The Senate is pushing for the removal of a two-month Statute of Limitation on the prosecution of rape offenders, as contained in the Criminal Code Act while also endorsing a proposal that will give life sentence to kidnappers against the 10 years in the extant law. This followed its consideration of a Bill seeking to delete the Statute of Limitation on defilement and provide for life imprisonment for kidnapping in the Criminal Code Act.
The Bill titled: “A Bill for an Act to amend the Criminal Code Act CAP C38 LFN 2004 to delete the Statute of Limitation on Defilement, Increase in Punishment for the Offences of Kidnapping, Remove Gender Restrictions in the Offence of Rape and for Related Matters, 2019,” is sponsored by Senator OluremiTinubu (Lagos Central).
Leading the debate, the senator said the amendment being sought was meant to “delete portions of sections 218 and 221, amend the definition of rape, as contained in Section 357, and increase punishment for the offence of kidnap in Section 364”.
The globally accepted aims of criminal law and the criminal justice system, according to the senator, include deterrence, retribution, restoration and rehabilitation of offenders.
Senator Tinubu said the criminal justice system ought to deliver substantial justice and closure to the victim, the offender and the state.
“Where a law fails to achieve any of these, it is inherently faulty, hence the need for amendment,” she said.
The senator noted that Section 218 of the Criminal Code provides that anyone who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 13 or attempts same would be guilty of a felony and liable to life imprisonment or 14 years imprisonment, respectively.
“My grouse, however, is about the proviso that prosecution of the offender must be commenced within two months after the offence has been committed. What this does is impose a statute of limitation on prosecution of these offences.
“This bar to prosecution negates the principles of natural law, equity and good conscience,” Senator Tinubu said.
She insisted that Section 218 of the Code is not tenable in a country like Nigeria where investigations into cases of rape often take longer than two months.
“Considering the shortage of police personnel, relative to our population, as prescribed by international standards, the two-month limitation is unlikely to be met at all,” she said.
The senator noted that with the development and innovation in forensic technology and the accessibility or otherwise of such infrastructure in Nigeria, rushing investigations in order to commence prosecution within two months would lead to errors.
“In the event that the police proceed to prosecute outside the two months, all that it will take to dispel the entire charge is a challenge to the jurisdiction of the court, on the basis that it was brought outside of the time allowed by law,” she said.
Senator Tinubu added: “Section 221 suffers a similar fate wherein it provides that where a person has or attempts (to have) carnal knowledge of a girl, being of or above the age of 13 and under the age of 16, an ‘idiot or imbecile’, he shall be liable to imprisonment for a period of two years, provided that the prosecution is commenced within two months after the offence is committed.
“We are at a time where these sorts of crimes are on the increase,” she said. “Daily, we are regaled with tales of children, as old as a few months, being defiled.
“Should perpetrators of such crimes be allowed to go scot-free on the basis of the technicality that prosecution did not commence within two months?”
The senator said the Bill also proposes an amendment to Section 221, to substitute the words ‘idiot or imbecile’, with the words ‘mentally challenged’.
“While words like idiot, moron, and imbecile were professionally used to measure IQ; they have acquired pejorative connotations, become derogatory and obsolete, and should no longer be contained in our laws,” Senator Tinubu said.
The senator also noted that while the Criminal Code Act defines rape in Section 357 as an offence against women, “there are incidents of non-consensual sex perpetrated against the male gender.”
She added: “This definition is particularly grievous because it perpetuates the socio-cultural belief that men do not need to consent to sexual acts.
“In addition, we must ensure that our laws and jurisprudence evolve with the rest of the world.”
She regretted that while the law prescribes 20 years jail for armed robbery, it only provides 10 years’ incarceration for kidnapping, which amounts to the stealing of a human being.
The senator said the proposed amendment seeks life jail for the offence of kidnap.
“Section 364 proffers a punishment of imprisonment for a term of 10 years, where a crime of kidnap is established. For avoidance of doubt, as defined by the Act, kidnap is unlawful imprisonment of any person to prevent him from applying to a court for his release or from disclosing to any person where he is imprisoned.
“Simply put, stealing a living, breathing human. Curiously, the Act provides a term of 21 years for robbery and death for armed robbery. Why is the punishment for stealing property and replaceable things higher than what is obtainable when you steal a human being?
“The frequency of kidnap across the federation and its resulting trauma, not to mention the number of lives lost to the crime, make it imperative to review our laws with a view to ensuring appropriate punishment for perpetrators and deterrence for would be perpetrators.
“Thus, this bill proffers a life sentence for persons found guilty of kidnapping,” Senator Tinubu said.
The Bill received overwhelming support of the senators.
The Senate approved that the Bill be read for a second time, when it was put to voice vote by Senate President Ahmad Lawan.