Dear Professor Soyinka,
We thank you for drawing the nation’s attention to the odious provision of the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015 passed by the Senate which has criminalised the defilement of children under 11 years. Since it was among the 46 Bills hurriedly passed by the Senate of the Seventh National Assembly during its valedictory session, the members did not pay any attention to its provisions. We have confirmed that the Bill has not been forwarded to President Mohammadu Buhari for his assent as it has not been passed by the House of Representatives.
However, it would be recalled that Senator Chris Anyanwu who sponsored the Sexual Offences Bill had justified the urgent need to pass it to save our girls and women from sexual exploitation and molestation. When the Bill was unanimously passed for a second reading by the Senate on November 21, 2013, it sought to prescribe a penalty of life imprisonment for the offence of defilement of children less than 18 years of age. It also provided for compulsory documentation, supervision of sexual offenders and medical treatment for rape victims while it strengthened the weak protection offered victims and witnesses in trials for sexual offences.
The minimum age of 18 years in the original Bill was in line with the provisions of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 and the Child’s Rights Convention of the United Nations which has been ratified by Nigeria. The Bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters for further legislative work. It was that Committee that illegally removed the age of 18 years and replaced it with 11 years. The inserted clause is inconsistent with section 29(4)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution which provides that “full age” means the age of 18 years and above.
Having passed the Bill, the Senate cannot plead non est factum in the circumstance. It has to bear full responsibility for the legislative negligence. But since the obnoxious provision was illegally inserted by the Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters without approval, the Senate ought to reverse itself and amend the relevant provisions of the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015. Our Law firm has made a request to that effect.
Finally, if the Bill is eventually passed into law with its obnoxious provisions, we shall not hesitate to pray the Federal High Court to strike it down in view of Article 18(3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 which has imposed a duty on the Government of Nigeria to “ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child, as stipulated in international declarations and conventions”.
Femi and Funmi Falana.