16Days: Prosecuting Rape in Nigeria (II) Expanding the Legal Boundaries

Since the ABSU Rape Video there have been many calls for new rape legislation and harsher penalties. Yet in Nigeria rape is a crime punishable with a maximum life sentence already and is clearly defined in our statutes.  When a colleague asked me how we can use litigation to get justice for rape victims like Ms. X in the video afore mentioned I did a little research. While overall the prospects for successful prosecution remain low I was pleased to discover that the Supreme court recently clarified the law on a very contentious issue about corroboration of a victims evidence.

In 1989 a SC decision held that it was a principle of law that an accused cannot be convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of the victim and accuser leading to confusion as to what was corroboration. In some cases it was interpreted to mean that there had to be another witness to the offence.

In Ogunbayo v. the State (2011) decided in March this year Fabiyi JSC in his supporting judgment upheld the Supreme Court ruling in Iko v. The State  (2001) that had reversed the 1989 decision and held  that it was a principle not a law and that the trial court need only caution itself before convicting on uncorroborated evidence of a rape victim. Fabiyi JSC noted that ‘there is nothing in law to prevent the court from convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of the complainant’.

He lamented that the decision had removed from victims of rape the protection of  s. 179 of the Evidence Act which specifically prohibits the mandatory imposition of  the number of witnesses to prove a crime. A month earlier the SC in Ndewenu Posu & Oke Segun v. The State  (2011) held that medical reports, clothing from the day of the incident and other evidence of the particular circumstances were acceptable corroboration of the victim’s allegations.

The two latest decisions of the SC show an expansion and growth in the law of prosecuting rape. It is not unreasonable to expect that they shall reverse the incomprehensible decision of the SC in 2002 in the Idowu Case where there was what I think is a dangerous misinterpretation of mens rea to reduce a rape/ murder conviction for manslaughter at their earliest opportunity.

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