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Nigeria: Bill on Elimination of Violence Against Persons Enacted into Law

(June 4, 2015) On May 25, 2015, as one of his last acts in office, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Violence Against Persons Bill. (Mohammed Abubakar & Kanayo Umeh, Jonathan Signs Two Bills into Law, GUARDIAN (May 26, 2015).) According to its 2011 version, the legislation contains provisions banning various forms of gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM), denial of inheritance to or forced marriage of widows, sexual violence, and violence against girls, such as early or forced marriage. (Elimination of Violence Bill (2011), Part 1 & Part 3 §§ 4 & 19, SB 43, Nigeria Senate website.)

While the language of the text is largely gender neutral, as noted in the legislation violence in Nigeria disproportionately affects women, girls, and other vulnerable segments of the society. (Id. Preamble.) As a result, proper implementation of the legislation will undoubtedly greatly impact the lives of these parts of Nigerian society.

Harmful Traditional Practices

The legislation criminalizes what it calls “harmful traditional practices,” a term defined broadly. This includes “all traditional behaviour, attitudes and/or practices, which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women, girls, or any person and includes harmful widowhood practices, denial of inheritance or succession rights, female genital mutilation [FGM] or female circumcision and forced marriage.” (Id. Part 1.) A person who engages in this practice is, on conviction, subject to a maximum punishment of three years in prison and/or a fine of up to Nigerian Naira NGN100,000 (about US$502). (Id. §24.) Attempt to commit and any form of participation in the commission of the crime are subject to a maximum punishment of one year in prison and/or a fine not exceeding NGN20,000 (about US$100). (Id.)

In addition to this general ban on harmful traditional practices, the legislation expressly outlaws specific forms of the practice. A person who subjects a widow to a traditional practice commits an offense that is punishable, on conviction, by up to two years in prison and/or a fine of NGN50,000 (about US$251). (Id. § 19.) Attempts to do so and any form of assistance to a person engaging in the practice are also offenses punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding NGN 20,000. (Id.) Similarly, personally carrying out or engaging another person to carry out FGM or female circumcision is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of NGN100,000. (Id. § 4.) In addition, giving a female child in marriage is a form of violence and an offense punishable by up to three years of imprisonment and a fine not exceeding NGN50,000. (Id. § 6.)

Ban on Other Forms of Violence

The legislation also criminalizes various other forms of violence. These are:

  • Infliction of physical injury: up to five years in prison and/or a fine not exceeding NGN100,000. (Id. § 1.)
  • Placing another in fear of physical injury: up to two years in prison and/or a fine
    not exceeding NGN20,000. (Id. §2.)
  • Forcing/compelling another to engage in any conduct including a sexual act: up to
    three years in prison and/or a maximum fine of NGN50,000.
  • Sexual harassment, defined as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex or gender which is persistent or serious and demeans, humiliates or creates a hostile or intimidating environment. This may include physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct”: considered the same as inflicting physical injury. (Id. Part 1 & Part 3 § 7.)
  • Sexual exploitation, defined as “where a perpetrator, for financial or other reward, favour or compensation invites, persuades, engages or induces the services of a victim, or offers or performs such services to any other person”: considered the same as inflicting Physical injury and sexual harassment. (Id. Part 1 & Part 3 § 9.)
  • Forced eviction of a person from the person’s home: up to two years in prison and/or a fine not exceeding NGN30,000. (Id. § 11.)
  • Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, defined as a “pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards any person, including repeated insults, ridicule or name calling; repeated threats to cause emotional pain; or the repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness, which is of such a nature”: up to one year in prison and/or a fine not exceeding NGN20,000. (Id. Part 1 & Part 3 § 18.)
  • Abandonment of women, children or other dependents, defined as “deliberately leaving women, children and other persons under the perpetrator’s care destitute and without any means of subsistence”: considered the same as forcing/compelling another to engage in any conduct including sexual act.
  • Attack with chemical or biological substance: life in prison without the option of a fine. (Id. Part 3 § 25.)

Institutional Framework

The legislation establishes the Commission on the Elimination of Violence, with both national and state-level branches. (Id. Part 13.) The Commission will have a Chair who is appointed by the President (at the national level) or by the governor (at the state level) and will have a Board of Trustees representing governmental and nongovernmental institutions, including the police, the Ministries of Health and Justice, civil society organizations, and religious institutions. (Id.) The Commission’s tasks include overseeing the implementation of the legislation, collecting and documenting national violence- related data, and designing programs and conducting activities to reduce the prevalence of violence. (Id.)

The legislation also establishes a Victims Violence Trust Fund for the purpose of providing various forms of assistance to victims of violence. (Id. § 39.) These include:

  • rehabilitation and reintegration programs;
  • shelter, counselling, and legal aid;
  • intervention programs;
  • payment of compensation, damages, and restitution; and
  • support for victim assistance organizations. (Id.)

While the Fund will be financed primarily through annual federal appropriations, it may also accept donations and grants from the private sector and donor agencies. (Id. Part 15 § 40.)