Senator Chris Anyanwu
In the past three days, I have been inundated with calls, emails and text messages from all over the world over some mystical issue called “age of consent” supposedly pegged at 11 years in a bill passed in Nigeria. What is amazing to me is that some of the people who have been furiously peddling this story are supposedly learned people. But for some reasons best known to them, they have failed to apply the usual rigor to check out their facts before broadcasting.
I am not just amazed, I would say I am even amused that the furor is about a bill that I presented, something that has been in the works since the Sixth senate, has gone through the scrutiny of legal drafters, has passed through an intense public hearing with many judges, state attorneys general and law reform people participating.
What is most intriguing is that with the exception of a few persons, most others simply joined the wave, ranting and cursing on the web over something that they have no clarity on. Rarely did the conversations I read flow in the direction of a genuine search for the veracity of the story.
And when I read a former Minister join up with utter banalities like: “the Senate has passed a law which makes it legal to have sex with an 11 year old child”, I was ashamed for the hecklers, worried for the young men and women out there who may be looking to such persons for example.
Now what exactly did Senate do? It passed a bill to protect Nigerians big or small, male or female and especially the young and vulnerable persons—children, persons with mental disabilities, elderly persons– from all forms of Sexual offences. It is called “The Sexual Offences Bill 2015” and I am proud to have proposed it.
Last Friday, I read a story in one of the national dailies about a little six year old girl who was first raped to death and then set ablaze.In the past, such stories would have been aberrations that would dominate news for weeks. But now, people hardly notice because they are com¬mon occurences. Nigerians have been numbed by horror. Many don’t feel anything anymore.
The crimes that happen here are so horrendous they cry out to heavens. But no one listens. This time, the Upper Chamber decided it is time to not just listen but act. It passed the 47 page landmark bill.
On the two occasions that I have presented the bill, not one Senator opposed the spirit and intent of the bill. Infact, the Senate was so concerned this time around that it toughened the proposed bill, prescribed stiffer penalties, minimizing the gaps in our legal system which created room for dangerous offenders to get away with a slap in the wrist each time they commit a more heinous crime.
From clause 1 to 46, the bill comprehensively covers offences ranging from the common to the unknown: from rape, sexual assault, defilement, gang rape, child sex tourism, child prostitution and child pornography; incest by male and incest by female persons; to indecent exposure, sexual harassment, sexual offences related to positions of Authority, administering substance with intent to stupefy and overwhelm, deliberate transmission of HIV and any other life threatening sexually transmitted diseases.
It updates laws passed as far back as 1945 and handed over to Nigeria by the Colonial Administration and brings them up to scratch with contemporary practice. We also include some crimes that have not yet manifested in Nigeria but which we know will soon arrive because Nigeria is well hooked into the global village.
The bill also introduces innovations to strengthen the practice and fur¬ther protect the vulnerable such as supervision for dangerous offenders, disclosure of conviction of sexual offences, vulnerable witnesses protection, punishment for false allegation, admission of forensic evidence, and medical treatment orders for offenders etc. In the 47 page document, there is no where it states that 11years is “the age of consent”. Infact, the bill passed by Senate, makes no mention of 11 years. The whole noise and fury is a clear case of someone reading a legal document up-side down; choosing to retain a phrase in the draft which had been rejected and cancelled out during the final reading and then reading it totally out of context.
It was a classical case of mischief or ignorance but here’s what Senate passed in reference to the Defilement of Children in clause 6 (2): “A Person Who Commits An Offence Of Defilement Shall Upon Conviction Be Sentenced To Imprisonment For Life”. No age. No 11 years as age of consent. If that had happened, many of us would not have been party to that kind of law. Mercifully, The Sexual Offences Bill, as passed, does not deal with the definition of who is a child. That has already been done by established laws .
However, in clause 6(3) it makes allusion to the age of 18 years as the terminal point of childhood when it talks of deception as defense. This conforms with section 29 of the constitution and the Child Rights Act. Given these facts, all the fire and brimstone rained by the online mob was about nothing and came to nothing. People were merely making vacuous noises without attempting to get the true facts.
Had some reporters who were quoting the social media taken the trouble to get and read through the Votes and Proceedings of Senate for that day, they would have been able to educate the public on what actually transpired. No one who has gone through this revolutionary bill passed by Senate and concurred by the House would have nothing but gratitude and respect for the 7th Senate. It is now clear that mischief and ignorance fired this undeserved insult. In these “change” times, it will help if we all learn new ways. We must refrain from being too quick to judge and condemn. I so submit.
•Senator Chris Anyanwu was a member of the 7th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.