sections 218, 268, 272, 275, 281, 282, 283 and 285 of the Penal Code Act, 1960.

5. The Supreme Court’s judgment in the case (on how to prove rape) of NDEWENU POSU & ANOR v. THE STATE (2011) LPELR-1969(SC

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