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Nigerian Senators want the death penalty for rapists — but there are two issues with that

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Nigerian Senators want the death penalty for rapists — but there are two issues with that

The recent rise in reporting of rape by victims is finally getting the attention of the Nigerian Senate.

Backdrop: On the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, at least two Senators agreed that the crime of rape should attract a death penalty. This was during deliberations over a motion on “Sexual abuse in Nigeria: a growing scourge” brought before it by Senator Rose Oko (Cross River, PDP)

What they said

  • Senator George Sekibo (Rivers State, PDP): “We should review our laws and make it a death penalty and by the time we kill one or two persons, those who are raping will control that thing that is making them to rape.”

He added that:

  • “If a man commits sexual abuse on a six-month old baby, it is criminal. That person ought to be killed not to be sentenced. It has been happening in this country and perpetrators are not punished. Are there no laws? Don’t we have departments of governments that are handling these laws?
  • “No religion accepts that. We should review our laws and make it a death penalty and by the time we kill one or two persons, those who are raping will control that thing that is making them to rape.
  • “It is very criminal and I think it will warrant a death sentence at this point in time. What has been done to this child besides physical damage. Most of these acts are done by people living with the victims. They are mostly relatives. It is time we do the right thing to do to curb this menace.”

Senator Remi Tinubu (Lagos State, APC): “It is very criminal and I think it will warrant a death sentence at this point in time. What has been done to this child besides physical damage. Most of these acts are done by people living with the victims. They are mostly relatives. It is time we do the right thing to curb this menace.”

Two major issues: 

  1. The Senators calling for a review of the law to make rape punishable by death can only make sense if existing laws to protect women, young persons and children are enforced. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 which was signed in the twilight of the Goodluck Jonathan administration penalizes rape with life imprisonment, but it is yeto be fully implemented in Nigeria. Many states have refused to domesticate the act with the only exceptions being Oyo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Kaduna and the FCT.
  2. While rapists deserve the maximum penalty for their vile actions, it is important for Nigeria to avoid the use of capital punishment both within the human rights context and also to leave the room for redemption in the few cases where innocent people might have been wrongly convicted in the light of fresh evidence. Consider the case of the Central Park Five in the United States (the subject of a powerful Netflix miniseries, When they see us), who were wrongly accused and spent between six to 13 years in jail before the real rapist confessed. If they had been killed, that would have been final.

Among other proposals, the Senate resolved to:

  • “Urge the judiciary to establish a National Sentencing Framework for child sexual abuse cases and judicial officers to impose the heaviest penalties committed by law on perpetrators of all forms of abuses against minors to serve as deterrent;
  • “Urge federal government to domesticate and robustly implement the child rights act and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 in order to curb sexual abuse against minors and
  • “Urge the general public to continue to act as watchdog and voice of voiceless as a way to curb sexual abuse and all forms of violence.”

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