Legal Implications of Public Fights in Nigeria

Now, I know I’m not the only one who gets excited when I’m outside and a fight breaks out between two people or a group of people. It’s like “Oh my goodness, what’s happening?” or “who’s fighting, what did he do?” or “is it because of man?”

Fights break out almost all the time at different public places or gatherings like meetings, market, streets, even offices. My personal favourite is on the road between agberos, one minute they are ready to maim each other and the next they are laughing at each other’s jokes and this could be within the space of five minutes. It’s nothing less than entertaining.

Given that public fights are so common, especially in Nigeria with the likes of lagosians and warri brought-ups, I’m sure a lot of people are not aware that it is a crime. Well, it is, one that could land you (1) one to (3) three  years imprisonment. It is surprising, yes, I mean even our policemen exhibit such behaviour with reckless abandon, which is a sad, sad thing indeed  but FIGHTING IN A PUBLIC PLACE IS A CRIME IN NIGERIA and the term for it is “affray”. To shed more light on this I will take it in detail and I have a surprise information for you in the end.

So, it has been stated “FIGHTING IN A PUBLIC PLACE IS A CRIME IN NIGERIA” and this crime is referred to as “affray”. For better understanding, let us consider the relevant terms in the statement; “fight” and “public place”, how does the law define these.

The Criminal Code Act is the applicable statute for criminal offences in southern Nigeria (Penal Code Act for Northern states) except in states which have their own Criminal Code Law. The Criminal Code Act does not define the term “fight” neither does the Black’s Law Dictionary, so we turn to the English Dictionary. What does “fight” mean really? Could it be verbal? What if it’s just one slap and I didn’t slap back? What if I wasn’t fighting and I was just holding him down so he would stop trying to fight me? What if I was only defending myself? What if the other person started it? What if it was a beating and not a fight? Well, here it is; while the Oxford Law Dictionary defines “fight” as;

“To take part in a violent struggle involving the exchange of physical blows or the use of weapons or to quarrel or argue.”

I prefer the Cambridge Dictionary which defines the word fight as;

“To use physical force to try to defeat another person or group of people”. 

There’s more than one way to define the word really and just in case you can’t see it, you have found yourself a loophole. Not that you should go around fighting people but where it happens you could always ask the court “was it really a fight?” If decided in your favour you may get convicted for something else like assault or attempted murder, etc, whatever offence pertains to the circumstance but at least you tried.

The Criminal Code Act defines “public place” as including any public way, and any building, place, or conveyance, to which for the time being the public are entitled or permitted to have access, either without any conditions or upon condition of making any payment, and any building or place which is for the time being used for any public or religious meeting or assembly, or as an open court.

It also defines “public way” as including any highway, market place, square, street, bridge, or other way, which is lawfully used by the public; * this also has the connotation of public so may be taken to mean “public place”

So what does the law say about fighting in public (Affray). Section 83 of the Criminal Code Act states that;

“Any person who takes part in a fight in a public place is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”

A misdemeanour is any offence which is declared by law to be a misdemeanor, or is punishable by imprisonment for not less than six months, but less than three years. It could be regarded as a minor offence.

Section 84 states that;

“Any person who challenges another to fight a duel, or attempts to provoke another to fight a duel, or attempts to provoke any person to challenge another to fight a duel, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.”

Yes! my people, for the troublemakers, it is a criminal offence to provoke a person to fight and guess what! It attracts a steeper punishment. So, if A provokes B to fight and B falls for it and throws the blow that starts the fight. The maximum sentence for B would be one year while A could get up to three years

If you think that’s interesting, you should take a look at Section 84 of the Act which states that;

“Any person who fights in a prize fight, or subscribes to or promotes a prize fight, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”

Yeah, so this might be a downer for fans of fight clubs, wrestling, etc It’s a NO, NO for Nigeria. It may work in some other countries, but we don’t do that here please, we are civilised and peace-loving people. However, this only pertains to unlicensed prize fights, those not registered under the  authority of an athletic board or commission or other appropriate body established by law in Nigeria.

In conclusion, fighting in a public place in Nigeria, no matter who does it, is an offence that could insure up to one year if imprisonment and inciting someone to fight is also an offence with a steeper sanction. Also, prize fights i.e. fight competitions; participating in them, promoting and subscribing are also offences in Nigeria.

That’ll be all for this week, thank you for your time and stay out of trouble or if you eventually do, get a lawyer.

Written by Mbachu Chinenye V.

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