A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has threatened to go to court if the controversial Sexual Offences Bill is passed into law.
In a letter addressed to Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, on Sunday, Mr. Falana accused members of the 7th National Assembly of not paying attention to the provisions of the bill.
“Having passed the Bill, the Senate cannot plead non est factum in the circumstance. It has to bear full responsibility for the legislative negligence,” Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, stated in the letter co-written with his wife, Funmi.
Messrs. Falana and Soyinka raise eyebrows on the age limit set for potential victims by the bill. The bill stipulates a life imprisonment for any individual found guilty of rape or sexual intercourse with children under 11 years; 10 years for incest; 10 years for child pornography or a fine of N2 million; and 14 years for sexual abuse, among others. With the provision, the bill appears to stipulate those incidents will not be considered crimes if the victims are older than 11; with Mr. Falana saying those age limits were inserted wrongly into the original bill.
“But since the obnoxious provision was illegally inserted by the Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters without approval, the Senate ought to reverse itself and amend the relevant provisions of the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015. Our Law firm has made a request to that effect.
“Finally, if the Bill is eventually passed into law with its obnoxious provisions we shall not hesitate to pray the Federal High Court to strike it down in view of Article 18(3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 which has imposed a duty on the Government of Nigeria to ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child, as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.”
Mr. Soyinka had, on Friday, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold his assent to the bill (which is also known as the anti-rape bill) passed by the last National Assembly. According to Mr. Soyinka, a nation should not be founded on the sexual exploitation of the fragile and innocent.
“President Buhari – and here I make my first imposition on his presidency – should never place his assent on such a nefarious distraction,” Mr. Soyinka had said.
“Its implications doom the victim to afflictions that churn the stomach even to think of the human toll. Perhaps those legislators think that vaginal fistula is something thought up by arm-chair critics with nothing better to occupy their minds. No matter, let those who profess a genuine concern declare their stand on this.”
The Sexual Offences Bill, 2015, was among the 46 bills passed by the 7th Senate in a last minute flurry of activities last week.
In his letter, Mr. Falana said that the Bill had not been forwarded to the president for his assent as it had not been passed by the House of Representatives.
“However, it would be recalled that Senator Chris Anyanwu who sponsored the Sexual Offences Bill had justified the urgent need to pass it to save our girls and women from sexual exploitation and molestation,” said Mr. Falana.
“When the Bill was unanimously passed for a second reading by the Senate on November 21, 2013, it sought to prescribe a penalty of life imprisonment for the offence of defilement of children less than 18 years of age.
“It also provided for compulsory documentation, supervision of sexual offenders and medical treatment for rape victims while it strengthened the weak protection offered victims and witnesses in trials for sexual offences.”
The minimum age of 18 years stated in the original Bill was in line with the provisions of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003, according to Mr. Soyinka, and the Child’s Rights Convention of the United Nations which had been ratified by Nigeria.
The Bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters for further legislative work.
It was that Committee that illegally removed the age of 18 years and replaced it with 11 years, said Mr. Falana.
“The inserted clause is inconsistent with Section 29(4)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution which provides that ‘full age’ means the age of 18 years and above.”