The Senate yesterday passed the Criminal Code Amendment Bill, which increased the penalty for kidnapping from 10 years to life imprisonment in the 16 southern states of the federation.
The bill contains amendments to the Criminal Code, which is currently in operation in the southern part of Nigeria.
The bill sponsored by Chairman of the Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, also maintained gender neutrality for sexual and rape cases as well as seeking protection for mentally retarded persons.
The bill’s passage was a sequel to the presentation of the report on a “Bill for an Act to amend the Criminal Code Act Cap C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 to delete the statute of limitation on defilement, increase punishment for the offence of kidnapping, remove gender restrictions in the offence of rape and for related matters,” by Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele.
The provisions of the bill include amendments to Section 364(2) of the principal Act by substituting the words “is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for ten years” with the words “is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life”.
Section 357 of the principal Act, also specifically substitutes the words ‘woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent’, with the words, ‘any person, without consent, or with consent.
The bill also seeks to protect mentally challenged persons from sexual defilement and rape through an amendment to Section 221 of the principal Act, which substitutes the words “an idiot or imbecile” with the words “mentally challenged”.
On gender equality on rape and sexual cases, the bill amended line 1 of section 357 of the principal Act by substituting the words “woman or girl without her consent or with her consent”, with the words “any person without consent or with consent”.
The Senate stated that its amendment of the bill was in tandem with section 315 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended which states that the National Assembly has the legislative competence to amend the criminal code Act by its virtue of being an existing law.
An attempt by Senator Uche Ekwunife to effect an amendment to Section 357 to define persons susceptible to rape to accommodate “married and unmarried persons” was rejected by lawmakers during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.
The Senate, while retaining the provision of Section 364 of the principal Act, however, expunged the gender-specific term “him” and substituted same with “such person” in defining the punishment for the offence of kidnapping.
Presenting his committee’s report earlier, Bamidele, in his lead debate on the bill, said the piece of legislation “will address the lingering issues of status of limitation in the prosecution of rape/defilement cases and the incessant kidnapping menace, which are on the rise, in recent times.”
The legislator added that contrary to views by those opposing the passage of the bill by the National Assembly, on the ground that its passage will usurp the powers of the states to legislate on the subject matter, the bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code Act of 1916 and not the Criminal Code of the states.
He stated that the bill, when enacted into law, would apply to the federal high courts in the southern part of the country “where the Criminal Code Act is applicable and operational while the Penal Code is applicable in the northern states.”