UPDATE: Nigeria: Local women's groups protest bill on 'indecent clothing'
A Public Hearing was conducted for A Bill for an Act to Punish and Prohibit Public Nudity, Sexual Intimidation and Other Related Offences in Nigeria 2008 sponsored by Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette and A Bill for an Act to Punish and Prohibit Sexual Offences and Other related matters 2008 sponsored by Senator Chris Anyanwu. The public hearing witness a huge turn up of about three hundred members of the civil society organizations with a large crowd of women from different coalitions and networks. Championing the opposition protest were members of the women’s human rights community, representative of the academic staff union of university, the Nigeria bar association, religious leaders, rural women etc. The massive media presence was one of the highlight of the public hearing.
In his opening remark, the senate president, Senator David Mark, informed on the need for the Nigerian Constitution to be the fundamental consideration and yardstick for what we do. The bill may be discriminatory in nature because it does not address the way men dress but it is left for the public to determine otherwise. HE INFORMED ON THE NEED to be careful for laws are different from morality and must not be confused. The society, family and religious organizations do have a responsibility to inculcate these morals in individuals. In addition, he recommended that the bill should be scrutinized objectively devoid of sentiments. In the governance of the country we must do things that stand the test of time and not dabble into issues we may regret in future. Commending public participation, the distinguished senator expressed appreciation for the thoughtful insights the public will make into these bills and encouraged every participant to contribute positively.
The sponsors of the bills were given the opportunity to present to the public the rational behind the bills. According to Senator Chris Anyanwu, the sexual offence bill is proposed to ensure a safe society for women and children vis a vis the rise in trend of sexual crime. The bill is to act as a detriment to all and portray the severity of issues on sexual violence. It looked into the Evidence Act, Criminal Code, NAPTIP Law, Penal Code and other relevant laws and identified that adequate provisions were not made for stringent punishments of offenders. The provisions on sexual offences were combined and determined in details with some introduction of new features and other high points of laws.
The members of the public were in agreement with the proposed bill and made some comments on protection of women in the rural areas from sexual violence also.
An opposition was made that the bill was not necessary since the criminal law provisions in different laws in Nigeria have catered for sexual offences.
On the Public Nudity Bill, Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette expressed the fact that she has succeeded in bringing to fore the issues on the moral decay in the society; for a society without morals is a dead society. She ascribed indecent dressing as the cause of rape in the society and to arrest this ugly trend the nation must legislate on the offence of indecent dressing. She validated the need for that bill by reading out section 45 of the 1999 constitution which creates an avenue for legislating on any thing in the interest of public morality. According to her, indecent dressing leads to sexual intimidation which has been adequately addressed by the second part of the proposed bill. According to her, indecent dressing can cause mental problems, health and sexual intimidation, loss of career, divorce, and default in education and said the best way to help address decadence in the society will be the passage of this bill.
The public in their presentations out rightly opposed the passage of the Public Nudity Bill on the following consensual grounds. Each human rights group volunteered to highlight and speak on a points chosen along sides its own respective presentation. This strategy was adopted to emphasize on each point after the lead presentation was made by Asmau Joda, who spoke on behalf of Nigerian women.
1. The bill instead of protecting the women is rather exposing them to more abuses by the law enforcement agencies i.e. the Police who will take advantage of this bill when passed to harass and rape supposed culprits.
2. In some regards, the bill is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
3. The bill fails to take into consideration the cultural diversity of our country.
4. The definition of Public Nudity is relative to the 350 ethnic groups in Nigeria and therefore ambiguous and subject to abuse.
5. The 14 years benchmark envisaged by the bill is ambiguous and difficult to ascertain. Moreover, it has redefined our constitutional set age for minor.
6. It will further heighten the already held opinion that Nigeria is still perpetrating human right abuses.
7. The bill tries to establish a defence for rape which must not be allowed.
8. The bill is retrogressive.
9. The bill while legislating on issues of public morality does so in a manner discriminatory to women.
10. The bill is not reasonably justified in a democratic society as contained in section 45 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria since it will expose our women and children to undue, unwarranted and unjustified assault, attack and humiliation in the hands of security personnel and mob action.
11. The ripple effects this bill will have on the social and peaceful co-existence in our society cannot be underestimated.
12. The bill is not a priority on women’s concerns
13. Women are strongly opposed to the bill on Public Nudity.
The representative of Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women- LACVAW, Sadutu Mahdi, Executive Director of WRAPA, expressed profound gratitude to the President of the Senate and Members of the National Assembly for creating this space for the members of the Civil Society Organisations to engage and openly express their concerns on the bills subject of the public hearing.
The Coalition affirmed the consideration of the two Bills by the national assembly and informed on its consensus for a harmonized bill which is a legislative frame work that protects persons and prohibits violence against persons in Nigeria.
The harmonized bill is a product of 9 bills that were before the National Assembly from 2000 to 2008. These bills were copiously studied, extraction taken from the provisions of each of them and modifications made where necessary thus culminating in the production of a harmonized version.
Essentially the important features of the bill have captured issues relating to violence against persons in Nigeria. The harmonized bill contains features explaining why harmonization is mandatory. The coalition represented about 60% of views expressed that a harmonized bill will no doubt capture the issues of concerns and expands the scope of violence as intended by the two bills. On behalf of LACVAW, the harmonized bill was presented for consideration at the public hearing and cited as Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill.
Arising from the diverse presentation made, the following points were also captured
· The possibility of an alarming increase in the number of people to be remanded in prison custody.
· The threat to life and security of women’s bodily integrity.
· The financial and budgetary implication of the proposed bill in terms of implementation.
· The exactitude of measuring 2 inches and the challenges of approximation.
· There is no correlation between rape and indecent dressing.
· Lumping together issues of public nudity and sexual intimidation creates a circumstance of cause and effect.
· It is insensitive to some cultural/ tradition of dressing.
At the end of the hearing, the Senate Committee on Human Rights Judiciary and Legal Matters promised to take the process further by compiling all the memoranda, comments and observation into a detailed report and submit to the national assembly. The Nigeria Bar Association was specifically requested to technically assist the committee with vital information into the legal consequences of these proposed Bills.
BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights also in line with its adopted media strategy granted an interview with the BBC World Service at their Abuja Corporate Office. The interview was successfully aired at 17:00GMT on the day of the public hearing.