Sexual Offences Bill: I Was Misquoted
Sexual Offenses Bill 2015 was among the very last bills hurriedly passed by the 7th Senate. Unfortunately, the bill, which aims at curtailing the wave of sexual crimes, especially raping of minors, met with serious criticisms. Sponsor of the Bill and former senator, Chris Anyanwu, however told BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE in Abuja that the misconception is the handiwork of mischief-makers, who would not want the bill to see the light of day.
WHAT is the Bill all about and why the fuss regarding its passage by the last senate? The Sexual Offenses Bill is one that has gone on a very long journey. It started in the 6th Senate, where half way, I did not go the whole hug and when I was re-elected in the 7th Senate, it was the first thing that I brought before the Senate.
In fact, it was in 2011 that we did the first reading, while the second reading was in 2012 and it has been sitting there ever since. But what it went through a very thorough process and scrutiny, because it through a public hearing well attended by Judges, attorneys general of the federation and from the states of the federation, the judiciary and all interest groups.
This law was the result of three weeks of intensive work by about 20 young lawyers camped out at the Law School in Abuja, where they did the research and produced this document.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe, had some consultants, who scrutinised this Bill. The arguments were made and there was nobody that was against the Bill during the public hearing. Judges told us about their experiences, the kind of nightmarish stories they hear from victims and wanted the laws updated. In the Senate itself, on the two occasions we had debates on the Bill, there was 100 per cent approval. There was nobody from the north, south, Christian or Muslim that was against the law.
The only thing that they talked about was jurisdiction, which was the reason the law was passed in Abuja and to be adopted by all the states of the federation, bearing in mind their peculiar differences. When you now say this law, which was primarily meant to protect the individuals, not just our children, male and female, but also adults, old aged people or those with mental problems and cannot take decisions and are abused in the streets, will turn against the people it is meant to protect, then you should know that there is a problem somewhere.
There is a lot happening in this country and I do not need to tell anybody living in Nigeria what is going on, because we read them every day in the newspapers.
I cannot recall any day I picked up a newspaper in the past three years that I have not seen a horrible crime relating to sexual offence. The one that threw me off balance was the story of a girl who was raped to death and then set ablaze recently.
This law became imperative because while we have a lot of laws covering different aspects of sexual offences, many of them were outdated and carried over from the colonial government.
Imagine laws of 1948 and 1958 still being applied up till now. The result is that if somebody commits a crime that is so behind, the punishment is like a slap in the wrist. If you penalise someone by asking him to pay N5, 000 for raping a three-year old child, of course, before you close your eyes, he has committed a more heinous crime 10 times over.
We have laws, but they have been more encouraging for crimes than they are deterrent to them. How did that particular insertion come about? I think it was a mixture of mischief and ignorance and could be a case of someone who did not know how to read legal documents.
Many people, including those that work at the National Assembly, may not have been preview to the documents and the way they are set out in the second reading and the third reading, which is a general debate.
Third reading is the real law making process, where you take it clause by clause and when you read it, if you are not very familiar with it, you can make a serious mistake.
In the third reading document, there is a column for clauses, for the provisions of the bill, what was initially proposed, a column for what the committee recommends and then the remarks. If you change what was proposed and you say what you want, you will state the reason you change it.
My thinking is that someone who was not familiar with the document came to Clause Six, the opening paragraph of which reads: “Sub-section One: The person who commits an act that causes penetration with a child is guilty of an offense called Defilement.” That is the definition of defilement.
The punishments are: “Sub-section Two: A person who commits an offence of Defilement with a child age 11 years or less shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life. “Sub-section Three: A person who commits an offence of Defilement with a child between ages of 12 and 15 is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.
“Sub-section Four: A person who commits an offence of Defilement with a child between the ages of 16 and 18 years of age is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.” What the committee handling the Bill said was that the punishment is the same- life imprisonment- and as such, there was no need to stager the ages because whether it is zero to 11 or 18, since the punishment is for life.
Therefore, you need just one sentence covering all the ages and when they lifted the first one, which deals with 11 years or less, they did it to cover the whole and we found out that if you leave it as “a person who commits an offence of Defilement with a child 11 years or less shall upon conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment for life,” it would be as if you are approving going to bed with children, 11 years.
That was the reason, if you look at the line across that sentence that is the law making process, what you do not like, you rule it out and we have ruled it out.
Then, they stated clearly that sub-sections three and four were deleted because the punishment is the same, irrespective of age difference.
So, somebody looked at it, saw that it was ruled out and still went out to say I encourage defilement of minors. Is it not a mischief? What was ruled out was “with a child age 11 years or less.”
Automatically, what is then approved in the Votes and Proceedings for that day is the definition of Defilement and then, “the person who commits an offence of defilement shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life.”
We have to know what we are doing in this country, because people have the predisposition to condemn and attack anybody that is doing anything good.
Nobody can do right in this society and if we continue this way, we will kill the spirit of people who want to help and we will be boiling in our hell without anybody sticking his neck out. After all, I would have gone through those eight years without lifting a finger and not propose a Bill.
There were people who did that, because the law-making process is so slow and the time is so short. Senators in the last Senate proposed about 591 Bills, but only 123 were passed. So, there are so many proposals struggling for space and when some people look at it, they do not even want to try, because there is too much hassle.
Yet, those of us who pleaded, lobbied, spent money and energy and pushed until at the end are rather attacked than appreciated.
I said, “please, do not leave me empty handed; let us not have this kind of world, where parents cannot leave home because they are afraid that something might happen to their children or afraid the teachers, pastors and imams may abuse them or that professors would go after them if they go to the university.”
Even in politics, there is nowhere to hide. The only deterrent is a very strong and stringent law that curtails those conducts and this Bill is a revolutionary Bill.
There is no aspect of sexual offence that it does not cover. It updates those colonial laws that are still applicable in our society today and bring them up to scratch with international practices.
It also deals with crimes that are not already in Nigeria, but which we know that because Nigeria is well hooked to the international highway through the Internet, those crimes will eventually come here.
Before I came into the senate, there had not been one occasion where there was a crime, where people laced the drink of somebody with drugs to stupefy them and take advantage of them. But we saw that within this time and heard the case of the late Cynthia Osokogu.
If we had this law in place, Cynthia would not have died that horrible and avoidable death. This law deals with such new things, including child sex tourism, where a lot of foreigners come to developing countries with sole purpose of sex tourism. We want to put down a stringent law that will stop them from using our people like animals.
When we were drafting this law, we foresaw that out of shame or callousness, some people infect their partners with HIV/AIDS. In this law, it is a crime and the culprit will go to prison. You have to understand my peculiar circumstance being a female.
There is a certain feeling among us females that you do not want to go into things like that because you do not want to be associated with such things.
But if we do not stick our necks out and fight for this kind of protection that touches every family, woman, young or old, who will do it? I stuck out my neck and now, look at what I get, people throwing stones. But I am proud to associate myself with this Bill.
The young lawyers that worked on it for three weeks and came out with this Bill are proud of it too and we should be grateful. If the nation does not know how to be grateful to people, how then are we going to grow the heroes and heroines that we are looking for? I have to say this, knowing my antecedents and commitment to human rights, my family and my children.
There is no way I could associate myself with anything that will condone in any way that young children of 11 years and below are ripe enough for people to go to bed with. I will never be part of that law.
The senate I came out from, I did not know anybody there that will support that it is right to compromise young children of 11 years and below.
Is there any guarantee that the President would sign the Bill into law? President Muhammadu Buhari is a good and very experienced man and knows about the private cries of men and women in their homes. Anybody whose child has been abused is ashamed to speak out because of the social stigma it attracts.
This law aims at covering people, so that if one is a victim, the identity can be covered and investigation done privately. Even the trial can be done in the office of the Judge and the people standing as witnesses are protected, so that people can speak out and crimes punished without the dignity and names of people being tarnished forever.
The President knows that insanity has gone beyond belief and that there is need to have a firm hold on our society. Otherwise, this place will be too hostile to live in.
So, I have the belief that if he understands the full import of this Bill, he will be very happy and will welcome it. If signed into law, what of its enforcement? Implementation has always been a problem, but part of this law is suggesting that the Police should set up a Special Corps specially trained to investigate these matters.
Part of the problems is that when people know and report these cases, the kind of outrage and treatment they get from the Police is the type that makes them want to commit suicide, and it does not help.
Therefore, if we are going to have people actually come clean and report cases, such as this, the Police must have trained corps to handle sexual offences cases and there are lots of agencies willing and ready to offer special training to the Police, if they want.
It is not every Policeman carrying a gun that should be brought into sexual offence case; it is a very sensitive matter and should be handled by people trained and sensitive enough to understand what it is about.
A crucial part of the Bill also is that when people have been established as dangerous sex offenders and have been convicted, their names will go into a national databank of dangerous sexual offenders, so that they cannot be allowed to have teaching jobs, where they deal with children or have anything to do with children, because to some of them, it is a sickness or an effect of drug abuse.
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