In view of the rising cases of rape and sexual defilements of minors and young girls, it is understandable that the wives of the 36 state governors have called for stricter measures against the ugly trend. In a petition to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, the governors’ wives called for the establishment of special offences courts to try such cases expeditiously.
We believe that the call for special courts for rape cases, despite the justifiable anger arising from the frustration currently being experienced with undue delays in the regular courts, may be superfluous. Already, there are 11 different types of courts recognised by the constitution. To add another layer of court system, we believe, may be one too many.
Rather than call for special courts for rape cases, we are convinced that the emphasis should be on the enforcement of existing laws on the subject. And where the laws are found to be inadequate, especially with regards to latest infractions, they should be strengthened to make them more potent. Section 37 of the Criminal Code Act (Cap. 77, LFN, 1990) provides that: “Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as the nature of the act, or in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape.” Similarly, Section 358 of the same act under reference further provides that: “Any person who commits the offence of rape is liable to imprisonment for life, with or without canning.”
So the present laws on rape and defilement are probably bold enough. But where they are found not to be stringent enough, especially with the bestiality that has been seen to accompany some of the latest incidents, the law could be amended to include the death penalty. This latter measure even if seen as extreme, has been advocated by many highly placed interests groups and individuals. The argument is that an extreme infraction demands an equally extreme measure, if only as a deterrent. But the debates about whether the death penalty can indeed serve as a deterrent to any offence, no matter how extreme, still rage.
Of greater concern, however, to the generality of society and particularly anti-rape lobbyists, is the belief that rape as the law presently defines it is hard to prove. Added to this difficulty is the stigma attached to rape. It must be understood that some females who are often the victims of the offence, are generally reticent to talk about it. What this means in effect, is that it is extremely difficult for a woman to own up to being a victim of rape. And when they come out, it is extremely crushing to them when voices go up to dispute them or infer other ulterior motives.
The public scrutiny in law courts which might be required to prove a case of rape, together with the telltale and graphic evidences needed to go with it, could be too much for the victims to bear. This aspect of the law must be looked at with a view to making the burden of proof less stringent. Why we appreciate the fact that rape could be a real dilemma for both the victim and the accused, the loose definition of rape as generally having access to another person’s body without their express permission should make the burden of proof less cumbersome. The laws on rape and defilement as they are at present are skewed in favour of the perpetrator to the detriment of the victim. This, we believe, is not good enough and must be urgently reviewed to ensure more protection for the victims of rape.
Therefore, judicial officers who handle the cases of rape and willful defilement should rise up to the occasion and ensure swift trials of rape cases so that those convicted are adequately punished in accordance with the laws of the land. If this is done, it should serve as sufficient mitigation for the victims of rape, until the rape laws are reviewed to ensure more protection for the victims.