Archive for the ‘Violence Against Women’ Category

Interim Child Custody Order Under Matrimonial Causes Act in Nigeria

November 22, 2016

Section 71 of the Matrimonial Causes Act is clear that the ‘courts shall regard the interests of the children as the paramount consideration when awarding custody of children in a matrimonial cause under the MCA.

This is supported by extensive case law.

The Supreme Court in WILLIAMS V WILLIAMS (1987) LPELR-8050 set out the principles on which custody is decided clearly;

“(1) Where in any proceedings before any court the custody or upbringing of a minor is in question, the court in deciding the question shall regard the welfare of the minor as the first and paramount consideration and shall not take into consideration whether from any other point of view the claim of the father in respect of such custody is superior to that of the mother or the claim of the mother is superior to that of the father.

In Nwosu v. Nwosu (2012) 8 NWLR Pt 1301 – the court of appeal further held –

On the right of parents over custody of children of a marriage

The Court held both parties have equal rights in matters of custody of the children. In other words a mother has equal rights with the father over the children. In the instant case the appellant had equal legal interest in the children of the marriage and a right to protect that legal interest.

On Equal Rights of parents over custody of the children of the marriage

In regard to custody or upbringing of a minor a mother shall have the same rights and authority as the law allows the father and the rights and authority of the mother and the father shall be equal and exercisable by either with out the other.

One of the questions that the court of appeal considered was whether or not the appellant (mother) had a right to take the children away from the matrimonial home before a formal order of custody made by a court of competent jurisdiction to determine the issue of custody.

The respondent (father) had asked an Owerri High Court to declare his wife did not have the right to remove the children from their school and relocate then elsewhere without a prior order of the court. The court of first instance sought to compel the mother to return the children till a determination of custody.

The mother appealed the judgement and her appeal was upheld. The court cited the previous Supreme Court ruling in Williams v. Williams (1987) that held both parents have the same right to custody of children pending a custody hearing.

“The law would be an ass indeed if a parent who has inherent legal interest in the children can’t do something to protect the children before the law can take its course” said Ogunwumiju JCA in his lead judgement in Nwosu v. Nwosu.

The court upheld a mother’s right to remove herself and her children from the matrimonial home in the event of  breakdown of the marriage, threat or fear violence and maintaining status quo ante bellum pending matrimonial proceedings.

Counsel for the respondent (father) went on to argue the children of the marriage were of ‘Igbo extraction’ and their father ‘rich and willing to have them around’. The court held that “the reasons given by the learned trial judge in arriving at the conclusion that the appellant (mother) had no legal right to take the children from the matrimonial home were unconstitutional”

“I have no hesitation in arriving at the conclusion that these declarations of the rights of the parents in relation to these children were based on a wrong premise which is that the rights of a very rich father are superior to the rights of the less affluent mother who is from a different tribe. There is discrimination on the basis of tribe, sex and financial means.” – Ogunwumiju JCA

In Tabansi v. Tabansi (2009) 12 NWLR Pt 1155 the lead judgement of the Court of Appeal delivered by Alagao JCA held that

“Except the conduct of the wife is morally reprehensible it is better in an estranged marriage for the child of the marriage, more so if that child is a girl of tender age to be left in the care and custody of the wife.”

A party to matrimonial proceedings can simultaneously file an ex parte motion for interim custody when filing a petition under the MCA under Order 14 Rule 23 (1)(c) which provides that;

23(1) “Where proceedings for ancillary relief have been instituted  seeking an order with respect to the custody, guardianship, welfare, advancement or education of a child of the marriage pending the disposal of proceedings , the court may in a case of urgency, hear the proceedings, and make an order in the proceedings, ex parte.”

When filing an ex parte motion (which basically means that the applicant is asking the court to make a ruling without notifying the respondent, the other party in the matter) support it with an affidavit of urgency and also file a motion on notice with the same requests and arguments that will be served on the respondent while the interim order is in effect. And interim order will last for 7 days and within that time the court will want to invite the respondent to come and give his or her side of the story too. If the interim order lapses before the motion on notice is heard or decided the applicant’s lawyer can and should make a further oral application to the court to extend the life of the interim order.

This interim order will provide the legal basis for the applicant to retain custody of the children pending hearing of the motion on notice which will decide custody pending the resolution of the substantive suit which may be for divorce, nullity or judicial separation. The interim order will them be served together with the notice of petition and the motion on notice on the respondent.

Once an order is secured give the applicant the original copy and they can move with the children without fear of the other party taking them away or causing other mischief (like reporting to police they were kidnapped as some parents erroneously do) The applicant can prevent the respondent, the other party in the suit from taking the children forcibly away from him or her and should that party do so they will be in contempt of a court order.

Can The Attorney General Of Nigeria Open An Inquiry Into Sugabelly’s Charges Against Mohammed Audu?

December 11, 2015

The Nigerian Law of Trafficking & How It May Apply to @Sugabelly

November 28, 2015

It would be interesting to read up on the precedents but I think that Audu and his pals can be prosecuted under this Act –



Section 13 (1) All acts of human trafficking are prohibited in Nigeria
(2) Any person who recruits, transports, transfers, harbours or receives another person by means of –
threat or use of force or other forms of coercion abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability; or
giving or receiving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of the person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation of that person…

commits and offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than two year sand a fine of not less than NGN250,000.00

13 (5) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in the definition of trafficking in persons in this act shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in the definition has been used.

Section 15 Any person who –

(a) by use of deception,coercion, debt bondage or any other means, induces any person under the age of 18 years to go from one place to another to do any act with the intent that such person may be or knowing that it is likely that the person will be forced or seduce into illicit intercourse with another person – is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 5 years and a fine of NGN500,000

Section 16 (1) Any person that procures or recruits any other person under the age of 18 years to be subjected to prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation with himself, any person or persons, either in Nigeria or anywhere else commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less that 7 years and a fine of not less than NGN1,000,000.



What is Grooming? And How Does It Concern @sugabelly? How Does It Concern Us?

November 24, 2015

The topic of the moment in Nigeria has been the ‘rape’ of @sugabelly. This is the full story here.

Many have questioned why she stayed, why she kept going back and why she didn’t tell someone. Some have questioned if it was ‘rape’.

The story bore great similarities to a story I read of the UK men that routinely groomed young girls for sex slavery, exploitation and prostitution. Read it here.

Sugabelly’s case seems to be a classic case of grooming for abuse.

“Grooming is a tactic of overcoming the survivor’s defenses by slowly desensitizing his or her natural reaction to abusive behaviors. The most commonly recognized context is when pedophiles use it on children and their parents, but the technique is also used in other contexts, such as confidence scams or commercial sex work. Grooming works by mixing positive behaviors with elements of abuse. At the beginning, all behaviors are positive. Slowly, abusive elements are added in amounts that surprise the survivor to an extent, but do not push alarm to a high level. Overtime, the inappropriate comes to feel normal. Because the primary aggressor’s real goal isn’t understood by the survivor, he or she often misses the harmful implication and dismisses the internal signals of alarm that do arise.

“For most of the relationship, the survivor may be eager to experience the sense of specialness and push to see the primary aggressor. This may contribute to later guilt and shame when frank abuse is occurring. Because of the staged and confusing progression, the survivor may not at the end understand that the primary aggressor has been the sole instigator. The survivor might erroneously believe that there has been a mutual progression. This is largely responsible for the tragic, well-known reluctance of survivors to report abuse.”


I am convinced that these men are still abusing other young vulnerable women. Even if Sugabelly isn’t pressing charges, they should be investigated. I’m sure they can be prosecuted under the NAPTIP or the new VAPP Bill. It really is time to do something.

Things We Learn Along The Way About Ourselves

June 30, 2015

Sometimes you come cross something that brushes up against a tender spot somewhere in you. It might be someone talking about being violently rejected by his lover and asking you for help.

He says he is depressed and suicidal.  You tell him that what he needs to do to start feeling better – exercise, get out with people, appreciate that you will hurt, stay busy, love your work and try try try not to get in touch with your abusive ex-lover.

You explain that love is its own addiction, you tell him about seretonin. You explain that love is an obsession and all about dopamine.

You would know, after all you are going through your own recovery.

Still you know the words are flat, you hurt and he hurts and all both of you want to do is scream and rail against someone or something. But you don’t, you implode.

Your feelings are too intense to express. They would make a melodrama look mild. But you need to do something with them. Energy needs to be dispersed.

May be a good time to take up boxing? Or karate? What a cliche.

Why is it never that easy?

You wonder whether its better to leave well enough alone. Let him go solve his own problem. You got plenty of your won to deal with. Whether you should be in this field in the first place considering your personal history.

You decided to work with violence victims and survivors because you were a survivor. As a child you witnessed spousal abuse so horrific you came home one day to find your mother lying in a pool of blood and your father calmly mopping up her blood. It was so bad you called the police once. You got beaten up that night and the phone was disconnected the next day.

It felt grown up and powerful to be able to say you would never let it happen to anyone else. But it did happen, everyday. And after a while you found yourself running to hide like you did once upon a time and you realised you were still a victim.

Till one day you make the association.

Nature is what makes you love the way you love, nurture makes you love who you love. 

So you help him anyway because you know what its like – to lack and not have, to want and not receive, to search and not find, to be down with no one offering you a hand up, to be scared and not have anyone to turn to, to be misunderstood and alone.

And you feel a deep gratitude for the opportunity to grow a little bit more.

Surviving Sexual Assault, Loss of Employment, Disillusionment & BINGO Corporate Crap

August 6, 2013

The past three years have been one hell of a ride. I’ve been to hell and back. I wish I had read this WSJ article three years ago but I just came across it last week. It says it can take up to two years to recover from a divorce or loss of job and I didn’t only lose my job, I was sexually assaulted on the job. If I’d known it would take this long to recover I would have worked through my pain and distress more mindfully, felt less like a freak, worried less about what was wrong with me and not blamed myself so much for what happened.

I’m only just recovering from what happened to me at Oxfam GB. I didn’t take time to tend to the scared me, the frightened me, the traumatized me, because I’ve had a lifetime of experience with abuse and I know you can’t let it take over your life. So I pushed away the pain and disappointment, buried it in daily routines, silenced my anger in constructive action, all the while thinking to myself – I shouldn’t have gone to his hotel room with him, I shouldn’t have sat down to have a drink with him, I shouldn’t have even smiled at him.

When I gave away my dog and asked my best friends sister to take in my cat I tried not to think of the wrong that had been done to me because if I didn’t want to start crying over spilled milk, the milk would still be on the floor and I would never stop crying.  When I packed up all my prized and favorite possessions and put them in storage because I couldn’t pay the rent anymore I tried not to curse the man who made this happen. I was strong, I took responsibility, it’s what I’ve been taught to do since I could make sense of the world; pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

Still I couldn’t help thinking; I should have gone straight to the police, I should have filed a formal complaint immediately, I should have put my wellbeing before my concerns for Oxfam’s reputation, I shouldn’t have called him and demanded an apology because really what else would he do after that except get rid of me. Let me hang over HIS career at Oxfam like an isosceles sword?

When I watched my sons move out of our house all I could think of was that I should have done more to protect my job because my job gave them protection and they depended on me. Sometimes I would hate the man that did this to me with so much passion but what’s that – hate? He’s there with his family in his house, at his job and I’m out in the cold and my world is falling apart around me and I don’t know how to stop it. My hate can’t touch him. It was but small comfort that he resigned abruptly a year later when the police started and investigation and questioned Oxfam.

I could have used the severance pay they gave me to bring a court action against him and Oxfam and everybody else that made me feel so powerless and helpless and out of control but my father died just when I was about to start something. He was a dependent under the health insurance policy they made me take in place of the private one I had before so when I lost the job I lost my health insurance. He died of complications from diabetes because I couldn’t afford his drugs any longer and what was left of my severance went towards that expensive burial for him. The village people would have it no other way.

Besides, every lawyer I spoke to claimed jurisdiction was a problem. At the time of the incident you worked in Abuja, he worked in Dakar, the assault happened in Oxford, England.  I didn’t qualify to go before the employment tribunal in the UK, the Nigerian Labor law offered little remedy and whether I filed legal action in Nigeria, Senegal or UK it would be expensive, serving everyone involved would be a logistics nightmare and a financial investment I just couldn’t afford.

I still remember a conversation I had with a Nigerian lady who had taken a German BINGO to court for sexual discrimination and unlawful termination of contract in Nigeria. She had been in court for 5 years. When she came to me she was struggling to take care of her children and could no longer afford the legal fees. She came looking for legal assistance. Little did I know at the time that I would find myself in a similar quandary a few months down the line.

For a very long time I was angry at Oxfam and all the people I worked with there that couldn’t end the conversation fast enough the minute I mentioned the sexual assault. I wonder why they were so ready to listen to him when he said I deserved summary dismissal for a minor oversight that I wasn’t even aware of but wouldn’t give me the time of day when I told them my more serious allegations even when I had your witnesses, the in house shrink and the HR lady I reported to after the incident who corroborated my story.

The shrink didn’t offer me any post traumatic counselling, He just said ‘honor your anger’ but I wasn’t feeling angry then. I was hurt, confused, scared and ashamed but not angry, not yet. The anger would come later and most of it was self-directed at first.  I was also afraid of losing my job, now I find it ironic how my greatest fear came true and became my reality. I found my anger when I realized that I had lost my job because I wouldn’t let this man have sex with me and insisted he apologize for even trying. I found my anger when I realized that Oxfam was more concerned with covering up the matter than protecting me despite the evidence.

Oxfam has stone walled me for the past three years, all my attempts to get them to reconsider the evidence have been rejected. Even the shrink I first reported to has ignored my calls for help, the robotic lawyers can’t get creative and see beyond the jurisdiction issues and the statute of limitations on sexual assaults in England expires today. I have done my best – I’ve spoken to lawyers at home and abroad. I’ve swallowed my pride and my embarrassment, told complete strangers about the most intimate assault a woman can experience again and again, I have sought support from ngo’s and from individuals. Some turn away in embarrassment, some wish me good luck. some said they would help me if they could but…

Meanwhile I continue to hear horrific stories of sexual abuse, harassment and rape from other local hire women in international development.  I considered a broader campaign to bring the matter into the open but no one wants to talk about it publicly. They have husbands and boyfriends and children and careers and lives and they just want to move on as best they can. Why can’t I just let it go it and move on like they seem to have done? Why does the injustice of it gnaw at the pit of my stomach till I want to puke and shake my fist at Man, God and the Universe?

Its taken me a long time to talk about what happened to me, at first I thought it was okay and expected people to react with outrage and support but when I noticed the embarrassment on people’s faces when I mentioned why or how I was fired I stopped talking about it. I’m grateful to all the people who have in one way or the other sympathized with me or spoken out in the past few months because the silence was killing me.  It reinforced my shame and my isolation and my loneliness. I felt like I was shouting wolf, like I was the only one this ever happened to and therefore surely it was my fault or I was imagining things. Or I was just crazy.

I must thank Chika Oduah for her powerful and informative write up.  She says my post about my assault gave her the courage to speak about her experience; her post has given me the courage to feel and share my feelings. I notice is how arid my words were when I wrote them as if the events happened to someone else, as if it were just a matter of fact. It’s how I deal with scary emotions and experiences, I either trivialize them or I sanitize them. Being a lawyer helps – cut to the objective facts please.

I don’t miss the job, I hated working for Oxfam from the get go, they do more good for their egos and their pockets than they do for the poor third world people they claim to help with all those tax free dollars and pounds they collect from the unsuspecting masses in the west. I don’t even miss the colleagues I worked with, not one of them reached out to support or even sympathize when I told them what happened, they shut me off like a poisoned water spout, acted like they were afraid I would taint them and put their own jobs at risk and I don’t blame them or even hold it against them.

What I miss, no, what I missed was more personal; my  sense of self-worth, my confidence, my health, my love of life, my faith in people, my integrity.  But it’s not what they take away, it’s what they leave behind like one TV ad in England says; the anxiety, the mistrust, the self-doubts, the anger, the pessimism, the disillusionment; it’s been a long time coming but I can finally honestly say – they never took anything away from me.  I’m still who I was before this happened, who I always been – I’m a feisty survivor.

Its three years later and I have survived; without a job, without a home, without my children around me, without my dog, without my cat and without the comfort and safety of familiar surroundings. I have survived! Nietzsche was right – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No one can take that from me.  Writing has been my solace these past three years and I have rediscovered my talent and my passion for it; words have power, my words have power and I will continue to speak out against sexual harassment in the work place, Oxfam and the man that did this to me, not out of anger or self-pity or even regret but from a place of power, from a place of certainty that injustice is wrong, from a place where I can say with pride – I survived!



Dreams of A Life – the Story of Joyce Carol Vincent

July 4, 2013

Do you remember this story? Broke in 2006 about a woman found dead in her London flat. She had been dead 3 years. I always thought it was an old lonely spinsterish woman at least that is how the media made it sound. Now I learn the woman  was 38, beautiful and accomplished.

joyce-in-studio-photo-2-680x961 joyce vincent 4 Joyce-vincent-007 JoyceVincent2

I just watched the documentary Dreams of a Life by Carol Morley about this tragic young woman the media said so little  about even the people that knew her did not recognize her from their reports.  It doesn’t tell the story with any less a stereotypical angle though.

It seems to suggest that she succumbed to depression over growing older and still being unmarried. There is a strong innuendo that this happened because she made wrong relationship choices, or didn’t recognize the men that loved her or something, a morality tale that seems to say this could happen to you if you don’t marry and settle down.

My experience working with victims of domestic and sexual violence says this woman was a victim of some form of abuse as a child. I wonder why the film maker didn’t focus attention on that? Why focus on her failed relationships and not the reason why she was unable to succeed at relationships?

Joyce showed classic behavior of a having been a child victim of abuse if you ask me, her emotional instability, her superficial relationship, pretending her father was dead, avoiding her family, their refusal to speak to the film maker, her lack of drive, her obvious co-dependence in relationships, her lack of personal friendships, a subsequent violent relationship. As easy as a google

The film maker kept on saying her motive was to give a story to the name but I think she may have deliberately ignored or else carelessly missed an opportunity to show how childhood abuse and dysfunctional parenting can impact adults later in life and lead to a tragic and pointless end.

It is a sad commentary on our society that a person can die and no one knows  for 3 years but I also agree with Alistair; Joyce was also responsible for what happened to her. While no one called her she actively sought to avoid her former acquaintances and was obviously not very good at asking for help.

She seemed more interested in pretending things were well or hiding if they weren’t.  She did not like confrontation, according to Martin, if things got difficult she moved, left he scene, took flight. Reminds me of someone, yeah me, that’s what I did for a long time.

I can identify with this young woman. I can imagine most of the people I call friends not worrying if I didn’t get in touch for a year or two. Except for my sons I have no more than the most superficial ties to the rest of my extended family. If they do not hear from me for a year or two they would not worry.

I just don’t stay in touch,  it could be because my father was a bastard that made my life so miserable as a child that its impossible for me to develop more than superficial relationships with people as an adult, or it could be because I just don’t trust people enough to let them that close. Who knows?

Does it matter? This film lacks any real depth and the interviews with Joyce’s friends raised more questions than answers as to what happened to Joyce and what led to her pathetic lonely end. We found out more about them than we did about Joyce really. They all seemed self absorbed.

So what is the morale of the story? If you push everyone away, don’t ever trust anyone and don’t try to overcome your dysfunctional past you could die and rot right on your sofa and no one will look for you but some award winning goody toe shoes might make a misguided documentary about you.

I’m so glad I have children and that we have a relatively good relationship!

The Path to Silence

March 16, 2013

She loved him. There was no logic to her love she just did but she could not tell him. Her vocal cords freezed up every time she looked at him and felt the love.  Her heart froze. She could no longer speak of her love, of her feelings.

Why did she love him she asked herself, he treated her badly. He hit her and cheated on her. He called her names and ridiculed her. When she displeased him he would starve her of love and approval and even a smile.

Still she loved him because when it was good it was really really good. It was the best she had known any way. She was used to being abused, she had always been abused even as a little girl, he said he loved her but he abused her.

He told her she was no good, that she was worthless and useless. She had to be or how else did she wind up with him. Surely someone would have come to get her if she was worth it.

No one came and the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months and the months turned to years and the years turned to decades. It was obviously a life sentence. A life sentence to worthlessness.

As the years passed she stopped talking till one day she woke up and she was mute and no one knew why or how it happened and no one really cared because no one had ever really listened to her when she had tried to tell them.

Her eyes grew big and round and bigger and rounder as the days passed. The less she spoke the more she saw and she could no longer speak of the things that she saw and her heart struggled to beat in her chest from the weight.

Her heart grew heavy and big and heavier and bigger and the more she saw and the less she could say and the more she died from all the things that she saw that she could no longer say anything about.

Still no came for her and she felt less and less worth it. Still she loved him. every time he told her how worthless and useless she was she loved him more because surely he must be right and he knew what was best for her.

But he loved her. He told her so therefore it must be true. It was true he didn’t treat her with love and he didn’t show her much love but he told her all the time and constantly that he loved her. So it must be true.

One day she didn’t wake up in the morning and he came and stood over her and told her corpse how worthless and useless she was and her spirit hoovering yet in the corner of the room heard him and she still believed he loved her true.

There was nothing else to say and the silence was now forever and all the things that she wanted to say to him and to all  the people that she knew she could never say it again.



Prosecuting Rape in Nigeria III – The Updates

February 6, 2013


‘Another rape’ I thought to myself, when I first heard about the rape of an Indian medical student in New Delhi last month.  ‘Will the perpetrators be punished?’ We were shocked and repulsed by the brutality of the attack on the victim. Everything decent and good and holy and sacred in us screamed against the outrage.

Every day we looked for updates on her condition, we were devastated to hear she eventually died in a hospital in Singapore. We know she died simply because she was a woman, because a few men had decided they wanted ‘some fun’ and she was their randomly- chosen, savagely -used and callously- discarded plaything not a person, a daughter, or a sister.

Meanwhile, contrast our outrage at the Indian gang rape to our judgmental dismissal of the student who was repeatedly gang raped by the local football team in Steubenville, Ohio, in the United States. Did you even hear that story?  The Indian student was described as the ‘perfect Indian daughter’; the Ohio victim was said to have been ‘drunk and disorderly’.

Search through the online content of any of Nigeria’s major dailies and you will find numerous reports of rape and rape/murder that attracted no reaction. In July 2012, a 23-year-old lady raped and murdered in Awka Etiti, Idemili South Local Government of Anambra State.  In October 2012 Henry Edewo, and Emmanuel Isikhuime  arrested for kidnapping, raping and murdering Mercy Peter in Auchi. On January 1, 2013, sixteen year-old student, Titilayo Adija raped and murdered in Lagos.

‘Rape culture’ in India, Pakistan, Nigeria and the United states are under scrutiny again. A cultural media war has started, the east blames ‘westernization’, the west blames ‘primitive’ misogynistic traditions in ‘less developed’ countries. My feminist sisters blame patriarchy, patriarchy blames feminism for making women want to be independent, for coming out in public and for being attractive.

When I imagine the young woman’s state of mind during the attack it doesn’t matter who or what is to blame. I just want the perpetrators caught and punished. I imagine her fear, her anguish. I imagine her fighting desperately for her life, till someone hits her over the head and she sinks into blackness, stunned, and only vaguely aware of the violation to her body. ‘Am I going to die? Will someone rescue me? Is there anybody out there?’.

In 2011  the Lagos state government with a population of almost 20 million reported 283 cases of rape out of which only 10 were prosecuted and convicted. Studies suggest more than half and sometimes as much as 84% of the female population have experienced sexual assault, rape or molestation in childhood.  That is less than a 10%  conviction rate and less  than 0.0001% of the at risk  female population.

While I appreciate the reason victims rarely report we need to start doing a better job of prosecuting the few cases that are reported. I’ve read many reasons  given why rapists don’t get prosecuted or convicted. Victims don’t report; they withdraw charges; they settle out of court, investigators are incompetent and corrupt; prosecutors are ill- prepared or don’t appeal; judges are biased against women. Fixing the systemic problems will require a long term multi-sector strategic approach but we can contribute to the effort by holding the Director of Public Prosecution accountable for the performance of his department.

Some lawyers and prosecutors still think that corroboration is required for a rape conviction under Nigerian criminal law. Yet, in March 2011 the Supreme Court in Ogunbayo v. the State upheld its 2001 decision that said corroboration was a principle not a law and that the trial court need only caution itself before convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of a rape victim.

In that case, Fabiyi JSC said the 1989 Supreme Court decision that it was a principle of law that an accused cannot be convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of the victim and accuser 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. In many cases, the 1989 decision was interpreted to mean that there had to be another witness to the offence.

A number of rape convictions have been overturned recently on appeal based on section 12 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The CPC applies to the Penal Code  in force in northern Nigeria. Section 12(1) says;

“Subject to the provisions to this Criminal Procedure Code any offence under the Penal Code may be tried by any Court by which such offence is shown in the sixth column of Appendix ‘A’ to be triable or by any Court other than a native court with greater powers.”

The offence of rape is contained in the Sixth Column of Appendix ‘A’ to the CPC.  In other words, the only court vested with jurisdiction to try rape is the High Court and not the Upper Area Court –  or any other court for that matter.  So why are rape trials routinely brought before lower courts by prosecutors’?

Jurisdiction also needs to be clarified in the south of Nigeria where the Criminal Code and the Criminal Code Act are in force.  The maximum sentence for rape in the criminal code is life imprisonment. Since only the High Court can impose the maximum sentence for felonies punishable by life imprisonment in the criminal code, doesn’t that mean that the High Court has exclusive jurisdiction  for rape?

The Evidence Act was  recently amended. Section 234 of the amended Act (Assented to on July 22, 2011) states:

“Where a person is prosecuted for rape or attempt to commit rape or for indecent assault, except with the leave of court no evidence shall be adduced, and, except with the leave, no question in cross examination shall be asked by or on behalf of the defendant about any sexual experience of the complainant with any person other than the defendant.’

Prior to this amendment a person accused of rape could bring evidence of a woman’s past sexual history as evidence of her ‘immoral character’ in defense to a charge of rape (Section 211 Evidence Act 2004).  Does this new provision have the effect of a ‘rape shield law’?

These and other legal decisions and laws affecting rape need to be cited, applied and tested in the courts by prosecutors because they are the only ones who can arraign an accused person for rape in Nigeria. The offices of the Director of Public Prosecution DPP and the Attorney General of the Federation AGF have an obligation to the victims, their families and to the nation to provide justice for rape victims and ensure timely punishment for offenders.

Prosecutors in India and Nigeria need urgent support and training to improve their skills and legal knowledge. The perpetrators of last month’s dastardly rape in India have been arrested and charged. The Indian government has fast tracked the trial but it is just one case out of thousands still stuck in judicial limbo.  The best tribute to the New Delhi student and other rape victims in India and in Nigeria would be ensuring that rapists/murderers are punished and that the people responsible for punishing them are able to do so.

While we continue to address our national apathy towards violence against women and work collectively to develop practical solutions, we should also count and celebrate our baby steps of progress; the first and only rape hotline set up in 2011 in response to citizens protests against the ABSU rape, last year’s celebrity rape walk and anti-rape protests by women in Osun and Enugu states,  restrictions on the sale of the date rape drug Rohypnol in the fall out of Cynthia Okogu’s rape/murder and the work of organizations like Media Concern For Women And Children, Project Alert, Delta Women, CLEEN, and my own Women’s Crisis Center among numerous others.

January 21, 2013


Lesley Gene Agams Esq. is a feminist lawyer practicing in Abuja. You can find her on Twitter @MzAgams and at


(This article appeared in ThisDay Newpaper Law Page  on Tuesday January 29, 2013)

Violence Against Women: Prosecuting Rape in Nigeria II

February 5, 2013

It’s hard to see any value in the ABSU Rape Video saga (as it shall forever more be known despite the Abia State government’s threats) but it sparked widespread national outrage and finally focused media and federal government attention on violence against women in Nigeria. That’s a good thing. The Ministry of Women Affairs, the Ministry of Youth Development and the relevant National Assembly committees have all rolled out belated but laudable initiatives to reduce rape and violence against women in the country.

While we must applaud the flurry of activity by various state and non-state actors and the rush to pass bills with stronger penalties (something that will make VAW activists who have struggled to get them passed for years very happy) the new laws and the behavioral change strategies proposed cannot have short or mid-term impact on the security of our girls and young women unless we improve prosecution of rape cases.

The old Nigerian cliché that says enforcement is our problem not laws is sadly true in this case. The crimes of rape and sexual assault and their penalties have always existed in our Criminal Code, the Penal Code and under customary law.  According to a 2006 Amnesty International report on rape in Nigeria that cited several national civil society organizations the great challenges have been getting victims to report and the police to investigate and prosecute rape.

The AI report says social stigma is a major reason rape is under reported. How is that stigma correlated with the insensitive and traumatic treatment victims can expect to experience with the police and the criminal justice system in Nigeria? According to the same AI report state actors especially the police are the major perpetrators of rape and violence against women. How do we expect them to impartially investigate reports of rapes? How do we expect them to be sympathetic to victims brought to them for justice and protection?

The Abia State commissioner of police is on public record saying  that Ms. X, the woman  in the video in question, seemed to him to have consented to the sexual intercourse or else she was being ‘punished’ for some real or imagined slight to one of man. Most significantly he revealed that the police are aware that young women are being raped and videoed as a means of punishment and social control. It is not unreasonable to deduce from his words that they also condone it.

Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State himself a publicly known cultist narcissistically suggested that his political enemies staged the revolting and dehumanizing video to make him look bad. I’m not sure whether who is worse, him or his political enemies. Is anyone still suggesting that a woman’s mode of dress is what leads to rape? It is well established that rape has nothing to do with uncontrollable sexual desires and everything to do with power and social control.

There is an epidemic of rape in Nigeria and our chief protectors and prosecutors are also our chief rapists. Can making new laws, public relations, public campaigns to reduce stigma and victim support services solve the problem? It can’t if we don’t retool the police force and the criminal justice system to increase prosecution and convictions for rape. In the past decade a number of citizen sector initiatives have designed and carried out rape management training for small groups of judicial and police force officers. However, their impact has been weak and localized to just a handful of communities.

In the United Kingdom the police and criminal justice system were transformed over a period of 20 years after a series of independent investigations identified key challenges to prosecuting rape cases. Many of the changes were the result of legal precedent and policy change, not legislation. Today they have specially trained police officers in specially designated units working with prosecutors to ensure that both victim and accused are adequately protected from abuse of the system. The processes are contained in a public policy document from the Crown Prosecution Services.

Does creating a new unit in the police force and training them require new legislation or new regulations from the line ministry or the Inspector General’s office?  What is required to change the curricula at the Police Training Academy to include training on violence against women generally and rape in particular? Furthermore how pervasive is rape by policemen? Is there a presumption that all policemen are guilty but what’s the evidence that what we’re dealing with is not a minority of rogue cops? Credible data is essential to formulating a corrective strategy.

How does the Director of Public Prosecutor’s office handle rape cases? Are these processes public and subject to monitoring and evaluation? Does the public prosecutor’s office have a policy or guidelines for handling allegations of rape? Is there specific training and support provided to individual prosecutors that handle rape trials? Can the Attorney-General make policy guidelines or regulations for handling rape cases?

The Amnesty International report also highlighted the challenge presented to successful prosecution of rape cases by restrictive evidence rules, for instance the requirement that medical reports must be from a public hospital to be admissible in a court of law. The Nigeria Police and courts do not accept medical reports from private hospitals as evidence in rape trials. Is this a rule of practice or a statutory requirement? Could this practice be challenged in the courts? Or do we require a legislative review?

Customary law, which includes Sharia law in Nigeria, is also applicable in rape cases and takes precedence if inconsistent with the constitution. Can the multiplicity of customary laws that exist in Nigeria override constitutional protections if chosen as the applicable personal law? Under the customary law of some groups the punishment for rape ranges from banishment, a fine paid to the victim’s father or family group or enforced marriage to the victim of the rape. With the exception of banishment these are also the sort of sanctions we frequently see negotiated between a victim’s and her rapist’s family and mediated by the police when rape is reported to them.

Under Sharia law it’s almost impossible to prove rape, the requirement for at least 4 male witnesses that must all agree it was actually rape is both unreasonable and improbable. There are even records of victims that reported a rape and were instead charged with adultery, a crime punishable with death by stoning or zina a lesser crime punishable with caning. How do we ensure that our girls and women are protected under customary law and from repressive customary laws?

According to AI in most reported cases of rape the victims were minors. This is corroborated by a women’s led citizen sector organization protecting women’s rights in the country that recently listed the number of rape prosecutions they were supporting and discovered that all their cases involved minors presumably because it is easier to establish a lack of consent. Defense lawyers in rape trials frequently attack the credibility and the morals of the victim to try and prove implied consent. What does Nigerian case law say about consent in rape? How does the Nigerian bench define consent?

Disturbing fallout of the ABSU Rape was the exposure of the monumental degree of public ignorance about consent and what constitutes an appropriate response during rape from the victim.  Many public commentators on the issue felt that Ms. X did not resist violently enough and was not brutally beaten or visibly injured to have been actually raped. By definition all a woman has to do is say NO, she does not have to fight or sustain injuries to prove that she was raped. As a matter of fact VAW counselors have been advising women for years not to violently resist rape if there is no obvious escape in order to minimize physical injury and trauma. However what the courts have to say about it is far more important. What precedents are the honorable members of the Nigerian bench setting and how can we impact them?

Since the video first appeared the calls for Ms. X, the unidentified woman in the video, to turn herself in (as if she were the criminal) have abated as focus has shifted away from her as an individual to the bigger problem of endemic sexual violence against women generally and on campuses in particular. Is that a good thing? I certainly hope it is but it has also occurred to me that she may have been killed. It won’t be the first time in Nigeria. More visible and powerful figures have been killed with no consequences. After all the rapists are rumored to have political, cultic and occultic connections and the Abia state police commissioner did keep on insisting that his hands were tied unless she comes forward.

“Thou doth protest too much”

We can but pray. And prosecute