The Penal Code applies to the northern states of Nigeria. Section 55(1)(d), subject to customs that have been recognized as lawful, allows a husband to “correct his wife” as long as it does not amount to “grievous hurt.” Section 55(2) goes on to state that the correction must be reasonable in kind or degree with regards to the age, physical, and mental conditions of the person being corrected. Grievous hurt is defined in section 241 as “(a) emasculation; (b) permanent deprivation of the sight of an eye, of the hearing of an ear or the power of speech; (c) deprivation of any member or joint; (d) destruction or permanent impairing of the powers of any member or joint; (e) permanent disfiguration of the head or face; (f) fracture or dislocation of a bone or tooth; (g) any hurt which endangers life or which causes the sufferer to be during the space of twenty days in severe bodily pain or unable to follow his ordinary pursuits.” The law concerning abortion is found in sections 232. Referenced in the law as the causing of a miscarriage, abortion is only legal to save the life of the mother. Any person, including the mother, can be guilty of the offense and will be punished with up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both. Sections 233-235 discuss the causing of a miscarriage intentionally or unintentionally through acts against the mother. These offenses also carry a penalty of imprisonment, fines, or both. Section 282 discusses rape and specifies that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape if she has gone through puberty.
Women and Justice: Jurisdiction
Under Section 55(1), women are prevented from working at night in any industrial or agricultural position. However, under 55(2) female nurses in either sector are allowed to work at night, as are women working in management positions not “ordinarily engaged in manual labour.” Women who work at night because of unforeseeable and nonrecurring work interruptions or who work with materials that require night work because of rapid deterioration are provided with a possible defense to the law. Under Section 56, no woman may be employed in any work that requires time in any underground mine unless they hold positions of management and do not perform manual labor, are employed in health and welfare services, or are working as part of their courses of study. Under Section 57, the Minister, at any time, may prohibit or restrict women from employment in any particular industry or in any process or work carried out. Violations under any of sections 55-56 of the Act carry with them a fine, imprisonment for a term not to exceed one month, or both.
The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act makes it illegal for same-sex individuals to marry, enter into a civil union, or gain entitlement to any benefits of a valid marriage. Additionally, it prohibits the public display of same-sex relationships. Any marriage or union entered into legally outside Nigeria is considered void within the country and no related benefits are recognized. The Act specially defines marriage as between a man and a woman and establishes criminal penalties against people who solemnize, witness, or aid various events supporting homosexuality. Sections 2-3; 5(3). The act also prohibits registering any same sex organizations and public displays of same sex romantic affection. Section 4. Punishments include imprisonment for 10-14 years depending on the offense. Section 5.
The Matrimonial Causes Act governs marriages, dissolution of marriage, and custody of children. According to Section 5(d) a marriage is voidable if at the time of marriage “the wife is pregnant by a person other than the husband.” However, by Section 35(c), only the husband can nullify the marriage because of pregnancy; the wife has no right to petition to do so. Under Section 47, both husband and wife have grounds for a decree of restitution of conjugal rights, if either refuse to cohabitate with and render conjugal rights to the other. With respect to the wife, if the husband has paid any money to her with respect to a decree under Section 47 and she refuses to comply with the decree within a reasonable time, the money paid becomes a debt due and payable by the wife to the husband and recoverable by action in court.
As stated in the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act aims to “prohibit all forms of violence against persons in private and public life, and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.” The Act provides general protections against offenses including infliction of physical injury, coercion, offensive conduct, willfully placing a person in fear of physical injury, willfully making false statements against another person, damage to property with intent to cause distress, and deprivation of personal liberty. The Act also provides protections against offenses that affect women disproportionately, including a prohibition of female genital mutilation; forceful ejection from home; forced financial dependence or economic abuse; forced isolation; emotional, verbal and psychological abuse; harmful widowhood practices; and spousal battery, among others. Notably, the Act defines the offense of rape in Section 1(1) without an exception for marital rape, which had not traditionally been recognized as an offense (note that the Penal Code Act of 1960 does include an exception for marital rape). The Act provides a procedure for injured parties to apply for a protection order and empowers the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory with jurisdiction to hear and grant applications brought under the Act. As stated in Section 47, the Act is a product of federal legislation enacted in regard to criminal law, a residual matter over which the states have exclusive legislative power pursuant to the Nigerian Constitution. Thus, the VAPP Act applies only to the Federal Capital Territory and is not binding law in a state unless adopted by that state.
The Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, originally passed in 2003 and amended in 2005 and 2015, criminalizes human trafficking and related abuses. The Act provides trafficked persons with access to adequate health services and protection against discriminatory treatment. The Act establishes a National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (Part II), establishes Agency Transit Shelters for rescued trafficked persons, and establishes a Victims of Trafficking Trust Fund to provide compensation for victims (Part X). The Act provides protections against discriminatory treatment, barring discrimination on account of gender or sex or on the basis of the victim "having worked in the sex industry." Part IX, Section 61(a). The Act serves as implementing legislation for Nigeria’s international obligation under the Trafficking in Persons Protocol Supplementing the Transnational Organized Crime Convention (TOC), to which Nigeria became a signatory on December 13, 2000. Part Two available here.
The National Commission for Women Act established the National Commission for Women to promote the general welfare of Nigerian women, “promote the full utilization of women in the development of human resources and bring about their acceptance as full participants in every phase of national development, with equal rights and corresponding obligations,” and “work towards total elimination of all social and cultural practices tending to discriminate against and de-humanise womanhood.” Some of the Commission’s objectives include “mobilizing women collectively in order to improve their general lot and ability to seek and achieve leadership roles in all spheres of society” and “raising consciousness about the rights of women, the availability of opportunities and facilities, their social, political, and economic responsibilities.”
Under Section 211 of the Evidence Act, a man charged with rape, attempt to commit rape, or indecent assault may, as a defense, show that the alleged victim against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed was of a “generally immoral character.” The victim is not to be cross-examined on the subject but may be asked whether she has had “connection” with other men, a term not defined but presumably referring to previous sexual relations. The victim’s answer to this question cannot be contradicted. However, the accused may also ask whether the victim has had connection on other occasions with the accused and is permitted to attempt to contradict the victim’s denial should she deny connection.
The Criminal Code applies to the southern states of Nigeria. The Criminal Code Act distinguishes between the treatment of assault on men and assault on women, with Chapter 29 (Sections 351-356) addressing “Assaults” and Chapter 30 (Sections 357-362) addressing “Assaults on Females: Abduction.” Notably, indecent assault on a man is considered a more serious offense and carries a higher sentence than does indecent assault on a woman. Under Section 353, “[a]ny person who unlawfully and indecently assaults any male person is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.” In contrast, under Section 360, “[a]ny person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.” Rape is defined in section 257. It is defined as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with 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 to the nature of the act, or, in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband.” Abortion is criminalized by sections 228-230. Abortion is defined in Section 228 as an attempt to procure a miscarriage. A mother trying to cause her own miscarriage is liable for imprisonment for seven years, while anyone who administers to her a poison or otherwise induces a woman’s miscarriage is liable for imprisonment for 14 years, and anyone who supplies or obtains any item with the knowledge of its intended use to cause an abortion is liable for imprisonment for three years. Sections 228-230. The laws derive culpability from intent and apply regardless of whether the woman is actually pregnant.
Sections 15(2) and 42(1) prohibit sex-based discrimination. Section 17 of the Constitution outlines the elimination of demographically derived disparities as a fundamental objective of state policy. Section 17(3)(e), focuses on gender-based disparity and states that the state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that “there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, or on any other ground whatsoever.” Section 26 of the Constitution, which relates to citizenship, specifically provides for extension of a Nigerian man’s citizenship to his foreign-born wife while making no reference to a similar path to citizenship for the foreign-born husband of a woman who is a Nigerian citizen. Section 26(2) provides that the president may confer Nigerian citizenship on “any woman who is or who has been married to a citizen of Nigeria.” By implication, this section limits the right of a Nigerian woman to transmit her nationality to a foreign husband.
The Court of Appeal held that the Nnewi Customary Law that precluded a woman from giving evidence in land matters was unconstitutional because it discriminated against women.