Following the recent arrests of women in Abuja clubs, lawyers across Nigeria have shed light on the position of the law on the raids and the effect on nightlife in the federal capital city.
Often, officials have labelled the arrested women as prostitutes, a factor they have used to justify the arrests.
A few weeks ago, Premium Times reported how some officials of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) raided a popular night club, Caramelo, and arrested 34 female nude dancers.
Two weeks after, another set of 70 women was arrested from different night clubs in Abuja and detained at Utako police station.
The acting police spokesperson in Abuja, Danjuma Tanimu, said the women were arrested for “hanging around nightclubs” in Abuja.
Some of the women were later released on bail while 32 others were charged to a mobile court.
Out of the 32 women presented before the court, 27 were convicted and sentenced to one month in prison for prostitution, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
However, some of the women accused police officers of raping them in exchange for their freedom. The police have pledged to investigate the allegations.
The Public Relations Officer of the Social Development Secretariat of the FCTA, Sunday Shaka, later told PREMIUM TIMES that clubbing is not illegal in Abuja.
Mr Shaka, however, defended the arrest of the women, accusing some of them of dressing “provocatively.”
The constant raids and arrests at nightclubs have led many residents of the city to question what is legal or illegal in the Nigerian capital, especially as many of the arrested women have been accused of prostitution.
What the law says about prostitution
An Abuja-based lawyer, Oyero Ezekiel said no law directly bans prostitution in Nigeria.
“This is an issue that has been raging for some time now. There’s actually no law that directly bans prostitution as the case may be in Nigeria.
“However, it is important to note that the Criminal Code criminalises “procuring and other related offences,” which although may have a slight affiliation to prostitution, are not one and the same.
“A careful perusal shows the following sections of the Criminal Code (sections 223, 224 and 225A) only outlaw procuring, defilement by threat and administration of drugs on girls and women,” Mr Ezekiel said
Joseph Felix, a Jos-based lawyer, also said there is no general law against prostitution in Nigeria.
However, he said, “Issues like prostitution, indecent dressing and sexual assaults do not necessarily need a law to say they are prohibited.
“When they become prevalent, what the government does is to create a form of indictable offence. You may not try them for prostitution but you may try them for illegal assembly,” he said.
Another lawyer, Johnson Omede, said while there is no place in the Constitution that prohibits prostitution, there are other laws that the constitution has empowered that provided for the crime.
“There is also the Penal Code Act of FCT, 1990 that provides against prostitution. It defines prostitutes as vagabonds. And whoever is convicted, has been found guilty of this offence, will be imprisoned for one month or a fine or both,” he said.
Francis Uchenobarim, a lawyer, agreed with Mr Omede. He said: “There is a section of the penal code that prohibits prostitution.
“In as much as the penal code has made these provisions, the Constitution is still clear on the right to freely associate with anybody.
“That is Right to Freedom of Association as contained in the Constitution. If we are to follow this Constitution, that means as a Nigerian, you are free to meet with whoever you want to meet with.
“Therefore, the Penal Code that penalises people meeting with prostitutes or prostitutes meeting with other people might fail if tested in the court,” he said
Prostitution and the law
No particular part of the Constitution prohibits prostitution in Nigeria.
However, sections 223 of the Criminal Code states that: “Any person who procures a girl or woman who is under the age of eighteen years to have unlawful carnal connection with any other person or persons, either in Nigeria or elsewhere;
“Or procures a woman or girl to become a common prostitute, either in Nigeria, or elsewhere;
“Or procures a woman or girl to leave Nigeria with intent that she may become an inmate of a brothel elsewhere;
“Or procures a woman or girl to leave her usual place of abode in Nigeria, with intent that she may, for the purposes of prostitution, become an inmate of a brothel, either in Nigeria or elsewhere; is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.
“A person cannot be convicted of any of the offences defined in this section upon the uncorroborated testimony of one witness.”
The offender may be arrested without a warrant.
FCT Penal Code Act criminalises prostitution, solicitation
Chapter 532 of the Penal Code Act, Federal Capital of Abuja, 1990 criminalises prostitution and solicitation of prostitutes.
The law states that:
“An ‘Idle person’ shall include a common prostitute behaving in a disorderly or indecent manner in a public place or persistently importuning or soliciting persons for the purpose of prostitution.
“The term vagabond shall include any male person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earning of a prostitute or in any public place solicits or importunes for immoral purposes; and
“Whoever is convicted as a vagabond shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to four hundred and fifty naira or both.”
However, while the Abuja law criminalises prostitution and solicitation of prostitutes, no men have been arrested for either prostitution or solicitation.
The Minister of FCT, Mohammed Bello, could not be reached for his comments at the time of filing this report.
His spokesperson, Mr Abubakar requested a letter from the organisation before he would respond to questions.
Prostitution Is A Crime – Police Chief
An Assistant Commissioner of Police, Abayomi Shogunle, however, said prostitution is a crime under the law.
He also said prostitution is a sin under the two main religions practised by residents of the Federal Capital Territory.
He wrote on his Twitter page @YomiShogunle “Those making noise on the clampdown on prostitutes in #Abuja; •Prostitution is a crime under the law •P is a sin under the 2 main religions of FCT residents •Medicine says P is spreading HIV & STD, P is lifeline of violent criminals, P don’t pay tax, Nigeria culture frowns at P.”