Home My view Nigeria and its feeble laws against sex offenders, By Olabisi Deji-Folutile

Nigeria and its feeble laws against sex offenders, By Olabisi Deji-Folutile

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When cows compete with students for space in ivory tower
Bisi Deji-Folutile

OLABISI DEJI-FOLUTILE, in her column, FRANK TALK, writes on how feeble the laws against sex offenders are in Nigeria.

Kenyan authorities last week came up with a policy to tackle the growing incidence of teenage pregnancy in the East African country. Under the new guideline, pregnant pupils must reveal the identities of those responsible for their pregnancies to their head teachers. It doesn’t matter whether sexual activity is consensual or through rape.  If the boyfriend is a teenager, the school enrols him for counselling and pays for the service.  But if the perpetrator is an adult, the school administration must inform the police and the Children’s Department for legal action.

Any adult that commits penetration of a child below 17 years is charged with defilement and must stand trial according to the Kenyan Sexual Offences Act.  Anyone convicted of defiling any child below 11 years, gets life imprisonment while a person convicted of defiling a child between the ages of 12 and 15 years gets at least 20 years jail term. Defilement of a child between the ages of 16 and 18 attracts a prison term of not less than 15 years.

The new policy also mandates schools to readmit pregnant girls within six months after giving birth or at the beginning of a new school calendar year.   These girls are also free to get a transfer to other schools to avoid any form of discrimination against them.

Sexual assault is said to be a major problem in Kenya, resulting in huge drop-out rate for girls.  Just as it happens in Nigeria, Kenyan adults, including teachers, rape minors at will. In fact, cases of teachers raping children are so prevalent in the country, such that not less than 1,000 teachers have been sacked in the last eight years, for having sexual relations with their students. This figure is from the Kenyan Teachers Service Commission.

But as bad as the situation is, one thing we can give Kenya credit for is that it has at least refused to be an ostrich on the grievous issue of sexual assaults of its minors. With this new policy, it has sent a strong signal to irresponsible adults hiding under culture and using other innocuous excuses to perpetrate evil that it will no longer be business as usual.

That is the difference between Kenya and Nigeria.  While Kenya is willing to deal with paedophiles, our own leaders are exploiting all sorts of religious sentiments to pursue their satanic personal agenda and cover up their moral bankruptcy. Some of us can still remember how a former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sani Yerima, claimed to be implementing Sharia, and at the end of the day, married an underage child, using Sharia law to justify his action.

For crying out loud, why should any state government in this age and time, refuse to domesticate the Child Rights Act – an offshoot of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child? The Act simply prohibits child marriage; seeks better welfare for children; and supports compulsory education for every child, among other progressive provisions.

But, sadly 12 states have refused to have anything to do with the act since the Nigerian government adopted the principles of the Convention as the Child Rights Act  in 2003. Unfortunately, these states, including Bauchi, Yobe, Sokoto, Adamawa, Borno, Zamfara, Gombe, Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa and Kano, are hinging their refusal on cultural and religious practices. Expectedly, they celebrate child brides. Little wonder, they are the worst- hit in terms of school enrolment, drop-out rates, in addition to being at the bottom of the scale, in national external exams.

Today, Nigeria is home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, all thanks to our insincere leaders. UNICEF statistics indicates that about 23 million girls and women are married in childhood on the continent.  This number, according to projections, is likely to double in a few years’ time, except concrete efforts are made to halt the trend.

Up till now, Section 29 (sub section 4{6}) of the 1999 Constitution, is still being exploited to coerce underage girls into marriage. The case of Eze Oriru, the girl abducted from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, to Kano in 2015, is still fresh in our minds. Despite all the hue and cry about the issue, nothing came out of it.

Sections 358/359 of the Nigerian Criminal Code prescribe life imprisonment for rape; 14 years jail term for attempted rape; and life sentence for defilement of a child aged 11 years or between 12 and 15 years.   Despite these provisions, rape and defilement cases have continued to increase, a sign that these legal provisions are more or less there for decoration. Or how does one explain the case of Rev. Asateru Gabriel recently convicted of raping a seven-year-old child in Ekiti State, getting a five-year jail term in spite of the provision of a life jail for the offence in our penal code?

The rate of enforcement of laws against sexual abuse in this country is abysmally low. In many cases, suspects escape prosecution and when prosecuted, they escape justice.  In Kano, only 40 rape suspects out of 100 before the courts in 2013 were convicted.

If the laws against sexual assaults in Nigeria are executed to the letter, I doubt if there would still be space in our prisons to accommodate sex offenders. Many men’s addresses would have long changed to Gashua, Kirikiri and Kuje Prisons, since a lot of them would probably be spending their lifetime in jail. I can imagine the prison authorities setting aside special rooms for clerics, other sections for some useless fathers, separate wards for the so-called satanic uncles, cousins and the rest of them, while all the teachers and lecturers teaching nonsense would not be left out. The evil politicians are likely to have their own special lounges, as same goes for all randy bosses and chief executive officers that won’t allow their subordinates to breathe.

If the laws against sexual  abuse in this country are really what they are meant to be, there won’t be any need for the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, to be naming and shaming sex offenders. Nobody would have to plead with any boss or lecturer not to sexually harass their subordinates and students. Every rapist would be operating with the understanding that the prison yard might be their final abode.

Unfortunately, these are mere wishes.  Our laws on sexual harassment are so lame that even lawyers that are legally empowered to fight for the ordinary citizens are also victims of sexual assaults, and worst still, they are totally helpless as they can’t do anything about their plight. Just last Tuesday, the Nigerian Bar Association decried sexual harassment and exploitation of its female members by their senior colleagues. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Legal Practices, Mrs. Mia Essien, was reported as saying that bullying and sexual harassment were prevalent in the legal community.

That’s not all.  Even the police that are supposed to prosecute sex offenders are themselves culprits.  Just on Tuesday, a female student of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, was reportedly assaulted by some policemen for allegedly refusing to have sex with them. This is not a one-off thing. The military is still trying some of its men for committing same offence at a checkpoint recently. Imagine a nation where lawyers are not safe while policemen and other security agents  are culpable in rape cases.  Could there be a better proof that our laws on sexual assaults are merely feeble? They are just laws that bark but lack the ability to bite.

*Olabisi Deji-Folutile is a member of the Nigeria Guild of Editors. Email bisideji@yahoo.co.uk

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