The recently launched National Sex Offender Register in Nigeria is a welcome development, considering the fact that ‘one in four women is sexually abused in the country and worse still, before they attain the age of 18,’ as extrapolated from UNICEF. Even at that, this statistics seems a mere tip of the iceberg, as we, as a people, have not been good at keeping accurate records of sex crimes and their heinous criminals who should be named and shamed.
In the United Kingdom, Sex Offenders Register contains the details of anyone convicted, cautioned or released from prison for sexual offences. As at last year, 2018, about 60,000 sex offenders were registered. They are made to feel the full weight of the law and are legally required to register with the police within three days of their conviction, or release from prison; and must continue to do so, on an annual basis. Should they default or defect, they are sent to jail straight away.
Of importance, too, is the Sarah’s Law, named after eight-year-old Sarah Payne, who was abducted and then murdered by sex offenders. This law allows UK parents to find out if a child sex offender lives in their area. More so, if someone on the Register wants to start a new relationship, there are certain conditions that must be met, these conditions becoming more stringent if any of the lovebirds are coming into the relationship with children.
Now to my beloved country: This new measure is a positive step in the right direction, however, keeping an overstocked database of those convicted of sex crimes is one thing and prosecuting these criminals, another. It has been established by the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF, that majority of cases involving sexual abuse in the country are not prosecuted, thereby, giving the heartless perpetrators a free rein to intensify their atrocious acts. Now is the time to put our money where our mouth is. We must ensure that we keep a clean slate of the past and get our country’s ever-growing sex offenders steamrolled over anytime they go on rampage violating the rights of our young girls. In addition, where these criminals are to be sent to jail as a deterrent, that punishment should serve squarely as their just deserts rather than be given a cozied, comfortable or stress-free incarceration because they are acquainted to the prosecuting judge or able to navigate the barefaced lacunae bedeviling our criminal justice system.
It is also high time we took sex violence serious and rewrite or abrogate certain sections of our Penal Codes which covertly encourage rape, spousal abuse, and sex violence. Take, for instance, Section 282(2) of our penal code, where it is spelt out inter alia, that sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not raped if she has attained puberty. This provision is to me, defective and in fact, ostensibly allows for the defiling of teenage girls, as the honourable drafters of the Code simply ignores the age of puberty, usually, 14; and rather, concentrates on the all-encompassing banner of ‘wife.’
Also check out the poisonous fangs of the Northern Nigeria Penal Code, Section 55(1) (d), which provides that nothing is an offence which is done by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife…where the drafters did not specify which ‘offence’ needs correction nor did they care a hoot about what is ‘correction’ and in what manner or fashion can it be gauged. Our drafters goofed and they know it. Even, the Vagrancy Law which has for close to a decade seized from being in operation in the country is still being used by morally-bankrupt and skirt-sniffing law enforcement officers to railroad innocent girls to jail for ‘wandering,’ if they fail to ‘play ball’ or surrender their bodies for rape.
The nitty-gritty here is that while the newly launched Sex Offenders Register is a desideratum albeit arriving belatedly considering the excruciating pains our young girls had been subjected to over the years, there should be a rewording of these Codes which, in their harshness, could drive our numerous teenage girls and baby-wives onto the streets and into the trap nets of these evil and conscienceless sex offenders. And while this register will contain the names of all those prosecuted for sexual violence since 2015 as already hinted, we should all support it wholeheartedly. It will be preposterous and clearly beyond the realms of the ridiculous for anyone to begin to argue about the concept of Retroactive Law, in that the Register had not been in operation in 2015 when these people committed the sexual offence. If we resort to this self-defeating argument, our efforts will then be tantamount to treating a terminal cancer with penicillin. This is the time for Nigeria to dazzle and not fizzle out in the face of our sisters and daughters being held by the jugular by unscrupulous sex offenders. Our lawmakers must show by deeds, that the issue of women’s rights is pursued with vigour. It must transcend being a mere hoary chestnut mouthed by insincere propagandists into something positive that we will all be proud of.
Finally, while I applaud the newly-introduced Sex Offender Register, methinks there should be no garland yet for Sadiya Farouq, Nigeria’s Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, as we have just initiated our first step. Will this lofty idea succeed or will it falter and eventually dwindle like a pack of cards?
We are watching.
Martins Agbonlahor is a trained lawyer and author of Killing Them Softly: The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Nigeria. He lives in Manchester, United Kingdom.