The Kaduna State Government recently passed a law that has become very controversial despite its seemingly good nature, which is aimed at curbing sexual offences, especially the raping of the girl-child.
This law has been greeted with mixed reactions over its appropriateness; while some believe that social reengineering, not draconian law, is the best way to fight the menace, others are of the opinion that the law must be brought heavily on sexoffenders. In recent times, there is hardly a day without any reported case of sexual violence in the media. This only means that there is either a rise in sexual violence in Nigeria or that many victims of rape are becoming more emboldened to report such crimes.
The Nigeria Police was said to have recorded over 1,000 cases of rape between January and now, among which about 300 occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown. While the new law in Kaduna provides that rapists in the state should undergo surgical castration, it also stipulates that those convicted of raping a child under the age of 14 may also face death penalty.
Men convicted of raping children under age 14 will have their testicles surgically removed, while women will have their fallopian tubes cut out. No doubt, the intention of the law is a welcome development, but its practice may not be timely. While giving kudos to the state governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, and the state assembly, for taking the bull by the horn, it is also important to stress that there must be extreme caution in the application of such laws.
It is generally agreed that there is an urgent need to curb the monster called rape, because it is a felony, and as such the perpetrators must be heavily punished, but doing so should be within the ambit of the national law and conventions that conform with international best practices. At 60 years of independence, the application of sanctions within the context of laws in Nigeria should be done with utmost civility.
The world over, death penalties are no longer fashionable as the clamour for the abolition of capital punishment has become an acceptable slogan among the international community. In the same vein, surgical castration may be antithetical to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees the right to dignified living, but it can also be argued that conviction has taken away all the rights of a rapist. But there must be a way out of the logjam.
There should be heavy sanctions that will deter the offenders because the scourge is growing at an alarming rate. How do we then reconcile the differences? We do not advocate that we jettison our local peculiarities, but it is our view that there is a need to have a second look at the law and also the convocation of best legal minds to find a middle way between the law and the internationally accepted best practices. Subject to the interpretation by the Court of Law, the Kaduna State Penal Code (Amendment) Law 2020 may have come in conflict with Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.”
It is common knowledge that when any law comes in contrast with the constitution, it becomes a nullity. It therefore presupposes that the new law in Kaduna may be in jeopardy. To show the magnitude of the menace, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had recently discussed rape at one of its weekly meetings, after which the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, restated the determination of the Federal Government to ensure enforcement of adequate laws to tackle the menace.
It is not enough to have laws in place like Kaduna has done; there is the need to domesticate the Sex Offenders Register in all the 36 states of the federation. This register would be periodically published to shame the offenders.
The register will give the country a database of those perpetrating the crime. There is a need to harmonise the Kaduna Law and the 1999 Constitution, which may lead to a national policy that will finally curb the menace of rape in Nigeria and also ensure that victims get the justice they deserve. While the argument goes on, Kaduna State Government, through its Ministry of Justice, must ensure that rape cases are tried without biases. And there is need for special courts, so that rape case won’t be competing with other cases for time, spaces and judges.
Governor El-Rufai and his team, rather than focusing on the punitive measures, should also look for ways to prevent the crime, and community policing and the education of the girlchild are easy ways out.
A community that is populated with educated females would easily be an avenue to spread the gospel against rape, while those effectively monitored by the police and other security agencies will have the crime drastically reduced. Kaduna State must harmonise its laws so as not to run into conflict with the constitution, and the nation must find a common ground of deterrence between our laws and the acceptable best practices. Nonetheless, El-Rufai and his team must be commended for kickstarting a national discourse on the appropriate policy and laws against the heinous crime.